“Before you invest or start up a business, you need to understand your unique competitive advantage” With Adam Famularo, CEO of erwin, Inc.
Understand your competitive advantage: Before you invest or start up a business, you need to understand your unique competitive advantage. You need to ask yourself: What makes you unique to your customers that nobody has today? What might be patented or too difficult for someone else to copy? How sustainable is this advantage?
I had the pleasure to interview Adam Famularo. Adam serves as chief executive officer of erwin, where he is responsible for the data governance company’s strategic direction, operational excellence and customer success. Previously, Adam oversaw Verizon’s enterprise distribution channels — partners, value-added resellers and systems integrators — across the world. Prior to that, Adam served as a senior vice president and general manager for CA Technologies Cloud Computing business and Storage & Data Management business units. Adam has been recognized as an industry leader in many industry publications and serves on the National Advisory Council for Donorschoose.org, a charity focused on helping children find success in the classroom. He is a graduate of the General Management Program at Harvard Business School. Adam enjoys spending time with his wife and three girls, loves great food and wine, and occasionally punishes his body with Spartan Races.
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?
I started at CA Technologies (at the time it was Computer Associates) right out of college. I was there for 17 years — five of those I was general manager for a number of business units from storage to data modeling to cloud computing. After I left CA, I worked for Verizon for a few years as head of their global channel business.
What was the “a-ha moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
My “a-ha moment” happened while I was at Verizon. I kept an active eye on what was happening at CA. I noticed that CA was trying to divest from its data modeling business. Since I was previously the GM for that line of business, I knew that the erwin data modeling tool was a major asset that CA had been ignoring. At the same time, I was also witnessing the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) and knew how much data was being created on a daily basis. My “a-ha moment” turned into a thesis statement about the proliferation of data in the enterprise and how one company could be formed to help manage and govern all of these data flows … Then partnered up with a good friend, Jim McGarry, to found erwin, Inc. which is now the Data Governance software company.
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?
I don’t have it in my spirit to ever give up, quite frankly. However, when we first acquired the erwin data modeling assets from CA Technologies, we had plenty of challenges — from an unproductive development team in China to customers that were not being heard in the product planning process. We decided to move development from China to the United States, and we spent countless hours with our customers to understand their product needs and determine the best future direction for our company.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going really well. We are growing at a solid 15% year-over-year clip and our biggest challenges today are trying to keep up with the growth of our business.
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?
Well, quite honestly, I wasn’t laughing at any of the mistakes at the time. But looking back, I’d say office space has been a pretty funny mistake. We would sign multi-year leases with office space and then within months we’d outgrow it. I guess you could call it growing pains. This happened multiple times — in the U.S., U.K. and India.
I’d say I’ve learned that it’s hard to plan for growth. You have certain expectations … but sometimes the expectations don’t always pan out — for the good and bad. You just have to do the best you can with the information you have and learn to be flexible.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our biggest competitive advantage is that we automate the data flows coming into an enterprise. Large companies have a lot of data streams, but often they don’t know what or where that data is, who has access to it and ultimately how to get maximum value from it.
If enterprises can see and use their data as an asset, they can unlock its value. That means they can accomplish any organizational objective they apply it too — from regulatory compliance to competitive differentiation and operational excellence to revenue generation. Of course, these outcomes depend on the integration of data management and data governance capabilities in an automated flow that connects IT and business users to the information they need for greater data intelligence and collaboration — which is where erwin comes in.
