This Coder Saw Busy Owners Struggling To Keep Up With New Technology, So She Built A Company To Assist

OWNER
Lidi Mocko, 40

BUSINESS
Mocko Consulting, a company that helps small business owners understand where software systems could help save them time and money and then helps choose and implement the software that is right for them.

LAUNCHED IN
2014

FULL TIME?
Yes

FUNDING
Self-funded with support from her husband

BEFORE BEING AN OWNER, SHE
earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science in her native Brazil. But Lidi says she’s “not really a geek,” and always preferred the customer-facing side of the coding world. She moved to the United States alone on a work visa when she was 27 – a move that prompted her brother to tell her she “had balls” – and worked on software and servers in the broadcast industry. She then decided to pursue her MBA at the University of Denver. In 2013, she took a job at a small consulting firm, which first made her wonder whether she, too, could run her own business.

HOW IT ALL STARTED
In late spring 2014, as Lidi approached her MBA graduation, she began to get cold feet about starting her own business and interviewed for other jobs instead. At one interview, she had a terrible experience with the Human Resources director.

“She made me feel very little,” Lidi said. “I decided I’m not little. I’m going to start my business. I’m going to prove them wrong.”        

She decided to base her business model on filling a gap she noticed in the market – helping small business owners find software options available to them – especially the low-cost apps and services available in the cloud.

“QuickBooks isn’t the only option,” she said, referencing the accounting software that was one of the few programs small business owners she knew were using.

She joined the local Chamber of Commerce and started interviewing business owners to find out if they needed any of the services she could provide. She remembers being so happy, and a little surprised, when one business owner responded, “Actually, I do.” She had her first client.

HOW SHE DID — AND DIDN’T — SPEND HER MONEY
Lidi’s biggest expense in the first year was the insurance she needed to work with clients and their computer systems. (She admits that she didn’t shop around at the time and could have gotten a better deal if she had.) She didn’t spend money on a professional website, and instead turned to her computer science background, attempting to code a site from the ground up with her husband on evenings and weekends.

“It was awful,” she said. About three months in, on a tearful evening, she decided to call in some professional WordPress help. Taking the advice she gives her clients, she’s now using some of the online tools available to non-coders who want to build websites. “I love my site now,” she says.

MOMENT SHE FELT IT WAS REAL
“I still kind of have that feeling,” Lidi smiles.

She remembers how reassured she was when she got her first customer, and the validation she felt when she started giving workshops at a local library and then a chamber of commerce and people actually attended.

Lidi also remembers growing up in Brazil, where her grandfather was an alcoholic who worked on the shipping docks. Her mother never finished elementary school because her own mother died, and she had to cook and clean for her three brothers and take care of the family home.

“I had no strong role models of professional women in my family,” she said. “My mom is a very strong person, but she comes from a place of not having an education, and that was part of her sense of value. Being in business, in a strange way, gives me the tools to overcome that because I’m constantly having to remind myself that what I’m doing has value. Therefore I am valuable.”

BIGGEST SURPRISE
Lidi says she wasn’t initially expecting education to be such an important component of the service she offers. But she quickly realized, in order to choose software, business owners “needed to make decisions about things they didn’t know yet.” So she started building a lot more tutorials and educational steps into her offerings and even started a blog and YouTube channel. She wanted to teach clients not only how to use software, but why they could benefit from it in the first place.

She remembers one small business she worked with where the office admin was tracking sales, shipments and calls with a paper system and relied heavily on Post-It notes. The admin was resisting the office’s new system, but after much conversation, Lidi discovered she was frustrated by the lack of time-stamps on the sticky notes. Lidi showed her a simple way to track her tasks in the program, which had automatic time stamps, and it was the beginning of a transformation.

SOMETHING SHE’S STRUGGLED WITH
“Being consistent and persistent in some of my efforts, even if things don’t bear fruit right away,” Lidi said. “Trusting my gut.”

She pointed to a time she put a lot of thought and energy into securing a big meeting and creating a proposal, only for it to end up “dead in the water.” Or a time someone criticized her business model, saying he didn’t think the market had much need for her services. (She later found out he was a banker with a whole I.T. department at his disposal.)

But there were several reasons she still felt assured. “I had done my research, and I had interviewed several small business owners in the Denver community. If you believe in what you’re doing, she said, “then you have to keep telling yourself that.”

BIGGEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OWNING AND WORKING FOR SOMEONE ELSE
 Like the small business owners she works with, Lidi said she had to teach herself several elements of running a business she didn’t know at the beginning. There wasn’t a team of people to divide up responsibilities or areas of expertise; it was all on her. And marketing, she says, “is not my most comfortable place.”

But in researching marketing tools for herself, she was also learning about systems that could potentially benefit her clients.

“It helps me help my customers more effectively because I’m setting it up for myself, too,” she said.

BEST ADVICE TO BUSINESS OWNERS JUST STARTING OUT
Small business is about community,” Lidi says. “Don’t try to do it on your own, hiding at home. It’s a lot better to be out talking to other small business owners even if you have very different businesses. We all need to do accounting. We all need to figure out our marketing strategy and be concerned about hiring people and finding subcontractors. All those things are common to small business owners.”

She suggests looking for resources not only online, but locally where you live. “Every metro area has a Small Business Development Center or a SCORE office, and the Small Business Administration website has online training and is a great source of general information for small business owners.” she said.

She’s also found a lot of inspiration listening to podcasts related to small business, entrepreneurship and creativity. A few of her favorites are StartUp, from Planet Money’s Alex Blumberg, the Denver-based Women Who Startup podcast, Infusionsoft’s Small Business Success podcast, and The Good Life Project.

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