VSJ – December 2004 – Work in Progress

Tushar Mody, AMIAP is Director of Liberator Enterprises. After graduating in Computer Engineering in the late 80s, he worked in marine systems for five years. Then he freelanced in investment banking, telecommunications, human resources, property, publishing and the NHS. He now works as a consultant for several councils on the e-Government project. Here he tells us how Liberator Enterprises got started.

“I’d like a database please.”

That was the simple request I received from the pastor of my local church in October 1998. Now, six years on, SmartMember Millennium is a fully functional database, available as a commercial product. You can see the details at www.smartmember.co.uk. Requests from other churches showing an interest in my product had prompted me to seriously consider this as a minor business venture.

Back in my university days, I remember doing courses on business in relation to IT and thinking, “I’m never going to need this.” How wrong I was. Even lessons I learnt at school on commerce (remember the Young Enterprise Scheme?) proved invaluable in getting my product off the requirements specification and on to a distributable CD.   This included buying the Office XP Developers Edition to make a runtime version for distribution (the database was written in MS Access XP), although this was easier said than done, largely owing to a lack of documentation. It also involved producing a Help file for the users – another learning curve. But the end result looks very professional.

I also had to design a logo for my product (cue my pastor who happens to be a graphic designer), create a good quality CD cover (cue a friend who’s into photography), produce professional stationery for my correspondence (cue another friend of mine who’s in the printing trade) and produce a Web site to include screenshots of SmartMember in action (cue myself, who unfortunately, had never done anything like this before). I used FrontPage to begin with, although now I use DreamWeaver, which, in my opinion, is a much better product. My pastor also helped me create an advertisement for a magazine, although now I use Google Adwords. This allows my product to come up as a sponsored link, at minimal cost. Since doing this, I’ve had many more requests for demonstations from overseas including the USA, Africa, New Zealand and the Caribbean.

So what’s the next step? ASP.NET! This will allow the database to be used online from any Internet-enabled PC, giving administrators the option of working from home. Another learning curve, but it’ll avoid the “DLL Hell” installation issues that some of my customers had in the beginning. It also means I won’t have to keep upgrading my product to the new versions of MS Access each time. The other consideration, of course, is income. I’m a contractor specialising in MS Access, Visual Basic and Uniform 7. When I convert my product to ASP.NET, it’ll be another string to my bow. So what started off as a side business could potentially end up being full-time.

Nevertheless, if you’re thinking of starting-up a business, my first word of advice is probably “don’t!” But if your heart is really in it, then my second word of advice is “go for it!” Completing a project in itself is rewarding regardless of whether you make money or not. All in all, for me it has been a team effort. And although I have sole ownership of the business, I have pledged a financial reward to all those who have helped me get it off the ground. I couldn’t have done it without them, and if my experience is anything to go by, a little bit of help from your friends goes a long way when you find yourself saying “yes” to what seemed like a very simple request.

You can contact Tushar at tushar@smartmember.co.uk.

[Interesting project or development? Let us know at eo@iap.org.uk!]

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