Firstly I would say it’s important to have a great team around you and to trust them to do the job you are asking them to do. As a leader, your job is to set the direction and to make the fine adjustments that are needed along the way; it’s not to take on everything yourself. Secondly, I think it’s so important to have a sense of humor and not to take yourself too seriously. Being able to see the funny side of things really does lighten the load.
I had the pleasure interviewing Julie Purves, CEO of B2M Solutions. Julie Purves is the founder and CEO of B2M Solutions, the foremost specialist in enterprise mobility. A business visionary and international entrepreneur with 25 years of leadership success, Purves founded B2M Solutions in 2002 to help enterprise customers around the world manage mobile performance and improve operational intelligence in real-time.
Julie’s early career was spent at Fujitsu ICL, including 2 years living in Finland to manage the transition of Nokia Data’s software business. She started her involvement with enterprise mobility when she joined Intermec (now Honeywell) in 1999 as the architect of the company’s European solutions business. At Intermec, Julie executed the largest mobile contract in the world at that time, resulting in a 20% delivery efficiency improvement. This experience gave Julie an understanding of the importance of providing insights into how people are using their devices to optimize mission-critical business processes, ultimately leading to her founding of B2M.
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?
Ispent much of my early career leading software and services businesses within Fujitsu ICL, including 2 years living in Finland to manage the transition of Nokia Data’s software business. I started my involvement with enterprise mobility when I joined Intermec (now Honeywell) in 1999 as the architect of the company’s European solutions business. At Intermec, I was Project Director for the largest mobile contract in the world at that time, resulting in a 20% delivery efficiency improvement. This experience gave me an understanding of the importance of providing insights into how people are using their devices to optimize mission-critical business processes, ultimately leading to the founding of B2M.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
As I mentioned above, when I was Project Director at Intermec we delivered a mobile solution to ParcelForce. The solution was for their 5,500 delivery staff and they were using the mobile device to receive scheduled parcel collection and delivery instructions as well as for ‘Proof of Delivery’ as the customer signed on the device to acknowledge receipt of the parcel — this signature would be uploaded to the ParcelForce website within minutes and, back in the late ‘90’s this was a clear differentiator for them. Whilst working on this project I could see that many of the delivery staff were facing all sorts of challenges in using these devices. Most of them were not IT proficient — they just wanted a tool to do their job — and so when problems occurred it really impacted their day but this information was not being relayed to the IT Support Centre and so the impact of the problems was not understood. I saw this as an enormous opportunity. Having come from a software and services background I was used to the 99.999% uptime that companies expected from every other major business critical service that they use (such as Servers, Networking, Security and Traditional Telecom systems) and I thought they would naturally have the same expectations from their business critical mobile solutions. That was my “Aha moment”. This meant that they needed the tools that would give them the insights into what was happening with the devices in the field. Were they experiencing problems? What type of problems? Batteries no longer working effectively? Network failures? Applications crashing? This are the type of problems that B2M proactively identifies so that they can be fixed before they become a major issue.
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?
Having had the business idea I then built the Business Plan and got initial funding; we opened our first office with just five staff (including myself) at the start of 2004. We spent the first year developing our first product and had some early successes but the big challenge (and the thing I got very wrong in my planning) was the time that the market was going to take to develop. I thought it would all come together within 5years and in fact it took fifteen! This meant that during those ‘early market’ years we had some painful times and had to manage cash very tightly. I was very fortunate to have a business investor called Dolphin Head, who are still an investor to this day. Working with Dolphin Head was all about establishing a strong relationship of trust and being really open and honest with each other so we could manage the challenging times together. I can honestly say I never considered giving up, because I was very confident that the business need was there and it was just a matter of time before people realized it — and I was right! I think the drive to continue comes with that confidence that you are on the right path (some may call it madness!)
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
So now the market has caught up and we are in a fantastic place where organizations are now realizing that they need to understand the challenges they are having with their mobile solutions. We recently did a survey (B2M’s 2nd Annual State of Enterprise Mobility Survey and Report, conducted with 550 businesses across market verticals including Manufacturing, Transport/Logistics, Utilities & Retail) which showed that 51% of end-users are stopped from working at least once per month due to mobility issues. These are the problems we are solving and we have great partners like Panasonic who are using our solutions to enable their Smart Services for their rugged devices. Because of all the time we spent learning in the early stages of the market we are now ideally placed as the Leader as the market develops. And over the years we have built an amazing team who are making sure we meet the challenge.
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?
I always like to tell people that I’ve kissed a lot of toads. And what I mean by that, is that we decided fairly early on that we were going to work with partners and sell through channels. And so there were lots of companies that we engaged with and the initial meetings were always incredibly positive. But then, when it came down to it, the companies just weren’t ready to be the partners we needed.
Some were very small organizations where there was just one charismatic individual, and he was the toad, or she was the toad. And other bigger organizations where they’re seemingly on board, but they just can’t make that organizational change. So loads of lessons learned there about how to recognize when a company is really ready to work with us. I was just overly enthusiastic perhaps. When you talk to a CEO, and he or she comes out and says, “Yes, we think you’re doing the right thing. This is what we need to do,” you believe them. But then actually, the delivery of that doesn’t always come through. So definitely some toads along the way!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Well, firstly, in terms of what we do and our products, partly because I was very early to market, we now have the advantage that we’re first-in-market in providing our type of solution, which is real-time mobile device analytics, particularly for business-critical mobile devices. That gives us a real advantage. We’re using high levels of innovation to deliver real solutions to real problems, using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning techniques to deliver these insights to mobile users.
