Pat Sullivan Talks About the DNA of a Startup

Every once in a while I find someone’s blog that I think should be shared with startups. Pat Sullivan is a friend of mine, and a serial entrepreneur/founder. I always wonder why he gets involved with what he does, and here he talks about the DNA of a startup, using as an example his most recent project, Flypaper :

Every once in a while I find someone’s blog that I think should be shared with startups. Pat Sullivan is a friend of mine, and a serial entrepreneur/founder. I always wonder why he gets involved with what he does, and here he talks about the DNA of a startup, using as an example his most recent project, Flypaper :


The DNA of a startup includes all sorts of things. What is the problem the product is trying to solve? How it is designed and coded? How is the product envisioned by the founders? How fanatical are the creators about the details of the product? What marketplace itwill compete in? How much money does the startup have? How will the company monetize? What about the founders’ talents, personalities and experience? How will it be sold and distributed? What is the influence of outside investors and advisors, if they exist? What is the price point? What is the economy doing at the time? Just like DNA, these factors and many others are extremely complex. What eventually emerges is a product of the interplay of the many elements that make up that startups’ DNA. The major challenge for the entrepreneur is to recognize just what this product is!! And the earlier the better! At ACT!, we struggled many times with this.

We had already created the Contact Management category in the first few years of the release of the first version of ACT! We gained a 90 percent market share at one point. But as time went on new competitors were introducing Sales Automation products and then CRM products. We were tempted to try to make ACT! fit into those categories as well. But I always found myself saying, “if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck, IT’S a DUCK.” We could not change the DNA of what ACT! truly was. It was and still is today, a contact manager. That was its DNA.

With Flypaper the same is very true. It has been four long years in the making. And during its history many influences affected its DNA. But at its core its DNA was really very clear. If only we could see it. As I said, that is the entrepreneurs’ biggest challenge.

At first we tried to make it fit into the cool consumer market where you give a version of the software away to millions and hope that enough people will buy the “pro” version. Well that did not work. And it did not work because it was simply not the products’ DNA. Then we tried to alter the marketing by giving a 30-day free trial to consumers, and that did not work. Again, not in the DNA.

So what is Flypapers DNA? About five months ago, it became crystal clear to me and the other execs here. The problem Flypaper was designed and built to solve has nothing to do with consumers wanting to do cool stuff with Flash for their Myspace or Facebook page. Flypaper was built to solve the problems of companies building mid to large scale Flash projects for eLearning and Marketing.

Don Pierson, the founder of Flypaper has 20 years experience of building large scale Flash projects for large and midsize companies. He saw the problem. Flash was very cool but could only be used by talented and expensive programmers. It could not be edited or maintained by the customer. It took enormous amounts of time and money to build these projects. It involved much collaboration and many approval cycles. Arguments would arise about who approved what and when. This created many billing and payment issues. While building a project in Flash was the best way to do it in terms of a quality result, it was truly a nightmare getting it done. He reasoned, “There has to be a better way!”


That was the beginning of the DNA that ultimately produced Flypaper. Trying to make it something else, as it was being birthed, was a big mistake. But mistakes are common in startups. The good news is that we recognized it soon enough to allow it to become what it today is. Flypaper – The Leading Flash Content Management Platform.

If you look at our brand new, built from the ground up website at you will finally see what Flypaper really is. It ain’t for consumers playing around with Adobe’s Flash. It is only for serious producers and consumers of Flash projects. It solves the problems that Don saw years ago. You can now really build Flash projects in a third to half the time. You can collaborate online with all the people involved in the project in really productive ways. You can actually solve virtually all the problems with approvals and billing that inevitably arise. And, on yeah, you can also save a ton of money. Many of the companies we are working with estimate Flypaper will allow them to save millions of dollars a year.

And with Flypaper you get a lot more than you got with the Flash projects you built the old way. Each project you build inherently is tracked in a Dashboard. You know what the viewer has looked at. How long they spent on what pages. If they emailed it to anyone else, you know it and you know what those people did with it. You can edit and maintain your own projects without being dependent on Flash programmers who don’t really like to do the mundane maintenance anyway. Marketing can produce Flash projects that salespeople can easily personalize specifically to the prospect they are trying to sell. And marketing gets to control what elements sales can personalize. Salespeople use the Dashboard to see exactly what a prospect is doing with the marketing materials they sent. The stories (projects) also provide a way for the prospect (or learners in an eLearning application) to communicate with the sales person either by email or even live chat (coming soon).

Flypaper unlocks the power of Flash for everyone in the corporation. It releases Flash from the domain of experts and niches, and unleashes its power for the whole company to sell more and train more effectively. Content creators both inside and outside the company can now work together in ways they could not do before. To our knowledge, there is nothing like Flypaper. I could not be more excited about the potential of Flypaper. I like its DNA!!

For me, this answers the question I always ask businesses: “how will you make money?” You take a persistant, sometimes niggling, problem and create a company that solves it.

About the author

Francine Hardaway, Ph.D is a serial entrepreneur and seasoned communications strategist. She co-founded Stealthmode Partners, an accelerator and advocate for entrepreneurs in technology and health care, in 1998.