In Mark Cunningham's own words, he and his company, Indicee, set out to meet the needs of an underserved, unrecognized market: "mere mortals."
Mere mortals are the business users who are out there in the trenches, doing the real work of generating business reports without the benefit of technological expertise, and, until recently, with very little help. Those are the business people that Cunningham created Indicee to serve.
"I grew up in an entrepreneurial family," Cunningham told AccountingWEB, adding that all seven siblings are business owners. "Entrepreneurship was just built into our personality. It's in our DNA."
That's why he has been coming up with ways to make money all his life - like the time he got fellow students to participate in a computer raffle by giving them cash incentives for tickets sold. The net proceeds came to more than $40,000, which funded new school computers and a "killer grad party." It was a true win/win because students came away with a lot of spending money and the school got what Cunningham described as "an awesome computer system." Even then, finding innovative solutions came naturally to him.
In the mid-1980s, he cofounded Crystal Services in Vancouver, Canada. It was a family business that operated in the same office that now houses Indicee. Crystal Services started by developing add-on products like check writers for popular accounting software ACCPAC. That began a long history of connecting with accounting products. By 1992, Crystal Reports worked with any accounting system, not just ACCPAC.
Crystal Reports originally was bundled into approximately 800 other products. It was the "flavor of the day," said Cunningham. What's more, Sage Software still uses Crystal Reports in its entire product line.
In 1996, the family sold Crystal Reports to Seagate Technology, which sold it to Business Objects. Now the Crystal Reports product line is owned by SAP and is the most widely based Windows reporting tool out there.
A new idea
Years later, Cunningham had the inspiration for a new start-up. "Something cool, something next generation," he said. Realizing that the majority of business management reports were being cobbled together by end-users who didn't have the resources to call in an IT department, he knew he could help.
"Business users are the forgotten 80 percent who were left out. `Mere mortals' who need to put information together from different systems and had to hammer them together in a spreadsheet for management," Cunningham said.
He realized this was a massive market of non-tech people, who didn't have massive resources. That's when he knocked on the door of some former colleagues from Crystal Services, and the ball began to roll. In 2007, he founded Indicee. Now the company boasts more than 20 professionals. The idea, said Cunningham, was to change the delivery system.
"Crystal Reports was a desktop tool. We moved the concept into the cloud, Software-as- a-Service, so no software is involved," he said. Indicee totally changed the dynamics for the user, he explained, because it limits the need for extensive IT help and allows IT resources to be directed to other critical business needs. You don't have to buy the software; you don't need to understand the underlying data.
At Indicee, the goal was to make a product with a self-service option if that's what the client wants. Sales people are available to help, again, only if the client wants their services.
"A mere mortal can say, `I want to create a report,' find Indicee online, click on it, and end up at the Indicee Web site." There are videos online to demonstrate use and guide users throughout the process. "It's like signing up for Flickr," said Cunningham. "Once you've got Indicee, you grab data from your system, load it in, create reports, and share them. "It is end-to-end self-service."
From idea to launch
A lot of people have ideas, but most of those ideas don't translate to new products or services. How did Cunningham's idea differ? For one thing, his experience at Crystal Services taught him a lot about selecting the right market. The Crystal product family was targeted at big organizations, like Pepsi. But Indicee wants to serve the mid-market, smaller businesses that have 50 to 1,000 employees.
"When we took a look at the mid-market, most of the businesses were running packaged application, like ERP and CRM. Each application is an island unto itself with its own database and canned reports. But businesses need a 360-degree view of the data," Cunningham said.
So when Indicee talked to businesses about their reporting needs, the company realized that everything generally got passed off to accountants who were stuck trying to hammer together data from different systems.
"The heart of any business is the accounting system," said Cunningham. When he asked business people where they got their data, the most common answer was ERP. So they decided to line up with the packaged applications, especially accounting applications and ERP, and create adapters that would connect with different accounting products like MAS90 and others.
"When we took this idea to the mid-market," said Cunningham, "we got immediate resonance. We made it easy for them to crank out reports and share and collaborate with others inside and outside the organization."
"The most critical piece in getting from idea to launch is the team," Cunningham said. Having launched four successful start-ups, he knows what he's talking about. "At Indicee, we have a great talent pool. It was the same at Crystal Services, where we grew to about 2,000 people."
Once you have the team in place, he said, you get a prototype, then the right funding for the business. In this case, "the investors followed the team. They saw what we did at Crystal Services. They saw the product evolving and knew the experience the team had to build the technology. This team at Indicee has the same experience, but differing perspectives."
If you want to launch a great product, he explained, you have to have history. You need to be able to say, as he did, "Look what we achieved here" at Crystal Services. "Investors look at that and know the chances of doing it again are high, and that is critical."
When it comes to giving credit for the success of Indicee, and before that, Crystal Services, Cunningham can't say enough about his team, their brainpower, and their passion. "With start-ups, it's about the team, the product, the market, and the timing - in that order."
Not only was the team at Crystal Services outstanding, but the culture was one of a kind. "There was no hierarchy," said Cunningham. "Everything was collaborative. Decisions were by consensus." Management even shared the company's financials with the staff. "People thought we were crazy for doing that. But the unique culture was wonderful."
If that was crazy...then crazy can work.
As for his personal motivation, Cunningham said what he really loves is the creation aspect of a new product, especially a product that combines art and technology.
"I'm passionate about creating user interface. I want users to connect. I want to make it so slick that people will click on it and say, `that's cool!'"
The thrill of creation, innovation, and the passion of working with a team that believes in the product and in the direction they are going is what makes Indicee work, and what makes Cunningham get up every day and rush to do it all again.
As he predicted, the public looked at the history of the Indicee team and knew they had the right combination. In the words of one client, Alco President Ben Hume, "Indicee reports are a godsend. Access to fundamental sales data in this company has gone up 1,000 percent."
From any perspective that is the definition of cool.