ABOVE: This sketch of the historic home turned into office space for StyleNet.com was done by Amy Reader, wife of StyleNet.com CEO Michael Reader. The frame is made from old wood salvaged during the restoration of the former home. // CRAIG FLAGG
Michael Reader is CEO of StyleNet.com, a Franklin-based business that touts itself as No. 1 in the nation for providing beauty professionals with online solutions.
He started the business providing Web site templates and support to salons, but has grown the business into a boutique, custom service for the salon industry.
Read about Reader and his tech journey HERE.
We also asked him about entrepreneurship, success and failure, risk and reward:
With so much at risk, how do you keep from being overwhelmed?
“With the pace and just trying to keep up just with what’s new, what’s ‘trending,’ I guess is the proper terminology for whatever is becoming popular, it can be a challenge.
“Obviously, I don’t just close my eyes and say we’re doing what we’re doing and that’s what we’re going to continue to do and I’m not going to pay attention to what’s going on out there. But what I tend to do more so then worry about what’s going on out there is to focus on what we’re doing here.
“Yes, ABC website building product has got this, this, this and this, but we know our audience. We can drop everything and develop those bells and whistles, but will our clients really see those as beneficial?
What is a key lesson that you’ve learned?
“Anything that we come up with –– as far as a feature, a service –– before we go the down the path of programming it or creating the software, I want to know clearly how are we going to sell it before we build it. How is it going to be sold and is it in demand? We have to have that clearly defined.
“I learned from a mistake on this topic about five years ago. Some of our clients were asking about online booking. I went
full-bore, we created the system, shot a commercial for it and got to the finish line and it’s ready. But we had not worked out the components of how we’re going to sell it.
“We ran into a stumbling block that this cool thing that we just built has got to talk to the (salons’) software systems, and even though they wanted online booking, they wanted to integrate it with their service, and no one had thought to ask that question or do that research.
“That was another one of those things that wasn’t a failure, it was education. The money we spent on it wasn’t lost, it was for what I refer to as tuition.
“If I went down that same path and spent the same amount of money again, then that’s a loss. We learned from that mistake.”
The phrase “no guts, no glory” comes to mind, but beyond fortitude, what must an entrepreneur have to become successful?
“You have to have, at some point, the intelligence or the awareness of what people want. I spoke with some entrepreneurs not too long ago. They asked me to review this potential service, and I said, “Well, who is going to buy it? How are you going to sell it?”
“You’ve got to have some kind of advice system or advisers to have any longevity. Nobody is intelligent enough all the time. I thought one had great potential, but the money to get them to that level was too much.”
At first, your idea for StyleNet flopped. What changed?
“I knew the StyleNet concept would be in demand, but it was the mode of selling that I wasn’t sure of, until that SalonCentric meeting occurred, and we didn’t give up on the tanning path.
“We needed a hub of like entities. I went to salon owners and took it upon myself to go around and see if it had potential.
“It didn’t work with the Paris team, but the message got sharper.”
Williamson County is continuing to boom. How does that factor into entrepreneurial opportunities?
“The environment here, for an entrepreneur, is, I can’t think of anywhere that would be better. Because it’s –– what?
–– one of the wealthiest counties in country. So, A, there’s people here with money. And, B, it’s up to you, would-be
entrepreneur, to go meet them, go find them.
“I think if I knew at sometime down the road that I’m going to seek investment for an idea, I’d start working more with where the investment is going to come from than the idea. Get those potential sources –– not so much committed,
but just identified –– who you can go to.
“The good thing is that people are accessible here. It is easier to meet people here than, say, New York City. Because they are more closed. Walking down the street in Boston or wherever, you don’t see that friendly eye exchange there
as opposed to this environment here. It’s a Southern trait, of course, but the environment here is great.
“From a resource standpoint of availability –– tech, personal skills, skilled trades –– here it’s going to cost you more because they’re in demand. But you figure that out. Go on Craigslist, find a guy in west Alabama that’s a wizard who
chooses to live there and will cost you two digits an hour as opposed to three digits an hour.”
How best can a beginning entrepreneur gauge success or lack thereof?
“There’s not an answer to that. There’s the old formula or adage of lose in the first year, break even the second year,
make money in the third year. If you can do that, awesome.
“Obviously (when it comes to making a profit), the sooner the better, but sometimes, even if it is later, you’re better because of that. Because you learn some things not to do or to do differently that benefits you in the long range, which I think has been the case here.
“Theoretically, we were not profitable for five years, but we learned a lot of things in those five years not to do or how
to do it better.”
Any closing thoughts?
“Profitability depends on what people’s goals are, what do they want. For me, people ask what motivates me: freedom.
“I can go mow the yard in the middle of the day. I don’t, but it’s freedom. It’s more than a big house on the beach or
something like that.
“For some, it’s a big house on the beach. If a person wants a big house on the beach, profitability has to be there real big and real fast.
“It just depends on what the person wants, what motivates them.”
— CRAIG FLAGG