McGee Young is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Marquette University. His company, MPSP, LLC, markets H2Oscore, a water conservation program for cities that uses online water use dashboards and a rewards program to motivate residents to conserve. H2Oscore dashboards are currently being used in four cities in Wisconsin—Whitewater, Milwaukee, Grafton and Waukesha.
At what point did you become interested in entrepreneurship?
My family has a long history of entrepreneurship, so it’s been part of my life since I was a child. However, my first big idea came to me in college when I wanted to start an airport internet service. This was in 1994, right after our campus was wired and we all started using the Mosaic browser. My roommate and I were going to take out student loans, buy computers and get them hooked up to the internet at the airport and make a fortune, even if we didn’t really understand how to hook computers up to the internet. We were talked out of it by people who “knew better,” who said that nobody would ever want to browse the internet at the airport.
What has been the biggest difficulty you’ve faced as an entrepreneur?
Ha! To single out one particular difficulty would be insulting to all of the other difficulties that are faced on a daily basis. That being said, time management is probably the biggest challenge. With another job, a family and a desire to have a life, figuring out how to allocate time among competing responsibilities is always tough.
As a non-technical founder of a software company, managing the technical development of the site can also be challenging. We don’t have a technical co-founder or CTO, so we haven’t had the ability to “solve” our business problems by simply writing more code. However, we’ve actually built a better business model because of those challenges.
What makes Milwaukee a unique place to start a company?
Milwaukee is still organized around its industrial past. The civic and business community is hierarchical and tends to close ranks around incremental approaches to change. Companies that fit the traditional mold tend to do better here. As a startup, it’s a fine line to walk between disrupting existing markets and finding a safe business model that is easily understood by investors.
What piece of advice do you have for new startup companies?
Our company gained a lot of traction when we talked to potential customers; and we wasted a lot of time when we acted on ideas that had only been discussed within the office. Because technology has made starting a company so much easier, the real challenge for startup companies today is finding a sustainable business model. Focus on the business model early and use tools like LaunchRock and Optimizely to understand your value proposition to your customers.
Which books are on your reading list right now?
I mainly read “The Lean Startup" over and over again! Aside from that, a friend just recommended "Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage" as a way to put the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship in the proper perspective. My daughter and I are currently working our way through the "Magic Treehouse" series.