The best advice I have to give to entrepreneurs is to hire the smartest people you know. I did that from our first hire. Sarah Marcus also has a PhD in U.S. History and has applied her education in a variety of exciting ways. She explored the academic track for a while and continues to teach courses from time to time. She spent many years as Director of the Digital Encyclopedia of Chicago at the Chicago History Museum. As the second full-time employee at HistoryIT, she’s my right hand.
Sarah’s been with our team in Indianapolis for the past several days and I was traveling for the two weeks proceeding that. This morning, after a few cups of coffee and plowing through email replies, I get to sit down and catch up with her and I’m very much looking forward to it.
When I first decided to start a business, I read everything I could and went to as many talks as I could discover (ever the student). Much of the advice I found tedious, but the theme of partnership as a key to success was consistent. In work, as in life, select your partner (or partners!) with care.
It’s difficult to find windows of time these days just to chat. Sarah and I have a lot of business ground to discover – project status; new sales strategy; recent hires; software release progress. But this morning I’m wondering whether she’s been watching Mad Men and how many Bruce Springsteen shows she and her husband expect to rock this summer. While there is an abundance of work to discuss, this morning I think it’s most important to simply catch up. Knowing that we’re still connected to what we’re doing and that we’re not losing our lives in the shadows of all of this work is critical to our survival – personally and professionally.
After a coffee- and discussion- filled morning, I spent an afternoon in the trenches. I had the pleasure of meeting with Stanley Tigerman, the renowned Chicago architect and discussing the ongoing value of digital collections. I then had to pivot from our philosophy and services to turn my attention to our software team.
I’ve written this week mostly about our services, but we also have developed our own software line. Our flagship product is a web-delivered collection management tool called ArchivesTree. We are wrapping up a comprehensive overhaul of the software and expect to launch the new version next month. It will include a completely new user interface, as well as a range of additional functionality. Engaging with the software side of the business feeds the techie side of my brain, but also requires that we as a team think differently about our business model. For example, we are running a couple of months behind in the launch of this new software version. This is acceptable, indeed expected, in the software business world in a way that wouldn’t be conceivable for our services. At any rate, much of the management at this stage for software rollout deals with deliverable schedules and marketing plans. From time to time, though, like this afternoon, I get to set the schedules aside for twenty minutes and just test drive the new screens. I’m reminded of the first web databases I built immediately following graduate school. It was the thrill of starting and finishing something within the same, short time frame – an experience that eluded me during the graduate school years – that was so alluring.
The software business holds a different sort of excitement for me now… It’s the underpinning of the rest of the work we do. Thinking about how technology will continue to support innovative work in the field of history is wonderful. Being part of that is even better.