Earl Furfine, CPA/CITP, CGMA

CEO of technology startup 5AM Solutions in Rockville, Md.

Earl Furfine, CPA/CITP, CGMA
Earl Furfine, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is the CEO of 5AM Solutions, which is based in Rockville, Md., and provides data curation, analytics, and visualizations to life science and health care services clients. Prior to 5AM, he has been the founder of or a partner in seven technology startups. (Photo by John Spaulding/AP Images)

'You need to be fearless'

How to innovate successfully: Many people have ideas for innovation, but having the fearlessness to overcome continued obstacles in bringing the innovation to market (or even to a plan) is an important ingredient for success. I tell people to always have a contingency plan. It all revolves around having the ability to formulate alternatives. I say, "This is what I'm going to do, but if this isn't right, here's my plan."

Succeeding with startups: I have a very simple method. I surround myself with very smart people who don't particularly like taking risks. These are people who want to have a job, want to feel empowered in their job, and want to be fairly compensated. I make sure those people are very strong in areas where I may not be. I tell them, "Do what you are great at and allow me not to be concerned with items I should not be." This has repeatedly been a successful formula. I keep calling back the same people when a new startup begins because I trust them, I know them, we know how to work together, and I know I can rely on them to do the tasks that need to be done.

Skill with data creates opportunities: The more data you can integrate, consolidate, normalize, report, and draw conclusions from, the better. There are great opportunities for CPAs who understand analytics and Big Data integration. You don't have to be a great computer programmer, but you certainly need to have a basic understanding of what information could be used for you to make better decisions, where it is located, and what level of data integrity exists.

Traits of successful entrepreneurs: I don't think that anybody can be an entrepreneur. It's like saying I want to be able to dunk a basketball. I am 5 feet, 9 (and a half!) inches, and there is only so high off the ground I'm going to get—and definitely nowhere near the rim, as much as I try. I believe one has to have a certain genetic makeup to be a successful entrepreneur. You need to be fearless, self-aware, confident, benevolent, and sympathetic. I also keep going back to that "ability to formulate alternatives." The better one is at solving problems, the greater their chance of success.

Support your employees: I subscribe to the notion of employee empowerment. I treat employees well, make sure they are compensated well, and use my role to provide all the support they need to perform their job. I have found that many people are not accustomed to being empowered, but it's amazing the change that you see in them when they embrace it. [At first] people are so hesitant to make decisions, and they ask me what they should do. I tell them, "You're in a better position to figure out what to do. Just tell me what you're going to do, what you need from me to make it happen, and what you're going to do if that's not the right decision."

—As told to Sheon Ladson Wilson (sheonlwilson@aol.com), a freelance writer in Durham, N.C.

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