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board was saying, Let s take our time; work this thing through; live with this for 2 or 3 years; get things fixed; transition into another segment, and move in that direction. Another segment of the board was saying and I don t mean this in a derogatory way Let s take more risk, roll the dice. If it works, it will work out big, and, if it doesn t, it disappears and let s move on to the next deal. One of the things that I think is dogma within venture capital is that you don t want to manage what they call the living dead. I don t know what the numbers are now, but back when I was working with venture capitalists, their rules of thumb were: typically one out of ten companies is a really big hit; roughly three out of ten go belly up pretty quickly, and you get rid of them. The other five to six are what they call the living dead. They grow nicely, organically, but don t generate spectacular returns, and they take management time and energy. Those are the kinds of companies they prefer not to deal with, because it simply doesn t make sense. They have a fiduciary responsibility to their limited partners to generate a significant return, so they want to deal with firms that will tend to do that. The lesson I learned at Alliant in dealing with venture capitalists was that they re quite impatient with a difficult situation. They have to be. They have no choice. So it came down to making a decision. What were we going to do with the company and how were we going to transition it I was in disagreement. I was saying, Let s take the slower, more methodical approach over time, and we can work it out. The other approach was, No. Let s change the architecture of the computer, move into the newer technologies quickly, etc. You can argue either one. So I left the company. I left the board of directors. I was chief executive for 10 years. I basically got fired when it came down to saying, I can t live with this strategy because I think it s wrong. They said, We understand that; we respect you; but you can t stay. So I left. And, unfortunately, it didn t work out. A year later, the company was bankrupt. Certainly, at the point that I d left, I d left a lot of problems for them to clean up. The company was not healthy; it was headed in the wrong direction. So I share a good deal of that responsibility. But then I was at the stage of, What am I going to do next Here I was, in my early 40s, and clearly the computer designer in hardware development was a dying breed. Back in the 60s and 70s, there were lots of people designing computers, mainframes and minicomputers, and all kinds of things because they were all built out of parts. But with microprocessors, there s only one Intel and a few other smaller firms like AMD. You only need a few dozen designers. So that went away. I said, I ve got to change careers. I had to think about what I wanted to do. I had some offers to join venture capital firms, which I thought about. There s always the role of corporate consultant. But I decided I really enjoyed being an entrepreneur, and I wanted to go off and do it again.
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Livingston: How did you decide what to do
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Gruner: I had a couple of very clear criteria in my mind. I wanted to build a
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business that had a recurring revenue stream. At Data General and Alliant even more so, because it sold computers that were in the half million to one million dollar range to large defense companies, universities, and the government, who had very sophisticated purchasing agents we typically generated 80 percent of our revenue the last 2 weeks of the quarter. People don t believe this today, but it s true. And we were a public company. So if we had to make $15 million in revenue in a quarter, we d be 2 weeks from the end of the quarter and we might have $3 million on the books. We were fairly confident we d close the other $12 million, but it was horrible. I remember one time we got a call on a Friday, the last day of the quarter. The call was from a very large defense contractor located in Sunnyvale, California. It was a purchasing agent saying, Well, it s 5 o clock in Boston right now, isn t it I said, Yes, sir, it sure is. He says, It s the last day of the quarter, isn t it I said, Yes, sir, it is. He said, Well, let s negotiate. So we went into extended negotiations with this guy for a couple of hours, until 7 p.m. our time, until he signed the contract and faxed it to us. Having been through that, I said, I really want to build a strategy that has a recurring revenue stream. The second thing was, having been chief executive at Alliant for 10 years, about halfway through that process I realized, As the boss, I m spending 40 percent of my time on things that don t directly contribute to getting computers out to customers. In other words, raising money, dealing with investors, dealing with lawyers, those kinds of issues. So I said, In the next company I do, I want to be able to spend 98 percent of my time focused on the customer and only 2 percent on secondary factors that lead to that. I said, I want to start a company that I can bootstrap up from a small amount of capital that gives us an opportunity of being a big fish in a small pond. Because I can t be in a big pond if I m going to take just a small amount of money. I can only do so much. And then just let the thing grow organically, just take our time. I actually made the conscious decision to, rather than put together a 5-year business plan, put together my basic thoughts on strategy and manage the company quarter to quarter. Turn quickly if things have to change, but manage it that way. The third requirement, having been through Alliant with all people working in good faith but losing control of the company, I said, I ain t going to lose control. I want to be the sole owner. I m going to be the majority owner of the company. I want to be the sole founder. It may be harder that way because I have to do most of it myself, but I ve got control. My notion for the new company was something I would not have expected when I was at Alliant. It was to go into shareholder communications, which was a micro-niche. The way I got that idea was two things kind of segued in my mind. First, when I was at Alliant, we actually had an investor relations person; we were leading in that in the 80s. She and I spent a great deal of time talking
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