Program Report: Brian Hamilton – Sageworks

 

Brian Hamilton reflected on his own career as a successful start-up entrepreneur during Monday’s lunch presentation. Brian was introduced by Don Stanger who praised the series of entrepreneurs we have had in the last few weeks with a retailer and builder and now with Brian’s tech company all thriving in the environment that Durham provides.

As he explained it to a near full house of Rotarians, there are popular images in the media of starting a company, and succeeding in short order. Then, there is the reality that he has encountered over the last two decades as a co-founder of Sageworks.

Many successful startups have some age on them, Hamilton said. Their existence likely lies in years of learning, hard work, revising the game plan and then revising some more.

Today, Sageworks is a successful financial information company based in the Triangle. It helps financial institutions and businesses access complex data by making it easier to understand in narrative form. The company’s numbers-to-narrative proposition ultimately met great success.

But that happy outcome, Hamilton said, was not a fast-growth wonder that “bloomed” in short order.

“What I learned, it takes time to learn,” said Hamilton, a Duke business school graduate who also has appeared as a business pundit on cable news networks. “It takes a long time to learn. I am still learning. It’s the rate at which you learn that will dictate your success.”

Among the basics of business startup success, Hamilton said: “You need the right product.  That’s hard.”

In the case of Sageworks, the entrepreneurs who launched the idea of making financial information accessible and easier initially found an indifferent reaction by potential clients as they made their pitches. Multiple iterations took place, he said, including one “pivot” that focused the product more to the precise needs of banks.

Hamilton also pointed to a key ingredient of successful leadership that might not appear at the top of some textbooks.

“To lead people,” he said, “you need to love them.”

Leaders with that quality will find their employees detect it and will work with the bosses through bad times and good as the whole team works to get better and deliver products that creates even more value for customers than the products cost.

Last, “You really must love your customers. You can never have enough service and love for your customers.”

Submitted by Mark Lazenby

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