Jesse Proudman, Founder and CEO
Blue Box Group, Inc.
Determined, thoughtful and customer-oriented entrepreneur.
These are the characteristics that immediately come to mind when you first meet Jesse Proudman. And, you quickly come to realize that this is just scratching the surface.
With over 15 years of experience in building and leading IT businesses, Jesse has continued to demonstrate these characteristics throughout his professional career. His current company, Blue Box Group, is an example of his fortitude for success and aptitude as a hand-on, do-it-yourself entrepreneur. Having founded Blue Box in 2003, Jesse has been able to weather the economic challenges, both prosperous and turbulent, through his relentless drive and passion for customer satisfaction. This has been an underlying theme throughout his career and has helped him lead Blue Box to record growth, doubling revenue year over year.
In October 2012, Jesse completed a $4.3 million Series A round of funding, selecting Voyager Capital as the lead investor. Voyager recognized early on that Blue Box was able to accelerate growth in its core business largely because of Jesse’s strategic leadership, vision and focus. Additionally, Voyager believed that Blue Box had developed a unique market opportunity by providing solutions beyond platform-as-a-service to the Ruby on rails and gaming markets. The company continues to exceed expectations not only in its record growth, but also in the way Jesse infuses his high standards of customer satisfaction across the company.
We were able to briefly catch up with Jesse to learn more about what makes this determined entrepreneur tick. What we discovered is that Jesse not only exemplifies the spirit of entrepreneurship, but carries those attributes to other areas of his life.
How did the idea of Blue Box come about and what ignited the spark in you to start this new venture?
I’ve been working in the web development world since 1997, and very early on, I noticed a lack of hosting or infrastructure companies who were focused on customer success vs. selling customer’s infrastructure. The Internet infrastructure world is fascinating to me. I really enjoy the “guts” – the “plumbing”.
Blue Box launched its hosting offering with a focus on the Rails language in 2005 and we immediately saw that we filled an underserved niche. Blue Box’s immediate traction only further validated the need for the product we were offering, and launched Blue Box on the trajectory that would eventually lead to our Series A.
Do you believe there is some sort of formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur? If yes, why? If no, why?
I recently came across this Thomas Edison quote which, to me, summarizes what being a successful entrepreneur is all about:
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
I truly believe there is absolutely no magic formula outside of having true grit, and never stopping until you’ve overcome every mountain in your way. Every business, industry and idea is different, but what binds him or her together is the consistent reality that successful businesses have founders who have overcome great struggle. It’s the antithesis of “easy money”.
What would you say are the top five key elements for starting and running a successful business?
• True Grit
• Customer Orientation
• Vision and Drive
These principals all play off each other and successful entrepreneurs have the ability to interweave them all.
Focus – When possible, I have found it most effective to pick one thing and work it until completion before moving onto the next. Spreading myself incredibly thin amongst many priorities often means none of them get done. I apply this principal from both an incredibly tactical “today's to-dos” perspective, all the way to “Q1 priorities”.
True Grit – Running a successful business is not always glamorous. Start-up life and entrepreneurship are often characterized as being incredibly rewarding. Yet the majority of the time, being a startup CEO is a lonely and difficult journey. To be successful, it is important to be committed for the long run and to use that commitment to put the hard times into perspective.
Customer Orientation – At Blue Box, considering both what our customers want and need, and thinking about how our customers use our product or service, can lead towards a path to success.
Organization – A commitment is incredibly important. I find that to be able to follow through on commitments made during the day, I need to stay incredibly organized. There is no magic formula to this and every one has a system that works for them. But the folks whom do not have a system, and do not think from this perspective, tend to not be as successful.
Vision – It is vitally important, yet challenging, to be able to communicate my passion for what I want to build in a way that rallies the troops. I believe this is a skill that takes practice with a lot of failure.
What has been your biggest challenge (or surprise) in growing and building your business?
The biggest challenge and the biggest surprise is the velocity of new and incommensurable experiences that occur on a day-to-day business. It is my belief that growing a business provides a better-rounded education than anything you can obtain from a University.
What or who has been your greatest inspiration?
The student entrepreneurs I mentor hugely inspire me. Being able to offer my experiences to those young students with such a passion, energy and drive to their businesses and dreams always leaves me fired up. I give a little time and get so much in return.
In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur?