Here's a great idea. Launch an e-commerce software package during the Internet boom, then depend on it to get you through the Internet bust.
Have you finished laughing yet? OK, eat your lunch, and let Impressa CEO Rich Cannon explain how to do it.
You start with the fact that Cannon never bought the Internet-boom story in the first place. While we're having lunch in a swank Atlanta fish house, we're also drinking tea and skipping dessert.
No, Cannon is actually a Dukie from Columbia, SC, where he launched what is now Renaissance Interactive in 1994. "I was working at NCR's UNIX unit and kept seeing this new browser called Mosaic," he explained.
As a services firm, Renaissance did OK, but Cannon didn't go to venture capitalists (VCs) until after he turned his services into a software system, called BizGear. The $16 million he got last March from VCs is being spent slowly. (Unfortunately, not on domain names -- a woman named Rhonda Abrams owns Bizgear.com and is basically sitting on it.)
This isn't a problem because Impressa can change that name on a dime. The company does the bulk of its business through private-label deals. The partners put it out under their names. (The software runs under Windows, so while I won't say, you can guess who one of the partners is.)
At the height of the boom, Cannon said, you couldn't get the attention of a services firm without first waving a check for $250,000 or more. The alternative for a small business was to use free tools that were worth what you paid.
A huge "sweet spot" was left in the middle, companies that could afford $5,000 to $10,000 solutions but needed automation to get their databases, true e-commerce, and back-end fulfillment happening. That's Cannon's target.
But how can he reach that target? First, by building that indirect channel, targeting customer relationship management and accounting vendors. (American Express has signed on.) Second, by not quitting his firm's day job -- the software and services firm could break even by year-end with just a slight tail wind.
Third (and perhaps most important), by not forgetting where he came from. In Cannon's case, that's Columbia. He may have moved to the big city of Atlanta, but he's still a country boy at heart.
Take the hiring of sales staff. Cannon likes to ask candidates if they have any objections to his doubling up with them on the road, just to get their reactions.
But he also has another, even better question, a hypothetical one he calls the key to all hiring decisions.
Imagine you've had a bad day. The people you called hung up on you; the meetings you scheduled were canceled; and the sales you thought you had didn't come through. You get in your car to drive home and have a fender-bender as you're coming out of the parking lot. You arrive home, and your spouse starts in about problems with the kids.
Now, what is going to make you come back tomorrow morning and face doing it all again? "I can't give that to you," Cannon said. "You have to find that in yourself."
Can you find it? If you can, you've got the job.
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Dana Blankenhorn has been a business reporter for more than 20 years. He has written parts of five books and currently contributes to Advertising Age, Business Marketing, NetMarketing, the Chicago Tribune, Boardwatch, CLEC Magazine, and other publications. His own newsletter, A-Clue.Com, is published weekly.
March 19, 2014