If you've ever succesfully pitched your company, you know how important a story is. People that invest in you or buy your product want to feel an emotional connection, and that's why effective communications are so important for start-ups.
Naturally, communications professionals make effective technology entrepreneurs. Such is the case with Sevetri Wilson, CEO of Solid Ground Innovations (CGI), a full-service strategic communications and management firm. After growing and evolving CGI, Sevetri has taken the plunge into technology entrepreneurship by launching ExemptMeNow, a technology solution that helps create and maintain tax-exempt organizations.
We recently interviewed Sevetri to see how she used her communications background to become a successful entrepreneur in the tax-exempt entities market, which includes non-profits. Here’s our conversation:
Tech Park Question: Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur?
Sevetri: I consider myself to be more a serial entrepreneur. However, at one time I absolutely considered myself more of a social entrepreneur. Sometimes you don’t want to box yourself into a certain space. I do think that social entrepreneurship is very important. I also think that social enterprises will grow over the course of time as well.
Tech Park Question: Do you think people should only be socially innovative if they are willing to forego profits?
Sevetri: I don’t think anyone that is starting a business should forego profits. Two of my former mentors completely differ on this subject. One stated that she started a business to make money--period. The other stated that you start a business to help people and it doesn’t have to be about money. I believe that the lines are blurred in social enterprises.
Tech Park Question: How has your communications background played into your success?
Sevetri: When working with my clients I’ve always tried to ensure that there is a strong line of communication. Coming from a communications background, technology was forced on us. And innovation has disrupted various sector’s communications.
Technology will eventually disrupt every single sector and every single space. It’s only a matter of when and how.I feel that the non-profit space hasn’t been disrupted enough. There is an opportunity to do better.
Tech Park Question: How do you best deliver a story to an audience?
Sevetri: I believe that storytelling is very important as well as communications in general. Products often fail because the seller doesn’t take the user experience into consideration. How you are communicating online is heavily involved in those failed experiences.
Tech Park Question: What would you say to an entrepreneur that believes that communications is low priority?
Sevetri: I recently read Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. They’ve developed the products Signal and Basecamp. A quote that stuck with me from the book is, “If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position hire the best writer.”
During our hiring process a strong writer is one of the things that we look for in a candidate. Communications goes a long way when appropriately combined with the day-to-day operations as well as the development of software.
Tech Park Question: What are a few unique challenges that these tax exempt organizations go through that are different from traditional B2B marketing?
Sevetri: Very small startup nonprofits may be seeking funding. You also have nonprofits that are small and would like to continue to stay small. Their reasoning being only wanting to service a very small demographic. The founder of a nonprofit in New Orleans prefers to service only ten young adult males every year. He wants to see them through graduation and essentially off to college. He has no desire to have 1,000 males in the program because he wants to be able to have more control over it.
Tech Park Question: What’s the story of ExemptMeNow, your newest project?
Sevetri: I formed Exempt Me Now into LLC two years ago but only began to sell it about nine months ago. That process is definitely an interesting story.
When we first started SGI, we were heavily involved in non for profit space, tax exemption, working with charter schools, government entities, non-government entities as well, healthcare organizations, etc. At first, we would help them to go through the incorporation stage and as well as filing for their 501(c)3 or 501(c)4 depending on what tax exemption code they had. We would kind of just start them on the right track.
As Solid Ground Innovations kind of grew, our niche changed and moved away from “starting up” non-profit clients, to more of acommunications, strategies and management development role. But we were still getting referrals for “getting started” service. We could create this Turbo Tax-type system where people could go online and create their package entities, and more.
Something that I am proud of is that our entire team of in house staff as well as developers, contractors and consultants are all from South Louisiana. We set a milestone in relation to not only research, placing our conduct and what our service line would be. From there we went into development, anywhere between seven to nine months. That brought us to where we are now and we are currently in an open public beta.
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