Class of 2007
Editor's note: Eric Brown could not be reached for updates.
Originally ran: January 1, 2008
Eric Brown's business venture, Smart Site, isn't about turning a business owner into a world-class Web designer. Brown's goal is to get a business's information on the Internet — quickly, efficiently and without burning through a business's cash.
Smart Site, a Web site management software system, allows owners to maintain and update a site themselves. Brown's idea has flourished, growing from one employee — himself — to 10 employees in a four-year period. Next year, Smart Site has plans to market its software nationally
Position: Chief executive and founder of Smart Site Inc.
Family: Wife, Joni; daughter, Allie.
Education: Three years at St. Cloud State University.
Ring tone: Theme from "Knight Rider."
Favorite movies: Science fiction classics, "Star Wars."
Favorite book: "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."
Favorite colors: Blue and green.
Hobbies: Computer programming, skiing, hanging out with family.
How did you come up with the idea for Smart Site?
In (1995), a friend and I started Ready Net Go, where we did cutting-edge Web design. We later sold the business. Two years later, I started Smart Site, which was more tool-based. I wanted to provide technology that was too expensive for smaller businesses, but bring it down so smaller businesses could afford it. It was a set of tools that would allow businesses to maintain their own Web sites so they wouldn't have to spend $100 to $200 paying a Web developer for text changes. We're able to allow customers instant access to maintaining their Web site with really simple and intuitive tools.
The goal is that anybody should come in, regardless of their abilities, and change their Web site. We help you build your site so the site will grow with the business. It's allowing businesses to communicate in real time and get their message out instantly to their customers.
How did you move from Web designer to developer of a business-to-business product?
It goes back to looking at what a small business needs. For a while, everybody wanted the flashy Web sites, but it got to the point where there were so many flashy Web sites that Web users were kind of getting sick of it.
They wanted to get their information, and they wanted to get updated information. So how do we provide businesses the ability to communicate with the customers faster and better? We wanted to focus more on the content than all the flashiness, and that's how Smart Site was born. Businesses are starting to see the end-users want information as quick as possible, and they want to get up-to-date information.
What is the best advice you've received?
Never give up and always go big.
Who are your mentors?
I had great parents. My dad was an entrepreneur, so that runs in my blood. My mom went through college with two young boys. They taught me persistence and patience, and those are my keys to success.
I grew up learning about business and the struggles my dad went through and the rewards. He's a really great people person. Everyone is his friend. My dad treats people so well. So I really think of my customers as friends. I really care about the end result and how business is going and the process. I want them to be very successful.
What do you like most about your job?
Everything. If I didn't do this for a living, I'd be doing this for a hobby. I love the building process, developing our product. I love meeting with potential customers, I love talking to our customers that would be using it. Watching the growth of the business is just phenomenal. When you set your goals, meet your goals and surpass them, it's highly rewarding. It makes you want to work even harder.
When did you realize your company was on to something?
When we hit our second version of our product. We're on the third version right now. And the demand was continually growing. We do little marketing. It's all word-of-mouth right now. That's a pretty big testament to your product when your growth is based on word-of-mouth.
What would your daughter say about you?
She says I'm funny a lot. I try to be a positive and an upbeat role model for Allie. Everyone has challenges in their life and I want to make sure she goes through life ... with a positive attitude, and that she has those skills needed to enjoy life ... and find the things that are important to her and learn to appreciate them.
As an entrepreneur, how do you overcome the fear of failure?
You have to ask yourself, "What is the worst thing that could happen if you fail?"; "Is it something you love to do?"; and "Would you do it for free or as a hobby if you couldn't make money from it?" If you have the confidence to do it and are willing to put in the time and not expect overnight results, that's how you can overcome it. You have to not be afraid to talk and share your idea with the right people. There are always people willing to help.
Did you know?
Brown and his wife started the Parents and Kids' Expo in St. Cloud, an annual event that features vendors and entertainment geared toward families. It celebrated its third year this year, attracting about 4,000 people and about 85 vendors.