ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT AWARD WINNER
Giovanni Donatelli’s The Language Group started with a one-room office near Lynnhaven Parkway: “As in any new business, we had to establish an office infrastructure with a phone/fax, internet, email, computer equipment, office furniture, etc. I had enough of a budget to cover the first three months of rent. In the first year of business, we generated just enough revenue to stay in business. I had an evening job so I could reinvest our profits back into the business to cover operating expenses.”
Starting the company “It was fortune that just out of college, I worked in a small language firm that went out of business rather quickly. This introduction to the language industry was all I needed. Even though I should have been intimidated by the failure in front of me, there was something about this language business that I truly loved. Perhaps as an immigrant, I remembered my parents trepidation when trying to understand doctors and other technical situations. ”
Hardest part of launching the company “For us, the most challenging obstacle was to identify potential clients that would use this service, and then demonstrate to them the value of this service. New client acquisition was a painstakingly slow process. Even though we felt qualified to take on larger companies and projects, few were willing to take the risk with us.”
A lesson learned “In the early days, we would often receive calls from companies (which we didn’t recognize) needing immediate service. We would diligently deliver excellent service. However, in some cases we would not receive payment. For a small business, this could be crippling. We quickly learned to change company policy to ask for a percentage, or in some cases a full payment, up front from any new clients.”
Risks taken “Early in the life of the business, I had a dear friend willing to offer a loan to help me during a difficult time. The loan came with a handsome interest rate, given that the perceived risk was fairly high. Although I was confident the company would succeed, knowing someone else had ‘skin in the game’ made me doubly motivated to ensure the company’s success. I was able to pay back the loan, with interest, in three years.”
Biggest obstacle overcome “The economic downturn in 2008. My largest client laid off over 600 employees. Translation services was the last thing on their minds. It took them two years to come back to us. From 2008 to 2010, we had to survive without our biggest client.”
What or who has helped you the most in establishing your business? “My wife, Chrysta. She has been there almost from day one. She would be my sounding board every evening. In 2012, she joined the company, first assisting in the office, then as the executive partner. ”
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