Robert Hornung

Managing Director of Vertical Ventures

Robert Hornung is a seasoned entrepreneur and business development executive with over 25 years of building and growing numerous successful ventures. Throughout his career, Bob Hornung has become adept at creating strategic partnerships between industry leaders, establishing domestic and international distribution channels, analyzing market dynamics, and pinpointing opportunities to maximize sustainable competitive advantages. He is currently the Managing Director of Vertical Ventures, a company specializing in funding and managing early-stage companies.

Hornung’s career began at his family’s business in Connecticut, where he developed a passion for industry and its challenges. This interest eventually led him to enroll in the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University (formerly the Crouse-Hinds School of Management), from which he earned a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Business Marketing.

After earning a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Business Marketing from the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, Hornung joined Industrial Sales Corporation (ISC), where he helped transform the business into the largest window industry sales and distribution organization in the United States. He would go on to forge partnerships and several entrepreneurial ventures before developing new fenestration technology in the late 1990s.

Specifically, in 1993, Bob founded On-Link, a business application software company that was the first of its kind in any industry. In 1994, he founded Interactive Data Systems (IDS), an electronic catalog technology provider. Following their initial success, On-Link and IDS merged to form On-Link Technologies Inc. in 1998. Since then, On-Link Technologies has become a leading e-commerce software company. After successfully raising $36 million, On-Link Technologies was purchased by Siebel Systems Inc. in August of 2000 for over $600 million.

In 1999, Bob Hornung founded Sashlite LLC, an intellectual property firm that streamlined the window manufacturing process. The technology integrated an insulated glass spacer directly into the sash profile that could be incorporated into any size operation. Sashlite partnered with leading companies such as H.B. Fuller Company (NYSE: FUL), Bystronic Glass, Ashland Hardware Systems, and Deceuninck North America (DAX). Sashlite was sold in 2017 in a private transaction.

In 2017, Bob founded EVO Systems LLC, where he currently serves as Founder and President. EVO stands as the first end-to-end distribution solutions provider, serving the fenestration industry throughout the United States. EVO is considered to be one of the industry’s fastest-growing firms, building a robust ERP, EDI, and other sophisticated advancements to achieve this success; this includes its latest development, Cloud 9. Running off an all-in-one cloud business management solution, this advanced ERP system empowers customers with the ability to access a personalized system with their parts, pricing, and other data points specific to their accounts.

In 2018, as co-founder of ISC Penn Hudson Advisory M&A, the firm originated and closed Harvey Building Products’ acquisition of Northeast Building Products. This was one of the industry’s largest acquisitions in 2018. ISC Penn Hudson M&A is a leading advisory firm in the fenestration industry, offering guidance to companies dealing with macro issues and opportunities that impact their businesses.

Beyond these ventures, Bob serves as a member of the Whitman Advisory Council, which provides guidance, engagement and financial support and promotes the objectives and strategic goals of Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management.

What is your typical day, and how do you make it productive?

Each day is different, but I’d say a typical day for me begins with reviewing any outstanding challenges and opportunities and prioritizing what needs to be dealt with immediately. I’m usually most concerned about what needs to be fixed, improved, and organized to meet our short- and medium-term objectives.

How do you bring ideas to life?

My approach to realizing ideas for new products and services begins and ends with a sense of what matters most to the problem at hand. It sounds simple, but that continued focus is recursive in all of my businesses and is a driving principle for how I operate day-to-day.

This requires a tremendous amount of creativity, so I’ve worked to build a diverse team with different perspectives and a shared passion for getting things done.

What’s one trend that excites you?

It’s exciting that we’re living in a time where B2B and industrial manufacturers are finally developing tools that aggregate content with the end-user in mind. As younger generations enter these fields and information is no longer siloed, it’s going to be key to access tools that present information in an intuitive and educational way.

In the earlier generations, there was so much tribal knowledge, and this was often because the average retention of a person’s job might be 20 to 30 years. This loyalty and longevity afforded a level of expertise and working knowledge with folks that made them less dependent on systems. The economy is very different today. It’s essential the newer generation has access to intelligent systems that allow them to understand their field quickly and efficiently. This is exactly what we’re doing with EVO’s Cloud 9.

What is one habit that helps you be productive?

Over the years, it has become a habit of mine to check in on my team and evaluate how we’re setting them up for success. My team works hard at holding a clear vision of what we want to accomplish and we do a lot of research to feel comfortable with the direction that we’re heading in as a business.

This is important when thinking about our general performance, the expectations I have of my employees, and what I can do to best support them in their careers. Without the mutual investment that goes into a strong team, it’s very difficult to be productive.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Patience is a virtue, and impatience is a value. Regardless of your goal or experience level, you will always served best by slowing down and working methodically.

Starting a business comes with a lot of risk, and it’s very important that founders learn to sit with the discomfort of risk-taking. This is much more easily said than done. In the first two or three years of starting your business, you will feel like you are falling from a cliff and grasping for something to hold onto – and sometimes you are. However, panicking will never help you.

Tell us something you believe almost nobody agrees with you.

