Many people consider Pat Sullivan a legend of the software industry. It's good to have friends this smart!
Rick: People know you through ACT! How did you get started in your business career?
Pat: Right out of college, I started into sales. I spent my first 13 years or so carrying a bag and having a quota, learning how to sell. Initially in the printing business, then later with 3M. I was kind of at the right place at right time with the advent of the microcomputer. Early 80s, a friend of mine, a fraternity brother, asked me to join him in selling microcomputers in the retail business in Dallas. I started selling the IBM PC right after it came out and shortly after that the Apple Mac... I was struck with the idea if I'm selling computers, I ought to be using one. I taught myself how to program and wrote a couple of programs that helped me sell computers, but one of those things was contact management and out of that came ACT!
Pat: With my best friend who'd been with IBM and then Computer Associates, looking at my prototype for what would become ACT!, we said, "You know we think there is a business there." We left our jobs and started what became ACT! and raised $100,000, which I thought at the time was the most money anybody could have at any one time. We hired two real programmers, they used my prototype and 10 months later, we shipped ACT! in April of 1987.
Rick: Did you own ACT! more than once?
Pat: Yes, we sold ACT! to Symantec in 1993 and then two years later, I started SalesLogix. Then, in 1999, bought ACT! back from Symantec. Then two years after that sold both, SalesLogix and ACT! to Sage Software.
Rick: With ACT!, what are you most proud of?
Pat: We survived the first couple of years when it was very difficult to get into retailers like CompUSA and Egghead and Compushop, ComputerLand. We found ways to sell our software, and finally got over the threshold and distributors picked us up.
Rick: What makes Ryver important in business?
Pat: The problem is the only communications people use today is email and buried inside our inbox is our most important communication, intermixed with less important, and even unimportant emails. Finding important emails you need to respond to, rapidly becomes a huge challenge. To handle more communications by knowing where everything is-that's why Ryver is important.
Rick: What's the launch of Ryver look like, where would someone find out about it?
Pat: We are in late beta, the product has become very stable. While we are still getting feedback and tweaking the product, all of the major features are there, it's a functioning, working product. Anybody can get it at Ryver.com.
Rick: What's the best advice you've been given by your mentors?
Pat: The importance of positioning your product versus competitors. I was fortunate to work with Al Ries and Jack Trout, the two guys who actually coined the term positioning. They helped me both at ACT! and at SalesLogix, position those companies and those products. People would ask, "What is it?" I would say, "Well, it's a database, word processor, calendar thing with reporting that you use to help yourself." Working with Ries and Trout helped us to realize that we were the best-selling contact manager. We are credited with creating the contact management category.
Rick: What disappointments have you had?
Pat: Probably my biggest disappointment is that SalesLogix missed the SaaS (boom) in the market. ...not because we didn't know it was important, but because of poor execution. Early in 2000, Salesforce had already launched and it became obvious that SaaS was going to be really important. I blame myself because we had become a public company and I thought my number one job was building the stock. I spent my time with institutional investors when I should have been paying attention to this huge shift in the market. We built something that wasn't even close to what we needed to build. We ended up having to essentially sell the company. That was a huge disappointment to me that we just failed to execute. I blame myself for taking my eye off the ball... I was the leader of the product management, the vision for the product and I didn't provide good leadership to that effort.
Rick: Are there things you like to do outside of business?
Pat: Golf has always been a passion. It's my escape, the only place that I stop thinking about computer software and my companies. I also have four wonderful kids and four grandchildren, a wonderful wife and enjoy spending time with all of them.
Pat: I love to give back by mentoring as I was mentored. I've learned a lot over 30+ years in the software business and sharing that in a useful way is meaningful to me. I have invested in a number of other startups and enjoy that. Being involved in other companies trying to solve a problem, you learn as much as you teach. I love that.