How Stopher Bartol highlights everyday legacies on Legacy.com

Stopher Bartol, CEO, Legacy.com, Inc.

Stopher Bartol, CEO, Legacy.com, Inc.

Technology

FINALIST

Stopher Bartol asks himself every morning, “What legacy will I leave behind today?” After all, Legacy.com was his creation during the Internet boom of the late 1990s, and every day the legacies of ordinary, everyday people are commemorated on the website.

Bartol, however, is happy that Legacy.com plays a behind-the-scenes role. Despite many critics having felt that Legacy.com should do more with its brand, such as prominent ads on the obituaries sections that the company hosts for newspapers, Bartol maintained that the company would not use its brand to overpower those of its affiliate newspapers.

The affiliates do not feel threatened or encroached upon, and instead view Legacy.com as a collaborator. Legacy’s brand stays in the background, so as to not outshine the brand of the newspapers.

Bartol feels this type of relationship is essential for continued business in this particular endeavor for both parties. Close to half of Legacy’s revenue is attributed to the company providing online obituaries services to these newspapers.

Bartol knows that the company’s success is not only his own. He maintains that from each employee that he interacts with, he gains some greater insight. Bartol recently hired an executive who he described as his “future replacement.” Although he has no current plans to retire, he wants to make sure there is a succession plan for the day he is no longer leading the company.

One financial obstacle in particular struck the company during its early years. Unlike other Internet companies, Legacy.com simply could not elicit support for continued operational funding. Bartol, however, was not disheartened. He decided he should target older investors who were at the point in their lives when they were reading the obituaries themselves.

With the help of a few angel investors, Legacy got the necessary funding needed to stay afloat. Within 24 months following the financial turmoil that hit many Internet business companies, Legacy.com became self-sustained.

How to reach: Legacy.com, www.legacy.com

How Nick Seedorf set out on a nuCourse to be a ‘matchmaker’

Nick Seedorf, president, nuCourse Distribution Inc.

Nick Seedorf, president, nuCourse Distribution Inc.

Retail & Consumer Products

FINALIST

When Nick Seedorf was completing his religious studies in college, he believed he was on a journey, and he could see himself investing in the spiritual lives of college students.

But he had no idea that instead he would follow in the footsteps of three generations of family entrepreneurs instead.

More than 10 years later, he has one of the fastest growing companies in the nation, with nearly 100 employees and millions in revenue. But what does he believe is the best part about this? He still invests in people and relationships — through an opportunity he never expected.

After college, Seedorf’s high school hobby of buying and selling products grew into an e-commerce business called myGearStore.com, a mobile accessories retailer. The company was started in his one-bedroom apartment while he was a newlywed. The enterprise grew over the next few years, and he wanted to consolidate his suppliers through a distribution company, rather than continuing to buy direct from so many manufacturers.

Seedorf researched distributors, but he found no one was solely focusing on mobile accessories and keeping the right products in stock. Along with his insights into the size of the opportunity and the unaddressed pain points of retailers, Seedorf saw the need for a distributor who was a trusted adviser and had high-touch service and the right product assortment.

He launched nuCourse Distribution Inc. on Jan. 1, 2008, as an electronics accessory consultant as much as it is a distributor. Molded into an accessory advisory firm, the company focuses on building one-to-one relationships with each brand and each customer to effectively be “the matchmaker” in the marketplace.

This customer intimacy strategy has helped Seedorf build and keep customer connections and has given the market an understanding that not every retail outlet desires the same product, but the demographics of an area defines product sales.

How to reach: nuCourse Distribution Inc., www.nucourse.com

Gene Marks – How some simple business lessons can lead your company to great success

Gene Marks

Gene Marks, owner of the Marks PC Group

Any business owner can attest to the fact that running a business is no simple feat. As a small or mid-sized business owner, you must be prepared to wear many different hats, from new business guru, to HR manager, to janitor.

Running a business is all about preparing as much as possible, while still knowing that the unexpected is bound to happen, no matter how hard you anticipate. Being able to adapt quickly, think on your feet and learn as you go will help you be successful as you run your small business.

