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Turning a Services Company to a $30M Product Company: Bridgeline Digital CEO Thomas Massie (Part 1)

Posted on Thursday, Dec 13th 2012

Thomas Massie is the chairman of the board, president, and chief executive officer of Bridgeline Digital, company that enables its customers to maximize the performance of their mission-critical websites, intranets, and online stores. Prior to BridgeLine he was a member of the board of directors of MapInfo Corp, a publicly developer of location intelligence software solutions. From 1991 to 2000, he was the founder, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Focus Enhancement, a publicly held developer of proprietary video conversion ASIC chip technology. From 1986 to 1991, Massie was the founder and chairman of the board of Mass Microsystems.

Sramana: Thomas, let’s set the context of your story by reviewing your background. Where are you from?

Thomas Massie: I am a serial entrepreneur. I grew up in Michigan with a single mother. I was the first person in my family to graduate high school and college. I ended up going into the military right out of high school, which helped me pay for me college. I studied biology at Wayne State University with the intention of becoming a doctor. When I finished my undergraduate and wanted to apply to medical school, I realized that it was not financially in the cards for me to get into medical school, and I did not know how to get any government grants.

At that time I moved out to California, where my first job was with Beckton, Dickinson. I worked in the San Jose area, and my roommate had just graduated from Stanford. He had an engineering undergraduate degree and got his masters degree at Stanford and went to work for Lockheed. He developed one of the early products for Macintoshes and we ended up marketing the product and built a business that grew quickly. We did all of that out of our apartment in Mountain View. The company, Mass Microsystems, ended up going public in 1989, and within a year the stock doubled and the company was acquired.

That was where I got my entrepreneurial bug. I focused on finance, sales, and marketing, while my partner focused on engineering, manufacturing, and product development. When you are in your twenties and you start a company, it is exciting just to watch it grow. Having the type of success we had was very exciting. I also realized the power of capitalism at that time. As for the currency you get in the stock you own when you start a company and you issue that stock to yourself at a penny a share, then sell the stock when you sell the company, you realize that the stock is true currency. The tax treatment is advantageous because it is long-term capital gains. From an entrepreneurial perspective, I now understand why entrepreneurs are so important to the economy.

In the early 1990s I started another company called Focus, which did semiconductor and digital video conversion ASICs. That company went very well. We licensed our technology to Intel, and our first chips were in Xboxes and high-end televisions. We even built the consumer product around our chips that were sold in more than 3,000 resellers globally. That company grew very fast and made its IPO in 1995. In 1999 when the market was at a peak, our stock and market valuation were very high. We capitalized and merged with another California-based company.

Sramana: By that point you were batting 1000, with two out of two successes.

Thomas Massie: That is correct.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Turning a Services Company to a $30M Product Company: Bridgeline Digital CEO Thomas Massie
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