What I’ve done
The short version
After 17 years in the enterprise software business, including working for Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems, I acquired a failing photography software company with about 200 angry customers.
During the next 7 years, my client list expanded to over 1000 studios, established markets in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, established marketing, technology and licensing agreements with Kodak, Fuji, and Express Digital, acquired 2 failing competitors and grew annual revenue 1200%. Forty percent of the company’s revenue now recurs annually and that number grows each year.
When I sold the business in 2005, my firm served over 90% of the premier high volume studios in the U.S. and had been repeatedly recognized by the leading industry publications as the premier software solution for their market.
The longer version
I started Granite Bear Development in 1998 after working for several large (and a few small) global software vendors for 17 years, including Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems – where I began my software-related career after graduating from the University of Arkansas’ Engineering program in late 1982 (Woooo Pig!) with a BS in Computer Science.
Prior to Granite Bear, I had started 2 other software companies, one a joint venture with other programmers to build a system for a new “kids play place” franchise, and one that was just me, which provided donor and donation tracking software to non-profit organizations.
Shortly after starting Granite Bear (the 3rd and most successful software company I’ve owned so far), I bought the source code to 2 programs used by professional studio photographers to manage their customers, orders, appointments and marketing. The owner of that company was burned out and needed an escape route. He and his clients were close to walking away from the product and each other. I stepped in just before it self-destructed and spent the next year turning around the business. In the process, we proved to several hundred existing clients that they had made the right choice and should stick around, all while building a strong team to help him move the company forward.
A year later, I bought out a weakened competitor who had clients that were grumpy with him and repeated the task: my company revitalized the competitor’s product, made THOSE clients happy again, and made the product a success. By the summer of 2000, all 3 software products had merged into a single product that was officially recognized by the industry as the leading management system of its kind, and we had the customers and the retention rates to prove it.
Software industry research has historically shown that it’s typical for 70% of business clients (on average) to pay an annual fee for support and upgrades. In our case, between 89 and 91% of my clients renewed year after year, despite having higher prices than the competition. Why? Because the team we assembled had provided great value to our clients plus our product was strong and under constant improvement.
In 2005, after reaching my goal of helping 1000 studios, I sold Granite Bear so that I could spend my time focusing on helping Montana small businesses do what I had helped my photography studio clients do: prosper, not just survive.
Since 2005, Rescue Marketing has concentrated on helping small businesses with their marketing, performing technology integration that makes sense by saving time on repetitive work, and integrating the internet with their business processes.
Since that time, I’ve acquired a skin care company (Montana Mercantile) that markets skin care products to gift shops, boutiques, spas and tourist shops (note: the link is to the retail online store). The primary reason for purchasing that company was to use it as a “laboratory” for Dan Kennedy-style marketing – which of course has worked just great, like Kennedy-style marketing always does, and as a technology lab. Turns out there’s a viable business there, and the funniest part is – the products are all-natural, spa-quality stuff. Who knew?
In 2006, I extended my Kennedy-style marketing training by becoming trained and certified by Dan Kennedy and Bill Glazer. Kennedy and Bill Glazer run GKIC, a global leader in direct response marketing and business success strategy training, tools and information products. It just so happens that Kennedy-style marketing and strategies were some of those used to grow Granite Bear like we did.
In May 2007, I started writing a business column for the Flathead Beacon, a startup “new media” weekly newspaper with a multi-media website unlike that of any news outlet in Montana. You can read, or listen to, my Business is Personal column, which comes out weekly on Wednesday morning.
Despite all the talk about helping small businesses, I’m still very active in the software world. In addition to having a number of tech company owners as clients, I moderate the software company operations discussions at SoftwareCEO.com, teach courses at Software University, am a member of the Microsoft Partner Research Panel, and act as an advisory board member at ClarionMag.com. I am also a small business mentor at VisaSmallBusiness.com