One sells interactive software to turn kids on to learning in school. The other cleans up and disposes of hazardous waste.
I’m talking about two women entrepreneurs who are making it in widely different businesses with similar approaches.
Cynthia Kaye, founder and CEO of Logical Choice Technologies in Lawrenceville, and Danielle Waske, founder and president of DNT Environmental Services in Atlanta, own two of the fastest-growing women-led firms in America, according to a new list from the small business unit of American Express and the nonprofit Women Presidents’ Organization.
I sat down with them together to see if their shared experiences could help others.
First, a little background. Kaye, 46, started Logical Choice in 1994 after she got tired of her 2-year-old “drooling and throwing Cheerios at me.” With a background selling PCs and Macs to schools, Kaye set up an educational tech firm.
“I set up in the basement with two folding tables and my Mac computer,” she said. From $1 million in revenue the first year, Kaye’s business now does $97 million in annual sales with 230 employees.
Waske, 39, had worked for another environmental cleanup firm before it grew too large to compete as a small business for military contracts.
“The military has lots of contaminated sites,” Waske said. “I heard opportunity knocking.”
She started DNT in 2005 and has built it to $10 million in revenue with 20 to 30 employees, depending on the workload.
Before starting up, both Waske and Kaye had a strong working knowledge of their respective industries – something they viewed as indispensable.
Where did they get the initial capital – a key problem for many would-be entrepreneurs, whether female or male?
Kaye tapped into a credit line from a friend’s firm. The friend became majority owner of Logical Choice for three years before Kaye bought him out.
“It’s one way that I immediately got to play with the big boys,” she said.
Waske did what many personal finance gurus frown on – she tapped into her 401(k), as well as her husband’s.
That leads to another issue. They said it was critical to have a passion for what you’re creating or it makes no sense to take such personal risks.
They both faced critical stumbling blocks that threatened their companies, including poor advice and performance from those delivering professional services.
“Don’t be afraid to fire your insurance agent or your banker,” Waske said. “Do what makes sense to you.”
Kaye’s biggest hurdle was fallout from the dot-com bust in 2000. To survive, she said, “we knew we needed to find a new product.” That led her to England, where she negotiated a licensing deal with the manufacturer of interactive whiteboards for the classroom. The initial deal, for 10 states, has now expanded to every state except Hawaii.
Finally, they said they maintain their same hungry attitude.
Kaye is beginning to sell new, three-dimensional software her firm created to improve the teaching of reading. And Waske just won her first prime government contract after several years as a subcontractor.
“I have sleepless nights,” Waske said. “I constantly think about where the next client is coming from.”
- Henry Unger, The Biz Beat
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