Tough Times Translate to Profits
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Anyone who has been to Chicago in the summer can attest to the oppressive heat and humidity. But Keith Raffel, founder and chairman of UpShot Corp., remembers that when he was growing up in Palo Alto, Calif., his Uncle Roy in Chicago, who ran Dad's Root Beer, would always wish for the mercury to continue to climb. The hotter it got the more root beer he sold.
The affable Raffel is not one to want anyone to sweat, but does admit that the current economic downturn, which he calls the new reality, has been a boon to the sales force automation software company he founded in 1996.
Tough economic times means corporations are racing to cuts costs, increase productivity, and see a return on their investments. And that is good news for UpShot, which offers an inexpensive, Web-based sales force automation application that promises to do all that.
Raffel, whose career includes a position as general manager of the International Telecom Division at ROLM Corp., left his most recent post as a marketing and business development executive at networking device maker Echelon Corp. to design the prototype of the UpShot service. He has since raised $61 million in financing from venture capital firms and private investors, including such tech heavyweights and former colleagues as Bob Finocchio, formerly the president and CEO of Informix Software and president of 3Com Corp.; Tom Proulx, cofounder of Intuit; and Ken Oshman, cofounder of ROLM and CEO of Echelon.
Raffel, described by several of his employees as a brainiac, with degrees from Harvard and Oxford universities, says the key to a successful company is the ability to spot talent and hire enthusiastic people who are smarter than you are.
He has done just that. The parking lot at UpShot's modest, low-rise office building off Highway 101 in Mountain View, Calif., is a testament to employees' enthusiasm about the company. It is peppered with cars sporting license plates that read UpShot1, UpShot2--all the way to UpShot9. Raffel's gray Lexus sedan simply sports the tag UpShot.
In October 2000 Raffel tapped Silicon Valley veteran Rob Reid to run the day-to-day operations as president and CEO, so Raffel could focus on strategic planning and establishing key partnership agreements. Reid was previously president of Concur Technologies Inc.'s Concur Commerce Network, an e-marketplace for small to mid-size businesses.
Reid and Raffel are said to have a symbiotic management relationship, rather than one producing a power struggle that leads to the ouster of the founder--a typical tale for high-tech companies. "We think alike and often finish each other's sentences," Raffel says. "Also I wanted to prove people wrong and show that this could work."
Clients such as American Airlines Inc., Hewlett-Packard Corp., Pfizer Inc., and Xerox Corp have helped take privately held UpShot from a handful of employees to about 100 today and put the company in competition with the big boys of CRM. And although Raffel is pleased with UpShot's 14 percent growth of paid subscribers month-over-month, he says the push to create one of the "great new companies" of Web-computing is far from over.
The winner of the CRM vendor race is not a sure bet. Still, Raffel is a betting man, and he likes UpShot's odds.
Name: Keith Raffel
Title: Founder and chairman, UpShot Corp., Mountain View, Calif.
Education: Advanced degrees from Harvard and Oxford universities, undergraduate degree from Harvard.
Most bizarre job: Weekend/after school job gluing microfilm cases together at age 16.
Most recent book read: Race of Scorpions, by Dorothy Dunnett
Favorite sports: Baseball; watching horse racing
Sponsored By: Genesys, Avaya, Verint, and Aspect