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More Books, Fewer Worries
Self-publishing company Author Solutions turns to Salesforce.com's platform-as-a-service to host its operations and expand its library of ideas.
For the rest of the August 2009 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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For the rest of the August 2009 issue of CRM magazine, please click here.

Tell us about Author Solutions. 

We are the largest self-publishing company in the world—the market-share leader when it comes to publishing books for individuals. This year we published about 24,000 titles. We’ve grown enormously: Two years ago, we were a little shy of $40 million, now we’re close to being a $100 million business. [Self-publishing] is an explosive industry. We have four separate companies under our umbrella: AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris, and Trafford Publishing.

I came on board in December 2007. One of the first things I did was take an assessment of everything in the business. I soon saw that our technology systems were antiquated. I said we have to build a publishing [enterprise resource planning] package with workflow systems and the like. The tech department said, “We can build that—we’ll write it and build it on .Net and use Microsoft stuff.” I said, “I’m sure you can do it, but I don’t want to be in the data center business. There has to be something better.”

What were you looking for in a vendor? 

First, I knew that I didn’t want to manage this myself. I wanted to do this [via] software-as-a-service [SaaS] so we looked at all the usual suspects. I didn’t want someone who’s only part-time in [SaaS]…or just dipping a toe. I wanted someone up to their neck in SaaS. Clearly, Salesforce.com is. So, we decided to use it for CRM and to exploit the Force.com platform.

The second thing was that I knew we were going to embark on explosive growth in the solutions we offered and the brands that we signed on. I also knew we were going to grow through acquisition [and] through building partnerships with publishing companies. I needed a platform that was replicable and could scale to roughly 1,000 people and beyond.

Sounds like quite a project. Tell us about the implementation. 

I laid out what I was aiming to do and Salesforce[.com] was willing to work with me. They brought in a partner, Appirio, to help, and invested time in making certain that what we did was going to be a winner. We made the [Force.com] decision without doing a lot of work to prove the concept. A month later, we negotiated with a few other vendors to say, “OK, did Kevin make a stupid move?” But no, we proved the concept.

We started the process of building our solution—which we call Gemini. We were going to merge two companies onto the platform. (Six platforms and several partners later, we’re not going to stop any time soon.) That work started in earnest in March 2008. We launched Gemini for iUniverse in August, so it was four months to get the system up and running.

What have been the main benefits of platform-as-a-service? 

We were dramatically under what it would’ve cost if we’d decided to write it and buy hardware. We could have accomplished that, but I didn’t want to be in the business of managing it. When you’re growing as fast as we are, to have someone like Salesforce[.com] behind us and delivering what is billions of dollars worth of information management is priceless. You can’t get that [on your own] as a $40 million company. We couldn’t have ever had what they have in terms of security and protecting our data. For me, it takes a load off my mind.

How does the platform make business easier for your author-customers? 

The applications have made us able to move our customers through the production process faster. Customer service has improved. We have a world-class production system to serve our authors and fulfill exactly what they want.

What does the future look like? 

We just bought another company in April and we had them fully up and running in fewer than 30 days. We will have everything completely migrated in the first half of next year. Now, everything I buy runs on the platform. My business has grown from just a couple of licenses to a thousand—in just a year and a half.

When I took over 18 months ago, I set our target to be a $100 million business in three years. We’ll be there shortly so we’ve changed the goal—$250 million in three years. If it wasn’t for Salesforce[.com], it would be a lot harder.

5 FAST FACTS

  1. How old is the implementation?
    About a year old. Our platform went live in August 2008.
  2. Who was part of the decision process?
    The head of operations, with heavy input from the CIO, our finance team, and me.
  3. What’s been the best CRM idea?
    Adoption is 100 percent, and people love the platform—but you still need to make sure you train the daylights out of people.
  4. Biggest surprise?
    There is a little programming involved, even though it’s run as a service.
  5. Biggest mistake?
    Not proving the concept before diving in with a vendor.

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To contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com
Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationCRM.com/subscribe/.
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