“Hire great people you can trust.” With Mitch Russo & Pat Hume

Hire great people you can trust, stay involved, always listen and learn, take time to chill and to exercise, and communicate so that your own excitement and conviction become contagious. The enthusiasm and commitment of your team is the fuel for your company’s success. As a part of my series about the “5 Things You […]

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Hire great people you can trust, stay involved, always listen and learn, take time to chill and to exercise, and communicate so that your own excitement and conviction become contagious. The enthusiasm and commitment of your team is the fuel for your company’s success.

As a part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful SaaS Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pat Hume, CEO of Canvas GFX.

A dynamic leader whose career in software and high tech spans four decades, including 20 years at C-level, Patricia Hume is responsible for the creation and execution of the Canvas strategic vision. With a wealth of cross-functional experience and deep operational expertise across large companies and microcaps, Patricia specializes in driving sustained growth and high-impact turnarounds.

Prior to joining Canvas, Patricia was chief operations officer at iPass, Inc., where she led global customer-facing activities, including sales, marketing, product, business development, strategic partnerships, operations, and customer support until the company’s acquisition in February 2019. She has also served as chief revenue officer at Convio, senior vice president of Global Indirect Channels at SAP AG, group vice president of Avaya’s SMB Division, and CEO and president of VerticalNet Markets. She held numerous senior management positions during her 18-year service with IBM and Lotus. A passionate advocate for diversity in tech, Patricia also volunteers for a non-profit organization focused on serving disadvantaged communities in Boston.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Ijoined IBM in May 1980 with the goal of learning everything I needed in order to one day become a CEO. Over 18 years I was able to learn all aspects of the business, from finance to software development and everything in between. I left IBM to become CEO of VerticalNet Markets and I haven’t looked back. Over time I realized that focusing on smaller businesses — micro caps and startups where I could make a high impact early on — is what I enjoy the most.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

After doing due diligence on Canvas GFX to determine whether to invest as a VC I realized it was a company with huge disruptive potential. Rather than limiting myself to an investment role, I decided to step in as CEO so that I could channel that potential. The ‘Aha moment’ came when I understood the power of Canvas’ three core assets: loyal customers, strong IP, and product with great market fit.

My subsequent market research confirmed that there is a clear opportunity for a company like ours to re-invent the creation, sharing, collaboration and dissemination of technical documentation and data across the enterprise and ecosystem.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

In terms of this part of my journey, the primary problem was that Canvas was near insolvent when I was first introduced to it. I had to raise money on a tight timeframe while simultaneously defining a defensible market position for the company now and in the future — which was quite the juggling act. But 40 years in business, particularly some formative experiences in sales organizations, taught me two key truths: It is important to ask for the things you want without fear, and you shouldn’t be discouraged by being told ‘no’. Once I make up my mind to do something, I do it. In this instance, the belief of our early investors and the support of my team gave me even greater resolve and we are now on our way.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

I am happy to say we are making excellent progress. We transitioned the company to a SaaS business model, defined our strategy and started building out a winning team. We beat our Q1 goals and are on track to achieve 2020 targets in the midst of the chaos of Covid. Resilience is the key to building great companies during transformative times.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

A long time back I was running a team of a couple of hundred IBM software engineers and we had an All Hands meeting coming up. For some reason I decided, with my leadership team, that we would do the entire update in song. I dressed up as Joan Jett and we went ahead and did it. The head of the lab was upset because she didn’t think I was taking things seriously. But, as it turned out, a lot of the engineers thought it was fun and it was a boost to morale. It was very funny. I’m not sure it was a mistake but I don’t think I’d recommend it, either.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

When potential customers see our software in action they have an ‘aha moment’ of their own. We sell platforms for effective visual communication, so it’s important that we are able to visually communicate our own power and value — seeing is believing. We have a diverse and highly loyal user base at some of the most advanced organizations on the planet and we give them the ability to do things they couldn’t otherwise do. As an example we have a customer within NASA who has used our software to visualize the wiring diagram for a new space telescope which is launching next year. There are nearly 30,000 objects in this diagram and it’s almost 70 sq ft in size.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Hire great people you can trust, stay involved, always listen and learn, take time to chill and to exercise, and communicate so that your own excitement and conviction become contagious. The enthusiasm and commitment of your team is the fuel for your company’s 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?

When I was 25 I was a newly appointed department manager for a team supporting the manufacturing floor at IBM. These were shop-floor guys rather than engineers. I was full of energy and determined to prove myself. The dept tech for this department, who worked for me, was a tiny lady twice my age named Helen Slocum. One day, about four months in, she asked to speak to me. She said: “We all think there’s a really nice person hiding somewhere inside your body but you need to learn how to lead people so they will follow.” She told me about one employee whose wife had died, and another who’d just become a father. “You need to get to know these people,” she said. I’ve had a lot of mentors but none of them have taught me more than Helen. Since then I have always taken the time to get to know and understand the people on my teams, and to take a genuine interest in their lives beyond the workplace. Businesses are much more successful and life more enjoyable when you work like this. Often mentors are very senior, with years of high level experience. Helen showed me you can learn from everyone.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

We have over 500,000 users of Canvas software today. I believe the key components to build a great community of users are:

  1. Deliver a great product — people will be loyal and they will tell their peers about you.
  2. Make your customers’ stories part of your story — their validation is critical and they are proud of what they do.
  3. Talk to your customers, be proactive in support, and use their feedback — It cements relationships and drives continuous optimization.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

We operate a classic SaaS subscription model. We charge on a per user, year approach (single or multiple year subscriptions are available). We transitioned from a perpetual license offering to build a recurring revenue model and reduce the customer’s cost of acquisition.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. For any product development effort be certain you understand the pain point you are addressing. I have seen products built because engineers thought they were good ideas but, when they hit the market, there was no demand.
  2. Build an integrated product launch plan and ensure that your product/app/platform is ready to launch across all the disciplines — engineering, quality, marketing, sales, finance, on-boarding, and so on. Building a product without the surround will delay adoption and probably lead to failure
  3. Define a solid GTM and prepare the necessary steps — pricing, positioning, the buyer, the user, route to market, and so on. For example, if you decide to sell through a channel but your product is not channel ready you will fail.
  4. Understand both the competition and customer behavior — you need to tell the story in such a way that it heads off possible objections and clearly expresses why the way you solve the customer’s problem is unique and defensible. Involve customers in product development.
  5. Define a reasonable ramp for revenue and user base growth. Be realistic

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If people could be taught how to use empathy and active listening from a young age, I think the world would be a better place. That intellectual exercise, the act of trying to imagine how another person might be feeling, trying to share their perspective without thinking in a defensive or protective way about yourself, can be hugely powerful. The benefits in the business world alone would be highly significant.

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