A good idea is a dime a dozen. Execution is the key.
Stephen Anderson is the cofounder of Gun Transfer. He has served in executive, marketing, and product roles for multiple tech startups, growth stage, and publicly traded companies. With over 12 years experience, Stephen has focused his career around cloud-based software, technology, and real estate.
Prior to Gun Transfer, Stephen founded Netqwerk, a big data technology firm that analyzed your professional networks and provided actionable tips on how to improve your career. Netqwerk was awarded multiple patents for their innovations under Stephen’s leadership. He has held marketing leadership roles for multiple companies including Dealertrack as they grew from $200m to nearly $1b in annual revenue. Early in his career he founded a boutique real estate development firm that sold $50m in residential real estate.
Currently, Stephen oversees product development, marketing, and finance for Gun Transfer. Stephen holds a Bachelor in Marketing from the University of Utah, an MBA from Columbia University and a Masters from London Business School. Stephen is a gun rights activist, member of the NRA, and believer in the 2nd Amendment. He volunteered for the Davis County Search and Rescue team for 8 years. Stephen and Jessica Anderson have been married for over 14 years and have 5 children. He is a major University of Utah Football fan and enjoys spending time with his family, snow skiing, wakeboarding, rock climbing, backpacking, fly-fishing and just about any activity outdoors.
Where did the idea for Gun Transfer come from?
The idea for Gun Transfer came from my partner, Randall Gorham. Way back in 1999 he had the foresight to purchase our domain name, www.guntransfer.com. As technology improved and the gun industry evolved, Randall’s original idea started to take shape. He often purchased and sold guns through classified sites. After being in a situation he wasn’t comfortable with, he felt he could change the way gun transfers were done using technology. He could transferring gun ownership easier, safer, and compliant with all the complicated gun laws.
He approached me in late 2015 as he was looking for someone with a tech background that could polish off the business plan and execute the concept. I was running a small tech startup that I founded 2 years earlier. My company had its ups and downs but didn’t seem to have a bright future at the time. So I decided to phase out of my company and cofounded Gun Transfer with Randall.
Drawing on my background in cloud-based software I was able to make some significant contributions to the product plan. I saw Gun Transfer as a cloud-based software company similar to Dealertrack, where I had worked as a marketing executive for 5 years. Dealertrack provided cloud-based software to the automotive industry and sold for $4 billion shortly after I left. I felt that Gun Transfer could take Dealertrack’s model to the gun industry.
For some reason it had become cool for tech companies to be anti-gun, which left a huge opportunity in the market. With my contributions, Gun Transfer became much more than a simple idea to help private gun sellers transfer their guns. We became the first and only company dedicated to providing cloud-based software to the gun transfer industry.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My days can vary a lot and it can be difficult to stay focused on the most important initiative. It helps me to divide my tasks into 3 main categories using the acronym SOS – Sales, Operations, and Statistics. I need to see the big picture in each category and tackle the highest priority tasks. For us, sales is anything that brings in the revenue such as marketing activities. Operations are software development and customer support. Statistics is accounting and tracking the numbers that help us make decisions.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It starts with catching a vision but a good idea is a dime a dozen. Execution is the key. I start the process by researching the market to really understand the potential customer base. I want to know if the idea solves a pain point that customers will pay for. If that check’s out, I’ll write a detailed business plan. The writing process helps me think through all aspects of the business. The last step is to design the product. I like to do this myself using Adobe Creative Suite. I’ll create detailed wireframes and designs for every part of the product. Once again, this helps me think through the details and better understand all aspect of the product development. From there, I get the real designers and developers involved. I use my drafts to help explain my vision. Everything is re-done and improved upon. They add their creative ideas and together we come up with a final plan.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Big data. I think it’s the future and has so much opportunity for both startups and existing companies. For example, wearables are tracking your movements and they can tell if you’re doing pullups, curls, or running. Your exercises are automatically tracked. Google Photos can crunch the data and identify people, places, and things in my photos. I can search for “beach” and all my photos of beaches come up. TrueCar is crunching pricing data on car sales and delivering it to car buyers, making the sales process much easier.
I love all the advancements in big data and feel that we’re just starting to scratch the surface. There are a lot more great ideas out there.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m a visual person so I constantly write on my big whiteboard. It gets me out of my chair, pacing around, and thinking big picture. I keep the most important items on the board as I work through them. It helps me stay focused and productive.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
One of my jobs in college was selling timeshares. Sales was not the career I wanted and I especially didn’t like the high-pressure, sign right now type of sales.
