Working in the field of global sales for the bulk of her professional career, Antoinette Forth made the bold decision to leave her job at the ICT Group in Philadelphia in the hope of working on her own terms.
The decision to leave a stable career she knew well was not an easy one. Forth’s parents, who live in the Buffalo area, were getting older, so she wanted to move back home. But ICT didn’t want to lose her; the company even offered her the opportunity to work from Buffalo and come to headquarters once a month. However, after much deliberation, the choice seemed clear.
“I was there for 14 years,” Forth explains. “I knew they weren’t a good company from a work-from-home standpoint, so I stuck to my decision to come back to Buffalo and start fresh.”
But after making the decision to return to Western New York, Forth was at a crossroads and wondered which direction to go next with her career. She was in the second half of her professional life and decided that she no longer wanted to “make money for somebody else,” so she launched a consulting business to help people with their sales and marketing strategies.
She took a different approach to entrepreneurship a few years later, when one of her clients asked her to start a business with him. The two “brainstormed and kicked around some ideas,” she says, before coming up with the idea for Walkabout Workplace, a cutting edge remote workspace application.
That’s when the real work began for Forth and her partner, Brad Richardson.
“The biggest challenge was figuring out what the market opportunity was, and what the market needed,” says Forth. “We started off as an on-demand consulting company, and within the first year, realized the entire on-demand industry was missing technology we knew would work. The technology solutions that people had to communicate remotely were not ideal at that time.
“We wanted to replicate what it was like to be (at the office) in person,” she continues. “The biggest challenge would be finding a communication tool that worked for our executive clients.”
Learn more about how Walkabout Workplace helps make working from home work here
Since developing the initial idea for the application, the team has worked diligently to make the product commercially viable, seeking the assistance of mentors and collaborators along the way, including Sara Vescio, executive director at the Women’s Business Center at Canisius College, whom Forth says “is a tremendous resource for women who are looking to start businesses. From getting started, to getting your head focused, to setting goals, she keeps you driven and pointed in the right direction.”
As is often the case with startups, Forth and Richardson initially financed their project, and then got additional funding from the people they knew.
“We bootstrapped the project for quite a long time, all the way through the end of last year,” Forth says. “We basically used our consulting revenue and invested it into the technology. At the end of last year, we had a few friends and family step up to the plate as investors. They gave us the money to rapidly develop the technology.”
In February, Capital Partners Business Solutions began working with Walkabout Workplace, making a personal investment in the company and helping them navigate the funding process. Forth and Richardson also approached the Buffalo Angels around that same time and received “tremendous direction and advice.”
Despite this, obtaining capital has still been difficult.
“From a funding standpoint, it is still challenging, but that is a matter of just going out and pushing your product,” Forth states. “You need to keep talking about your product and get businesses to believe you have the right people in place or the right product to have a fast-growth business.”
Forth has found that the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Buffalo has also helped her grow her business.
“In upstate New York, everyone I’ve met has been fabulous with supporting entrepreneurs,” she says. She adds that her business partner is in Tampa Bay, so when they were launching the business, they had to decide where it would be headquartered. “When we evaluated the two cities, it was really obvious that Buffalo just had the infrastructure to support a startup and had so much more going for it. The support network was just so much greater than our other option.
“New York state is doing a lot, and local governments are doing a lot for small businesses starting up in the area, which helps with the challenge of high taxes,” she continued. “We committed to Buffalo and haven’t looked back.”
With the support of the community and several years of development under their belts, Forth and her partner are continuing to grow their business and aspire to becoming the leader in best practices for virtual reality in the business-to-business space.
“We’re happy with where our technology is as a commercially viable product,” Forth says. “As it stands, we believe our product is extremely competitive for people that are looking to improve their remote work experience or make it available to employees that would normally have to come into an office. We’re focused on people that are focused on the future of the workplace."