As cliché as it may sound, I often hear business owners and entrepreneurs say, “I wish I knew then what I know now.” With that in mind, here are a few simple lessons business owners have shared that might help make you successful in the business world:

•           Understand what it takes to be a business owner: One of the first steps is to decide on what you want your life to look like. If you’re looking for more control and to “make your own hours,” then entrepreneurship is probably the right step.

•           Be willing to go the distance: Leading a business takes time — time away from your personal life, spouse, family, and children. If you haven’t thought this through and developed a plan, you may find the demands of running a business pretty daunting.

•           Keep your eyes wide open: Business ownership can be a cold world and business owners may not receive as much support as they expect.

•           Know how and when to delegate tasks: Being a successful entrepreneur doesn’t mean being an ace at everything. It means knowing your strengths and working with others who complement your abilities by adding value to weak areas.

•           Be patient: Don’t expect overnight success. When you are pursuing a new venture, you need capital, and you need time. The only way to get there is by committing 100 percent.

•           Manage well: Never over-manage your employees, and learn to trust your staff. When it’s your blood, sweat and tears building a business, it is easy to become a micro-manager.

Truly trusting an employee means giving them the freedom and independence of working on their own and believing that they’ll do what is needed, even if unsupervised. Your employees will appreciate the mutual respect, and will be more inclined to reciprocate with hard work and loyalty.

•           Focus on your clients: If you’re looking for fame, get out now. Running a business isn’t about building fame and fortune; it’s about focusing on your clients and building your brand.

•           Be able to identify opportunities: Similarly, it’s important to be able to identify opportunities for profit and success. Some of the less cool, decidedly unsexy businesses are around because their owners saw an opportunity and acted on it.

The underlying theme for all of these tips is: Be prepared, be flexible and be successful, and keep in mind the tips above.

Gene Marks owns the Marks Group PC, a firm that provides sales and marketing technology and consulting services to businesses. He is a regular contributor to The New York Times, Forbes Inc. and has written five books on business, his most recent, “In God We Trust, Everyone Else Pays Cash.” Visit genemarks.com for more information. He is the featured entrepreneur and spokesperson for Hiscox Small Business Insurance’s Author’s Series for Entrepreneurs.

 

How Andrew Sieja has continually worked to grow kCura through different company cultures

Andrew H. Sieja, president and CEO, kCura

Andrew H. Sieja, president and CEO, kCura

Technology

WINNER

Andrew Sieja began his career as a computer programmer specializing in knowledge management solutions and Web storage — and after a few years, the entrepreneur bug bit him. In 2001, he and two friends pooled their resources to form their own software-consulting firm, kCura.

After a few years, Sieja, president and CEO, realized that to be a market leader, he had to follow a specific product plan and make a few changes.  As a result, he made some decisions in the development organization that he knew might not be popular.  These were decisions that Sieja knew would be tough to overcome — but he knew they would be best for the company.

In the end, he persevered through some criticism, and supported the product work from the department.  A year later, a new feature of the product was launched successfully.

The company culture that was created thrived on competition. The employees were passionate about the business and were engaged in Sieja’s vision of being the market leader. As the company grew, the culture has shifted to maintaining its market leadership position through innovation of new products.

Today, kCura’s software products are known in the industry as being able to handle large amounts of data and numbers of users, as being flexible and as having a user-friendly interface.

The company is also known for providing comprehensive employee training and what Sieja calls the “Ritz Carlton” level of customer support.

The company’s strategy differs from its competitors in the sense that kCura looks for long-term partnerships with its clients. The company does not operate project by project, but instead modifies its products to fit each customer and often is in contact with those customers on a weekly and sometimes daily basis.

How to reach: kCura, www.kcura.com/corporate

How Rick Stollmeyer refused to give up on a deal that helped Mindbody take a big step

Rick Stollmeyer, CEO, Mindbody, Inc.

Rick Stollmeyer, CEO, Mindbody, Inc.

Consumer Services

FINALIST

Rick Stollmeyer would not have been the only person to put a potentially life-altering business deal on hold in the fall of 2001.

The fact that this deal involved expanding his business to New York City, which was still grasping to find some sense of normalcy in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, only gave Stollmeyer more justification to hold off.

