The biggest hurdle most faced by startups is simply being the new kid on the block. Carl Hirschman, the founder of SilverFox Broadband – a national internet service provider – faced that issue head on. “We had to find those that would be comfortable being an early adopter, over-deliver when we served them, and then evangelize their success,” said Hirschman.
Learn how Carl launched his first company and paved the way for SilverFox Broadband’s success by staying persistent and asking the tough questions.
Founder, Age: Carl Hirschman, 29
Company: SilverFox Broadband
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Startup Year: 2010
Startup Costs: $25,000
How I Got Started
All of my classmates were competing for big jobs starting out of college and I didn’t want to be just another number at a big corporation, running the rat race, fighting for an entry-level job and trying to work my way up the food chain.
I saw that the internet was going to be a utility in every household and found a start-up to join and make a meaningful impact. At first, it was only two of us with virtually no revenues, and I bartended 5 nights a week to pay the bills. I thought I would see how it went for a while and if it didn’t work out then I would open my own bar. I felt like I had nothing to lose at that point.
Being a fresh college graduate I had low expenses and nothing to really tie me down. We bootstrapped the company over the years, did absolutely every part of the business ourselves, grew it, did a merger in 2007, and then sold it successfully in June of 2010.
Shortly thereafter I started a new company, SilverFox Broadband. SilverFox Broadband is the first and only internet service provider in the country specifically designed for the residents of senior housing communities nationwide.
SilverFox provides wholesale internet, television and phone service to properties so they can provide their residents better service at a discount. Properties can choose to pass on the entire wholesale savings to the resident or mark it up to generate additional revenue while still saving residents money.
Best Success Story
I had been pursuing a prospect for about 3 years when one of their apartment portfolios finally came up for renewal. It was the most complex installation we had undertaken – possibly anyone in the industry had undertaken – and we were trying to win it away from an established industry veteran.
We convinced the prospect that our unique blend of technology backgrounds made it a right fit for us and that despite the complexity and size, we could handle it. After months of negotiations, we finally landed the deal.
That seven-figure contract nearly doubled our revenues. It really put us on the map in the industry and led to several other contracts nationally. The installation of it had many hurdles, including a roof leak that poured rain onto our servers, but when we completed it the customer agreed that we were probably one of the only companies that could have pulled it off.
Making potential customers comfortable with something new. In my first company we were approaching the model of providing internet to students in college residence halls in a completely different way. Colleges were uncomfortable with it because it was a paradigm shift, even though it would save them money, provide better service, and prevent a lot of long-term headaches.
We had to find those that would be comfortable being an early adopter, over-deliver when we served them, and then evangelize their success. Eventually the naysayers started calling us to get a quote for their campus.
Never stop asking “Why?” Why have people always done it this way? Why is this impossible? Why won’t this work? Why are they buying this over that? Ask “Why?” to everything. If the answer doesn’t make sense, then there may be a good business possibility.
For example, there were some smart entrepreneurs that asked why they had to buy stocks through a broker, now look at all of the online brokerages. Never rely on the status quo without asking “Why?” first.
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