Launch of!

geointelis-compressed-weblogoAt the beginning of March 2011, the company that I run full-time, R7 Solutions, launched our new Web 2.0 mapping and workflow service:!

Here is the announcement blog post on the website.

Since then, we’ve announced a slew of new data packages for both oil and gas exploration and production users, and for solar and wind developers.

Dozens more data packages are in the pipeline and will be announced daily for several weeks to come.

This has been a long journey, but one about which I have been passionate – and my vision for this product has been unwavering.

I wanted to talk a little about this journey here, from a personal and entrepreneurial perspective.

The Vision

GeoIntelis, like any other innovative Web 2.0 service, only got launched by staying absolutely true to the original vision:

Creating a 100% web-based, low-cost, easy-to-use, software-as-a-service GIS replacement for the small to mid-sized business subscriber that includes pre-loaded data and built-in document management and business process forms.

In addition, it had to be compliant with open GIS standards, license-independent, and lightweight for web users in all kinds of circumstances, including mobile broadband laptop users.

We also needed a platform that was highly extensible so we could add new mobile, tablet, off-line and third-party integration options without re-writing the underlying code.

Finally, it had to be an all-in-one solution that took the time, expense and complexity of “basemap” data collection, transformation and maintenance out of the picture.

GeoIntelis has accomplished all of these things.


The Challenges

Getting this launched has required overcoming numerous technical, business and capital challenges, including at least one complete re-write of the platform.

Software developers and analysts have come and gone. The underlying development environment and competing technologies have continuously evolved.

Also, along the way, we had to fight to avoid distracting side excursions that would have de-railed development.

These included straying from our commitment to independent licensing, such that we would end up beholding to one of the major GIS vendors, forced to follow their technology lead wherever it went and pay exorbitant licensing fees for every server and possibly every user, crippling our low-cost promise as well as slashing our technical potential. This would have been a disaster.

We also had to ignore the naysayers who said what we were trying to accomplish for our clients was too ambitious, faced too much competition from the 800-pound gorillas in the industry, or was too early in the development of mapping technologies to be successful. At this point, we’ve proved these attacks wrong. We’re competing and delivering solutions just fine, thank you very much!

Another major challenge was adapting to a changing technology environment as we went. As I’ve blogged about before, we switched the interface from a JavaScript interface to a complete Rich-Internet-Application (RIA) interface based on Silverlight. For the non-technical reader, just know this: It meant re-writing more than 60% of the software.

But it was entirely the right thing to do. Now we have a product that provides one of the most compelling user experiences for interactive business mapping on the market, while opening up an enormous horizon of features and integrations that we could never have accomplished using the old platform.

We also are pioneering a data set packaging model that we believe, while still evolving, puts our product at the forefront of interactive business mapping and data management.

By turning the data into part of the service, we’ve broken one of the longest standing and most challenging barriers to GIS adoption. The difficulty and expense of getting the basic data loaded is no longer an excuse not to have a functioning GIS.

We consider this one of our major innovations, but it required making a lot of tough decisions about what gets included and logically how to include it, while still offering an economical and simple-to-use system.


The Future

There is still a lot of work to be done.

On the marketing front, we have much more information about the product to add to our website, as well as videos and screencasts to better explain how GeoIntelis works.

On the development front, we have a tremendous number of additional features, forms (“Business Objects”), and data sets to develop and launch.

We also plan to add more specialized data and business object packages – basically a GeoIntelis App Store where you can buy a package designed to help you do your particular job in your particular locale.

We’ll have a package for you, whether you’re a wind energy developer in California, a real estate developer in India, or an oil and gas prospector in the Gulf of Mexico.

We also plan off-line versions, for use on a laptop at the wellhead, for example, or driving the highways in Utah and Nevada, looking at leasing properties for solar farms or powerline right-of-way.

And we plan mobile versions that provide you with specialized small-screen user-interfaces for accomplishing specific mobile tasks inside your GeoIntelis account, like rounding up photos to document wind and hail damage that automatically show up on your private GeoIntelis map when you take them.

Some of the more advanced mobile functions are cool enough, innovative enough and exotic enough that I won’t disclose them here, but watch for announcements over the next several months.