But as soon as the airports opened again, Stollmeyer dismissed the fears that many felt about flying so soon after the attacks and headed to New York to finish the deal for Mindbody, Inc. The client could not believe that Stollmeyer had made the trip, but ultimately signed off on the deal because he had made the trip. It got even better when Stollmeyer realized that a woman he had met on this leap-of-faith trip would eventually become the woman he would marry.

A strong work ethic, commitment to getting the job done, and the ability to remain focused and tune out distractions are traits that Stollmeyer took from his experience in the U.S. Navy. They each helped him build Mindbody into the largest cloud-based software provider in the health, wellness and beauty industries.

The business is run on a foundation of Stollmeyer’s personal leadership traits. One of his greatest successes is actually his inability to integrate into the typical corporate environment. He tried the more corporate approach but after witnessing the lack of compassion, drive and deeper meaning that came with it, he decided to unleash his own entrepreneurial spirit and hasn’t looked back since.

Stollmeyer expects a lot from his employees and values competence and character in every person who works for him. Compassion is the third of the three Cs that are important to him. He wants employees to care about their colleagues as much as they do themselves. The result is a vibrant and productive work environment, and a company that continues to grow.

How to reach: Mindbody, Inc., www.mindbodyonline.com

How Chris Gladwin founded a new storage process with Cleversafe

Chris Gladwin, founder and vice chairman, Cleversafe, Inc.

Chris Gladwin, founder and vice chairman, Cleversafe, Inc.

Technology

FINALIST

With an engineering degree from MIT in the 1980s and having already started a computer consulting company when PCs were just being introduced, Chris Gladwin could have had a successful career working for a large technology company.

However, he decided to launch MusicNow hoping to revolutionize the way users obtain and store music recordings. But MusicNow could not generate profits on its own and was eventually sold to Circuit City.

Not to be deterred, Gladwin launched Cleversafe, Inc. This new project that he planned for nearly seven years and developed for five more eventually became a success. Instead of making a physical copy of data like CDs or flash drives do, Cleversafe converts data into different virtual equations that are stored on different servers, eliminating the risk of data being lost.

In addition to years without compensation while working on Cleversafe, Gladwin had to start his project all over again three years into the development to make the product more robust. The more engaged he was in the project, the more confident he became that he was on the right track.

Gladwin knew that his product was designed for larger companies, but the usual practice is to test a product on small companies first. As risky as it seemed, he decided to target large customers first.

He offered his services to the Chicago Museum of Broadcast Communications. The museum then became the reference point that Gladwin used to sign up large customers.

The gamble paid off as Cleversafe now has trial runs of its product with some of the largest technology companies in the world.

The company has seen substantial growth each year since inception. Sales have doubled or more than doubled in each of the last three years. Gladwin expects about 30 big customers next year, and he plans to invest this revenue back into Cleversafe by improving its sales force and expanding his technology team.

How to reach: Cleversafe, Inc., www.cleversafe.com

How an early start in business helped Heidi Golledge launch CyberCoders and CareerBliss

Heidi Golledge, founder and CEO, CyberCoders and CareerBliss

Heidi Golledge, founder and CEO, CyberCoders and CareerBliss

Business Services

WINNER

Heidi Golledge can speak to the benefits of an early start in entrepreneurship. While a student, she began selling candy bars via fundraisers and would give all her earnings to her single-parent mother to help pay household bills. She later began selling rabbits to pet stores, and earned enough money to purchase a computer.

With that entrepreneurial background and her education, she began brokering home loans, but despite some lucrative periods, she wanted her own show. She saw an opportunity to partner with companies like Monster.com to offer another layer to the recruiting business that would allow more visibility to job opportunities via multiple channels. She met her future business partner and in 1999 the two started CyberCoders.

The company has developed into a leading, worldwide recruiting firm that utilizes technology and highly skilled recruiters to match people with companies.

Golledge later bought out her partner to take the company in a strategic direction that brought financial risk — an online career community (“job blog”) that would eventually be known as the CareerBliss arm of CyberCoders. She was determined to offer a way for people to learn about a company’s culture before seeking a job there to make sure that the culture fit the person’s needs and career path. The risk paid off and CareerBliss produced 100 percent year-over-year growth in revenue for the last three years.

