Sunday, March 19, 2006

Micro Applications rises from the ashes once again. . .

In the previous story about our ‘merger’ with Goguen Industries, I failed to mention meeting Greg Gusse.

I was out in California, Sausalito to be specific, at an SBT dealer seminar, where our sales rep, Jack “heart attack” Cutin got me on the phone with Greg. It turned out Greg had acquired a small development operation in New York City, and was looking for someone to help him bring some of their projects to fruition.

Jack had told him that I (and my company) were writing more customizations, and doing more installations with the SBT product that anyone else, and that geographically we were only about 90 miles apart.

Greg and I had a conversation that day, and several more over the next week or two, which culminated in my taking a day trip down to Nichols, NY to meet face to face with Greg and see what kind of plan we could come up with.

As I recall, we started our relationship with a couple of contract assignments where Ken and I did some bug fixing, and feature completion and Greg paid us for that work.

That was the plan, but the deal at Goguen had put a crimp in our style.. as my focus at that moment was survival.

So, here I was in March of 1991, having taken back the business from Goguen, losing my nice comfortable regular income stream and now having not one, but two guys on the payroll (besides myself).

It was a tough sell to my wife, who’d been down this road before, she knew full well this meant long hours with me huddled over a keyboard and less ‘at home’ time. But, in all reality it looked like the only real shot we had at me earning the kind of money we’d become used to me earning.

I struck a deal with Goguen, where we’d continue to maintain their internal systems, in exchange for use being able to continue to use the office space, and secretarial services, we had at no charge.

Shortly after that Greg and I formed a loose partnership, where Micro Applications would develop the software, and his company “Computer Services” would be the sales arm. He’d find the clients, close the deals, and we’d simply build the products. (Eventually we formalized that partnership and created Computer Services/Micro Applications, or CSMA.)

In the beginning at least, things went along pretty smoothly. Our phone traffic began to pick back up, but slowly. Our regular clients eventually had needs they couldn’t put off and we started earning again, all which allowed me to make payroll for Ken and Rich. Unfortunately, there was not much left over for me, but, personal finance-wise I was getting by.

We had a client, in North Syracuse, Lachut Electrical, who had just moved into a building they’d purchased and renovated. They were one of our larger Xenix clients, Rich had forged a decent personal relationship with them, and they needed a client for the downstairs of their building.

Rich lobbied pretty hard for the move, for several weeks, before I eventually decided it was the right thing to do. In retrospect, it was the wrong decision. We didn’t have the money, or the cash flow, at the time to support our taking on that additional monthly ‘nut’. We did it anyway.

I have to admit, it felt good to move out of the Goguen building, if for no other reason than there were some mixed emotions, in all of us, over what had happened. The rental agreement was a ‘sweet deal’ at Goguen, but everyday we were reminded that we’d effectively been ‘shut down’ simply because we’d had a couple of bad months.

Also, the Lachut building was really nice, everything was like brand new. We built cubicles, strung wiring, and in short order got down to work….

The timeline that follows, is a little shaky for me, I’m not sure I remember everything in exactly the ‘right order’, but it’s what happened all the same.

At some point after the move to the Lachut building, Rich became more and more adamant that he wanted, and deserved, to be a partner with me in the business. I tried to explain to him, that from the beginning, he’d wanted to be an employee, to get paid every week and that was the path he chose. That if he wanted to be a partner, he’d have to buy in, not simply demand I ‘give’ him half ownership simply because he worked for me.

The arguments got pretty heated at times… but I stood my ground.

Ken on the other hand, simply was there everyday, busted his butt to get work out the door, and, rarely shipped anything that wasn’t nearly perfect when it went out the door. He and I used to joke that we were like that wine company… but our slogan would be:

“We’ll ship no software, before its time”

Eventually, and in my mind, unfortunately, things came to a head with Rich and I. He’d decided to start his own business, and he did that. I say unfortunately because, well, things transpired that ruined, what I’d considered, a decent friendship.

In the end though... it was all, really for the best.

Ken and I moved back to “Goguen-ville”, renting some office space in their ‘Building #2’ that had previously been occupied by their custom hydraulics group (also now defunct). The relationship with Bruce was repaired, and Ken and I were back in a groove.

We were focused on development again and really developing some new, and very innovative products.

We built several large ‘add-on’ products for SBT, among them our “LazerPrn” product that used, what’s become the model for many other applications over the years, a true data-driven process, where all of the intelligence (business rule) was contained in the database. Essentially, we had an application, that produced Laser printed Invoices, from within SBT, without the need for custom printed forms.

