Mobile Nation

When it comes to mobile technology, sometimes the company that has the most loses. See why Jeff Cable believes that less is definitely more

You might call Jeff Cable a minimalist. Take his wheels, for example. Although Cable lives and works in Silicon Valley, where most of his fellow sales professionals drive zippy sports cars or brawny sports-utility vehicles, he often relies on a drab pickup truck that has definitely seen better days. He admits that one of the reasons he bought the truck 10 years ago was to make sure that the women he was dating were more interested in him than in his money or image, but he likes how the pickup exemplifies his down-to-earth business outlook as well.

"Sometimes when I'm driving it in my suit, people do a double take," he says. "But the good thing is, I don't have to worry about it at the airport. I travel a lot. Once I was so late for a flight, I left the door open--not unlocked, literally open--and when I came back two days later, it was untouched. I had a decent stereo in there and a radar detector. No one had bothered to look inside."

Cable's minimalism is not to be mistaken for a lack of gumption. He happens to be friendly with football players on six teams in the NFL, including the San Francisco 49ers, and has found that keeping a stash of autographed footballs around comes in handy every now and then. He's used the signed pigskins as perks for contractors he's hired for home-improvement projects, and he recently threw in two of the souvenirs as a thank-you to a cellular supplier who gave him more phones than he'd ordered.

Cable's minimalist ways should serve him well in his current job. Not long ago he left a cushy post at a half-billion-dollar company to become the first employee of Paragon Software Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Britain's Paragon Software Ltd., with headquarters in Newbury, Berkshire. Cable is the company's executive vice-president of sales and, as such, opened its offices, in San Jose, Calif., in January. Like most start-ups, Paragon is still deep in the red. Its major product, FoneSync, which transfers information (including names, phone numbers, and addresses) between cell phones and contact-manager programs, has been on the market for only a few months.

By the end of the year, however, Cable expects to have added 14 U.S.-based sales and marketing people to the 35 Paragon staffers already employed in the UK. His sales force will be spending more time on the road than in the San Jose office, and supporting their mobile needs will be Cable's biggest human-resources expense after salaries. A sales veteran who thinks nothing of tallying up 150,000 miles a year on his frequent-flier account, Cable has thought a great deal about how to equip his road warriors as efficiently and inexpensively as possible.

"When I was at a big company, supporting mobile employees wasn't so much of an issue," he says. "We just assumed we needed to spend the money. But here I don't feel the same way. Why spend more money than I need to on mobile technology, when I could put that money into marketing or into generating more sales, where it would be better off?"

Like executives at most small companies, Cable doesn't have the resources to perform a cost-benefit analysis for every mobile-technology expenditure he makes. But here's where his minimalist smarts come in: he's already discovered simple, systematic methods for reducing costs dramatically in the three areas that have the greatest budgetary impact on mobile business: telecommunications, technical support, and hardware. While it's too early to assess the full impact of his efforts on his fledgling company, catching up with Cable as he whirls through one of his workdays makes it clear that he's gotten off on the right foot--or, as Joe Montana might say, put himself in great field position.

Telecommunications tricks
It's 9 a.m. in San Jose, and Cable takes advantage of the last few minutes of work time in England to call his colleagues and brief them on Paragon's first product review in a U.S. magazine. Although his new phone system is already up and running, Cable ignores the handset on his desk and makes the call on his cell phone. He hasn't been traveling as much as usual, and he knows he has extra minutes left on his calling plan.

The only other employee in the office is the receptionist, Melissa Fistner, who looks a bit flustered at not being able to offer a seat to Paragon visitors because there's no furniture in the lobby yet. The rest of Cable's staff are on the road, meeting with customers and potential distributors.

Phone bills are the single biggest technology expense for mobile employees, according to the Gartner Group, a research firm based in Stamford, Conn. In his last job Cable had the unpleasant experience of seeing his cell-phone bill shoot up by $700 in one month, simply because he had a new phone and a new service provider, and he wasn't familiar with the terms of the new plan. He was at a company that was big enough to absorb shocks like that one, so his manager shrugged and told him to be more careful next time. At Paragon he can't afford to let his own employees make the same mistake.