Built on a recession-proof business model, CyberCoders has opened or expanded multiple offices during the recent economic downturn. While others were laying off employees, CyberCoders was opening offices and hiring more people, taking advantage of top talent.

Inspired by her family values, Golledge makes them her business values as well. She treats employees like family and looks to make them feel successful and happy. Golledge believes that a happy person is a productive person, and she has zero tolerance for disrespect in the workplace.

CyberCoders, www.cybercoders.com; CareerBliss, www.careerbliss.com

How Sam Naficy has defied the odds to make DTT an industry leader

Sam Naficy, president and CEO, DTT

Sam Naficy, president and CEO, DTT

Technology

WINNER

Sam Naficy is the president and CEO of DTT, a technology company in the video surveillance industry. Although DTT has emerged as a dominant player in its industry and continues to deliver cutting-edge services and technology through Naficy’s leadership, it had modest beginnings, often facing capital constraints and tough competition.

With DDT’s early financial struggles, Naficy decided to change DTT’s business model from a fixed-fee service to a monthly subscription service to adjust to the competitive market and offer his clients newer technology. He also made necessary infrastructural investments to serve his clients better.

Although business was booming, he found himself unable to keep up with demand. It was not until he was able to thoroughly convince his father-in-law about his vision for DTT the he was able to obtain the needed funds to continue DTT’s operations.

Through the years there have been many formidable competitors that have tried to enter DTT’s market, but all have been unsuccessful in penetrating the company’s dominance. Much of this can be attributed to Naficy’s focus on his customer’s needs instead of trying to dabble in various aspects of the technology world.

Essentially, he grew his company vertically rather than horizontally — providing a litany of services for specific customer needs. The company’s “secret sauce” is its product’s ability to extract sales detail from point-of-sales systems and mirror it with a video image.

Recently, DTT also rolled out a new product called the SCREAM service, a feedback app that operates in the cloud so the owner/operator receives customer feedback immediately by text and can respond immediately to any issues.

During the past 14 years, DTT has supported more than 27,000 customer locations for renowned brands such as McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, the Peninsula Hotel and has just developed a new relationship with Arby’s. With 350 employees residing in various departments, Naficy has grown the equity value of the company immensely.

How to reach: DTT, www.dttusa.com

How Tim Cadogan turned OpenX into a digital and mobile advertising tech leader

Tim Cadogan, CEO, OpenX

Tim Cadogan, CEO, OpenX

Emerging

FINALIST

A volunteer with the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue team who has contributed to the rescue of more than 90 lost or injured hikers, CEO Tim Cadogan finds the same joy in performing missions for OpenX.

The company first began in 1998 as an open source project in Europe, where its digital and mobile advertising technology became widely adopted. While it was a good basic product, there was no business model.

Coming on board as CEO in 2008, Cadogan had to start from scratch as the first U.S. employee, incorporating the company and defining a vision and strategy for a new kind of advertising technology platform business.

OpenX’s seeks to unleash the full economic potential of digital media companies. Its solutions provide a unique software as a service platform by combining ad serving, an ad exchange, a supply side platform and content valuation.

Cadogan began with building a high quality team with the right skills to deliver on a vision to create a comprehensive display-ad platform for publishers, an alternative to industry titans Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

This mission has remained constant, and OpenX now employs 282 people. The company has seen sustained profitability since the fourth quarter of 2011 and now powers a solution for thousands of customers globally.

At the heart of Cadogan’s approach is actionable innovation. OpenX was one of the pioneers of Real-Time Bidding in the digital ad exchange space, which continues to account for the largest and fastest growing portion of the company’s revenue. Additionally, its Open-SaaS ad server is, via its innovative application program interface design, a platform that allows its partners to innovate to match their own requirements.

In the past 12 months OpenX has created two industry firsts — the first ad serving solution to acquire and fully-integrate a supply-side platform, LiftDNA, and the first company in the ad technology space to add a content valuation solution, JumpTime.

Future plans include core innovation, scale, global expansion and multi-screen.

How to reach: OpenX, www.openx.com

Mike Thompson took a deep dive at Groupware Technology to ensure relevance and competitiveness

Mike Thompson, President and CEO, Groupware Technology Inc.

