Q&A: Gregg Bienstock, CEO, Lumesis – “Surround Yourself With Experts”

Posted by | September 28, 2012

The municipal bond market is a thicket of data that can be outdated and doesn’t conform to a standard format, leaving investment firms to spend a disproportionate amount of time sifting through the information to guide their clients.

Lumesis, and its DIVER solution, leapt into the arena to provide investors with a different approach to evaluating municipal bonds looking at economic and demographic data and creating analytical tools as well as the ability to deliver certain aggregated data in seconds rather than 30 minutes. I spoke with Gregg Bienstock, Co-founder and CEO of Lumesis, about where he sees the market heading, Lumesis’ “work hard play hard” culture, and the value of a strong team.


Why did you choose to become an entrepreneur?

I had practiced law for a number of years, moved on to the business side, and along the way, saw how people ran businesses. I wanted to be on the front line applying what I had learned to build and grow something and be responsible and accountable for it. When Tim Stevens and I identified the opportunity and idea for Lumesis, we decided it was time for both of us to move on to the next thing.


To what would you attribute your success?

One is my law degree—my experience practicing law has been invaluable in terms of needing to be thorough and detail-oriented. My dad was also a huge influence, teaching me that if you want something you go out and work hard for it. Success is about making the right decisions and not being afraid to recognize when you’ve made a wrong turn, doubling back to keep the ball moving forward without being discouraged.


What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?

That I need to have an open mind when it comes to the ideas of the team. Coupled with that, I’ve learned that you need to surround yourself with experts in things that you’re not strong in and let them go and do what they’re great at, as opposed to trying to do it all yourself. Sometimes you get lucky, and these experts fall into your lap. Other times, you find them through relationships, friends, and your broader network. We’ve found some of our most phenomenal people that way.


What’s your biggest business challenge right now?

Having our development team keep up with the new ideas and enhancements to our products. The development backlog has never been less than three pages long, and I assure you it’s not because the team isn’t cranking it out.


What advice would you give other entrepreneurs in your space?

Three things:

  1. The right team—The right team is crucial. Team construct and the composition of resources are crucial, especially when you’re early stage, you’re building something, and you have limited resources. When you have a person on your team who is not the right fit, you have to make tough decisions, even if it means you’re going to slow down development. At the end of the day, a person who doesn’t fit or doesn’t contribute, or isn’t pulling in the same direction, has a more negative effect than you might realize. It permeates your organization.
  2. Technology Development—Developing technology takes time. You need to make sure you do it right as opposed to doing it fast just to get something out there.
  3. Don’t underestimate the importance of branding and marketing—You can have the greatest technology in the world, but if you don’t know how to brand it, market it and sell it, it’s going to languish or, worse, die on the shelf. Going back to the idea of the right team, make sure that, as you prepare to go to market, you’ve taken steps to appropriately brand, market, and sell your product.


How do you operate at Lumesis? How do you motivate your team? What’s the culture like?

We have a totally open environment. Only one room has a fourth wall, and it is glass. Tim and I, from day one, have always been big believers in open communication, everybody interacting with each other at all times, but giving people whatever room they need.

In terms of the culture Tim and I have set, we are serious about building a hugely successful company, but we’re going to have some fun along the way. It’s not uncommon for you to get shot with a Nerf gun or see a Nerf rocket come zipping by. No matter how serious it is, no matter how engaged everyone is, we try and keep it light when we can.

We celebrate our successes, learn from our mistakes, and keep moving forward. We don’t dwell on mistakes. We learn from them and just keep marching forward.


What is your long-term vision for the fixed income marketplace?

Part of the reason we started Lumesis was that there was a real opportunity to bring the market a new way of looking at data, providing new credit metrics. Our technology aggregates data, offers analytical tools that are unique and provides firms a simple report they can instantly deliver to their client, saving a boatload of time and money.

Along the way, we’ve heard a number of folks say we could apply our technology to other sectors of the fixed income market and beyond. We recognize there is an opportunity for us to do so, but right now we’re focused on our core constituents, building the business to a point where we’re able to take that next step to satisfy other aspects of the market.


What should start-ups and early-stage companies look for in investors beyond just the financing? What core services are most important for start-ups? What do start-ups tend not to think about?

Money is important because it’s going to help you do what you want. But you have to decide if you are going to get money from someone whose only focus is your exit strategy three years from now, someone who puts money to work but isn’t involved, or someone who helps you grow your business. When we sat down with Safeguard, they told us that exit strategies take care of themselves when you build a great company. We were also impressed by the array of services they offer their portfolio companies and the opportunity to tap into their expertise, the team and Advisory Board.

Start-ups are focused on developing their product, getting it to market, and selling it. Marketing and branding can sometimes be an afterthought. Finance, HR, and legal become crucial aspects of the equation. Safeguard’s resources and direction have helped us directly or through introduction with Marketing, Branding, PR, HR, Legal, and Finance.


What is your go-to news source?

Generally I’ll read Google News and a bunch of different email periodicals when I can, including everything from a report written by Mark Faber about economic and market-related activities to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. I have a rule of thumb, if you’re going to read the Journal or the Times, be sure to read the other to get both sides of the story.


What is your “must-have” app on your iPhone/iPad?

I must admit I have neither. I am a Blackberry user. I will end up with an iPad soon. I’m just waiting for the holidays for my wife to buy it for me. So when she reads this, she’ll get the hint.


For more information about Lumesis, please visit the company’s website (www.lumesis.com), its blog (lumesis.wordpress.com), or follow it on Twitter (@Lumesis).

Read more in our Q&A Series with Safeguard Scientifics’ partner company CEOs.


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