Event Follow-up: Zero to 60 – Accelerating your Business, A Panel Discussion
On a beautiful Saturday morning, I walked into the Marriott’s not knowing exactly what to expect at the discussion panel hosted by Open Washington DC. As I entered the second floor, we were greeted by the most welcome fragrance of coffee and chocolate covered doughnuts! Most of the organizers and panel guests had already arrived. I noticed that Open Washington DC creates an environment of ease where people feel comfortable introducing themselves to each other. I was received with welcoming smiles. I really enjoy the socializing before the actual event because it’s an opportunity to exchange news, and make new friends.
After the meet and greet, the panelists took their seats with Reza Latif hosting the discussion. Raza began with a surprising joke which warmed up the audience and set the relaxed tone for the rest of the discussion.
There were four highly accomplished people sitting on the panel who would share with us not only the details of their professions but their personal experiences. It was a treat to have a combination of such talent addressing us and accommodating our questions. The first panelist was Abbas Valliani, who successfully started Primatics Financial and then sold it to the Carlyle Group. Since Abbas has completed this most desirable cycle, we were all very curious to know how he had accomplished this!
Abbas stressed the importance of creating a service or product for which a buyer is willing to write a check. An awareness of this, he felt was crucial to any startup company. It is possible he said, to use a buyer’s willingness to fund the very product you can develop for them. He gave an example of how his company managed to obtain a meeting with a large prospective client. With just two weeks remaining before the meeting, his company developed a proto-type of the product they would pitch. Since they had gathered enough information, they were able to tailor the product to the needs of their client. Using this customized approach allowed Abbas’s company to make an impression at the meeting. The product spoke to the very needs of their prospective client. Not only did they win the contract, but the client was now willing to invest in the product development as well. I found this strategy of preempting the needs of a client very powerful.
The discussion then moved to Adeel Shah, who has taken a different approach. Instead of starting a company, Adeel acquired a running business. Adeel described his journey from an employee at a large corporation to becoming a business owner. One thing that I took away from Adeel was his cold logical approach to evaluating a business. “You can’t fall in love with a business,” he said, when evaluating it. If that happens, you “might start to create reasons for buying it.” I thought this was gold. We do this often in our lives and it was inspiring to hear Adeel talk very plainly about how easily we can fall into this trap. Adeel outlined his journey from working as a manager at Lafaarge and also his realization that he was not going to satisfy his ambitions as an employee. His transition into the world of business was not easy, but he relied on the advice of experts which he felt is essential when acquiring a business. Adeel is now the President of Sterling Medical Supplies and is turning the company around.
Tariq Shafi the third panelist addressed the confusion business owners may have regarding legal entities. As an experienced accountant and professor at Stratford University, Tariq spoke about the most important stage in a business person’s life; when they are actually starting a company. He drew the fine distinctions between an LLC and an S Corp. He spoke about the rising popularity of different types of companies and how tax benefits vary for these. He also mentioned that investing in certain types of businesses may result in certain tax benefits.
Tom Regnante the fourth person on the panel is Senior Vice President and Team Leader with Citibank. He handles the lending needs of private individuals and companies. Tom gave the audience an important nugget. He said that we should not just look at banks, but also the bankers. It is important to research the background of a banker, to evaluate how many deals that banker has done. Evaluating the past performance of a banker allows the business owner to work with the right person. Tom also outlined how bankers qualify business owners for loans. At question time, a member of the audience asked Tom if it would be more beneficial to work with a smaller community bank. Tom replied that there was not much difference between small and large banks, and the decision makers were just as accessible at larger banks.
This panel discussion was a success for the simple reason that the important stages of starting and growing a business were discussed by the very people who have actually done it! What I find inspiring about Open Washington DC organization is that it continues to demystify the adventure of entrepreneurship. As I sat there listening to Abbas, Adil, Tariq and Tom, I became convinced that success is a process, and it is most certainly possible.