As a young investment banker fresh out of college, Eric Fortenberry sat across the table from a couple of similarly young entrepreneurs who had just sold their startup company for a tidy sum. “When I saw those sizable checks being handed over, I realized I was on the wrong side of the table,” said Fortenberry, the founder and CEO of OrgSync, an online platform that connects higher education students with on-campus organizations.
Speaking to Dr. Greg Bell’s Global Entrepreneurship class at the University of Dallas on October 7, 2014, Fortenberry related his experiences as an entrepreneur, beginning with his involvement as a student at the University of Texas in Austin. “As the treasurer and then the president of the UT’s Investor Association, I learned a lot about running an organization and how to be a leader,” he said. His time with this club also made him aware of a real need on a campus as large as UT’s—organizations were using disparate and often disorderly means to connect with their members. After a friend showed him an early-stage software platform that could easily address this need, Eric realized it could be the entrepreneurship opportunity he had been looking for. “I saw that other organizations had the same problem connecting that I had. You can do all the research and surveys in the world, but sometimes you can identify the need for a product from your own experience,” said Fortenberry.
Fortenberry decided early on that he would fund OrgSync with the “bootstrap method;” that is, he would raise the initial funds to run the company from family and friends instead of from outside investors like venture capitalists. “This was a tough way to go,” he said. “I didn’t pay myself for two years, but, in the end, I was able to maintain control of the company and make decisions that allowed us to grow revenue and eventually become profitable.”
While waiting for profitability to come, Fortenberry couldn’t afford to pay high salaries to OrgSync’s sales team or developers so he turned to his father, also an entrepreneur, to help him develop a stock option plan for employees. “Giving stock options creates employees who are invested in the success of the company. You can’t pay someone enough to have a real passion about what you are doing. They have to believe in it as much as you do,” he said. Using what he called an “eat what you kill” sales approach, wherein each salesperson’s compensation was based solely on the number of contracts he or she signed, Fortenberry was able to expand OrgSync’s network of participating universities and increase revenue that he could, in turn, use to expand the company.
Fortenberry said that one key to his success is the business model he chose for OrgSync—software as service, a model in which there are no direct costs to add a new customer. “If you’re making computers, projectors, tables, whatever—there are direct costs to adding customers. But in a software as service subscription model, you not only get your money up front, you can create incremental growth that keeps piling up without any direct costs. It’s a cash cow,” he said.
Fortenberry said the most important lesson he has learned from his experience as a young entrepreneur is: “You can’t boil the ocean. Trust me, I’ve tried and I’ve yet to figure out how.” He went on to explain that entrepreneurs must find a niche and fill it really, really well. “I turned away the twelfth largest company in the world because they wanted us to do something that was outside of our core business strategy. I want to focus on what matters now.” Another thing Fortenberry does to stay focused is to write down the top three things he needs to accomplish for the day. If he finds himself drifting, he goes back to that list to make sure he is tackling only the highest priorities. “I make lots and lots of lists,” he said. “Because any project can be broken down into small steps.”
Fortenberry’s final piece of advice to students was to stay focused on execution. “Don’t be afraid to tell someone your idea, because chances are they won’t have the desire or ability to execute it properly. Good ideas are a dime a dozen, but it is in the execution of those ideas is where people usually fail,” he said.
Eric Fortenberry founded OrgSync in 2007 and serves as President and CEO. Since its inception, OrgSync has established partnerships with 400+ colleges and universities and over 3 million users around the world. Eric has been named to Inc. Magazine’s 30 Under 30 List of the World’s Coolest Young Entrepreneurs and has received awards at the White House and the United Nations for being named to the Empact 100 List, which showcases the Best Companies Started and Run by Young Entrepreneurs, for three consecutive years. OrgSync has also been recognized multiple times as a Best Place to Work and has won several other awards for its company culture, rapid growth, and innovative technology solutions.
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