4 Lessons From 4 Startups

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backCode founder Sophia Viklund is on her fourth startup. Here are four things she learned along the way.

By Sophia Viklund (Founder, backCode)

I founded my first technology business in Moscow while I was in college in the mid-90s. It helped pay for my studies in London. I was studying to become a teacher, but realized all I wanted to do was to continue running my business. I was grateful to see that the outside world was very different from the small, conservative, suburban town I was from and realized that women can make it in entrepreneurship.

I have always been interested in technology, especially software and web development. I started my second company here in the US 15 years ago and started a series of technology businesses after that. Between startups I spent some time working in a corporate environment for one of the major studios in LA as a developer and technical producer, but my heart was always running my own business. I’m now my fourth business with lots of smaller projects in between businesses. What have I learned from all this experience?

Serious Games Offer Serious Benefits

backCODE, my company of the last three and half years, is a game development studio located in Pasadena. We develop “serious game” programs ranging from childhood education programs for schools to employee education for the workplace.

The term ‘serious games’ is used to describe the idea of using game concepts, technologies and techniques for educational purposes. For example, a serious game can be used to train physicians and nurses how to operate in an emergency situation, train technicians how to repair a building’s mechanical equipment and teach CIA and FBI agents how to be more productive during an investigation.

Studies have shown a retention rate of up to fivefold using serious game learning over traditional means of training. This equates to a better ROI for business and schools by providing better educated students more quickly and efficiently.

One of our recent projects that I really love was creating a new chapter for Lockheed Martin’s app on the iPad, Lockheed Martin Tomorrow. We teach kids in junior high and high school quantum computing through an interactive artistic visualization of quantum mechanics. I have a passion for education and this type of application is a fun way to integrate that passion into my work.

The Value of Bootstrapping

People ask us how we raised money to start our business and I tell them through blood, sweat and tears. We are self-funded and have not raised money from the outside investors. I think this has been a great approach and one every entrepreneur should go through. It makes you think differently about how you handle capital and creates a discipline that teaches you to focus your business more quickly and efficiently. With our original content development we are taking a different approach by spinning what we produced into their own entities and bringing on investors but still keeping backCODE the way it is.

How to Stay Married to Your Co-Founder

I have been married to my backCODE co-founder, Grant, for almost seven years. We’ve been working together for the past two years. It’s been a great journey. We understand each other very well and also have 15+ years each of experience in business, so we are able to work together at our 11-person firm and grow the business together. Grant worked as a senior technical director at Dreamworks before we started the company. He is a 17-year veteran of the visual effects and animation industries, which has turned out to be a key asset with our serious games development business.

I am often asked how is it to be working with your spouse and always answer that it is a matter of experience. We have both spent a lot of time in the entrepreneurial world and know how to balance work with life. It’s not for everyone but for us it makes us happy. I feel incredibly grateful that I have the opportunity to run my own company and to build it as part of our family.

There’s No Substitute for Passion

For anyone who is looking to run their own business I’d say prepare carefully and understand what you are getting into before making the leap. You should only get into a business you are completely dedicated to and passionate about. It can be extremely stressful so believing in yourself (even if some people tell you otherwise) will help you get you through the tough times. Build what you believe and believe in what you build.

About the guest blogger: Sophia Viklund first got the programming bug with C++ as a teenager and has been an entrepreneur since 1998. backCODE is the fourth technology company that she has founded. She served as one of the mentors for Init(Together) Computer Science conference, and is a co-organizer of Girl Geek Dinners/LA chapter. She sits on the board of directors of 50/50 leadership, a co-founder of PyLadies, and on the executive board of Caltech Enterprise Forum. Follow her on Twitter @backCODE.

Photo credit: silverfox09 via Flickr