While it didn’t fit my personality, I learned how to sell. Nearly everything you do in business is sales. You might need to get co-workers to buy off on an idea or negotiate a new partnership. If you want to be an entrepreneur you must learn to sell well. Selling timeshares taught me the strategy and tactics. My career later moved into marketing but because of my background I was often asked to revamp sales presentations that made a significant impact to our revenue.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t change much. That’s not to say I haven’t made any mistakes. I have made mistakes and some have been catastrophic. But I’ve also had big successes. I believe in the journey and learning along the way. Sometimes, the best way to learn is through experiencing failure.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I need something to reduce stress, clear my mind, and think. I like to do something active. Most days that means going running at the bird refuge near my house. When I have a little more time I’ll go hiking, mountain biking, snow skiing, or fly-fishing. My best ideas and clearest thoughts always come when I break away and clear my mind.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Our affiliate program has been highly successful so far. Trust is a big issue in our industry. As a startup it can be hard to earn trust. We decided to do this by partnering with companies our customers already trust. We designed our pricing model so we could afford to pay our partners well for their referrals. Just like any company, we use a lot of different marketing strategies but our affiliate partners are the centerpieces.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I founded a big data company prior to Gun Transfer. This company relied heavily on data from one partner. I recognized that they could change their data policies and identified it as our number one risk. Unfortunately, I never thought through a backup plan. I expected the situation to never change. We’ll it did. The company not only changed their data sharing policy but they canceled it. We could no longer get data from them at all.
I thought things were over for us. We weren’t going to shut the doors without a fight. I tried to renegotiate our data agreement but was unsuccessful. We had to come up with a new solution quickly. I approached the team and explained the situation. Fortunately, we had an amazing team that dug in and found solutions. We found new ways to run our algorithms. We could accomplish the same thing with a different set of data. We found many new data partners, eliminating our reliance on one partner. It took months of hard work and creativity but we pulled through. The delays were expensive and we had to raise additional capital. Fortunately, the company was much better in the end.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Here’s one that I know I’ll never tackle but I hope that someone does. The bacon industry has been exploding for years. It’s a massive industry with plenty of opportunity for someone with vision. Consumers are more and more health conscience and prefer leaner meats. Bacon is 2/3rds fat, 1/3 meat, and comes from the belly. There are several other bacon cuts as well. Canadian bacon comes from pork loin and cottage bacon comes from the shoulder. Traditional cottage bacon tastes like ham. If it’s properly cut, cured, and seasoned, it has an amazing taste very similar to traditional bacon but full of meat and flavor rather than fat.
I’ve been making this type of bacon for years using an old fashioned cure and smoking it in my back yard. Everyone that tastes it says it’s the best bacon they’ve ever had. It’s leaner and more flavorful.
From a business standpoint it makes a lot of sense, too. Pork shoulders are less expensive and the unique cottage bacon can be sold as a premium product with higher margins. With the proper marketing, someone could kill it in the bacon industry.
I’m a tech guy so I know I’ll never take advantage of this idea but I wish someone would. I’d like to buy it at the grocery store because I don’t always have time to cure and smoke my own bacon.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
I recently went backpacking on the Wind Rivers Indian Reservation. You have to purchase a fishing and land use license for $80. It’s a lot more expensive than going on the national forest but it’s well worth it. We had an amazing experience and the fly-fishing is the best in the world.
What software and web services do you use?
We use Asana for our task management. It’s simple and easy to use. You can assign tasks to team members and keep track of projects. It’s free from small teams and not very expensive for larger groups. Startups don’t need an over complicated or expensive project manager. Asana fits the bill perfectly.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Unfortunately, I rarely have the time to sit down and read a good book. With my schedule, it works out much better to read a lot of small articles online. I often browse through Harvard Business Review or similar types of magazines.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
The people who have influenced me tend to be my personal relationships, friends, old bosses, family members, etc. I respect and try to emulate people who are well rounded. I look for people who have a great family relationship, are active volunteers in the community, are charismatic and friendly, and successful in business.
In my opinion, many of the biggest names get there by focusing their entire life in one area. Steve Jobs is a good example. He was very successful but miserably failed in almost all other aspects of his life. Success in business is desirable but not at the cost of family, friends, community and religion.
Stephen Anderson on LinkedIn:
Stephen Anderson on Twitter: @StephenA102
Guntransfer Website: www.guntransfer.com