He Worked With Startups, Then Found One of His Own
These days Kerry Bradford is a prosperous Certified Public Accountant doing taxes from an office just outside downtown Palo Alto. He’s turning away clients and doesn’t even have a web site.
But for nearly two decades after graduating from Santa Clara University with an accounting degree in 1986, he led a different professional life altogether. At Coopers & Lybrand (now Price Waterhouse Coopers), he worked with venture capital firms and was involved with startup companies (including Rambus and Trident Systems) that later went public. He went back to school for a master’s degree, then worked for three technology startups including his own dot-com business. In a sense, he was an entrepreneurial accountant.
“The accounting program at Santa Clara is as good as it gets,” he says. “It was hard — they worked you hard, and that carried over to working hard in the work world. And I firmly feel Santa Clara promoted a teamwork approach. Maybe that was part of the Jesuit style of education, but there was a Santa Clara spirit that influenced me and pushed me into working with smaller, close-knit start-up companies where it was really important to be part of a team.”
At Coopers & Lybrand, Bradford found he really enjoyed working with startups, where he felt his professional counsel was making a difference. After receiving his master’s degree at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in 1993, he turned down offers from larger, more established businesses to go to Sega Corporation, a young video game company, where he was vice president of business development and general manager of Sega Online. It was a wild five years.
“Sega went from having a five percent market share when I came in, up to 55 percent of the market, then back down to 5-10 percent when I left,” he says.
His experiences working with startups gave him such a taste for that world that he decided to create a business of his own. Partnering with his brother in law and a friend from the Santa Clara days, he launched Youth Sports Network (ysn.com), which aimed to provide a variety of online services to organized youth sports leagues. Services ranged from software to handle registration and posting of standings to preparation of instructional videos.
“It was a roller coaster,” he says. “We were starting from scratch, raising money ($14 million in venture capital), and developing a great product. We were the pioneer in the youth sports internet space, but other people quickly followed with similar ideas and that space became too crowded for anyone to be a big success. We were six months late to the dot-com financial windfall party.” Eventually Youth Sports Network merged with another company that is now part of Active.com.
For two years, at the end of the 90s, he worked with Garage.com, a company helping startup entrepreneurs with business plans and funding. He enjoyed the work, but the dot-com world was crashing and funding was getting scarce. Bradford says he got tired of helping companies develop good proposals that couldn’t be funded.
So he went to work for another startup. He became CFO and Vice President of Marketing for Reactrix Systems Inc., a multimedia company that did interactive media displays such as moving billboards and projections that were interactive with hand motion. He was the seventh person hired and referred to himself as “first adult” to the company, keeping its finances straight to free up the creative people.
In 2004, after 18 years of working with startups and young companies, Bradford took a step back. “I’d been doing startups for ten years and never got that equity hit,” he says. “With four kids starting at private high schools and with plans of college in the near future, I needed a business that would generate cash, so I went back to public accounting.”
He’s done well at it and has no regrets, but a part of him missed the excitement of the startup world, and except during peak tax season, he has some time flexibility. That enabled him to re-engage with Santa Clara and became a program advisor to CAPE — the school’s California Program for Entrepreneurship — in 2011 and became an advisory board member to SCU’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in 2012. That lets him keep a hand in the startup world and give something back by working with Santa Clara entrepreneurs.
“I took a bit of a leap in my career, doing something to be true to myself, and I felt that my time at Santa Clara and Coopers Lybrand gave me the confidence to do that,” he says. “Now I can work with young entrepreneurs, helping them with their business plans, their pitches and their financial modeling. This gives me a chance to be an advisor, helping people get to the endgame.