James Hartsell (B.S.B.A. ’02 Management and Information Systems) is the chief executive officer of Skookum, a digital transformation company that develops software solutions for the web, mobile, and the Internet of Things. He co-founded Skookum in 2005 with his college roommate from UNC Charlotte, Bryan Delaney. Both were recognized with Belk College of Business Distinguished Young Alumni Awards in 2016.
Why did you choose UNC Charlotte?
I grew up in Locust, N.C., and originally looked at engineering at UNC Charlotte. I liked the facilities and the locations as well as the quality of the program overall. Shortly after I started at school, I decided to change my course of study. I saw engineering as pure problem solving, which I enjoy, but I saw business, specifically entrepreneurialism, as a good mix of problem solving and blue-sky creativity. This led me to change my major to Management and Information Systems.
What kinds of opportunities did you have as a student?
UNC Charlotte provided me with an internship opportunity at TIAA (then TIAA-CREF). This real-world internship experience opened the door to fantastic opportunities when I graduated from the Belk College.
What was your first job after graduation?
I worked with the Department of Defense on software development and program management. Talking with my business partner, we both had strong attitudes and opinions about our next steps in our careers and we started our own business in March 2005.
What did you learn in the Belk College that has prepared you for your career?
I had exposure to computer science classes and learned how to code in the Management Information Systems program. My internship at TIAA helped me land my role in my current job. Being able to write good code along with internships with respected companies reduces risk for employers and allow students to prove their skills.
What is your current role?
I am the CEO of Skookum. I set the vision and culture for our company. Day to day, I work with our executive team and key clients in order to drive the business forward.
What is it like being an entrepreneur?
It is risky, stressful, lonely, never ending, and extremely rewarding. You have to be self-motivated and persevering. My partner and I have had multiple gut-check moments over the years where we were close to going out of business. We have also experienced the emotional and financial benefits of building something substantial from nothing.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?
It's better to lose everything when you don't have much, so start your first business as soon as you can. Also, don't raise money if you can help it. Not only will you have to give away equity, it can delay the development of a viable business model.