“The trick to entrepreneurship is to know what a good idea is before you fall in love with your product. That’s one of the most important things I learned in the MBA Program – what makes a good business idea. Identify that first, then develop the product to meet the opportunity.” – Harlan Beverly, MBA ’04
The Idea Clicked
Bigfoot Networks’ technology makes online video games play faster by sending, receiving and processing network traffic more efficiently. The server bypasses the computer’s central processing unit and routes game network traffic through its Network Processing Unit leaving the CPU free to run the game.
Harlan Beverly came up with the idea for Bigfoot Networks during an entrepreneurship class at McCombs. “I was learning about markets and how markets work and what a burning need is. At that moment, the idea to give gamers a better networking option clicked in my head,” said Beverly.
After earning his electrical engineering and computer science undergraduate degrees at Ohio Northern University, Beverly worked at Intel for six years as a network chip architect developing high-performance network cards for the server industry.
A passionate video gamer, Beverly wanted to combine his knowledge of networking with the video game industry. “I knew lots about networking and very little about business,” Beverly said. He decided to learn how to start his own business and enrolled in McCombs’ Texas Executive MBA program because of McCombs’ strong entrepreneurship reputation.
With his analytical engineering background, Beverly first thought business school might not be academically challenging. “It was a challenging, engaging and very rewarding experience. I learned so much about things I really needed to know, like negotiations, communications, product flow…things that I now use every day,” he said.
After taking the MBA core courses his first year, Beverly took Entrepreneurial Management his second year. Course content included market analysis, identifying the need, and managing the startup and the business once it’s launched. Then he took the New Venture Creation course, where he learned how to develop a business plan and prepare for the 2004 Texas Moot Corp Competition.
Another important class for Beverly was Business Law. “Engineers fear lawyers,” he said. By learning the fundamentals of business law I was able to overcome my fear.” (Beverly writes a blog, Tytus’ business for engineer type brains”.) “One of the things that stops engineers from doing anything creative on their own is the fear that it’s going to be owned by the company. I learned you can ask for a waiver and modify your innovations agreement.”
From the first day of class, Gary Cadenhead, Moot Corp director at the time, introduced students to investors and venture capitalists. Austin Venture partners and other VCs judged the early rounds and then the later rounds of the competition. “It was absolutely awesome to be able to interact with the judges. They get to watch you do your live pitch and then give you feedback right then,” Beverly said.
Bigfoot Networks won the 2004 Texas Moot Corp Competition, with $100K in prize money and one year free office space and counseling at Austin Technology Incubator (ATI). (Beverly stayed three years at ATI and was so impressed with the facility, staff and services that he’s back at ATI for his second startup.)
In 2007, Bigfoot secured an important customer deal with Dell, the number one manufacturer in gaming computer sales. Bigfoot was an add-on premium networking option on their gaming systems. By 2010, up to 40 percent of all Dell gaming PCs shipped with Bigfoot Killer software. The Dell relationship was the driver for huge revenue growth, which has doubled year every year since 2007.
ATI Director Isaac Barchas introduced Beverly to Venio Capital Partners, although Venio had heard publicity about Bigfoot Networks winning Texas Moot Corp. Venio invested $4 million in Series A funding, which allowed them to develop a prototype. “About a year after we won Texas Moot Corp we launched our product in the U.S. and it was a great launch. People loved it,” said Beverly. In 2008, North Bridge Venture Partners, whom Beverly met at the 2004 Moot Corp Competition, invested $8 million in series B funding.
In December 2009 Beverly launched another startup, Karmaback. “Marketing executives spend a lot of money advertising on Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. This brings a lot of traffic to their web page, but that’s when they lose them,” Beverly said. “Karmaback developed a plug-in that lives on our customers’ social network page that tracks a visitor’s feedback, comments and activity. The visitor earns points for their participation with our customer that they can use to get discounts on products.