I had the pleasure to interview Dean Guida. Dean has led his team through decades of technological change, cultivating Infragistics from a small startup in 1989 into a multinational business. Today, Dean oversees all aspects of Infragistics’ business operations and corporate direction, maintaining a steady focus on delighting the customer and delivering value to the market. With a developer and UX professional community of more than 1.4 million, Infragistics has achieved the highest awards in software development, and Infragistics enterprise mobility apps help more than 1 million users collaborate and get insight and results for their companies.
Thank you so much for joining us Dean! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Igrew up in Miami. In high school, I was working at TGI Friday’s in the restaurant business, and I was saving up money to buy a car to take girls out. Then, the IBM PC came out. Instead of buying a car, I bought a decked out IBM PC for $4,500 with two 360K drives, color monitor, dot matrix printer, and a 300K BOB modem. I taught myself to code on it. I learned so much about programming that I didn’t feel I’d learn anything from a computer science degree. I attended University of Miami and earned a systems analysis degree, which is a degree in deterministic and probabilistic models. While I was at the University of Miami I operated their mainframe at night, working the midnight shift. By day, I participated in the university’s work-study program and fixed their executive payroll system. The VP of HR wrote me a glowing recommendation letter, which helped me get freelance software consulting jobs. The earnings from consulting help put me through college.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
At one point in our history we had $618 dollars in the bank and a $580,000 a month expense structure. This experience makes your sense and performance as a leader heighten. Everything matters to survive and you learn the lesson that sales can fix all problems!!
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
I didn’t let my young age hold me back. I became a freelance computer consultant on Wall Street upon graduating from college. After a year of consulting, I met my partner and we founded a software company. This meant long hours — I worked at my consulting job during the day to support our new software business and got the company started at night. We never gave up, even when building the company seemed like an uphill climb.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Going public isn’t always the best route — A lot of people advise you that you can’t grow and survive in the tech world without taking money and/or going public. We have disproved that — organically growing the company for 30 years and turning Infragistics into a global software company.
- Be prepared to withstand recession — We were hurt during the recession of the late 1990’s when the .com industry blew up. We were able to recover by building C, C++, and Pascal code generation tools for Borland and UI Components for Microsoft that where included in their Visual Basic product.
- Know your competitors — Nineteen years ago we merged with Sheridan Software to become the number one UI tools company. We shared the same values, built sophisticated software and it was a great experience.
- Start by self-funding — As a startup, I funded the company with my consulting earnings. We kicked off with $25,000 and then I added another $25,000 during the first year, which kept the electricity on and fed us.
- Anticipate and embrace change quickly — Technology is always changing and you need to shift along with it — Startups and even established companies must be able to pivot, quickly shift and innovate. The ability to adapt is a crucial skill. When we developed our first product, the current software was Microsoft Windows 2.0 and C. This software has evolved into UI frameworks for Java Script, WPF/Windows Forms, iOS, Android and design tools for prototyping apps with design systems, usability test and code generation. Infragistics had early success as a startup but we would not be in business today if we didn’t rebuild our software ahead of each technology shift.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Surround yourself with people who care, get things done, and are in the fight with you is critical to business success.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My partner, Don Preuninger was crucial to our early success. We worked out of his mom’s house in Staten Island. He was a brilliant programmer and without that partnership, I don’t think I could have founded a software company on my own.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
The life of an entrepreneur may not be for everyone, but for some, it’s an exhilarating place where you can forge your own path and follow your passion. Problem solving, self-discipline, innovation and flexibility have helped me in tackling the challenges — and rewards — of the startup life. Today, we want to repeat our success in UI/UX software development tools space in the Business Tool market by helping teams collaborate more effectively and drive extraordinary business results.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
Some industries, such as banking, insurance and professional services have staying power. However, the technology industry, which has a lower barrier to entry but a faster pace of change, has a poorer success rate. Kinsey reports that a tech firm that survives for 15 years has, in a business sense, lasted as long as a consumer product company that survives for 30 years. My 30-year legacy at Infragistics is a testament to my passion and commitment to stay the course. Ultimately be a place of work where the best designers and developers want to work, and be an innovator in the Developer and Business Tools market that our customers love and the marketplace respects.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I would like to influence the next generations of kids to follow a path of design and engineering. Help them to be resilient in the face of adversity to thrive and grow.
How can our readers follow you on social media?