Sean Higgins has already beat long odds with his two-year-old high tech start-up company: out of 1,300 applicants, Ilos Videos is one of 70 semifinalists for the Minnesota Cup, the largest statewide new venture competition. Finalists will be announced on Aug. 18.
“Ilos is a way of capturing what you know and sharing it with others,” Higgins said. “Our service uses one piece of software to make, then store, then share a video. You get it to them in seconds, not hours.”
Higgins’ undergraduate degree from the University of St. Thomas was in accounting, and he worked for a city government as an accountant for about six months. “I realized it was an area I liked but not where I saw myself staying,” he said. “I don’t want to be doing the debits and credits for a very long period.”
With the new venture in mind, Higgins decided to go back to St. Thomas for a Master of Business Administration degree. “It’s a software company, and I can’t actually write software. It took a year and a half for us to develop the application. It was a big time for the business, but my skill set wasn’t essential,” he said.
The MBA coursework was “incredibly helpful,” Higgins said. “The marketing section of the business plan is straight from the marketing materials we covered in Marketing 600. Without the communications lab, I couldn’t write and present a business plan. There was a course in strategy. There’s also the alumni network and the access to all the various skill sets.”
With the Ilos Videos application now in version 1.0 and with 20 paying clients on the roster, Higgins said, “I look at my role now as the opposite of the debits and credits that I didn’t want to do — one role where you’re pigeonholed. Right now I’m the nuts and bolts guy when it comes to legal, accounting, business development. I would appreciate the fact that as the business develops, I might not be doing the work, but I’ll maintain an understanding, so there aren’t silos. I think that’s a really interesting role.”
Why take your new MBA to a start-up rather than a Fortune 500 company?
One aspect goes to entrepreneurship in general. If I get a job at General Mills, their business model is pretty well set. They say, “This is how we’ve been successful,” and you play within that framework. With a start-up, you have a lot more flexibility. The second piece relates to this venture — the team, the group we’ve got together.
What are the business goals?
Short-term, we’re focused on growing the business — getting the product to the sources that have the best use for it. The application we had a year ago is not what we have today, the application we have a year from now won’t be what we have today. How do we cater to customer needs? Levelheadedness is what we want to fall back on. If you get a call from Google, you want to be listening. But we’re more focused on growing the business, growing the team. In the end it’s the team that enables the business to be successful.
Do you still get to use your accounting skills?
One of our other partners is also an accountant. We drew straws to see who would do the tax return. I got the short straw, so I did the taxes! □