One On One: Tim Berry Of Palo Alto Software

Welcome to another in our One on One series of conversations with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. Tim Berry, President and Founder of Palo Alto Software, spoke with Brent Leary in this interview, which has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, page down to the loudspeaker icon at the end of the post.

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Small Business Trends: Tim is also Founder of Bplans, is a co-founder of Borland International, writes a column for Entrepreneur magazine, and blogs for SmallBizTrends. Tim, why don’t you give us a little bit of your background?

Tim Berry: I started as a journalist, working for UPI and Business Week. Then I got an MBA from Stanford and fell in love with business planning, [which led to] consulting for a few years, then to software. Palo Alto Software was incorporated in 1988, starting with Business Plan Pro business plan software.

Small Business Trends: What was the environment like in Silicon Valley in that time?

Tim Berry: There was an atmosphere where everybody felt like they could get rich. There was so much optimism. It was the birth of a new industry. I feel like that today, with how relatively cheap new venture and web apps are, social media and this new business landscape.

Small Business Trends: You started Palo Alto Software because you had a love of business planning.

Tim Berry: Business planning is a culmination of stories, which I loved, and numbers, which I also love. You can’t do the business plan without both words and numbers. When you do it right, you tell stories and then make them come true.

Small Business Trends: If you were starting the same kind of business today, what do you think you would be doing differently?

Tim Berry: It seems so much easier today. I was constrained in the old days by the platforms and the computing. I did it cheaply based on macros–I wrote the macros and published and did the disks and did the documentations and grew it slowly without investment.

Small Business Trends: You eventually took on investors; then you went back to being privately owned. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Tim Berry: When the whole dotcom boom came, I was one of those that got it wrong. In 1999, Palo Alto Software had, the world’s largest free business planning site. We were getting lots of eyeballs, and the investor community was going crazy over eyeballs. So we took some investment [planning to leverage it and] exit based on the evaluations of 1999.

Well, the world changed and a couple of years later we found ourselves majority owners of a company whose valuations had gone down. We (my wife and I) loved the company and didn’t want to sell it. We negotiated a way to buy our VC partners out, which wasn’t easy, but we made it happen and everybody stayed friends. I think there is a lesson here: Every business alliance has to be based on compatible goals. Our goals [and our investors’ goals] were compatible in 1999, but two years later they weren’t.

Small Business Trends: Until about four years ago you were CEO of Palo Alto Software, but you brought somebody on to take over that role.

Tim Berry: I built a software company based on what I knew how to do with a lot of support from my wife. We never thought of it as a family business. But we have five children and as they grew up, they became involved. Sabrina Parsons, our second daughter, joined the company in 2002. Sabrina has been CEO since April 2007. We have a very nice relationship. My job is writing, speaking, teaching, blogging, Twitter, thought leadership, business planning; Sabrina manages the company as CEO.

Small Business Trends: You are now Chief Blogging Officer. How has that impacted Palo Alto Software and your life?

Tim Berry: Constant content generation is important, particularly for a company like ours, whose software is based on expertise. If we don’t stay fresh in following new trends in business planning, that is a danger. One of the biggest myths is that people who are running companies are supposed to blog in their spare time. No… it takes time. You have to set aside time for it. And it’s been good for the business, because we have grown.

Small Business Trends: What are some of the key things entrepreneurs need to be concerned about today when it comes to business planning?

Tim Berry: Number one, you have got to erase all of that fear and doubt mystique around the business plan. People think of a business plan as it was in the 80s, as a document that you showed investors or bankers. That’s obsolete. But business planning is not obsolete. Business planning is needed more than ever. Business planning is managing and steering your business based on a culmination of strategy and steps, metrics and accountability, and regular review and revision.

Small Business Trends: You blog in a number of places. Where can people read some of the things you are writing about?

Tim Berry: My main blog is TimBerryBplans. My second is UpAndRunningEntrepreneur. The site BPlans is a repository for thousands of my articles over the last 15 years. The site TimBerry serves as a hub for that. And my company is PaloAlto.

From Small Business Trends   One on One: Tim Berry of Palo Alto Software

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