Mike Thompson, President and CEO, Groupware Technology Inc.

Staying relevant. It’s why companies close old divisions and start new ones, why they introduce new products, make acquisitions, diversify their portfolios and invest in R&D. And for IT companies like Groupware Technology Inc., it’s the reason to complete one transformation, only to pause, and do it all over again.

The need to change was something that IT industry veterans — owners Mike Thompson, Scott Sutter and Anthony Miley — understood well when they acquired Groupware, an IT solutions provider that was on the verge of going belly-up in 2005. They recognized from day one that the company’s survival was dependent upon Groupware’s ability to transition outside its roots of

“systems and storage” and make a name in for itself in IT’s fastest-growing segments: big data, cloud computing, virtualization and data security. It’s a process that’s taken involved two restructurings in seven years.

“It’s a brand-new organization from the company that we acquired,” says Thompson, the company’s president and CEO. “We took a company that was doing at the time of the acquisition $1.7 million, and we turned it into almost $150 million with our company. We injected life into the organization by creating relevancy within the marketplace … and within the customer base.”

Here’s how Thompson and his co-owners have taken Groupware from struggling IT reseller into a leading systems integrator.

Look for an opening

Groupware’s broad customer base includes SMBs all the way to Fortune 500 companies. This means the company’s IT solutions must meet a wide range of technology needs. Delivering solutions that are on the leading edge of today’s systems and storage technology is the only way to stay relevant for customers.

“At the rate that technology is changing — it’s pretty amazing the acceleration that it’s going through — we need to stay in the forefront in regard to what technology is out there,” Thompson says. “It’s having business conversations with our customers to understand what pain points they’re trying to solve for and where they’re trying to take their business.”

Nobody knows the needs of the market better than your customer base. So one of Thompson’s first steps as CEO was to ask customers, “What’s going on in the marketplace?” and “Where do you want to take your business?” to see where Groupware should be investing.

“Understanding what’s going on around cloud computing, big data, next generation data centers and having the expertise to be able to deep dive into those types of opportunities and conversations with customers has allowed us to remain in the forefront,” Thompson says.

“It’s having conversations with our end users in regard to what business issues they are trying to solve and then understanding how we can help them solve those issues, and not just for today.”

What Thompson and his partners realized quickly is that businesses buying IT products also wanted in-depth knowledge and advice from their providers. They began working on a strategy to transform Groupware into a services-led business, which could provide both products and support for its customer’s technical capabilities.

As it turned out, the challenges in the down economy — more companies began seeking IT workarounds to help them manage with more limited resources —gave the company an “in” to present its new solutions and services to the marketplace.

“Customers looked to us to offset some of the reductions that they had in place because business has to go on,” Thompson says. “You still have to solve these business issues. You’ve just got to find new ways to address the business models out there.”

While competitors scaled back, Groupware doubled down on IT investments, including its service segment, which Thompson and his partners believed would propel demand moving forward. The company also invested heavily investments in its labs and engineering capabilities — especially engineering talent.

“Where there is change and uncertainty, there is opportunity,” Thompson says.

“As we went through it, we saw that people were going to pull back. Our opportunity was to go invest heavily to have resources available to [businesses] and to create value out in the marketplace that our customers could leverage from us to continue to be successful in their operation.”

Start tough conversations

By the time the recession began bottoming out in 2010, Groupware had nearly doubled its business, a sign that new investments were paying off. Still, the business transformation also forced Thompson and his executive team to restructure certain areas of the company to make room for those investments.

It was important to engage people in “adult conversations” about why the changes were happening and what they meant.

“I think too often we let niceness get in the way of the truth. You need to have those conversations and not delay the hard conversations, acting decisively based on that and moving forward. I’ve been in situations where the executive team has been slow to make changes and it became irrelevant really quickly by not acting and not executing. It’s critical to have those conversations and then act on them appropriately.”

Groupware has now gone through two restructurings since 2005, a transformation process that’s involved rearranging certain departments, eliminating remote offices and consolidating operations. These strategic moves have helped drive the company’s investment in “rack and roll” solutions — complete technology solutions designed to be rolled into the data center and quickly put into production, generating higher returns for Groupware.

