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“To develop resilience focus on the process, not the destination”, with Michael DesRochers of PoliteMail Software

Focus on the process, not the destination. The only path to success I know is consistently doing the right things and being fortunate. If you work to discover a process or system of repetition that provides opportunities to succeed, you are more likely to get where you want to go. In this interview series, we […]

Focus on the process, not the destination. The only path to success I know is consistently doing the right things and being fortunate. If you work to discover a process or system of repetition that provides opportunities to succeed, you are more likely to get where you want to go.


In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market. I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael DesRochers, the Founder and Managing Director of PoliteMail Software, a provider of email measurement and analytics software for Microsoft Outlook and Exchange serving over 20% of the Fortune 500. Michael spent 15 years as CEO of a 75-person technology communications agency prior to founding PoliteMail. The company is a two-time Inc. 5000 fastest growing company and was recently named to Deloitte’s 2019 Technology Fast 500. Michael is a New Hampshire native, and his company is based in Portsmouth.


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

Igrew up in the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, went to UNH, the state college, to study computer science, and have since stayed in the southern NH seacoast area working in the computer field. It was here that I built and sold a 75-person technology marketing agency and have been working on my software company for over ten years now. I live on a small farm and my wife and I grow a lot of the food we eat.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

At the sunset of the “internet go-go” years in the late nineties, my technology marketing agency received an offer, via fax, to purchase the company — and it was a big number. My CFO at the time had experienced something similar before, and instead of accepting it, she hired a boutique investment bank to advise my partners and me. This is an example of why it’s important to hire people who are smarter and more experienced than you. We did end up selling the business, to a different buyer for about double that initial offer. Some takeaways from that deal were: 1) Don’t sell for only stock, particularly if there is a lengthy lock-up period. 2) Find a smart investment advisor to help you hedge whatever stock you do take. 3) Don’t believe the hype in the acquisition plan. The new management and execution details matter. The big NYC/London agency that purchased our business didn’t have a realistic plan, and ultimately, they just wanted our cash.

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

Our deep integration with Microsoft Office Outlook makes us different. Years ago we were the only game in town for internal email communications measurement, but that has changed. Today, there are more competitors (which has grown the market), but they only have what I call “surface-level” integration. We’ve brought on enterprise customers from those competitors who have told us, “You can’t measure email previews” or “You can’t accurately measure a recipient’s read-time,” but we can and do. That level of integration with Outlook could be why Microsoft is our largest customer.

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?

I was fortunate to learn how to type, and write, at White Mountains high school. Aging myself, this was before personal computers existed (the first TRS-80 came out when I was a junior). My mother insisted I take a typing class, and of course I resisted, because at the time typing class was something only girls did. My mother would not take no for an answer and convinced a friend of mine to take the class with me. I learned on the IBM Selectric typewriter and my finger muscle memory serves me well to this day. More importantly, my high school English teacher, Mr. Hartshorn, taught me how to write, or more accurately, how to edit. He was a relentless editor, which was a difficult experience but a good thing. He held high standards and would repeatedly mark-up drafts and made time in class to ask questions to help clarify your thoughts. Word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, logical argument, narrative — he worked you through red ink on all of it. As long as you were willing to work on it, it was never late. Being able to write, clearly and concisely, enables you to think the same way. It’s a very valuable skill.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

I’m known to be hard-headed. Stubbornness and persistence can be good traits, particularly when you are trying to accomplish something challenging. However, recognizing and seizing alternate opportunities — staying flexible rather than stubbornly insisting on being right — is a valuable trait as well. It’s a balance. When I founded my software business, we started with a very different idea of what we’d be building than where the product is now. The opportunity found us, and we were fortunate enough to recognize it and pursue it.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

My friend and former business partner, Barrett, has overcome aggressive cancer after years of difficult treatment and is now living the life of the artist he always was at heart. That’s resilience to me.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Ha, more than once. Like I said, I’m stubborn, and nothing is more motivating than being told you can’t when you believe you can. My first business started that way, when my boss at the time told me I couldn’t start my own company. He was almost right; I was out on my own and on the verge of failure for several years, living off cans of tuna and mac and cheese in between finishing under-bid jobs and working without income to find new ones. Another time my spin class teacher told me I couldn’t ride my bike up Mount Washington as my very first hill climb race just a few months away. The ride was formidable. I did it in 1:54.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

Not long after those tuna and mac and cheese days, I had planned to go biking with my friend Phil one Saturday but couldn’t stand up to get out of bed. Fortunately, he insisted he take me to the hospital, where they promptly wheeled me into the OR to remove my ready-to-burst appendix. I had no health insurance. Now I was deep in the hole but had been investing my time and energy into learning how to market and sell. I was reading the works of Zig Ziglar, Al Ries, and Jack Trout and putting those into practice. I was working 12 to 14-hour days as a one-man operation and it started clicking. I was determined to pay off the big hospital bill and build a book of business, and before a year was out, I had done it.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

Building my first company was a “two steps forward, one step back” process. We grew from three people to 10–12, but three consecutive times, we would expand to 15–18 people and soon after would have to lay people off and scale back down and try again. This was difficult, and taught me the value of people, process and company culture. We could not grow beyond a certain point until we hired the right combination of right-minded people. Attitude is as valuable as aptitude. Cooperation is as important as capability. Process is as essential as performance.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

I have three:

Do the most difficult things first. When you look at the work on your plate, doing the most challenging thing first makes the rest of your day like walking downhill.

Practice self-discipline. Typically that’s through a routine such as exercise, yoga, meditation, journaling, healthful eating, or others, but it means taking self control and being able to tell yourself no. Humans are creatures of habit and our emotions lead those habits, for better or worse.

Focus on the process, not the destination. The only path to success I know is consistently doing the right things and being fortunate. If you work to discover a process or system of repetition that provides opportunities to succeed, you are more likely to get where you want to go.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

I would inspire a “write well” movement. If more people put their thoughts down on paper, and read them back to themselves, it would amount to good for most of those people. This requires a level of focus, concentration and clarity that may help people avoid emotional over-reactions in their lives.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I would like to say Steve Jobs, because of his combination of creative and technological talents. For a living person, I admire Bill Gates, but now having recently been Inside Bill’s Brain on Netflix, I would rather he spend his time working on his global health projects than having lunch with me.

How can our readers follow you on social media? I’m not on social media, I don’t value the distractions, but my company PoliteMail is.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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