[quote style=”boxed”]At the end of the day, if you engineer a product without any knowledge of customer or market need you will end up with a solution that no one wants.[/quote]
Simon Wieczner (President & CEO of Snowbound Software) has over 25 years of software industry experience. His management and marketing experience spans a number of companies including First Data, Computervision, ADP, BSO/Tasking, Numonics, Ergo Computing, and AccuSoft as well as his own ventures. He has extensive experience developing start-ups into profitable, growing enterprises. Educational credentials include a BS in Management and an MBA in Marketing from MIT.
What are you working on right now?
I’m the president and CEO of Snowbound Software, a provider of document viewing and conversion solutions. Organizations from numerous industries use our viewing and conversion technology to capture, view, process and archive hundreds of document and image types.
Since the beginning Snowbound has always developed solutions tailored to the unique needs of our customer base, and one of the key initiatives I’m working on right now is focused on our financial services clients. Companies in this space are closely regulated and are increasingly looking for the vendors they work with to adapt these same regulatory requirements.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I was actually working at another company with Jim Palo, our current VP of research and development. We discovered that Windows’ graphical display opened up new possibilities for documents and pictures, but that tools for adding imaging capabilities to Windows programs were in short supply. Those that did exist were offering their products to both corporate customers and shareware customers, which didn’t work. They couldn’t afford to support their corporate customers, so we capitalized on this opportunity and started Snowbound. Our goal was to focus on the Fortune 2000 corporate customer with products and support and enhancements better suited to their requirements.
How do you make money?
Snowbound sells our document conversion and viewing solutions to Fortune 2000 companies across numerous industries worldwide, enabling them to create or enhance high performance document workflow solutions. Very early on we realized it was critical to have licensing schemes that matched our customers’ respective needs and distribution models, rather than a set price per product. For example, we work with a number of OEMs that have their own unique way of selling to their customers and want our licensing to be compatible with their respective business models. It took some time at the outset but by tailoring our pricing model to the requirements of our customers, we’ve built numerous long-term relationships.
What does your typical day look like?
One of the things I love most about my job is that it’s quite varied, so there’s almost no such thing as a typical day for me. I see my role as giving people what they need to make things happen and eliminating—or reducing—the inhibitors standing in their way. As such, I interact in some capacity with essentially every department in the company daily. Some days my time might be spent helping facilitate communication on a particular project between two groups, while other days I might be focused on conversations with our business partners. I even get involved in exerting my influence with our landlord to fix the heat or air conditioning if it’s malfunctioning, or working with our office manager to plan our next company outing. It’s literally anything and everything, which is what makes it so enjoyable. Never a dull moment.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’ve found that people are more apt to get excited about an idea when they view you as a knowledgeable source on the particular topic. When I’m trying to implement a new initiative at Snowbound I first thoroughly research it, both internally and externally, before having a broader discussion with my team. Some of our product enhancements, in addition to what our customers, engineers and salespeople suggest, came about after I’d done some research on current industry trends or toured trade shows and uncovered a market need that wasn’t being met—or one that we could meet better. I think it’s also important to communicate to our people what others in the market are doing. Never underestimate the motivating factor of the competition!
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I love to see technology change so I get excited about a lot of trends. I know other companies often fear how industry innovations might impact their business but I think it’s stimulating, and can spur new offerings and ideas within the company. So while it’s difficult for me to choose just one, I think mobile computing is a really exciting trend to watch. A few years ago smartphones and tablets were still somewhat of a novelty but now a lot of people are working almost exclusively on them. No one really knows for sure where the market is going to go, but given there is so much innovation springing up around mobile and the radical way in which it’s transformed how we do business we must put our best efforts here.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
In the late 1970s I started working for a company in the microprocessor development tool industry. I thought we were doing some interesting things and the company was developing and growing in a really dynamic way. The reason I say this was one of my most frustrating jobs, however, is that my boss, the company CEO, believed that DEC (Digital Equipment Corp) VAX computers were the future and refused to pay attention to the growing PC software development market. It goes without saying that he was wrong. I learned an incredibly valuable lesson about running a business from the experience, despite how frustrating I found it at the time. If the industry is moving in a particular direction don’t try to change it—get onboard and embrace it, and make the changes necessary to adjust your offerings accordingly. It’s the organizations that are agile enough to respond to market changes quickly that are best positioned for success.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
When we first started the company we were embroiled in a lawsuit for a number of years. At the time, we were against any kind of settlement (we knew we were right) and spent a significant amount of time and resources on the case. In retrospect, I think we should have cut it short much sooner than we did even if it meant not getting what we wanted.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
One of the most vital lessons I’ve learned working with technology companies is that you have to listen to your customers and understand what’s happening in the market. At the end of the day, if you engineer a product without any knowledge of customer or market need you will end up with a solution that no one wants. I recommend that people always connect with customers and prospects, go to tradeshows, speak with their engineers and salespeople, read customer emails—in short, tap every resource that exists to further educate themselves on how the industry is changing in real time.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The individuals who work in a company are critical to its success and, on the flip side, employing the wrong people can really hurt an organization. Mistakes will happen from time to time as hiring is far from a perfect science. The important thing is dealing with a poor performer swiftly, even if it means letting him or her go. Too often those decisions are put off due to their uncomfortable nature but, if someone is a detriment to the company, the sooner you make the difficult call the better.
