There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at Web.com’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.
Meet: Shane Kenny, who, with his brother Aaron, started and sold an internet filtering software business, InternetSaftey.com (which created Safe Eyes) to McAfee for more than $10 million. Shane is still in the filtering business—although this time he’s the founder of FilterSnap, a company that delivers air filters to consumers’ homes on a regular schedule to ensure timely replacement.
In a proverbial entrepreneurial tale, Shane came up with the idea for FilterSnap when he became frustrated at having to remember to change filters and then searching for the size he needed at the local home improvement store. Inspired by the Dollar Shave Club’s razor blade subscription business, FilterSnap solves both problems, offering 72 sizes of filters and a choice of 1-, 2-, 3-, 6- or 12-month replacement schedules.
When the new filter shows up, the customer knows it’s time to change filers, which helps them save money because clean filters use less energy and help avert costly repairs.
You can find Shane on Twitter @shanekenny.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Shane Kenny: Through all of high school and college I wanted to create video games. I figured if it was so much fun to play them, the next best thing would be getting paid to make them.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Kenny: I started my very first business in middle school. I wanted to buy a scooter and needed to find a way to raise the funds so I sold music tapes (yes, the ones you had to rewind so you could listen to the same song over and over again) and DVDs.
In high school, my brother and I started a “name-your-own-price” lawn mowing service. We did so well that the parents of another boy in the same neighborhood made my parents agree to divide the territory so that he could get some business—Karl Marx would have been proud, right? We weren’t happy about it at all.
After college, I started a web design company called Domani Technologies with the intent of selling it and using the proceeds to start my own video game development company. I hadn’t let that dream die, but the business did.
A few years later I started InternetSafety.com because I thought I could improve on the dial-up internet service being offered on the market. Through a series of pivots, we ended up creating the number-one-rated parental control product on the market, Safe Eyes. In 2011 we sold the company to McAfee. At this point, I understood my own motivation for being an entrepreneur, and it wasn’t that I wanted to create my own video game development company. The truth is, I really enjoyed the thrill of creating something new and creating the best product for the customer.
That is what I am doing with FilterSnap. Residential air filters are not fun or sexy, but can we make an otherwise mundane, easily forgettable task somewhat enjoyable for our customers? That’s the goal. We want to bring a smile to our customers’ faces, and turn the boring task into something better. We’ll see.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Kenny: There were several of these. However, the one that sticks out the most was the night my brother and I met and decided to throw in the towel with InternetSafety.com. A few days later we received a call from a potential customer saying they wanted to buy Safe Eyes because Consumer Reports had rated it as the number-one product on the market. We didn’t even know they were reviewing it!
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Kenny: The best advice I ever received was being told that we should hire a CEO to come in and help us at InternetSafety.com. It is easy to talk about surrounding yourself with people that fill in your skill gaps, but it is entirely something else to bring in your own boss when you started the company. I would do it again tomorrow.
The best advice I have ever given is advice I have had to heed myself recently. I believe you can go do one thing great, two things good, and suck at three or more things. If you believe you have a great idea, then to be great at it you have to concentrate on it. Diversification does not help when starting a business.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Kenny: When you are ready to bring someone on to help you build your business, make sure that you find someone who not only compliments your leadership style and the culture you wish to build, but who will also challenge you. Surrounding yourself with “yes men” will not help you make the do-or-die decisions that entrepreneurs face every day.
Lesonsky: Do you have a prediction for small business?
Kenny: I believe that small businesses will continue to thrive. Having started businesses over the span of a couple decades I feel like it has never been easier to take your crazy idea and make it a reality. Things like Amazon Web Services, 99 Designs, Zendesk, Basecamp, and other tools make things that used to be hard, easy—and for a fraction of what it used to cost. There really is no excuse for not spending your spare time building your beta product (called a minimum viable product if you are a follower of Lean Startup), launching it to see how it does, and—if you find some success—taking the next step of making your new startup your primary activity every day.
Lesonsky: What’s your favorite book?
Kenny: Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win, by William C. Taylor and Polly G. LaBarre.
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Kenny: I am partial to “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take” that [hockey great] Wayne Gretzky once said. It holds true when starting your own business. An idea is easy, but unless you take a shot to try and turn that idea into something tangible, you’ll never know if it would have been a success or not.
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Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at [email protected], follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.