Sramana: After you left IBM and joined Kognitio, what were your first impressions?
Steve Millard: I quickly realized that this company was about to hit the rocks. We did not have a firm direction or a strategic plan. Combine that with our market environment and the recent marriage of Kognitio and Whitecross, and you will see where we were. There was a strong bend toward professional services. During my first year I was promoted to the chief operating office position to prepare for the CEO role. The first thing I did was call a strategy session.
The current CEO was not present, and in that meeting I told the team that we were either going to change what we do right now, right here, or we would go out of business. I needed to change the culture, thinking, and ethos of the organization. I also changed the targeting. We were still selling to the same organizations that we were selling into for the last 10 years, and we were losing those deals because of industry consolidation. We felt great about opportunities and always came in second.
I told the senior leadership team that if we kept down the path we were on, we were going to run out of money and that we needed to find a niche market that we could call our own and dominate. That is exactly what we have done. I had to change the culture in the company and that was the hardest thing I have done to date. Here I was an American coming to London telling these people that no matter how proud they were of their technology, nobody else cared. The reality was they needed an edge and needed to change the way they sold. You must have an edge to win in this marketplace. If you want to be a player in this space, you have to win and tout deals in the U.S.
I have found this to be one of the interesting tenants of being an American leading a British company. The Brits are very low key. They are private and they do not want to brag about their exploits. I admire that, actually. However, in this market you absolutely must make a splash.
Sramana: The European culture can be one of modesty, and marketing is considered a dirty word. However, one of the tenants of capitalism is that if nobody knows you exist, nobody will buy what you have.
Steve Millard: That is so true. I respect [the European] cultural perspective, but we could not afford to fail as a company. Any company can make the jump from the U.S. to EMEA. On the other hand, making the jump from a small U.K. company to the U.S. does not happen very often in the technology world.
Sramana: We have done some cases studies on that, but it is much harder and it does not happen that often.
Steve Millard: It is time consuming, cost a lot of money, and is fraught with risk. It is the biggest challenge of my career, but it is also the most fun I have had as well.