Interview with an Entrepreneur: Javier Soltero’s story
What it takes
Passion, persistence, and common sense. These are the words that Javier Soltero said when I asked him what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. Passion, because you will be tested in such a way that if you do not eat, sleep and breathe your idea, you will probably decide it’s not worth it to go through all the sacrifice. Persistence, because according to Javier Soltero, you have to possess a mentality to survive; you will not get everything right, sometimes you will have to go back and see what did not work out. Common sense because “business is not black magic, trying to sound really intelligent and complicating issues will not work so keep it simple” were his exact words. These three traits are the backbone behind the success of Javier Soltero’s venture, Hyperic, an enterprise software company from California with a groundbreaking product and a curious story.
The story: “They thought it was worthless”
When Javier Soltero joined Covalent in 2001, he was named Chief Architect of Software and asked to design a software product around the problem of managing large-scale Internet applications. Today’s websites and web applications are powered by a whole different set of technologies, all sitting in a data center somewhere. Each of the building blocks of those technologies is, in the words of Javier Soltero, “its own little complicated and error-prone piece of software”. The product’s purpose was to monitor the infrastructure of all the software and hardware that goes into the applications you run on your company’s website. Javier Soltero and his team designed and built a working prototype over the course of nine months and after a year, the product had already been sold to three large customers. Due to his involvement, Javier Soltero had to attend every single sales call and any other issue regarding the product.
Things changed in early 2004, when the original company, Covalent, filed for bankruptcy. The product that Mr. Soltero and his team had built and dedicated many long hours to for the past years seemed destined to die.
The opportunity had presented itself. The product was made and the people were present and willing to work. Javier Soltero chose to ask four other colleagues from Covalent to join him in purchasing the product that they had built from their former employer. Originally, the product had cost from twelve to thirteen million dollars to build but Javier Soltero bought the product, its customers, and all of the information for $1. So, in April of 2004, Hyperic was born: five former employees of Covalent who worked and wrote software in what they now call a closet.
Soltero had chosen people who had played key roles in Covalent, some were engineers, and one strictly dealt with support technology. These five had decided that they had to continue to develop the product they had built and were extremely proud of. They knew they had built a great product, and in the words of Javier Soltero, “it was an unfinished work of art”. There was no other product like it on the market, and it solved a problem that every single Internet Company faced. For Javier, it was not about wanting to build a company or be CEO, it was about seeing his product through and proving to everyone else the value of what they had built. Part of the reason why Covalent agreed to sell them the product for one dollar was because they thought the product to be useless, and Javier Soltero was determined to prove them wrong.
The one advantage Hyperic had was that did not need any inicial financing, but they were nowhere near success. Second was that the only raw material required to build software is brainpower and a laptop. Still, there was much work to do.
Of the five employees, three worked on continuing to build and better the product and one managed support services, while Soltero, then CEO of the company, took on the responsibility of selling the product. When I asked him about the huge pressure he shared with no one, he said he explained it to himself very simply: there is a bucket and it has to be filled with cash, everything in there was to be divided amongst the five of them. “I had to spend less time worrying about how to divide the cash in the bucket, and more time on getting that bucket filled”, said Javier. This meant dialing for dollars, every single day. Every time someone downloaded the software on the website, it was up to Javier to call them to ask about the software, it if worked, what they were looking for, and walk them through a sales process. “This was a very humbling job; people rejected or didn’t call back, but I had to do it or else the company would collapse,” said Javier in the interview. Covalent had also left talks with potential clients unfinished, which Javier had to restart. In his own words, “I got there and said ‘the bad news is Covalent is out of business, but the good news is Hyperic is in business. It’s the same people, and even better, the product is cheaper.’”
Although an unconventional start up of a venture, Hyperic’s story can teach us a lot about entrepreneurship. As Javier Soltero said, passion, persistence and common sense, but not without sacrifice. Javier and his team went from being paid over one hundred thousand dollars a year to starting their own company from scratch, investing time and effort late at night, writing code for no pay until they got the company off the ground. Nonetheless, Javier Soltero and his team were so passionate about their idea and their work that fear of failure did not stop them.
Adding to the list: Leadership, Vision, & Social Skills
While Javier Soltero’s list of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur is definitely valid and has been proven, I would also like to make a few additions. The fact that the entire company was dependant on whether or not Javier made sales also shows the importance of leadership in an entrepreneur, which is why I would like to add Leadership to the list. When Covalent’s bankruptcy threatened to throw away Javier and his team’s hard work, he realized the opportunity and organized a way to capitalize on it, so I would also like to add Vision to the list. Passion, persistence, common sense, leadership, and vision seem to be a good recipe for a good entrepreneur, but maybe it needs a little more: good social skills. Good social skills are key to being a successful entrepreneur because not only are there many different ways of selling a product, but every client is different and if the product is inappropriately presented to the needs or wants of any client, you will not make a sale. This is also evident in Javier’s experience with Hyperic because other than being an extremely sociable person, he had to adjust to every client’s specific situation.
Passion, persistence, common sense, leadership, vision, and social skills were the building blocks of this entrepreneurial success. In Hyperic’s first year of business, they sold about $384,000 worth of software. In the second, $700,000, and by the third year they had reached $1.2 million. In May 2009, Hyperic merged with SpringSource and 3 months later both companies were acquired by VMware for $420MM, where Javier is currently working (although no longer in administrating Hyperic). Javier hopes to someday start up a new venture, once he “thinks up of another good idea”.