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Entrepreneurship Lessons From Media Executive-Turned Security Leader

Scott Hightower speaking at the Emory Entrepreneur Network Breakfast Series on February 25th at the Morris, Manning, and Martin
I attended an Emory Entrepreneur Network breakfast last Thursday with Scott Hightower, President and CEO of Verified Security, as the speaker.

Scott spoke of his start in media production before making the leap into entrepreneurship by buying a small security company. Eight years later, the company is a highly successful managed security services provider for commercial customers. The company’s abbreviated customer list includes Clorox, Great American Cookies, Zaxby’s, and Holiday Inn.

Scott shared his top 12 lessons he’s learned since taking the plunge into entrepreneurship to which I’ll highlight the top 4 that stuck out to me.
  1. Focus on cashflow and profitability/ focus on recurring revenue. Scott saw a grand opportunity in the security company he bought in its relationships and a gap in providing monthly services. Scott implemented a recurring revenue model that helped his company through the economic downturn in 2008-2011, and it is recurring revenue that will drive the valuation of his company.
  2. Ask for help and connect with others. Scott worked at Cox Communications in media production for 15+ years and didn’t know anything about security. He realized he needed to reach out to others for help and to learn as much as possible as fast as possible. He enrolled in educational classes. He networked. He grinded to be a successful leader.
  3. Figure out the sales process and automate it. Scott cites Aaron Ross’s book Predictable Revenue as a source of great inspiration for his business. To accelerate sales, he figured out what would be too costly to serve or too far outside the company’s services and said no to them. Meanwhile, he streamlined and set out the structure that would enable selling to be a repeatable, scalable process.
  4. Work on your business, not too much in it. Scott cited how difficult it was to grow the business and focus strategically when he was in the weeds addressing anything and everything. It’s easy as a passionate entrepreneur to get tied into the weeds. For Scott, his task list kept growing and he spent too much effort on tactical tasks rather than strategic tasks. As the owner and driver of the company’s vision, he needed to delegate and prioritize.
  5. Don’t try to do too much – specialize. (Scott said he was going to list his top 10 to which he actually provided 12. Emulating Scott, I’m over-delivering with this fifth point.) This was a key learning for me as well from my early startup – build a focused product, not bloated with too many features and functions. Scott focused on his differentiators so as not to be trapped in a commoditized business where price competition ruled. Additionally, to succeed in efficiently addressing sales, services, and customer support, the company needed to specialize its services, not a broad stroke.
I enjoyed Scott’s lessons and the many books he pointed out as great teachers – added a couple to my list already. I’m giving next month’s talk on Thursday, March 24th so I’ve got my work cut out in following in his footsteps. If you’re involved in Emory at all, come hear the talk! Emory Entrepreneur Network Breakfast Series.

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