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When Martin J. McNeese took the entrepreneurial plunge in 1998, he did what many other aspiring business owners do: He scraped together the cash he needed to get started and began moonlighting.
All told, he shelled out $1,200 for the tools necessary for a Website developing firm: a personal computer, books on hypertext markup language (HTML), a programming language, and image-editing software. Now, TechnikOne is a growing business with $260,000 in sales for 2001. For 2002, McNeese expects his three-man operation to gross roughly $380,000 thanks to clients such as IBM, 3M Corp., Brown University, and Universal Records. But this did not come without burning the midnight oil.
When the firm was in its infancy, McNeese worked a 9 to 5 as an accountant while devoting his remaining hours to the business, which he ran out of his home. As a result, he routinely stayed up past 3 a.m. “Working two jobs, 17 to 18 hours a day for nearly 18 months, was tough. I forfeited my social life and other activities that were not directly related to graphic design and entrepreneurship and focused solely on establishing TechnikOne’s foundation,” recalls McNeese. “My life consisted of work and sleep. Literally.”
Despite the long hours, McNeese, 27, kept his eye on the prize: a piece of the e-services industry pie. This is a growing sector that’s expected to grow from $300 billion in 2001 to more than $457 billion by 2005, according to Kennedy Information Research Group in Peterborough, New Hampshire, a firm that monitors the professional services sector. “Whatever it took to get TechnikOne off the ground, even maintaining a demanding daytime job, I was doing it, no second thoughts.”
TechnikOne got its start designing Websites and creating brand identities for nonprofit organizations, but after two years McNeese was itching to get a piece of larger projects from bigger clients and needed some additional business savvy in his corner. In 1999, he brought in a partner, L. Kareem Geiger, a 29-year-old network engineer. The two met while McNeese was giving a presentation on a Website he had developed for an organization. Impressed with McNeese’s work, Geiger joined the company. Duties are now split between the two: McNeese handles the creative and technical aspects of the agency, while Geiger, who is now managing partner and operations executive, concentrates on business development-client relations.
Their first course of action was to make friends with larger, established Web-design agencies, then study those firms’ successful methodologies and strategies. According to Geiger, finding mentors wasn’t difficult. Unlike the larger firms, which chase $5 million to $10 million projects, TechnikOne targets $40,000 to $100,000 projects for middle-market and Global 1,000 firms — a target market chosen because such projects are large enough to boost the company’s financials while helping it rack up recognizable, name-brand clients.
Through mentoring, they learned business strategies and received instruction on development, marketing, and advertising. One useful bit of advice they received was to contract out work rather than hire full-time employees because of the volatility of the industry at