Al*che*mist …one who applies a process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value.
Looking back at my 30 years in the software game, it’s obvious that even in the early stages; I developed a passion for startup, turnaround and growth challenges. I am attracted to these situations partly due to my taste for adventure, but mostly for the extreme sense of satisfaction and contribution that comes from taking something either from zero or from a highly dysfunctional state to a sustainable level of success. A while ago, as I updated my employment profile, a few notable examples stood out; each for its unique characteristics:
Most Challenging Turnaround: Stilo International had all the trappings of a nightmare. As I engaged in my new role as VP, Business Development one of my first challenges was to address the fact that in a failed attempt to establish their OmniMark product as a XML programming language standard, they had made the 5.1 product available for free via a download facility that was not supported by any type of tracking mechanism. This meant that virtually every major publishing organization in the world ran their businesses on the free version – making the sale of licenses and support for the new 6.x version extremely difficult. ‘Yes, Mr. Customer, now you have to pay us for something that you have used for free for the past three years’. It took perseverance and creativity, but at the end of my first year with the company, North American Operations was in the black – posting record sales with a dramatically revised business model.
Most Gratifying Start-up: In August of 2004, loudbike was a blog that chronicled my adventures in the vintage motorcycle racing community and building hot-rod Ducatis was a hobby. By November of that same year, I had launched an e-commerce site offering Ducati-centric performance products and was hip-deep in three high-ticket projects; turning rare and collectible Ducatis into track-ready customs. I leveraged what I had learned about content and the internet (Google in particular) at Stilo - and applied hi-tech marketing and product launch techniques to place the loudbike e-store in the top-3 Google page ranking on my key product lines and establish the e-commerce site as the “go-to” source in the on-line aftermarket within 3 months of launching the store. loudbike was notable in that for the first time in decades, I had to “do”, not “direct”; executing personally in virtually every aspect of the business. Although loudbike was a phenomenal and lucrative experience, it consumed my life entirely and after selling the business for a tidy sum in 2006, I swore-off self-funded, ground-up start-ups.
Most Exciting Discovery: Managed Print – Digital Gateway. It’s a rare occasion to be able to bear witness to the birth of a hot, new mainstream market. I was fortunate enough to be there when the CRM market was in its infancy, and rode the wave to dramatically grow ServicePlus back in late 90’s. Our CEO at DGI had the vision to see Managed Print moving into the company’s core Office product Dealer base and I had the experience to create programs that would be instrumental in positioning DGI as the uncontested leader in Managed Print systems for the Dealer community. Managed Print is the right business proposition in these tough economic times and as such, the market is White Hot. Read more about this exciting market HERE.
White Knuckle Award: I joined ServicePlus when there were 6 employees and the company was trapped in a saturated market with a narrowly-focused dos-based product. Within five years we had released a (then dripping wet) Windows NT version of ServicePlus, rebranded and repositioned the company, and jumped into the emerging CRM market. I increased sales by over 100% four years running; growth that pushed us quickly to over 75 employees. By then I had acquired an equity position in the company and was responsible for Sales, Marketing, Product Management and (it seemed) anything else that came along. With substantial venture capital funding, we ramped up our development and marketing engines, and engaged with the industry analysts to leap from unknown to Gartner’s Leader quadrant virtually overnight. The problem was that only one of us (me) had substantial experience in the game and none of us had ever been where we were quickly heading. To be honest, by the time I stumbled upon Jeffrey Moore book Crossing the Chasm, we were in desperate shape – looking for all the world like the poster child for Moore’s worst case scenario. The book had a dramatic effect of my professional life and gave me the road map I needed to push ServicePlus over the chasm and into the mainstream.
Nothing Up My Sleeve Award: International Datacasting - When I joined IDC as Director, Business Development, I did so with the belief that the company had actual products to sell – after all, they had shiny brochures… The gut-wrenching truth was that they had a few ideas about how to convert some hybrid cable broadcast technologies into hybrid satellite-delivered digital data broadcast technologies, a pair or bespoke networks, and could indeed demonstrate these technologies in the lab. Not one to derailed by trivial details, I set out to find applications and technologies that would be complementary to a private high-speed digital data delivery network and found myself a few months later speaking on high-speed document image delivery at a CAP Gemini conference in Phoenix. Document Image Management was a hot, new technology in the late 80’s, but traditional communications speeds (ISDN was still a gleam in someone’s eye back then) limited its use in enterprise deployments. We were a perfect fit – and a partnership with GTE SpaceNet helped me leverage pilot projects with Wang and FileNet that gave IDC the commercial exposure and success it needed to move into the mainstream.
Pass The Gravol: My time with the Kinburn Technology Group was a dizzying experience that saw me transition through four very different positions in three of their operating companies in just under six years. KTG was the major shareholder of Systemhouse – then the largest systems integrator in North America and during the mid-80’s, KTG spun the products-oriented subsidiaries (that were formed to make the company’s IPO possible) into separate operating companies under the KTG umbrella. I started with SHL Systemhouse in Halifax, Nova Scotia and quickly grew a practice based on turnkey wholesale distribution systems for the grocery business into a multi-million dollar business center that enjoyed the distinction of being the most profitable products-based operation in the company. When KTG spun the subsidiaries off, I was asked to join SHL Business Systems (later rebranded as McLeod Bishop Systems) where I quickly parlayed my experience at SHL Systemhouse to leverage two $1,000,000 wholesale grocery systems deals for the company. I then donned the Product Management hat to drive the company into the Lumber and Building Materials systems market and successfully positioned the company as leader against a handful of larger, more established players. And finally, I was asked to take over an orphaned product group that was struggling to market its MINISIS offering; a high-performance bibliographic database engine used by special libraries and museums worldwide. My end game was to forge strategic partnerships with Hewlett-Packard and a pair of high profile Records Management consultants and revitalize MINISIS as a leading tool for high-volume records management applications. The unit was spun off as a separate division and remained the most profitable asset in McLeod Bishop for many years to follow.
Baptism By Fire: Back when minicomputer systems looked like washer / dryer combinations, I left a position with a general insurance company to join Canadian Insurance Computer Systems; a Wang VAR that sold turn-key insurance agency management systems on the Wang 2200 platform. Working out of the local Wang office, I did well enough in the Eastern Ontario region to be asked to establish a presence in Eastern Canada by opening a branch in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Eastern Canada was a different game; in that CICS was a relative unknown in a very insular business community and going to market required that I employ all of the “basics” to (as was the generally accepted secret of success back then) keep the demo room full. Wang’s office in Halifax had a stunning demo room – a smoked glass affair with an impressive row of off-white Wang computers - their flashing lights, monster CPUs and 16 platter disk drives throwing off more BTUs than the air conditioning could handle. It was in this room that I learned the most important lesson in my business life: Listening. I would arrange a one-on-one with the owner of an insurance agency - turn all but the soft overhead accent lights off, shut down all the computers in the room (except my trusty Wang 2200LVP) and interview the owner for 90 minutes. I never touched the keyboard and in an era of high-pressure, canned demos rife with acronyms and buzz-words, this laid-back approach helped me outsell the local Wang reps three business quarters in a row.
Do you have a business that needs a shot in the arm? Or a start-up that needs direction and energy? Know someone who does? Please email me at [email protected] - or better yet, why not give me a call at 866-972-5683.
To learn more about how I've added value to every company I've had the pleasure of working for, please click HERE or hit the "Employment Summary (PDF)) link above.
Let's talk business.. Stephen M Munro
Let's talk business..
Stephen M Munro