As a psychologist and a tenured professor who specialized in researching and devising strategies for teaching troubled children, Stewart Pisecco was doing the work he loved. But then he had an idea for something he thought could reach more children: software that lets teachers and school administrators easily track and manage the implementation of behavioral improvement strategies. And he had to decide: Is it worth risking one dream to pursue another?
I knew I wanted to be a psychologist from the time I took a psychology class as a junior in high school. And I knew as a sophomore or junior in college that I had a real interest in academia. I loved research and statistics and combining the ideas of research and social sciences.
I had been at the University of Houston for five years when I got tenure. I had my doctorate by 28 and was tenured by the time I was 34. At the time, I could never have imagined doing anything different. It was what I loved to do, and I had worked my entire professional career to get to that point.
I thought I'd be crazy to leave. I had pretty much a good job for life, was doing what I wanted to do, and had lots of security. At the same time, I was relatively young and thought I could take some risks.
The idea for our company came from one of those chance experiences. I was doing my taxes with TurboTax and just reading research literature on the typical reasons teachers struggle with behavioral intervention. And I thought, Why can't we come up with a software system like TurboTax that would guide teachers through the process of designing good behavioral strategies for their kids and then allow the administrators to monitor how the kids are responding to intervention approaches?
Most faculty members have a part-time private practice that they work on one day a week, but in 2000, I began committing that time to working on the business. I spent a couple of years researching the effectiveness of the software and then a couple of years working with teachers to refine the implementation process. But most of that work was getting crunched into the one day a week.
I thought it would definitely be a gamble to leave, but I read the market and got the sense that momentum was building. I always thought it was really important to chase your dreams, and this was my new dream. As I began seeing more results and as I felt like we were making a really good impact with kids, the decision became easier.
I always felt that we would do well. But I do remember driving out to an appointment about two years in and saying to myself, If we don't get this deal, it might be tough to get this thing going. A main struggle for us was dealing with the seasonality of cash flow. It's not a very transactional business, so it's very lumpy how we get our cash flow. Luckily, we had as a shareholder a group that did a bridge loan until the company got paid, and it didn't cost us equity. You don't find a lot of folks who will do that.
Now we're at the point where my vision has been laid out and is being embraced and adopted by customers. The excitement that comes with that far outweighs the sadness of leaving academia. So I've realized this is also something I really like to do. And it's very satisfying.