Entrepreneurial Lessons Learned

So, what can the active entrepreneur following this blog take away about getting a big, B2B service like GeoIntelis launched?

Here is what I learned along the way:

1) Stick to your guns.

There are going to be a lot of technical and business challenges. Worse, there are going to be people and personality challenges to trip you up along the path. You’re going to have to overcome these fearlessly.

And that means in addition, of course, that there are also psychological challenges along the way. Doing something new and forging a new path always prompts some degree of fear, worry and doubt in the reflective person, even if they’re a self-assured veteran entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs ask themselves real, practical questions: Am I on the right path? Does the business make sense? Am I spending the money the right way? Are we going to reach our goal? Will the clients like it? Will they buy it? Will they buy it fast enough and in large enough numbers to make it successful? Have I picked the right tools, vendors and business partners? Can I trust them? Do I have the right people involved? Do they share the vision and the passion? Will it all work out? Will I get the community and industry support I need to make this work? Will our competitors get there first? Will they do something better, cheaper or flashier than we can do?

All of these questions will pummel your brain when you’re doing something hard, risking your own time and money, and trying to accomplish something big. That is the nature of entrepreneurship. Don’t worry. Embrace it now.

These questions are signs of a healthy and analytic critical thinking process. Let the doubts wash over you and then put them away. They are natural and important, but they cannot dominate you or your work. Address them as needed, one by one, confidently and fearlessly. Knock out those risks that you can and mitigate those you can’t.

Remember this: There is no one on the planet better suited to fulfilling your vision of success than you are.

No one is going to give you anything and a lot of people are going to try to bring you down, once they see that you’re doing something that might have a real impact. Get used to it.

No one is going to make your vision, your product and your company successful. Only you can do that, so get on with it. You only live once.

2) Don’t be afraid to make changes.

This is a hard one. Even as you stick to your vision, you have to be able and willing to change the details, sometimes turning around 180 degrees with no notice. And your people have to be able to follow along and get in line as you make the change.

Here is the reality: I guarantee you, the marketplace, the clientele, the tools and partners, and the employees, are going to change while you’re working. Conditions will change and challenge you. Just accept it.

As a result, the goal cannot be to “complete the plan.”

The goal must be to “win the race” shredding plans A, B, C, D and E as you go.

Your plans are going to end up in the dumpster, over and over. A lot of online and software startups have junked planning entirely and just focus on delivering rapid iterations until something sticks.

That is close to where I have ended up, in today’s winner-take-all, lightspeed, web-driven world. Results are prized far above plans. We keep doing until we get the result.

Whatever works for you, just stay focused on the goal and make no apology when you have to change the details.

Anyone who doesn’t get it, who thinks that the plan is more important than using your brain to make adjustments, isn’t the person you want making the decisions or even advising you. Find someone who gets it. Keep looking until you find them.

3) Be grateful.

Be fundamentally, profoundly, deeply grateful to the people around you who make your success possible. Be grateful to your partners, employees and investors. As they demonstrate great commitment and faith in your leadership and vision, be sure that you are showing them your deep gratitude.

This is especially true of your family, which may endure a lot in order for you to see your vision through to fulfillment.

Remember to show them your gratitude every day, and help to bolster their endurance and faith by letting them know that you appreciate their sacrifices, by giving them opportunities to be involved, and especially by sharing your vision with them on a regular basis, so they understand what you are trying to accomplish.

And don’t be afraid to be vulnerable to them, to their fears and criticisms, their doubts and concerns. They will have these.

Address their concerns when you can but also let them know that you can’t address every risk. Let them know that you understand that they’re taking a grand roller-coaster ride with you over which they have limited control. But also let them know that the only way any great, new thing gets built is by taking that ride.

Thank them for taking it together with you.

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This blog is dedicated to providing advice, tools and encouragement from one entrepreneur to another. I want to keep this practical and accessible for the new entrepreneur while also providing enough sophistication and depth to prove useful to the successful serial entrepreneur. My target rests somewhere between the garage and the board room, where the work gets done and the hockey stick emerges.

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