Adam Sandman has been a programmer since the age of 10. Adam is the Founder and CEO of Inflectra – a leading maker of software test management, application lifecycle management, and automation platforms. He is responsible for product strategy, technology innovation, and business development.
Where did the idea for Inflectra come from?
From an early age, I was always fascinated by computers and technology. When I was 10 years old, I started writing computer software on 8-bit computers, both computer games and rudimentary application software. Then, I would try selling them to friends in school (with mixed success). In 1998, I emigrated to the United States to work for an internet consulting company, Sapient, in Boston, MA. After 8 years, I decided that I’d had enough time in consulting (I had a young family) and quit my job to be a stay-at-home parent and launch my new business Inflectra “on the side.”
The idea for the business actually came from my time at Sapient. While I was there, we started using a new piece of software for managing our project’s requirements, test cases, defects and project plans. It was a great tool that was light years ahead of its time, but it was too expensive for most teams to use. In addition, it was geared towards waterfall software projects, and the Agile manifesto had just come out and was changing how software was designed, developed and tested. In short, it was the perfect opportunity for a new, modern agile requirements, test and project management system. That was the idea that launched our first two products – SpiraTest and SpiraTeam in 2007.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day starts around 6am. I make coffee using a French Press, login to my laptop, check messages and emails quickly for anything urgent that needs my reply while the coffee is brewing. Having a slower way to make coffee (french press) is actually good since it gives me time to scan emails but not too long that I get drawn into them. Once the coffee is ready, now it’s time to spend 30-45 minutes starting my day with my wife on our deck or kitchen. I always make time to start the day with her before work grabs me. After coffee and breakfast I reply to any critical emails and then take transit to my office. I don’t work from home most days because I like the separate space for work vs. home. En-route I check emails and deal with most morning correspondence. I avoid driving because it saps my energy and I can use the commute time to get most emails done.
Once in the office, I make sure to use the time between any meetings to spend face-time with anyone who is in person that day. This is important for our company culture. During the day I have lots of zoom meetings, but in between, I make sure to respond to team members on chat or face-to-face so that they feel supported. Around 5 pm, I leave to go home; making sure that every team member is logging off at an appropriate time for their timezone. For me, it’s important for our company’s long term future that employees don’t become workaholics and get burnt out. I use my commute home to wrap up any emails for the day.
Once I get home, I make dinner for the family (just my wife and I since our two kids are now young adults) and after a glass of wine with my wife, I go back online to handle any work that requires my undivided attention. I use the time in the day to do mostly collaborative tasks and save the evening (when it’s quiet) for heads-down work. To keep me on task, I find that playing techno music (in headphones) is a great way to stay focused and avoid distractions.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Since we are a product company, I find that I get inspiration externally by having brainstorming sessions with our product and sales teams. I am a firm believer that for this kind of activity, you cannot beat in-person. For this reason, we have a once-a-year company offsite called, “InflectraFest” where we bring the entire company face-to-face for a week. I also find inspiration internally by going for a walk in the woods and letting my mind wander. Once we have the ideas (the easy part), our leadership team will meet to review and discuss them. Then they are either discarded, parked for the future, or if we think they are ripe for action, the appropriate team (product, sales, marketing, etc.) will be brought in to put together a plan to bring them to life. Ideas without a plan are just dreams!
What’s one trend that excites you?
The way that software is enabling us to make advances in the physical world that were not possible before. If you look at the unfulfilled science fiction predictions from the 1960s such as talking computers, smart homes, human colonies on Mars and other planets, self-driving vehicles, electric vehicles and unlimited energy, we are finally able to realize some of these amazing innovations because computing power has caught up with our imagination. Working in the software development field, and having products that help people create these new innovations keeps me excited. The second trend is the move away from formal education being a prerequisite to work in our field. At Inflectra we have helped many students who found that tertiary education wasn’t for them, find a career path in our industry. This is finally becoming accepted wisdom.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I don’t like having long lists of tasks or to-dos that never get done and just sap my mental energy. I keep an email inbox of no more than 10 emails. Once I’ve read something, it will get filed away with a Gmail label, replied to if it needs action, snoozed if it is a future event, or deleted if we are not interested. Similarly, I have a paper pad of to-dos that I recreate every day. Any items that are on the list for more than 5 days are clearly not important and can be deleted. You get lots of ideas from people, sometimes, just need to write them down, let them percolate and then you’ll know whether they can be ignored or acted upon.
What advice would you give your younger self?
(1) Watch out for Dreamers. You will come across lots of other organizations and people that will want to partner with you along the way. At the start you will be happy to just sign up and work with them because you want to make a success of the business and their ideas and promises sound amazing. A lot of people have good ideas, but most won’t deliver on them. Make sure you verify their progress and don’t invest too much time until you know they have something real. For example, 20% of our partners typically deliver 80% of the value.
