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Sabrina Parsons has served as CEO of Palo Alto Software since 2007. She and her husband, Noah, founded a UK software distribution company in 2001 that was acquired by Palo Alto Software in 2002. Sabrina is a successful Internet expert, having served as Director of Online Marketing at Commtouch, Senior Producer at Epinions, and founder of her own Web consulting company, Lighting Out.
Palo Alto Software, Inc. develops tools and provides content resources for small businesses and entrepreneurs. The company’s flagship product, Business Plan Pro, is the best-selling business-planning software in the U.S. retail market, according to NPD Intelect. The company’s new SaaS (software as a serivce) application, LivePlan, is the most complete online business planning and small business tracking tool on the market. The company’s content site, Bplans.com, ranks as the highest-trafficked business planning web site, with over 1 million unique visits a month.
MO: What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting a business?
SP: Love what you do. That’s the best advice I can give, hands down. I hear so many people say they just want to be their own boss, and that’s not the right reason to start a business. Not working for “The Man” might make you happy for a little while, but your business will soon become your boss. The passion and the expertise have to be there. Be prepared for the blood, sweat, and tears that are part of the process.
MO: Can you talk about LivePlan and the inspiration behind it?
SP: Small businesses run America. Before LivePlan, small businesses just didn’t have the proper tools for planning and management–they couldn’t afford a CFO or other expensive, enterprise-level solutions. We saw a huge market for an affordable, easy-to-use toolset for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and LivePlan was born. Above all, it’s highly professional and enables businesses and start-ups to really understand what works and what doesn’t work, be more successful, and ultimately grow.
MO: Why are you a staunch supporter of entrepreneurs?
SP: I truly believe entrepreneurs are what make America great. The idea that you can start a business–and really live out your passion–is one of our quintessential freedoms. And quite frankly, mom and pop businesses drive our economy. They are the reason for all the innovation and invention in this country.
MO: Who inspires you?
SP: At this point in my life, I’m inspired by not one person in specific but by other successful working moms in general. It’s incredibly motivating to see other women who have successful careers and still manage to have a family. Some examples off the top of my head are Anne-Marie Slaughter, Sheryl Sandberg, and Marissa Mayer. But there are tons of other women out there that aren’t quite as high-profile and just as inspiring.
MO: You blog about running a business while balancing your business life with your husband and three young sons. Any tips for our readers trying to juggle a career and hectic family life?
SP: Don’t try to look for balance. If you’re a working mom and you think you’ve found balance, call me up and tell me how you do it. What I’ve found is that life becomes a series of compromises; you begin to start to just look for the compromises that work. For example, choosing to work in a smaller city so I can also raise a family is a compromise. Leaving work at 4:45 to take my kids to swim practice, and working again after I put them to sleep is another compromise. One of the reasons I love entrepreneurship is you take a career where you’re in control so can be flexible; you can make more compromises if you have to.
MO: LivePlan has impressively seen 40% growth month over month in its lifespan. How do you plan to keep the momentum going?
SP: As I mentioned earlier, there is an inherent market for LivePlan; it has so much momentum because the tool is useful and people are looking for this type of solution. As long as there are new ideas for businesses, there will continue to be a market. On the marketing side, we’ll keep actively promoting the brand. And on the development side, we’ll continue to build the application, and add the much-needed management features. Quickbooks integration is in the near future, and we’re also planning on adding other accounting and marketing solutions. We want LivePlan to become a vital tool to manage your business.