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So we did that and everything was fine, and then he calls back about an hour later. I thought to myself, Oh my God! He has talked to an attorney. This whole thing is going to get blown off the tracks. And he said, You know, I was talking to my wife and she would really like a pager. Could you do the same thing for her I said, Sure. The long and short of it is, we met a very decent person. He dealt with us fairly. We bought him $500 or $600 worth of subscriptions for his pager. We got the number literally within hours because AT&T expedited it for us, and everything worked out. But that was probably the scariest incident we had in these 15 years.
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Livingston: Were you a hero with the client Gruner: Yes, we were, but we didn t fall on the sword too much on that. We
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basically told them that we got it worked out. I don t think I even told them we used a private investigator. We absorbed all the costs. Turns out, there were two people involved: a client plus a very large stock transfer agent that was working with the client. Of course, the transfer agent really felt good about that, so they threw a lot more business in our direction at that point. One of our take-aways from that was that you can almost always take a negative situation and turn it to your advantage if you work hard at it. We took something that was a very negative potential situation and made some real friends. Anytime we had a client situation that blew up and those happen in the business, things go wrong we would always say, How do we take this and turn this into a big opportunity, where the client comes back even more loyal than they were before
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Livingston: Shareholder.com was doing a lot of new stuff for the industry at the
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time. Do you remember any things that your clients wanted or asked for that surprised you
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Gruner: Having been in the computer business, particularly the highperformance, engineering and scientific aspect of it, that s populated by a lot of early adopters that want the very latest technology, even if it doesn t quite work. Financial people and investor relations people, and legal people in general, are very conservative. So we had to do a lot of missionary work to have them feel comfortable with the technology. The kinds of things that clients would ask us for were, How can you make this easier to use How can you simplify it How can you make this such that my administrative assistant can manage the system One of the things we did early on was to try to make as much of the system self-administrative as possible. They could go into a private, password-protected site and manage aspects of their telephone system as well as their website. As Regulation FD and Sarbanes-Oxley came in and became real factors, the thing they would come to us for was direction on interpretation. At the time, we had 500 to 700 clients, and they d want to know, What are other companies doing
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They weren t saying, We re looking for this new feature. That wasn t so common, whereas that would be very common in the computer business. This was more interpretation of the regulations, and how to take stress out of their lives.
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Livingston: So you became a source of advice for these companies as well as a
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source of new technology
Gruner: Yes, I would say Shareholder.com played a significant role in the late
90s and up until now, interpreting both the technology and the regulatory environment. And from 1995 to 2000, the company and I personally spent a lot of time going to trade conferences, luncheons that NIRI (National Investor Relations Institute) would host, talking about What s the Internet and giving demonstrations, trying to make that less intimidating, explaining it. And then, starting in 2000, we did a similar thing with Regulation FD and Sarbanes-Oxley. Not explaining it so much, but showing examples of what other companies were doing.
Livingston: Did you worry about any competitors Gruner: At Shareholder.com we had several competitors. By far our most
serious competitor was also a Boston-based company, called CCBN. CCBN was a very smart company. They were funded by Thomson Financial, a major company in a lot of aspects of corporate services, financial services. They were our arch-competitor. But at the same time, with the dot-com boom, about a dozen companies popped up in investor and shareholder communications, funded by venture capitalists. At one point, by late 1999, I calculated that over $85 million of venture capital had flowed into this little niche of shareholder communications. And we were still living on our quarter-million-dollar capitalization and doing fine. We were offered investments many times by VCs and turned them down. We just felt growing organically was how we wanted to proceed.
Livingston: You didn t want to give up control. Gruner: I did not want to give up control. At the time, I owned about two-
thirds of the company, and I felt that just makes life so much simpler, particularly for me. But I think for everybody else, too, because we would sit in a conference room, talk about something, make a decision, and be going. We could make important strategic decisions in an afternoon if we chose to. For example, we had been pricing our Shareholder Direct service at a fixed cost of $4,000 a quarter, plus telephone fees and other variable charges of the Internet. That $16,000 was highly, highly profitable. That was one of the things that allowed us to grow organically all through the 90s. But as these new competitors are coming in like I said, about a dozen competitors offering websites, webcasting, conference calls, and all kinds of services, financed by $85 million of venture capital they were going in and just bombing prices and even giving stuff away for free.
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