When Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple in Jobs’ garage, they didn’t envision selling phones or online music. Yet those are the company’s biggest revenue generators today.
Great companies (and their founders) are adaptive. They begin with a vision, but are willing and able to evolve that vision in response to their understanding of customer needs.
John Sundberg founded Kinetic Data in 1997 as a service provider to companies using the BMC Remedy IT service management (ITSM) platform. Realizing different customers were often asking him to solve very similar problems, he transitioned the organization to building software products.
Today, the company’s Kinetic Platform is used by midsized to large enterprises—running on a range of ITSM platforms—to manage service requests, fulfill employee needs for anything from a password reset to new office furniture, resolve service issues, and onboard new employees.
How did Kinetic Data grow from one guy with an idea to a solution provider for some of the world’s largest retailers, telecom firms, and government agencies? Here is John’s story.
Kinetic Data started out helping large organizations extend the functionality of their ITSM systems to better manage internal processes.
Recognizing a pattern of similar needs, the company built its own internal platform that enabled it to build these solutions much faster–reducing the typical time to build a customer solution from 15 days to just two days, while educating their customers on the process.
Companies frequently struggle with streamlining internal business processes where they need to collect some data ,route it to several people, obtain approvals (e.g., from an employee’s manager, then the VP, then finance, etc.), send a request to purchasing to buy an item, and then assign someone to set or install the item for an employee.
According to John, “At the time nothing really existed for what is now called a low-code world, so low-code software. We basically built something that just didn’t exist at the time to address the pattern of the projects our customers were bringing to us all the time.
Their alternative was building a custom website to manage each internal process—over and over and over again. So they would end up with hundreds of these internal websites, which were impossible to maintain.
That was the problem space we went after. And we built a platform for it so they could do this themselves, and focus on optimizing processes rather than maintaining hundreds of internal applications.”
Year founded: 1997
Funding rounds: Self-funded. It started with an initial deposit in QuickBooks of $100.
Current size: Roughly 30 employees and 300 (mostly very large) customers.
kinops by Kinetic Data is featured in:
Webbiquity: What inspired you to work on a solution to this particular problem?
John Sundberg: My background is math. And what I like about math is the world of logic. And I just kept on seeing project after project coming to us, and I saw patterns in these projects.
The problem was solvable, but it was about choosing to solve it, and having experience in a variety of technologies, and having worked on solving similar problems across a variety of projects.
Through dealing with that variety of projects and people, I was able to see the intersection of a bunch of different components in our space, and I had the skills to deal with them or I had contacts with other people who could address different parts. I just saw the problem and knew all the pieces to it, and how to bring the puzzle together.
There’s this thing about mathematicians that they would rather spend four hours figuring out how to solve a problem in five minutes rather than just spend 15 minutes actually solving it. And that’s just how I was. I like constantly thinking about this space and how I can address it in a way that is much faster and better than the alternatives.
Webbiquity: What were the most effective channels or methods for you to get the word out to prospective customers when you first launched your product?
John Sundberg: We generally sell to very large companies. It’s hard for a small, young company to get the attention of large enterprises.
So early on, we exhibited at trade shows that people from big companies were attending. And we had a pretty compelling story. We knew their problem. People would stop at our booth and we’d ask, “If you want to do something that’s kind of straightforward in your head, does it take like three weeks or even three months to get it done?”
And they would answer “Yes!” and then explain all of the reasons why that was so. They instantly saw we knew their pain, and we knew a path to accelerating their processes that was tolerable. We instantly got their trust because we knew their pain and we could paint a picture they understood.
We also partnered with other larger consulting companies that had an established presence in the market. Those were our two primary channels initially.
I do have one more interesting story in that space, though. The first solution we built on our platform was Kinetic Survey. What it did is allowed people to change how they thought about surveys. Typical surveys use like a one-to-five rating scale: how did we do, was the service person nice, blah, blah. You really can’t do much with a one to five on any of those things in general.
What we did was to provide high-volume internal service organizations with a survey system that made it super easy for them to build custom surveys, at scale, which were specific to the service received.
If any question drew a “no” response, then the responsible IT team could look into the situation and figure out what went wrong, to help the continually improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their processes.
Now, this was back when Google AdWords was pretty new. One Saturday night, I posted my first ever Google ad. It probably took me more than an hour to write it because I was so nervous.
But I put it out there. And Monday morning, I got a call from Intel. So that was interesting. Most of our early sales came from trade shows, but my very first Google ad probably paid for every Google ad our company ever ran
Webbiquity: Finish this sentence: “Knowing what I know now, if I were starting over today, what I would do differently is…”
John Sundberg: That is such a hard question—because I think the path we took actually uncovered what we’ve learned and it’s almost impossible to know what you need at step 17 unless you did steps 16, 15, and 14.
But if I could just plain skip steps one through 16, and go straight to where we are today,
I probably would have spent more time personally selling to the huge companies.
That’s because I’ve learned I’m good at communicating to the big companies, and they like us, we make a big difference for them. And they’re great customers for us. They pay nice bills, they generally pay on time, and they pay large amounts.
If I had focused my energy more on the large companies, like our biggest customers, and I did it personally, I think I’d be a little bit better off.
Webbiquity: What’s the most important advice you could offer to an entrepreneur starting out today?
John Sundberg: I’ve learned lots of things. One of the key things I’ve learned is I used to spend a lot of time watching competition or watching potential competition to see what’s happening.
And in many ways I feel that that was a massive waste of time. Like I would have rather gone ice skating or learning how to bake a lasagna or something like that. I think paying too much attention to your competition is really a waste.
I think if you understand your space, like a founder needs to, you will come up with great ideas and build what your prospective customers need. You can create a lot of free time by not watching other shiny balls bouncing around that are really actually wasting your time.