At Snowbound, we’ve tried to overcome this as much as possible through our hiring process. We have candidates interview with numerous people, and give tests to understand the work style and abilities of potential hires. When we do have to let someone go due to performance, the team evaluates the experience for any lessons that could inform future hiring decisions.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
We’ve talked a number of times about developing a mobile app that we could sell in iTunes and other app stores that would provide the manipulation functionality of our high-end viewers for personal documents. While the latter has an enterprise level price point, people could download the app for less than $10 and view, annotate and redact documents on their mobile device. It’s an intriguing idea but something we’ve yet to really look into, as our resources remain focused on the enterprise. As mobile increasingly becomes a very popular computing platform for both personal and professional use, I think this is an idea that could really take off.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I’d like to put a stop to program and website hacking. There is so much energy and resources devoted to preventing attacks on software and it seems like a never-ending arms race. It impacts Operating Systems, applications, utilities, hardware devices and so on. It even impacts business contracts because now we have to attest to the preventative measures we take to avoid risk introduced by would-be hackers or even our own employees. These efforts could be better put towards safer, automated vehicles and trains, devices that could be controlled by the handicapped or paralyzed, or intelligent medical diagnostic systems.
This is a tough problem since even our own government and military use these techniques for cyber warfare – hence an arms race.
A solution is hard to envision but we can make attempts by getting appropriate people together for something like a Geneva Convention to outlaw this kind of behavior. Of course, individual hackers or rogue countries would not adhere to such laws but the resources that could be marshaled should be able to come up with solutions that withstand the efforts of these more minor entities.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I wanted to be a scientist when I was growing up. I read all the science books I could get my hands on and set myself the goal of attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when I was thirteen.. It was only after my sophomore year at MIT that I realized I didn’t want to be a scientist after all.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
I’m a curious person by nature—both personally and professionally. Because I love research so much I really don’t have a favorite online tool, unless you count the web browsers themselves. I’ll go to a million different websites if I need to in order to find what I’m looking for.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I laugh every day, multiple times. I like my job, I enjoy the people I work with and I find there are plenty of opportunities to laugh as a result.
Who is your hero?
My parents. Both of them survived Hitler’s Germany in World War II and I admire them for their courage and ability to not only survive but to succeed.
Before you embarked on your professional career, what was one of your most eye-opening jobs?
One of the summer jobs I had as a college student was working for the Social Security Department in a New York City facility with multiple floors and acres of file cabinets full of people’s Social Security records. This was in the early days of computers, so the filing and accounting for folders was largely a manual process. My job was to file these folders, rolling giant shopping carts from cabinet to cabinet and floor to floor. There were many other people with the same function, usually less motivated than a summer intern, making it incredibly easy to misfile information.
As a budding computer programmer, I knew that there had to be a better way to record, store and retrieve such important information and every so often, I still bring up that mental picture of these huge floors of file cabinets. Today it’s difficult to imagine that something as critical as Social Security benefits could be managed in such a way, which just goes to show how digitalized our entire world has become.
What is one quality that you think is incredibly important as a manager?
I think the most important thing is to understand when you need to relinquish control. This can be a difficult lesson, particularly when people are first learning to manage. But I firmly believe that you don’t get the best work from people you’re trying to control, as they are focused on meeting your expectations rather than thinking and innovating. The more a manager is able to encourage his reports to do the latter the better job they will do and, in turn, the more successful the organization as whole will be as a result.
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