“ We didn’t understand fully at the time, but to be successful with what would become today’s CRM software, we needed to become experts at “sudden expertise:” the idea that a consultant can drop into your business, learn it in a matter of a few days, then propose how to tailor a productivity system to help them do business… better. ”
Nowadays, there are thousands of well-known companies with hundreds of corporate offices in multiple countries. It is hard to imagine and believe that many years ago there was only the idea and motivation of founders to create something big.
Ascendix Technologies is no exception and today we want to tell you our story of becoming a leading software development company with diverse expertise.
In order to leave no detail to chance, we asked our Chief Technical Officer and Managing Partner Todd Terry to describe the Ascendix journey into software development in first person. So, let’s get down to business.
Birth of an Idea
It was a Saturday afternoon in October, about 25 years ago, when my longtime friend Wes Snow and I were grabbing a beer during halftime of the Texas/OU game in Dallas.
The way I remember the conversation, we were wondering out loud how cool it would be to start our own business of sorts. I’m not sure we knew exactly what we would do – no defining idea, no special market opportunity.
We were just two recent university grads, still suffering from a terrible economy and generally dissatisfied with our current career options.
Wes was working on a helpdesk for a financial services company and I was working on a helpdesk for an oil and gas exploration company.
A few weeks (or maybe a few months) later, Wes calls me with a proposition of sorts. A company that had implemented a contact management system for his current employer had been acquired by a startup out of Arizona and was looking for reseller/implementation partners.
Wes had become a good acquaintance of the acquired company’s owner, and he was now trying to recruit partners in Dallas.
So, Wes called me with the idea that we would fly to Scottsdale, get trained, and certified to start selling and supporting productivity software for salespeople (now known as CRM).
It seemed like a terrible idea to me at the time, but I was up for a junket to Scottsdale with my good buddy, so I agreed.
First Steps Towards the Launch
In retrospect, the trip was life-changing.
In less than two weeks, we both learned how to implement and customize a rather sophisticated client-server system that had cutting edge remote database synchronization capabilities (in 1996).
They were perfect for a remote field sales team, as connectivity wasn’t so ubiquitous then.
Wes and I both had some technical background from our university coursework, so we understood high-level concepts, but this was our first jump into the realm of business software solutions.
We had no typical client – they were small, medium, and large, financial, hospitality, manufacturing, healthcare, construction, and heavy equipment, but they were all trying to solve the same pains.
They wanted to help their customer-facing workers make better-informed decisions, and somehow gain visibility into what was happening with their sales pipeline.
Primary Ups and Downs
We had some early successes that helped fund our business.
They just liked us, our presentation (we flew to their headquarters to present), and our price, and accepted our proposal for a 200-user system that was meant to be temporary while their department waited in line for an upcoming Siebel implementation.
We maneuvered, worked with the administrative assistant of the department head, and in a matter of 10-12 weeks had this department of a Fortune 500 company with a new, successfully running system that they used for years.
(Funny fact, their server sat under the desk of the admin assistant, unknown and untouched by the IT team for more than a year before it was finally brought into the server room.)
This referenceable Fortune 500 client (whose name exists in NFL stadiums) would help us continue our success for many more years.
We also had our share of failures, and from these, we really learned about what makes good software and a successful project, and this became part of our company DNA.
Our failures were primarily due to taking on projects with compromises – projects where we didn’t focus on the user’s needs, but the needs of those managing the users.
This experience allowed us to learn how to advocate for the user in order to help their managers and stakeholders achieve their objectives as well.
Defining Our Competitive Advantage
Enterprise business software is not user friendly.
It’s generally not well-liked by users (especially salespeople, who are typically successful for reasons other than good computer skills).
It’s usually hard to find information, difficult to act on this data, and tough to use this information in a way that helps you be a more effective professional.
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Hire Ascendix and we’ll execute your vision and create a thriving software product or bootstrap your existing solution.