(2) Get Ready to Say No. In my previous life at Sapient and in the early days of Inflectra I was doing a lot of sales work, which is making people say Yes. As a result, you are not accustomed to saying NO. However, as the CEO of a company, you need to be comfortable saying No when something either doesn’t make sense or it is not the right time. For example, there are many marketing opportunities that conference vendors and other platforms will try to sell to us every day, our CMO will present them to me with her recommendations. Most of the time I agree with her choices, but sometimes I will disagree and explain why. Similarly, people across the company have loads of good ideas for our products, improving processes or partnerships, and I have to be prepared to say No to many of them. If you say Yes to everything, the company will have no focus and will not succeed. A business mentor once said the default answer should be No unless the person can convince you otherwise.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
That you can have Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) and maintain both a cloud and on-premise version of a product. We do exactly this – all our customers have an annual subscription to our products, so the revenue is recurring, but we don’t require them to use our cloud / SaaS version. However, when you talk to a lot of growth equity investors they equate the two 100% and won’t value a company if it has not switched to 100% cloud-only products. I believe that you can deliver both types of solutions and still maintain the advantages of a recurring, service-based business model.
On a less serious note, I also think that canned sardines on toast make an awesome breakfast, and it seems that almost no one agrees with that either!!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Enjoy the journey. It’s a cliche, but make sure you have time for fun. Launching and running a business is truly a labor of love, some days you’re on top of the world, other days you want to run screaming. You never get a real vacation, it’s always on the back of your mind, there’s never enough time or money to get everything you want done, and you constantly have to make split-second decisions with only partial information. In that context, when you can have fun for a moment, revel in it. Make sure you and your team have those moments that you can look back on and say “the journey was worth it”.
For example, at a recent trade show in Florida, we got stranded due to Hurricane Nicole. Many of our competitors packed up their booth and drove home. However, since our flights had been canceled and many of the attendees were also stuck there with us, we decided to make it fun for everyone. We put on some music, gave out fun swag, did goofy dances and took advantage of the open bar. The team remembers it as a crazy experience and many prospects and customers designed to hang out with us since we were the only ones having fun. As the CEO, I set the tone and I know that it’s in my power to change the mood and I use my (British!) humor to deliberate effect when it can be helpful.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Not copying our competitors and being contrarian when it makes sense. For example, most of our competitors have switched to named-user licensing and many of them have switched to cloud (SaaS) only products. We know our customers better than anyone, and we have deliberately designed our platform to support both on-premise and cloud deployment with the same code-based (so it doesn’t cost extra to maintain both simultaneously). By having this dual deployment strategy and having a concurrent-user license model, we have won many deals with customers that were disillusioned with the status quo.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One major mistake I made early on was to try and do too much of this myself. I ended up with a bunch of services and vendors (paid search, SEO, marketing, etc.) that I didn’t have time to manage, and we didn’t have a holistic message or vision. A mentor recommended that we scale back this spend and hire a full-time Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), and only when you had that person in place and ready to manage everything, invest in those channels.
So, my advice here is to get a full-time marketing manager on your team and make sure your core marketing messages are solid before you invest too much in different channels and platforms.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
One business idea that would be interesting is to deal with the strange dichotomy whereby half of the world doesn’t have access to clean drinking water, and yet here in the US, we use drinking water to shower, flush toilets and water gardens. We need a way to save drinking water for human consumption and find a way to make our houses recycle other water for ‘grey’ purposes such as cleaning. If someone finds a way to make this practical, simple and legal, it will change the economics of the water industry. With climate change and the fact that even in the US, water is becoming scarce in some of the western States, this has huge future potential.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I recently spent was joining the Global Entry trusted traveler program (in fact we now make it a company benefit). I have family in the UK, and I take many international trips a year, so the ability to arrive back in the US, and only needing to show my face in a scanner and walk right into the country is truly awesome. The time and aggravation saved after a long flight is incalculable.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I use the DeepL online translation service to help me work with our international clients. Similar to Google Translate, but also allowing you to upload documents, it is very useful when we get a Request for Proposal (RFP) in a foreign language. We can upload the document, quickly read the contents and then determine if our products and services are a fit for the opportunity. We do have many native speakers available at Inflectra, but rather than distract them with these RFPs, it’s great to be able to do a quick first pass myself using DeepL.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Two related books that I read that were instrumental for me in building a company with a distinct and enduring culture were, “Built to Last” and “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras. If you want to build a business vs. make a product, these two books are for you. They discuss a bunch of great ideas, including building a cult-like culture, the genius of the “and” (avoid false trade-offs), trying a lot of stuff and keeping what works, home-grown management, and having a purpose more than just making money.
What is your favorite quote?
My favorite quote, “Screw It, Let’s Do It,” is from Sir Richard Branson from his book, “Losing my Virginity.” The book is about Mr. Branson’s experiences launching Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airways. Once I had decided to leave Sapient and start Inflectra, I went to a bookstore in DC and purchased a copy before reading it cover to cover. It gave me the confidence to start Inflectra. To this day, I will say that quote when we have an idea that is a bit crazy, but might just work!
- Invest in a solid marketing team, leaders are not meant to carry the load alone and one step of being a great leader is knowing when to ask for help.
- Follow your own path, stay away from the desire to copy and compete with competitors within your sector. Only you know what’s best for your consumers.
- Enjoy the journey; make sure you have time for fun. Make sure you and your team have those moments that you can look back on and say “the journey was worth it”
- Maintain your organization skills to increase your overall productivity. Without organization, business goals tend to collapse.
- Implement a company culture where employees are eager to share ideas, collaborate on tasks and have healthy work/life harmony
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.