Tech Executive Schuller Shares Lessons Learned on Entrepreneurship

Former Apprenda CEO avoids mention of first company’s collapse

SCHENECTADY — Cloud-computing executive Sinclair Schuller shared lessons gained from his decade-plus of entrepreneurial experience with a business audience Thursday.

He enjoyed considerable success with the first venture he co-founded and led as CEO: Apprenda, a Clifton Park startup that later moved to Troy and reached a peak workforce of more than 100. He now is managing partner and chief technology officer of Nuvalence, a new company that is also based in Troy and also focused on cloud computing, but on services rather than products.

Schuller told a large audience at the BizLab-Clarkson Lunchtime Entrepreneurship Series about the growth process of building a successful company for the first time, and then a second, touching often on examples from his own life. He did not touch on what went wrong during the journey, resulting in Apprenda’s collapse last summer.

No one in the audience raised the issue during a Q&A period, and Schuller declined to discuss it with The Daily Gazette afterward.

The Gilboa native and now Troy-area resident offered insights, including these learned from 11 years of mostly strong growth at Apprenda and then from starting a new company:

  • Good people skills are not the same as good management skills. “It’s very, very easy in the early days of starting a business to conflate characteristics that you personally have with the skills that you actually need. And that bridge is one of the most difficult things anyone ever has to traverse in the context of building a company, because you can get lost so quickly.”
  • Your own board of directors is a more valuable source of growth and knowledge, through mentorship, than other tools such as an MBA. “You really think of the evolution of your characteristics to skill set as a consequence of those relationships over time,” he said.
  • Results often don’t come as quickly as expected — don’t view a timeline as a rigid schedule. “You just don’t know, you don’t understand, how things are going to evolve over time.”
  • Learn to distinguish whether success is the result of luck or skill. “If you can’t distinguish between luck and good decisions and skill, you find yourself in a really bad spot where you apply the same strategy you did in the past to a new thing, and then you scratch your head when it didn’t work out.”
  • Learn not to panic over the everyday problems, it’s distracting and interferes with good decision-making. Save the panic for important things such as small cues that the market is shifting.  “You probably have structured your company systematically in a way that was intended to exploit characteristics of the way the market was when you created the company — but that’s changing … It could fundamentally the integrity of your business.”
  • With lessons learned, things get simplified the second time around — but not trivialized. “It’s not the case that once you start business No. 2 you have this book of knowledge and you can flip through it and each and every thing is easier. It’s just that the majority of the things you might have experienced in that first company that were brand-new to you now aren’t.”