Yes, that remote database syncing client-server system Wes and I learned to implement and customize back in 1996 is quite ugly and out-of-date looking compared to today’s interface in Salesforce or Dynamics, but the functionality is remarkably unchanged.
Moreover, the challenges we faced then are still real today: user adoption, user stickiness.
I’ll never forget the day, about 10 years ago, I was sitting in a conference room in Seattle for a global commercial real estate client (400+ offices and 15K people).
We had just wrapped phase 1 of the project and completed a full day’s training for our first wave of users.
The president, who was deeply involved in the project since the vendor selection stage looked at me and said: “Todd, you guys have done a great job building exactly what we’ve looked for, but I still wonder why CRM software still has to be so hard to use.”
I was a bit taken aback, as 75% of our solution for commercial real estate was more about usability, and the other 25% specifically about real estate, and he just said it was still hard to use.
"You should build your products like Apple. Like LinkedIn. Like Amazon. If I can work on LinkedIn, or build my playlist on Apple, or find the products I need on Amazon without going through a full day of training, then I should be able to do the same with your software. While yours is the best I’ve seen, I think it can be better!"
I made my informed excuses about enterprise software – that you must give up some usability in order to have flexibility and customizability.
He reluctantly agreed, but I got his point.
Our differentiator over these 25 years started by advocating for the user and making our client’s software easier to use.
We hired really smart and talented developers who could develop and implement seamlessly integrated usability solutions to otherwise hard-to-use software.
We put ourselves in our users’ shoes and mapped end-to-end process flow with the system, and then built plug-ins to plug the holes in those end-to-end flows.
We started using these solutions for all our implementations, then started to use it as a framework to combine it with our growing business experience in certain industries (Commercial Real Estate, Financial Services, Professional Services) as modules and industry solutions.
The first industry solution we built for companies who sold private REIT products to registered representatives, which fueled our start in software development until the global financial crisis arrived in 2007.
Starting a Software Development Outsource Story
Our journey also took us to different parts of the world.
Wes and I decided to bootstrap our product development with a combination of reinvestment of profits and debt vehicles.
This meant a model where we develop software that may not bring us revenue for months, or sometimes even years after an investment of capital.
We looked for ways to stretch the dollar, which inevitably means outsourcing.
Our vendor search took us to China and India. Then, hurting from the lost hours due to cultural and time differences, we near-shored in Argentina and Mexico.
It wasn’t successful until we worked on a special pilot project with a company in Eastern Europe that we became real believers that outsourcing could work so effectively.
After a couple of very successful years working as a partner, we decided it was time to continue our growth by acquiring our team and establishing our own location there.
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“ We have evolved our services/custom software development practice largely based on our experiences with more than 20 years of user-centric advocacy and best practices for product development and support. ”
We have Agile project teams, dedicated client teams, or anything in between.
We’ve evolved a great practice where we can run a project in the US, blend a team from Europe, or run it entirely out of Europe with personnel who have very capable language and communication skills.
We’ve also built a successful concierge support team who can take on application support, CRM administration, and even personal assistant services, entering data, running reports, or other tasks defined by our customers.
What’s more, they work on a 24/7 basis, which means that they are available around the clock.
We know there are many capable technology companies who can help you build the software solution you need.
However, finding one with 25 years of success in both local and global projects with a few thousands of users, US-based, blended, or European resources with a customer-oriented passion becomes a more difficult challenge.
We are always accessible to all our clients and we have built a team that reflects our values – from our project leadership to our newly-minted trainees.
Give us a try for your next technology project and you’ll see what our other customers are saying about us.
Todd is the co-founder and CTO of Ascendix Technologies. Over the years, Todd has designed and delivered solutions for many thousands of users from Fortune 500 companies in financial services and commercial real estate to a variety of small and mid-market B2B enterprises. Along with enterprise CRM solutions, he has also delivered innovative software products leveraging technologies in cloud computing, big data, natural language search and cross-platform mobility.
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