One customer story immediately comes to mind. E.ON is an international energy supplier based in Essen, Germany. E.ON is evolving its brand and business model and has made data intelligence and digital transformation a big part of those efforts. Part of this continuous improvement entails digitizing the vast amounts of data generated by such a large customer and employee base. The challenge was managing that data and turning it into usable information to help both the business and its customers. The company needed to help its data scientists and engineers improve their knowledge of the data, and their ability to find the best data for use at the best time, and in the most appropriate business context. Since going live with our platform, there’s more data transparency, quality and documented lineage and ownership. We’re super proud of how much we’ve helped E.ON accomplish in a relatively short time period when it comes to data readiness and governance.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Balance. Balance. Balance. You’ve got to make time for yourself, which for me means family, fitness and fun. Even though I work 12 to 14 hours a day, I have more time now than when I was at Verizon or CA. I make the time to be with my family and take vacations. I also discovered Spartan racing about six years ago, which has honestly helped me with being a CEO. Racing clears my mind and also gives me time to think. Additionally, it has taught me to set goals, train, the importance of the right team, and grit … you’ve got to press on no matter what.
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 are three key groups of people who have been influential in my life and career.
First, my family. My parents. My father is a serial entrepreneur and my mother is an educator. My father pushed me to get into business and my mother helped teach me to never stop learning. During the last 20 years, my wife has taught me both balance and discipline while my kids know how to keep me grounded and have fun every day.
Next, leaders. I’ve worked with good leaders and bad leaders. There’s something to be learned from both — and so much you can learn from larger companies. From CA, there are four great leaders that I can point to — John Swainson, Mike Christensen, George Fischer and Bill Lipsin. All of these leaders have provided me with invaluable lessons from the power of networking to metrics needed to run a successful growth company to focusing on the small details that drive your success.
Finally, educators. I can’t speak more highly of the Harvard Business School. I went through their executive general management program and met some of the most brilliant leaders and educators that helped to shape a lot of my thinking today. From John Kotter and his lessons on managing change to Clayton Christensen and his lessons on driving disruption in the marketplace and then Bill George and his lessons on creating your own leadership style through understanding your “True North.”
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 work with more than 3,500 organizations around the world, with more than 50,000 users of our software.
Some users were acquired when we purchased the original erwin Data Modeler technology, and others have come on board through four additional acquisitions. However, we’ve made a very strong effort to be extremely customer-focused. Our customers have helped guide our strategy and R&D. Clearly, delivering a quality product is critical to building a large community. Customer service and taking the time to make sure they get up and running fast is another key to success. And customer support for any issues. Our Net Promoter Score, a management tool that can be used to gauge the loyalty of a firm’s customer relationships, shatters the competition (we are 55 versus an industry standard of 36). And finally, continuous customer touch points through our channel partners, the field and product leadership.
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 monetize our software by licensing on a per-user basis. We do not have any other models of monetizing our customer base as licensing our software is enough for us to get a good return while we continue to deliver a superior return for our customers.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Understand your competitive advantage: Before you invest or start up a business, you need to understand your unique competitive advantage. You need to ask yourself: What makes you unique to your customers that nobody has today? What might be patented or too difficult for someone else to copy? How sustainable is this advantage?
- Team: This is crucial! You need to make sure you spend the money to build a great team. Making sure the people can work together with a shared vision. Things are going to change a lot along the way … and this team needs to change with you, the business, and each other.
- Cost to acquire a customer vs. lifetime value: This is really important for a SAAS business. How much is it going to cost me to acquire a customer and what type? of return can I expect over the next 3 to 5 years?
- Operations: How you set your company up is so important. Operations, development, etc. You need to figure out the most cost-effective way of running your business. One example, in our case, is to look for geographies with amazing talent but less expensive than a big city. We are headquartered in New York but located on Long Island. We used a similar hub strategy in the U.K. and India — great talent, less cost.
- Ability to exit: If you were going to give your business a eulogy, what would it say? There are so many ways to exit — VC, acquired, IPO — what are you building toward?
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. 🙂
This is a fun and thought-provoking question! If I was focusing on our space, I would build a not-for-profit that would act as a governing (not government) body for all consumer data. As a consumer, you would have the ability to link your preferred merchants plus indicate your primary areas of interest, informing who you would welcome advertisements from. All companies would have to use this master list when marketing to any individual.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
LinkedIn or @AdamFamularo
“Before you invest or start up a business, you need to understand your unique competitive… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.