For Thompson, the ability to have honest conversations with team members has helped him keep the company accountable to progress, but also to earn employee respect. People prefer to do business with people that they like, but they’ll also follow a leader who they respect, he says.

“We need to have those hard conversations and get everybody on board with the investments that we want to make as an organization,” Thompson says.

“You can move too quickly, but if you set the goals and hold accountability level, you can make minor changes to that if you need to, or you can pull back.”

That said, building a dialogue with employees is also important in helping you monitor your investments. Strong internal communication gives you a continuous feedback loop to know where your investments stand and what kind of returns they are generating so that you can know when to pull back.

“It goes back to where you place your bets, making bets and then understanding the return, setting expectations associated with those bets and managing toward that,” Thompson says. “If you don’t see the return or you don’t see the return coming, you need to be able to take those resources back and double down where you do see return on those investments coming from or where you believe you can get a greater return.”

Share in excellence

Today, Thompson continues to invest heavily in the company’s core competencies — networking, security and storage — as well as its services practice, its fastest-growing division. Smart investments combined with open and honest communication are two building blocks in a foundation that helps Groupware stay relevant with customers, and the marketplace.

The third is collective ambition, or a shared commitment by employees to the company’s success.

“I’m a firm believer in building winning teams, having the right people in the right positions at the right time,” Thompson says. “Then you’ve got to empower them to go out and execute.

One way Thompson drives collective ambition at Groupware is by creating an environment where employees want to come to work.

“I’ve always felt that it’s our job from a leadership perspective to put our employees in a position to be successful,” Thompson says. “When they drive home that night, we need to give them a reason to come back in the office the next morning.”

What makes a great work environment? At Groupware, it comes down to living the company’s three core values every day.

“The great thing about this transition is that we’ve remained true to our core values of customer service, excellence and fun,” Thompson says. “My belief is that you keep those core values intact and you create an environment where employees can be successful and understand the consistency of the model that you’re bringing to the marketplace.”

An example is the fact that Groupware invites every employee in the company to its national kickoff — an event that many businesses limit to their sales teams.

“It’s customer service,” he says. “It’s the pursuit of excellence and it’s having fun. Those three complement each other.”

Getting employees together for the kickoff is about showcasing the company’s values and vision; but it’s also about “getting everybody to fill part of the success of the company,” Thompson says.

Driving this culture is also why Groupware expanded its focus on collective ambition in 2010, when it rolled out a corporate program around the concept. The goal of the program is to help employees understand their role in serving the purpose of Groupware and better explain to employees how all departments participate and work in harmony to help the company succeed.

“Once you have buy-in and you have collective ambition by multiple individuals in the organization, you can propel the business in the direction that you want to take it,” Thompson says.
How to reach: Groupware Technology Inc., (408) 540-0090 or www.groupwaretechnology.com

The Thompson File

Mike Thompson

President and CEO

Groupware Technology Inc.

Born: Mountain View, Calif.

Education: USC undergrad; MBA Regis University

Leadership philosophy: I don’t shy away from the fear of failure. That actually makes me work harder, and I take those challenges and adversity head-on. I’m a classic example of ‘productive paranoia.’ I’m always looking over my shoulder, always working hard and always trying to better myself to make sure that I can keep moving in the right direction.

What would you do if you weren’t doing your current job? 

In some capacity, creating an environment and opportunities for others to grow. Leadership and mentoring have always been important to me.

What is one part of your daily routine that you wouldn’t change?

When I’m not traveling, taking my kids to school in the morning. Discussing ESPN Radio with my son while my daughter tries to sing over the conversation and dance free of her car seat always starts my day off in perspective.

If you could have dinner with one person you’ve never met, who would it be? 

Cassius Clay. I’m a huge boxing fan. The man who became Mohammed Ali was a personal branding genius and his endless confidence and brashness are endlessly fascinating to me. 

What do you do to regroup on a tough day? 

If I can, go do something with my son, shoot hoops, play catch and so on. It gives me a half hour or so away from my phone. Practice, form and fundamentals messages, repeated to him over and over, are great reminders for me as well.

What do you do for fun?

Get out on the water: wake surfing, boating, being out on the water with friends and family.