Thankfully, I can’t say that I have too many disagreements with others in most matters. At least none that would stand out. I am a big believer in the power of dialogue. For me, most disagreements boil down to miscommunication rather than truly conflicting perspectives.

As long as both parties are committed to an honest vision, I feel that it’s almost always possible to come to some understanding about a given issue – even if you don’t necessarily reach resolve.

What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?

Investing in EVO’s growth is a core tenet of our company ethos. It’s equally important to stay well-informed and educated within our industry.

This twin focus on sustained growth and industry knowledge serves as the foundation of our strategy. We believe that by embracing change and staying informed, we can navigate the evolving landscape of our field with confidence and adaptability, always positioning ourselves for success.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

As I mentioned earlier, I always strive to focus on what truly matters. Prioritizing what is materially impacting us the most helps my team go back to the drawing board when issues arise and come up with clear strategies to tackle the challenges we face.

By identifying the most important aspects of a problem, we can simplify things and create efficient solutions that directly address the core issues. This approach is all about thoughtful reflection and practical planning, making our problem-solving more effective and purpose-driven.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business or advance in your career?

Our dynamic decision-making process is a cornerstone of our strategy and company culture. We really embrace the idea that taking action, even if it occasionally leads to an imperfect decision, is far superior to doing nothing at all. Our willingness to adapt and pivot swiftly is ingrained in our organizational DNA, enabling us to maintain an agile in uncertain times.

Additionally, our penchant for problem-solving is amplified through our robust network of partnerships. Despite our relatively modest team size, we harness a wealth of resources through collaborations with consulting firms, supply chain specialists, logistics experts, and data science teams. When challenges arise and individuals find themselves at an impasse, we leverage this extensive network for the support needed to drive us closer to our objectives.

What is one failure in your career, how did you overcome it, and what lessons did you take away from it?

I can’t name a particular instance because I try to frame failure in a healthy way. When you’re innovating and building out your vision, there is a tremendous amount of risk. Failure is just something that is part of that fabric, and I’m very comfortable when things don’t work. When your vision doesn’t work out, that’s just part of it all; what’s upsetting to me is when there wasn’t thoughtfulness that created failure. Those kinds of setbacks are always learning opportunities, too.

I embrace failure as an integral part of innovation and the pursuit of any goal. In any business, risks loom large, and setbacks are an inevitable part of the journey. What’s crucial for me is being careful and thoughtful with every endeavor so that failure stems from bold efforts rather than recklessness.

When your grand vision runs into obstacles, that’s just part of the overall experience. The only failures that have ever really bothered me are those that were preceded by a complete lack of care or foresight. Still, even these situations serve as invaluable learning opportunities, presenting us with a chance to adapt, refine our strategy, and ultimately move forward with a greater understanding of the path ahead. In other words, I have never really seen failure as a deterrent.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Every one of us has a different life path, and I think the internet should be built more around that. The internet could be further aggregated so that it would get to know you better and more organically – so that it would be a more seamless experience to find what you need based on your unique life experience.

Here is a billion-dollar business idea that I feel will also help me illustrate the organizing principle behind EVO’s Cloud 9 platform:

Every individual has a unique journey in life, but shared challenges. No one can predict if or when they’ll fall sick or lose a loved one, but we have overcome illness and grief since the beginning of time. You often hear people wish there was some sort of handbook that could guide us through our toughest moments. I think it would be brilliant if there was a platform that could aggregate the multitude of factors of a person’s life into a unified knowledge bank. Is this your first time doing your taxes as a freelancer? Here’s what to do. Did you lose a parent? This platform will guide you through the process of planning for a funeral.

Many of the products and services I’ve built are focused on similarly intelligent systems that can deliver the information that you need when you need it.

What is one piece of software that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

We’ve greatly benefited from project management software, especially SmartSheet, which has helped us improve our teamwork and organization. Additionally, financial aggregators have helped us make faster, data-driven financial decisions.

What is the best $100 you recently spent?

A skiing ticket to ski at La Vallée Blanche with my daughter. It was a surprisingly daunting trip, but it was also a fun challenge that we both really enjoyed.

Do you have a favorite book or podcast from which you’ve received much value?

I listen to Squawk Box on CNBC a lot. I find it to be a consistent, enjoyable show and a good source of educational information.

What’s a movie or series you recently enjoyed and why?

At the moment, I’ve really enjoyed Yellowstone. Once you get into it, it’s hard to turn off.

Key learnings:

  • Success in today’s complex business world relies on synergy. Collaborating and working together across diverse teams and departments can lead to more innovation, productivity, and a competitive edge. It’s common for executives to feel limited by their resources, but sometimes reaching out to your peers is all it takes.
  • When you face failure, see it as an opportunity. If it’s aligned with your vision, you’ll learn and grow over time. Failure is a chance for personal and professional development, helping you refine the way you operate, build resilience, and eventually achieve your goals.
  • Don’t hesitate to use your internal support system and professional network during uncertain times. Your colleagues, mentors, and network can provide guidance and support. Looking for the support of those who care about you and your path in life can really help you make informed decisions and find stability in uncertain situations.