Santa Cruz Tech Beat


Four local business owners “work on the business, not in the business”

By Darlene Crane
President, Project Concepts, Inc.
Special to Santa Cruz Tech Beat

February 4, 2016 — Santa Cruz, CA

(Photo above: The last PROPEL Program included four Santa Cruz participants. They celebrated their graduation with other members of the program last October. Contributed.)

There are many routes to growing a business

Being a tech entrepreneur and creating your own startup is big in the Bay Area. But there are many routes to growing a business. Julia Gaudinski, Founder of MobileRanger, recognized that she wanted an accessible process designed for someone who was not from the technology or business industries.

There is a more accessible way to grow an independent or privately held business called Business Growth Studios (BGS) that I run through PCI Crane Consulting (dba of Project Concepts, Inc.).

Julia participated in the non-profit version of BGS, called the PROPEL Small Business Growth Program that was sponsored by the Alliance for Community Development in Oakland. The goal of this program is to support the unique strengths of each entrepreneur to plan and execute an annual cycle of business growth and learn the core practices of business ownership.

When I interviewed Julia and three other Santa Cruz based PROPEL graduates recently, Julia said the benefit of the PROPEL program was ”getting into that culture of making money. You have to set a goal and figure out how to get there.”  As part of the program, the participants organize a focus group to get feedback on their business ideas and products from strangers. Julia said the focus group feedback really helped improve her website and what she as a business owner could do with her product to generate revenue.

Julia’s story of figuring out how to turn her hobby into a business is one of many routes. Below are the highlights of how the other PROPEL graduates figured out their path to business growth.

Turning an idea into a product that generates revenue

Susan Cannon, Founder of Susanville, and a Santa Cruz NextSpace member along with Julia, is working on a social venture to enable nonprofits to increase fundraising through mobile donations. She came into PROPEL with a transactional revenue model that required significant capital investments to scale and become profitable. Through the market research encouraged by the PROPEL program, Susan said she “discovered how nonprofits would be able to increase mobile donor engagement through push notifications.” She then updated her business model and is now confident she can bootstrap the business before pursuing capital investments. Susan is now actively seeking nonprofits to pilot the mobile fundraising platform.

Each company needs to refine its product development process. Product development standards are a good guide to start with. If the standards are not working, then adapt the product process to get the product to market.

Packaging professional services like a product

Freelance contractors are an important part of the workforce in the Bay Area, and the PROPEL program has a strong focus on growing businesses with skilled professionals led by unique individuals. We highly recommend packaging services to make it easier for customers to buy. It is important to find the right market niche to consistently engage with your ideal customer. Deliver services in a unique way to sustain pricing levels. If you just sell hours without distinguishing value, then your rate falls to the lowest commodity level.

Kim Edmonds of Ventura Partners resides in Santa Cruz, but her business is located in San Francisco. Kim came into the PROPEL Program because she wanted to move beyond property management, and project management for non-profits to build and generate revenue from their own facilities. She has done numerous projects across the Bay Area, but had never been the building developer on the project.

It was clear that Kim was a niche leader and PROPEL encouraged her to step into the developer role. Kim stepped into the role easily, tapping her network and financial expertise. In January 2016, she submitted her first major proposal as a building developer for a major community and commercial development. She is creating a unique professional identity. Kim was invited to be on the team of an energy engineering project. The engineers call her the “Financial Engineer” because she is a master of the financial structure of complex deals.

Chris Miller went through the PROPEL Program in 2014 to focus on defining ScratchSpace, Inc., his technical services company. He says PROPEL forced him “to work on the business and not in the business.” After expanding his networking circles, he found the IT Managed Services Providers niche. Chris also improved expense management, marketing messages, and internal structure to get an uptick in his business. Chris summed up his experience in PROPEL by saying, “The key thing is showing up — make the commitment to participate and you will make progress.”

Since 2008, the diverse PROPEL program has graduated a majority of women and minority owners that have no formal family business education or background. Of these graduates, 7% have crossed the $1M mark and 20% have crossed the $500K mark. For diverse populations, these revenue levels are 3-7 times the national levels, according to the U.S. Census.

Are you taking 2-4 hours per week to get away from running the business to complete a strategic growth plan every year?


Darlene is the president of PCI Crane Consulting. She specializes in market research, customer value, product development, and entry into emerging cultural markets and niches. She can be reached at


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