You might remember, that in 1991. 1992 the PC world was still very much a “DOS” environment, Windows had been released, but as yet had not made significant inroads. This product was pretty well received.

Greg anticipated we’d sell 5,000 or more of them in the first 12 months… I remember thinking we were on the edge of our big breakthrough.

Ken and I also built the product we’d code named ‘Kona’, an intelligent inventory handler, which would make predictive purchasing suggestions, based on orders, sales trends, and economic order quantities.

This project was one more that I saw a lot of potential in. When a customer placed an order, it looked not only at the actual ‘on hand’ inventory, but what had previously been ‘promised’ in other orders, what was already on order but hadn’t yet arrived, as well as the sales trend of the past 30, 90 and 180 days, it would then ‘suggest’, what needed to be ordered each day and could place the orders automatically once they’d been reviewed and approved. Pretty slick stuff to PC based accounting/sales software in the early 90’s.

I’d hoped it would prove to be our ‘killer application’.

While Greg and I managed to build a solid based of nearly 700 SBT dealers (in addition to our 1,100 or 1,200 retail clients), who bought and installed our add-on software for their clients, the actual sales numbers we’d hoped for, planned and counted upon, however, never actually materialized.

Ken and I coded away, day and night, I don’t think I took a weekend off for over a year, trying to just ‘make it happen’, I remember I was convinced if I just kept at it, it would all work out… Despite everyone’s best efforts I ran out of money in early 1993. I (or at least the company) was broke, I had enough money to make payroll for a few more weeks, but that was about it.

I had to let Ken go. It remains, to this day, one of the single most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. Ken was, and remains to this day, far more to me than a business associate. Facing the fact that I’d somehow failed to manage things in such a way that we could continue to work together was crushing to me.

Many folks have told me that it was just, ‘one of those things’… but to me, in my heart, I know that had I done something, anything, different along the way, the results too would have been different.

I don’t know however, that they would have been ‘better’, just different. I blamed a lot of it, at the time, at least internally, on Greg not actually selling what we’d built. In my mind, he always had an ‘excuse’, one more feature it needed, a small screen change he felt was required, something, anything, that meant he didn’t have to sell it.

In the end though, I think it was the result of a lot of factors, most of which were beyond, Greg, Ken, or my control that kept us from the ‘brass ring’.

Shortly after I laid Ken off, in June of 1993, I took a contract gig in Nashville, TN. I worked all day at the gig, and cranked out code for Greg and my company at night…

The CSMA and NDC story… next!

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4 comments:

Greg said...

Well now...

In my own defense :-)
It is both my notebook and camera responsible for that tiny, tiny picture of you...
if it weren't for me you'd pro'ly have a desktop and a billboard

but thats what ya get for
late night road trips!
and a lotta love...

Bill said...

Yeah.. that may be true.. and I remember.. Atlanta, that hotel and that Chinese resturant... but the only reason I was at your notebook was that you couldn't get it to connect! :)

No defense required bro... we both spent a lot, of, time, money, physical, intellectual and emotional investment to try and make it all work. It wasn't for lack of effort, I still think we were ahead of the curve, the things we wanted to do then... well, folks take them for granted today!

I miss the road trips... glad the love is still there though, even after many years and more than a few thousand miles.

Oh, I have the deskyop... billboards are not really my style!

Firehawk said...

Bill,

It's a big story, bro. It does hurt to see something you totally committed to, threw every ounce of energy into...just die with a whimper. I know that I've had books and poems I've felt certain would "hit", only to have no response, or a negative one, even. Years of work and joy and pain, just to have nothing happen at all. It's easy to get very depressed, or try to blame someone (usually yourself), but if, as you like to say, "The ride is the destination," then what happens afterward is secondary to what you learn in the process.

Thanks for another great installment.

Bill said...

Firehawk - It's much bigger a story than I've had time to write. In the end though, the ride *is* the destination, it is tough sometimes though to see that, at the time.

Today, with nearly a decade between then, and now, I do know I'm far richer for having tried, regardless of the outcome.

I wouldn't trade a second of it, for it to have turned out any other way. Greg and I have remained friends for another ten years, and we've each had some fairly life altering experiences in that same time.

Who knows, one day he and I may find something else to collaborate on!

Thanks for you thoughts bro... they are, as always, appreciated.