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Mom starts business despite challenges

Sunday, September 28, 2008
It’s tough starting and running a successful business. It's even tougher however, when you have started two companies, balanced work and family and battled Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

Betsy Rich, mother of two, is typical of women who dream of working for themselves, owning and running a business, but scared to take the chance. Betsy had MS before starting her first company, so she had already experienced balancing work and family with a debilitating disease.

"About six years ago, I started to go downhill and was using a cane full time," said Betsy. "My doctor started me on Novancrone, a chemotherapy drug used to stabilize people with MS. It worked for about two and one-half years; I got better!"

Having MS gave Betsy a unique perspective on life. "I know what’s important and have definite priorities when it comes to dividing my work and family time. I take nothing for granted because any day the illness can change my life in an instant."

Betsy began her career in the London Bureau of ABC News working with Peter Jennings on the production of World News Tonight. She then transferred to ABC’s New York office where she continued to write, produce and direct features for both World News Tonight and 20/20.

After a while, Betsy decided that the long grinding hours and travel of the news business was not conducive to having the type of life she wanted. She needed to work, but wanted to spend more time with her family.

In 2003, Betsy and former ABC News colleague John Upshall, left their 9-5, steady paycheck job and started their first company, Strategic Video, LLC, a video production company from Betsy's home in suburban, New York. They were betting on their story-producing backgrounds to carry them through.

"With no financial cushion and no guarantee of work, we jumped off the cliff with only the confidence that we could make it work," said Betsy. "It was terrifying because we were homeowners with large mortgages."

While tapping into home equity loans to pay the bills, the pair worked out of Betsy's basement, submitting countless proposals for new business. Slowly, the company began to grow. Brand name companies like Altria worked with them and they began to gain a reputation for shooting first-rate corporate videos. Eventually the business was able to move out of the home.

Soon thereafter, Betsy and John saw an untapped business opportunity. "As we signed clients, we realized they had no easy way to organize, categorize or locate the thousands of corporate videos they owned." Blue Horse Digital, which organizes, preserves, digitizes, and makes videos accessible for large corporations, organizations and government agencies was born.

Today, they are pioneers of a new industry they helped create. The businesses continue to grow, Betsy manages her disease the best she can and tries to spend quality time with her family. She enjoys horseback riding and snowboarding with her adult children, Alex and Lindsey.

Considering starting a business? Betsy offers the following advice:

Find a great partner. "John and I had worked together for 27 years, and we worked with our chief of technology for 10+ years before we started our business. We knew what to expect from each other. Even though we trust each other completely and have good communication, we put everything down on paper."

Be careful about expenditures. "We spent the first couple of years working out of my house and using a virtual office - a mail drop and phone number with an address to make us look bigger than we were. When we decided to lease office space, we chose a small place in a suburb of NYC for one year."

Choose your vendors wisely. "We found a terrific accountant and lawyer who had left larger firms to start companies. They cost less than big firms and had the experience we needed."

Be hospitable. Everything we did focused on a concept of “hospice” – (the hospitality, not terminal illness sense of the word). We decided from the start we would provide extraordinary service to our clients and an extraordinary working environment for our employees."