A Lesson in Doing Whatever it Takes to Close the Deal

Alan MicroMuse

Here’s a lesson from a past life that has really stuck with me; a lesson in doing whatever it takes to get your product out the door. Or, how a three-day business trip can turn into eight weeks of nonstop coding.

My first job was at a company called MicroMuse. We were building a software product called Netcool/RAD (Realtime Active Dashboards), a tool for managing business services within your environment. British Telecom in the UK was set to be our first customer. I flew to London for the first time with my boss and mentor, Shoel Perelman (he’s now a VP of Engineering at IBM). We got in at eight at night and got to the hotel at around ten o’clock. Since I had never been to London, I was really eager to see what it was all about. I decided to go on a walk and explore a little because I was wide-awake since it was only five o’clock in the afternoon in the U.S.

So I woke up with a 6 a.m. call, which is 1 a.m. in New York. I was like, “Oh, my God. What hit me?” It was such a struggle to get out of bed, let alone think about being ready for a big sales meeting. Shoel and I got breakfast and got on the train to Sheffield. We went to British Telecom and presented our software. We thought we nailed it. Then they showed us the product they had built internally for the same purpose, which was way better than what we had. Our hearts sank. Shoel and I just looked at each other with this feeling of, “We’re not even close.”

And so, our minds are racing, thinking, what are we going to do? We’re in big trouble here. We’re not going to get this deal. And we frankly did not want to go back to New York as losers. We refused to do it. We sat there and went, “Holy crap. We’ve got to go fix this.” We were going to do whatever it took to win this job and we were all in. We stayed in the UK for eight weeks and we did nothing but write code in our hotel rooms.

We’d stay in Sheffield during the week. We went to British Telecom for two hours in the morning to validate what we coded the night before, then we’d go back to the hotel and code all day, all night. There’s nothing else to do in Sheffield on weeknights. It’s an old mining town and kind of boring. Stores close at around five o’clock. You have to code.

On weekends, we’d go back into London. On the 2-1/2 hour train ride we’d try and get some work done, using cell phone infrared to get a 300-baud Internet connection on our laptops. (This was 2003.) On Friday night we would treat ourselves and go out to a club because we had worked so hard. But then Saturday morning we were right back at it.

Even though I’d never been to London, I didn’t see much of it because all I was doing was coding. We stayed in South Kensington, so Hyde Park and Harrods were right there. But I didn’t do touristy things except as a reward. Shoel had been to London a bunch of times and he would give me incentives: “Look, if you can build x, y and z in the next three hours, I’m going to take you to see Tower of London” (or Big Ben, or Buckingham Palace).

Weekends were always the time for us to get big chunks of work done; we’d literally code from Saturday morning until late Sunday night. When you’re in these deep, intense sessions where you’ve got to produce, you’ve got to be comfortable. We took the headboards off the wall and build these nice desks on top of cushy chairs. We had really good music playing the entire time. We’d sleep as much as we could. Take a nap. Go back. Do the same thing. Rinse and repeat for eight weeks. Whatever it takes. And we did it.

We ended up getting the deal, the first of many, which resulted in several millions of dollars. We basically rewrote the entire product. What we gave British Telecom became the 1.0 release, and lots stuff we did prior to the eight weeks never saw the light of day.

One thing I learned pretty quickly: it helps to have a customer to partner with when you’re building a product. Even today we try to build what we think people want, but we don’t actually know until we get real customers. And once you have customers, you need to do everything that you can in order to build a successful app.

With Ingage, we’re in the very early days of the product. Things are working fine, the indicators are great, and our early users are liking it. But we need to keep moving forward as hard as we can. We need to keep grinding to make sure that we grow our user base, that we get people interested, that we keep moving the product forward. In this business, you’re never done. As much as you think you’re done, you’re never done.

– Alan Braun, CEO