This article continues a series of articles that chronicle my (Robert Thompson) personal and professional journey into the International Trade arena as well as the background of WorldTradeDaily.com.
We weren’t really attempting to construct an IT solution to a meet a specified market need or sell to a particular industry segment. We wanted to revolutionize the way people looked at world trade, craft beautiful, easy-to-use user interfaces, integrate sources and types of trade data that had never been wedded heretofore and level the world-wide playing field by making essential trade information available and understandable to all, not just through self proclaimed “high priests” and commercial middle men.
In the beginning, many of the players in our small Trade Made Easy had to wear many hats: graphic designer, database administrator, programmer, researcher, copywriter, web developer, hardware engineer, and office administrator – typical for start-up enterprises. We worked for almost four years, through three major iterations of development, before launching the first commercial version of the product.
Just as we were preparing to announce our new baby to the world, our financial partner had a severe set back and was forced to pull out. Having worked on a “shoe string” budget for almost four years, investing every dollar I had, left with zero reserve (and a family of six) it was tough going. One concerned “supporter” once asked me, “When are you finally going to give up” (and get a job)? I replied, “When they pry the server from my cold, dead hands.”
However, empowered by 110% belief and passion in the product and the encouragement of a supportive community, I forged ahead. I had a simple marketing plan. If I could make 100 presentations/product demonstrations within a year, I’d have a solvent business. I branded the new company, “CenTradeX” (Center – Trade – X marks the spot where the world and commerce meet). Our motto became “The Center for World Trade and Business Intelligence.”
The first sales were to our local Universities: Belmont, TSU, Vanderbilt, and MTSU in 2004. The professors of international business had never seen anything that compared to the likes of our CenTradeX interface.
We were introduced to many of our subsequent customers, trade educators, trade consultants, government trade offices and trade associations through NASBITE – National Association of Small Business and International Trade Educators.
Our expenditures in research and development as well as philanthropy always trumped other (commercial) concerns. Over 20% of our gross sales was re-invested in development. Another 20% was set aside for philanthropy through various sponsorship activities we became involved in. Although we grew fast, we were always handicapped by the lack of expansion capital, infrastructure and sales force. Notwithstanding, we became recognized as a leading innovator in the field of international trade technology.