Aaron Sylvan launches software startup "TrustWorksTM" based on EMBA learnings at IMD
Founder and CEO | TRUSTWORKS | United States
The IMD Executive MBA is organized into year-long "threads" consisting of Leadership, Customers, Finance, HR, Strategy and Execution and includes projects based on each participant's current real-world business challenges. Entrepreneur Aaron Sylvan, a 2009 EMBA program graduate, used the knowledge he gained from each of these threads to launch TrustWorksTM, a new software company which enables business and social communities to rapidly find private advice from within the group.
"When I joined the program, I thought the main purpose was to have a credential that would help me raise Venture Capital (VC) money in the future," said Aaron. "Actually, it turns out the business and operational knowledge I gained was far more valuable than any credential - the learnings were real and immediately applicable. Often, my 'school projects' would go straight from the classroom to direct implementation in my real company within days."
During a lecture from IMD Professor Stuart Read about doing business in an uncertain future, a key strategic element for TrustWorks came to light. At the time, Aaron intended the product to be consumer oriented. He asked Professor Read about how to predict consumer behavior. Professor Read responded by questioning the value of taking a risk in engineering a product that the audience may not want. "If you sell the product first, you're protected. Speak with business customers and validate the product before building it," Professor Read suggested. As a direct result of this conversation, TrustWorks immediately switched its product design and sales activities to corporate intranets - and almost instantaneously started seeing results.
After having the revelation that business customers can provide letters of intent prior to product engineering, TrustWorks was able to raise almost $400,000 in seed capital which was used to build a prototype in collaboration with several Global 2000 companies.
"As an engineer, I always thought the process was to first design a product and then hand it off to marketing," stated Aaron, a lifetime entrepreneur who sold his first software in 1983 when he was 12 years old. "I was hoping IMD would teach me how to increase sales and instead I learned a far greater lesson - I had failed to listen to the customers."
Aaron believes that his story is just one of many that show how the IMD "Real World, Real Learning" approach brings the classroom to the boardroom, with real results in real time.
"After more than 25 years of 'trial and error', I wanted to learn how to avoid some of those errors in the future - to bring some predictability to my business performance, and really learn to monetize my concepts," Aaron explained. "The IMD project lectures were so immediately relevant that I would often leave the classroom excited and send an email to one of my colleagues right away. Often the payoff took days or weeks, not months or years."
Aaron graduated from the Executive MBA program in November 2009 and is presently seeking to raise an additional $500,000 from angel investors in order to engineer features requested by customers in progress. The company expects profitability by the end of 2010, and to raise VC Series A in 9-12 months.
"I began building this business when I started the IMD EMBA program, and grew the company at each phase with my learnings from the program," he explained. "Even though I've raised money and run startups before, I found each element of the EMBA to be an 'a-ha' revelation. Help from my Professors, fellow participants in the class and the course material have improved every part of the way I'm running this company. I only wish I had signed up for this program sooner."