Interview With Alex Iceman
Describe your product or service:
“Managed Software Team (Team Extensions): Client support for Logistics, HR, Payroll, Legal, IT
Custom IT Projects: SWAT teams to build high-quality software projects from the ground up through launch; and post-launch support”
Describe your company values and mission:
“We connect innovative companies with world-class developers, engineers, and security experts.
- Be gracious
- Forgive (help your teammate to be successful and provide support)
- [Be] accountable (take ownership)
How are you funded? I.e. type of funding, number of funding rounds, total funding amount.
“Private funding (self) and profitable”
How big is your team? Tell us a little about them (I.e. co-founders, freelancers, etc.)
“~100 software engineers around the world.”
How did you come up with and validate your startup idea? Tell us the story!
“I started my first IT Consulting company in San Francisco, Iceman Softworks, where we delivered high profile mobile projects working with top engineering talent in Silicon Valley. As my business grew, my clients wanted to have longer-term support for IT projects at a more affordable price tag. That's when I started to do test projects outside of the US working with developers from India, China, the Philippines, and Mexico until I finally started working with talent in Argentina. That’s where I found the type of engineers I wanted to work with and knew my clients would want to work with as well. That's when Genium was born.”
How did you come up with your startup's name? Did you have other names you considered?
“As someone who fights and strives for the absolute highest quality — from the people I hire to the services delivered to clients — I knew I needed to find a company name that adequately represented the value clients can expect but also represents the type of people who you will be working with and around.
I firmly believe the people of Genium are the best of the best, the pinnacle of technology minds, and are essentially experts or geniuses, if you will, in software engineering. Genium is essentially a combination of both the makeup of the people along with the place in which they gather, come together, and collaborate to deliver cutting-edge solutions to our clients. In a word, it represents the intelligence, value, and style of the way we work and quality of what we deliver.”
Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
“At the age of 18, I saw a friend running his own business with his father, and at the time, I made a promise to myself to run my own business before I turned 25. When I moved to Silicon Valley, I knew my company had to be in tech, and since I have a degree in engineering and math, the choice was obvious — an IT company. That’s when I started my first consulting company at the age of 25.”
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Did you encounter any roadblocks when launching your startup? If so, what were they and what did you do to solve them?
“It’s always a learning journey. In my type of work (CEO), you always deal with the most difficult problems. There are countless roadblocks no matter the size of the company. It’s the mindset to wake up every morning and be ready to open that tough email and deal with the problem one at a time.
I’ve been close to a bankruptcy when a major client went underwater, and we didn’t see it coming. I didn’t foresee this and allowed three payroll invoices over $100,000 to be overdue. Eventually, they didn’t pay, and I had to finance payrolls myself. At that time, we had a team of 11 engineers in San Francisco. I took out multiple loans and burned a lot of credit cards. It took me a couple of years to pay 80% of that back. But I made sure my guys were paid and their families were taken care of. It was one of the most difficult times for me.”
Who is your target market? How did you establish the right market for your startup?
“It’s all about your first major client. When my major client came and asked to build a mobile app and servers to service 12 million users, it was a breakthrough. All I needed to do was deliver at exceptional quality and on time. My team successfully did this, and the client is still working with us. That was a perfect match for us and our expertise. We used that as a good example of our target market. In general, our market is mid to large tech companies with occasional startups. We target companies that have 100+ employees in the US that have a sizable engineering department. Since Genium works with high profile clients that require exceptional software architecture and high quality, we tend to work with stable companies that value quality.”
What's your marketing strategy?
“We use a variety of strategies from lead generation to marketing. We use networking and events. We get a lot of word of mouth and client referrals.”
How did you acquire your first 100 customers?
“We tend to work with fewer companies but be more customer-oriented. We are at 20 major accounts right now, with several bringing over a million a year in gross revenue.”
What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business?
“Retention rates. We are close to 90% across all teams. Overall headcount is important, and its growth is monitored closely.”
What's your favorite startup book and podcast?
“I think the best investment was a book by Dale Carnegie, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People,’ [I] purchased it for $10, and using the knowledge, I was able to earn $10,000. Pretty good story. I love negotiation books and Chris Voss’ work ‘Never Split the Difference.’ Really helps to be at your best game when talking about difficult deals.”
What is a song or artist that you listen to for motivation?
“I am a film composer myself, and music plays an important part in my life. I love to listen to Hans Zimmer, John Williams, and many other film composers. When things are tough and I need to push through, I have an ultimate playlist — all soundtracks from Cirque du Soleil show Varekai. I go running outside and listen to the whole playlist.”
Is there a tool, app, or resource that you swear by to help run your startup?
“Slack, Jira, and Salesforce.”
What is something that surprised you about entrepreneurship?
“It’s been very difficult to motivate myself when I would get problem after problem, one tough email after another. Until I realized that my job title and job description is to deal with the most unpleasant issues that were not sorted out on other levels. If it hits your inbox, it’s hot. After I accepted that fact and started to wait for emails like that, everyday things became easier.”
How do you achieve work/life balance as a founder?
“I have many hobbies and passions, including being a professional athlete working as a referee for the American Hockey League, a private pilot, a film composer and I run two companies. Two years ago, pre-COVID times, my team pushed hard to take the company fully remote, and I am so glad I listened to them. I spend a lot of time with my family in between activities. We travel together, they visit my hockey games, I take them flying, and they had to listen all day long to me composing music for the next film I am working on. Regarding my business, I delegate a lot, and I trust my team. We try to focus on the process and checklists and improve them — even when mistakes happen, we don’t punish people but rather sit down all together to analyze how we can improve the process to avoid such mistakes in the future. People feel safe working at Genium and Toosa, and they are not afraid to try new things and innovate, and I support that.”
What is a strategy you use to stay productive and focused?
“I used to-do lists, live by my calendar, and I work in waves. I am an engineer and a creative person. I’ve learned that I am the type of person that is most productive when I am laser-focused on a task, and I typically do a lot of work in a two- to three-hour window.”
Did you have to develop any habits that helped lead you to success? If so, what are they?
- “Have and use checklists.
- Find time to exercise or take a walk.
- Work for people who inspire you.
- Work smarter, not harder.”
What was your first job and what did it teach you?
“My first job was a sound engineer at a sound recording studio. I was 14 years old just fresh out of a musical school. It tough me a lot about ethics, working with clients, working with sounds, instruments. I would work with artists that were somewhat famous at the time and I had to behave like an adult. It was a great experience and I had amazing mentors.”
More on Genium
Alex Iceman, founder of tech startup Genium, shared valuable insights during our interview that will inspire and motivate aspiring entrepreneurs.