But when I think about what makes our company stand out, it’s really our team. Most important to me is that everyone in the company really cares. All of our employees have a share in the company. Employees need to see that you care if they’re going to care back. And I think because we’ve built that culture, it spills over to the customers and the partners that we work with, and they want to work with us for that reason.
For example, Panasonic is an important partner of ours, both in Europe and in the US; they use our software to deliver their smart services on their rugged devices. For this year’s B2M Christmas party, our sales team asked Panasonic to produce a video for us to play. This was our partner and they were talking about B2M, and they were making jokes about us, and talking about us like we were all just one big family. It’s the sort of thing that you couldn’t really put money on. I was incredibly moved by it and proud of it. And I think it is a sign of the company that we are, that our partners feel they can have that close relationship with us.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Firstly I would say it’s important to have a great team around them and to trust them to do the job you are asking them to do. As a leader, your job is to set the direction and to make the fine adjustments that are needed along the way; it’s not to take on everything yourself. Secondly, I think it’s so important to have a sense of humor and not to take yourself too seriously. Being able to see the funny side of things really does lighten the load.
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?
There is someone who comes to mind: a gentleman called Scott Mercer, who sadly died very young at the age of 40. He was my boss when I went to Intermec and we subsequently went to Idesta together, which was my first experience at a tech startup. The company actually ended up failing very quickly. Scott immediately said, “Right, I’m never doing startups again. I do not want to stay in another Travel Lodge as long as I live.” But I had gotten a real taste for startups and was thinking about starting B2M.
I believe one of the real issues for a woman who wants to found her own company is self-perception. We ask ourselves, can I really do this? For me, because I didn’t come from a sales background and a lot of CEOs are sales leaders, I doubted whether I could do it. He was the one who said to me, “Of course you can do this. You absolutely can.” And he just gave me that confidence to go out there and do it. Just that total belief that I could. He was an amazing person to really have that belief in me. And I’m very sorry he won’t be around to see the ultimate results of B2M, because I shall certainly be raising a glass to him on that day.
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 1.5 million subscribers in our mobile analytics cloud service. As I have described above, B2M has always had a clear understanding of the business problem we were aiming to solve, so the next step was to finding the right technologies to build our SaaS platform on; we have used AWS as our platform because it provides all the tools you need to deliver a robust, scalable, resilient solution. Secondly, we needed to ensure that we had the financial resilience to build our SaaS revenues as this takes time — we did this through a combination of using other products in our portfolio to fund the SaaS model and also through investment. Thirdly we’ve focused on working with our channel partners to build our customer base. By working with Partners such as Panasonic (a large manufacturer of rugged computers) and BlueStar (a multi-billion distributor providing solutions based distribution for Industrial Mobile hardware and software) we are able to leverage their sales capability and their customer base to build our subscriber numbers.
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 charge on a per device/per month basis and this is paid annually in advance — normally on a three- or five-year contract. We do this because it is most naturally aligned to the buying patterns of our partners who are, for example, typically selling a three- or five-year warrant on their hardware.
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.
Firstly, and most importantly it’s about the team. I am incredibly proud of the team we have at B2M and this applies right across the company, from Development, Product Management, Operations, Sales, Marketing — everyone has a share in the company, and everyone is contributing to our success. By having a strong ‘people’ focus we have a sense of trust across the company and this means we are able to withstand the good times and the bad.
Secondly, in terms of designing the system you need to find the right technologies to build your SaaS platform on; there are a number to choose from and it’s important that you don’t try to invent everything yourself. At B2M our focus is always on solving the Customer’s problem and so we don’t want to get bogged down in the underlying technologies. Having said that, factors like scalability and resilience are key and so you need to be sure you have confidence in these within your underlying infrastructure.
Thirdly, you need to recognize that building a SaaS revenue stream will take time and so you need to ensure you have the financial backing to achieve this. At B2M we are fortunate to have a very successful portfolio of products and we have been able to rely on the monetization of these to fund the growth of our SaaS revenues. We also have a group of very supportive investors who are willing to invest in the growth of the SaaS model which is ultimately a very lucrative and sustainable model
The next important stage is how you win business. This has to be a combination of great marketing, branding and working with your partners to help them sell to their customers. We find that using Proof of Concepts is very important. Once prospects see their own data and can recognize the what has been happening with their population of mobile devices it’s like a lightbulb moment for them! “So that User has been telling us for months that their device has been failing and now we can see that they have not been charging it so every morning they start their day with a flat battery!”
Finally we believe in taking our own medicine and analytics are key to us measuring the success of our business. This relates to the anonymized data we are collecting from the devices which gives us great insights into the development of new features. We also monitor information such as which parts of our product are used a lot and which parts they find challenging. We also use analytics for our website and all our sales and marketing processes.
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. 🙂
One of the things most on my heart at the moment is the plight of Refugees around the world. I’m a trustee of a local charity in my home town, Marlow Refugee Action (https://marlowrefugeeaction.org.uk/).We work on projects that help refugees, particularly those that are trying to make homes in Europe. The projects have connections in one way or another with our local community so we are always looking to raise awareness of how fortunate we are compared to others who have extremely challenging lives. There are nearly 26 million refugees in the world at the moment, over half of whom are under 18 and find themselvesfleeing their home countries as a result of persecution, war or violence. If I could make some contribution to raising political awareness and making the world a safer and more welcoming place for these people then I would consider that a good result.
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