Dwight deVera | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Dwight deVera

Background:  

King of Prussia, Pa.-based Forerunner Group is a data transparency and analytical applications company focused on the health care market. It's signature product, RXTransparent, is designed to protect consumers from counterfeit drugs. 

The Lesson:

It's very different founding a startup when you are over 40 and married with kids than it would be if you are younger. Our company was recently featured as one of Philly's top startups, and I remember standing on stage, realizing I was the oldest one on stage. And that kind of reminded me about this idea of what I call "career inertia."

Before I came here, I had been working for a decade in enterprise software work. I was running North American operations [for a large software company], and I had over 100 companies as customers, including Southwest Airlines and Wegman's. But at some point I realized that I got away from what I would call the "pioneer attitude" that I had earlier my career. I had often told my staff—and not to speak in cliches—that fortune favors the bold, but when I really look back at my career in big enterprise software, especially at the tail end of that career, I saw our sales faltering and us losing out to upstart, cloud-based analytics apps.

But ... my job seemed very safe, and I believed I could have a long career as an enterprise software executive. So when I saw the business start to falter a little, I didn't take my own advice. I wasn't bold.

We need to able to sit down together at the same table and eat our own sacred cow.

The Lesson:

I understood the economics of the entire business and I understood the value proposition [of going in a different direction] but there was just a lot of safety in staying where I was. So the mistake I made was probably not making the move when it would have been most optimal for my career. I stayed in my safe position for two or three years after [I saw the industry changing], and then within six months of me leaving, the entire company was acquired by another company as it was trying to maintain that enterprise software dream. I think that's the absolute lesson going forward—it's all about coming back to that boldness.

I hate to throw out another cliche, but in this entrepreneurial/health care/IT space, one thing I tell my staff all the time is that we need to able to sit down together at the same table and eat our own sacred cow. We have to understand that there are competitors and very nimble organizations out there that might be behind us right now ... but we always need to be innovative and nimble as to what we're working on.