Andy Bender

Company: Polaris Industry: Technology

Polaris helps pharmaceutical and medical -device companies stay compliant from an anti-kickback and false claims perspective. Polaris is a SaaS company that automates the main processes between pharma companies, physicians and healthcare organizations (HCP/Os). They make sure that there is a documented need for contracting HCP/Os, a contract, the payments follow fair market value guidelines and that there is a validation of services. Polaris employs almost 250 people and has offices in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Amsterdam, Paris and soon to be Hong Kong.

What was the biggest surprise as an entrepreneur?

I was surprised by how difficult managing people is. It’s really difficult to attract and retain qualified people in a small company. You have to hone your people skills, maintain and communicate a clear vision of what the company is working towards, and what the candidates will get out of the experience with you. Your employees have to buy into your idea and believe in you. Technology startups, particularly those in New York, are also very cutthroat, very competitive. Last week, one of our competitors called up half our staff and offered them 50% raises to jump ship. In these situations, you really see how well you have been managing your people, and whether they are willing to stick around.

What was the biggest surprise as an entrepreneur?

As a consultant I was trained to analyze everything; we were evaluated on the thoroughness of our analysis.  As an entrepreneur you have to make decisions, and need to be fast.  You can’t wait until you are sure you are correct. You don’t always have enough time to develop such an elegant answer; you have to be able to rely on your gut to fill in holes and go for it. You make decisions and adjust, calibrate as you see the first results come in.  If you don’t think you’ll be able to operate like that, you will struggle as an entrepreneur.

What is a sign that you should not be an entrepreneur?

I came from strategy consulting, before and after HBS. In 1998, I received an offer from someone I had met years earlier in the Netherlands. We became friends and stayed in touch, and he was looking for a CFO/COO for his startup, an internet company. I worked there until we exited in 2001. This was a good experience, and it gave me an insider view on what growing a company looked like.  I was responsible for the financials, HR, strategy, business development, and collecting the trash!  A great exposure to what it takes to run a company.

In September of 2001 I started Polaris. I walked away from a good and stable income.  My biggest concern was to have my wife buy into the fact that my income might not be stable.  My wife became my biggest supporter and without her support I would have never been able to do this.  My first advice to starting entrepreneurs is to make sure they have the home-front behind them.

It took until 2006-2007 until I started to feel comfortable with Polaris’ success. We reached critical mass, and our cash flow became stable, allowing me to take a breather.  You achieve great things in your first 5 years, but everything still seems too fragile.

Why should people pay attention to HBS in Alums in the Alley?

A lot of my classmates from HBS have become leaders in their field. I have section mates who made a true difference in running charter schools, to building a gaming industry, to entering new markets.  None of them were followers, a lot of them had their own ideas that differentiated them from the common herd.  They made a difference, and were able to deliver on this difference.  They had the energy, tenacity and discipline to follow through on a unique idea.  I think that this combination of characteristics makes us entrepreneurs. I believe HBS has an ability to recognize these individuals early in their career.  Combine this organic culture with HBS’ new focus on entrepreneurship, I think the results will be impressive.