Midwest Perspectives: An Interview with Michelle Galligan

As a growing epicenter for startups and investors, there’s a lot to learn from the Midwest. Each entrepreneur with their own story of failures and successes offers insights into future success. In this ongoing interview series, we’ll tackle the same subjects from multiple entrepreneurial perspectives.

We recently had a chance to sit down with Michelle Galligan and get her perspective on building businesses in the Midwest and what she has learned as an entrepreneur. Michelle is the CEO and co-founder of ViaVero, a consulting firm specializing in accounting. The company continues to be one of Columbus’ fastest growing professional service firms, having recently formed a joint venture with GBQ, the third largest accounting firm in central Ohio. She also serves as a management consultant for several startups and early-stage companies.

What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?

I launched a business in January of 2008 with eight other business partners. We were underfunded and didn’t know a recession was about to hit. Through that, I learned several things that have served me well.

I learned that it’s essential to pick the right partners going into a new business and that it’s important to do some research about what it’s like to run a small business before you decide to become an entrepreneur. Furthermore, it’s crucial for your company to be capitalized appropriately because you never know when a recession is coming. Finally, I learned it’s essential to have many conversations with the people you’re going into business with to make sure everyone agrees with the desired outcomes. 

What do you think about working in the Midwest?

I think the Midwest is excellent for access to talent, the cost of operating is very reasonable, and there are a lot of tax incentives and grants that are not available in the bigger cities. I also think that people in the Midwest genuinely want to help start-ups be successful.

There are still some issues we have to overcome. The Midwest moves at a slower pace than “the coasts” and big cities. Also, we haven’t had as many people here launch and build prominent businesses, so it’s harder to find someone you can watch and emulate. The Midwest also has a different approach to failure. On the coasts, people wear failure as a badge of honor because they may have had two or three successful startups beforehand. Here, if people fail, they seem to go back to more traditional jobs because failure is not widely embraced.

Knowing what you know now, what would you tell your “startup self?”

I would tell myself thatif you’re making a deal tohold out until the deal makes sense based on what you want for your company. I was applying to grad school and had thirty days to get my applications in when I had a chance to start a company with a group of investors. I think I rushed into the investment process and getting the deal structured because I wanted to get it done before I had to withdraw my grad school applications.

When you think about starting a new company and finding partners to grow, what’s the key?

There’s two type of partners I consider. The first is outside service providers where I look for quality of service and alignment of values. I like quality in all things, and I want service providers who are going to value the same approach. When I think about equity partners or investors, even at an early stage, I’m looking for people who have the same endgame in mind and the same ideas on how the company needs to operate.

Going back to the Midwest question, this is where we don’t have the depth of resources that exist in other places when looking for partners, particularly investors. You can have 20 meetings a day talking to potential investors in other areas of the country; here, you’d be hard-pressed to find three. I think this results in people getting into partnerships that may not be as well aligned as they should be. The deal may be structured right on paper, but the partners are not strategically aligned. People can take on investors, but what they’re going to need once a company is past the early stage is a true partner, one that can help them grow the company, not just give them money.

Finding the right partners is a process, but it comes down to spending a lot of time with them. I also spend a great deal of time talking with other companies the potential partner has previously worked with and check their references out thoroughly. When looking at a deal, I also encourage people to have an excellent attorney, and a well-qualified accountant because many of the alignment issues will come out when reviewing the legal agreements.

Where do you go to learn?

For the pure information piece, I go to podcasts, newsletters, or blogs. Some of my favorite podcasts are:

Obviously, it changes over time. I used to go to Inc. Magazine for business advice, but I haven’t picked up a hard copy of that in a very, very long time.

On the people side, it’s all about getting together with people who share the same business values and approach I do. I’ve been fortunate to be in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). That has given me access to ninety other entrepreneurs in Columbus running similar types of businesses. They can be sounding boards, but EO has also given me exposure to some of the more successful entrepreneurs in town that came a generation or two before me. I’ve been able to access some of those people as formal, or informal, mentors; that’s made a big difference.

I tend to make most of my connections organically. I find that when links are inorganic, it doesn’t tend to work very well. Most of my relationships have come through EO, which is a little more formal, but I’ve also made contacts through my community work and other outside activities.

How do you keep yourself organized?

I am by nature a spontaneous person, and I’ve had to learn to become more structured. My routine changes about once a year regarding how I set up my days, but right now I get up, walk the dog, and work out. That’s my “me time,” something I do for myself no matter what. I limit the number of meetings I schedule in a week. I used to do thirty meetings a week, now I limit it to fifteen, and I keep them in thirty-minute time blocks.

On top of that, I have an ongoing to-do list that gets prioritized every night for the next day. That way I’m not spending my entire next day reacting to phone calls and emails I get. I already have my priorities set for the day. If something does come up, unless it’s mission critical, it gets put on the list and prioritized for the next day.

What’s the one thing that can happen in the course of a day that makes you nuts?

Operational issues. If I find something like a payroll cycle or billing has a problem it drives me insane. These are things that should be so structured and processed oriented that there should never be an issue.

To learn more about Michelle’s experience and her background check out her LinkedIn profile.