Up From Academe
You can't accuse Bob Ronstadt of failing to practice what he preaches. For 12 years, he taught, wrote, and gave advice about entrepreneurship as a professor at Babson College. Now, he's caught the bug and left his tenured position to help run a company -- whose target market is entrepreneurs.
For Ronstadt the CEO, the years at Babson yielded free market research. As a professor, he found his students faced an arduous task when they tried to write business plans. The problem: conventional spreadsheets, though great for forecasts, had no mechanism for generating the financial statements investors want.
That observation gave Ronstadt and his wife, Rebecca, the idea for a product. With more than $2 million from private investors, they hired expert programmers, with whom they worked to create a new software package. Called Ronstadt's Financials, the software takes the user's assumptions and turns them into a set of financial statements, while allowing comparison of multiple scenarios. So far, the response has been favorable. Industry newsletter Soft-letter said the program "has the kind of intuitive feel and power that we've come to associate with perfectly designed tools. We suspect that a lot of small-business spreadsheet users will very quickly start switching to Ronstadt's Financials." According to Chris Yalonis of The Jupiter Group, a beta-test site, the package saved him about 100 hours the first time he used it on a plan.
But will it sell? It's too early to say. The Ronstadts' company -- Lord Publishing, in Natick, Mass. -- only began advertising nationally in September, temporarily dropping the package's price from $399 to $199. This month, Ronstadt's Financials is slated for retail distri-bution. Meanwhile, the ex-professor says he's learned that at least one academic theory is "a bunch of baloney": the idea that entrepreneurs don't really take risks.
-- Martha E. Mangelsdorf