“Founder Friday” is a weekly series that profiles founders and entrepreneurs connected to The Ohio State University. Today, we are featuring Bob Wiggins and his company, RedBud Software. Read how this entrepreneur overcame “nearly insurmountable messes” to ultimately claim success.
Tell us about your business or organization.
RedBud SoftWare is a spinout company from The Ohio State University. It produces software for managing day-to-day greenhouse operations–pest scouting, control product application management and compliance, equipment maintenance space allocation and the like.
The software was created by Joan Leonard, who ran the greenhouse operations at Ohio State for 30 years and is a nationally recognized greenhouse authority. We’re really lucky to have someone of Joan’s clout, knowledge and experience as part of the team.
We have early customer traction with a number of commercial and academic greenhouse operations. We’re working on creating early relationships with customers who have an interest in what we’re doing and are willing to provide feedback to help us continue to improve the product.
Our long-term vision is that the RedBud product will track all inputs (temperature, CO2, light, pests, control products and more) and all harvest results to provide insights to growers that will help them have better, more repeatable results.
Why did you decide to take a leap and become a founder? How did you reach that decision?
Over the years, I’ve been the leader of four technology companies. Two were very successful. One was a mixed bag and one was kind of a disaster.
I love the process of building a team and trying to make something from nothing. It’s energizing and exciting. When things go well, it’s exhilarating. And over the long haul, it can be financially rewarding as well.
When the opportunity arose to run RedBud, I was excited about the product, the team, and the market. It seemed like too good an opportunity to pass by.
How have you had to develop your leadership skills as a founder? What leadership lessons have you learned through leading your organization?
Development of leadership skills is an ongoing process. I have more than 35 years of experience; I’ve been learning for a long time. Over time, I think with experience I’ve become a better leader, but I don’t think there’s ever a point where someone can say, “I’m now a great leader.” It’s a process of continual improvement.
Describe a success that has been made possible through your leadership skills.
Over my career, there have been several cases where I was faced with big, nearly insurmountable messes. I can think of one company in particular, where my involvement as an investor and board member started when the company was a startup. The company made nice progress, and then it stalled and then started to backslide and almost ran out of money. As a board, we had to make some very unpleasant decisions to stay in business. It would have been easy to walk away, but we managed to persevere, fix the team, right the ship and, eventually, we had a great result for everyone. But it took a long time and a lot of work.
A key part of leadership is keeping the faith when things are bad but also being willing to do the unpleasant things necessary to actually get through the mess. Perseverance is part of almost every success story. Business is a marathon, not a sprint.
Based on your experiences as a founder, what is the most important leadership trait that founders must possess? How did you foster that trait in yourself?
I think the most important leadership trait may be optimism, followed closely by realism. You can’t be an entrepreneur without a heavy dose of optimism, but you can’t be a successful business person without an overlay of realism. At the end of the day, a business needs to be financially sustainable, or it really isn’t a business. You can get only so far with optimism, but without optimism you don’t even get off the starting block.
As you get more experience in life, it’s easy to lose some of the natural optimism you may have had when younger. It turns out a lot of life’s lessons are actually kind of painful.
I’m not sure I’m a natural optimist, so I always have to work to nurture that side of my personality.
What other advice would you give a current or future founder about leading others?
The most successful leaders I’ve seen have been very honest and open with their stakeholders. I know everyone says that honesty and openness are important, but I’m afraid not that many leaders live up to the standard. If you want people to follow you, over time they need to trust you and know you have their backs. The only way you can develop trust is to say what you mean, do what you say you’re going to do and always trying to put the interests of the business as a whole ahead of your individual interests and ego.
Is there anything else you’d like us to include in your profile?
I’m really excited about RedBud SoftWare and the opportunity it represents. We have a very good product and a vision for how to make it even better. We have a great team, including a strong board. We’re in a market that is large and growing — and has a need for what we’ve built. We have enthusiastic and supportive early customers. And we have Ohio State and Rev1 Ventures behind us. I think RedBud SoftWare has the potential to be a great Ohio success story.