John and his co-founder have built MapAnything from Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia. They have now raised over $40 million in funding, proving that you can build sizable VC-funded SaaS businesses from anywhere.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where did you grow up? Give us some early story.
John Stewart: I’m from upstate New York. I’m from a middle class background. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. My father was in the construction business. He was an architect. I went to school in New England for Mechanical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in western Massachusetts and graduated in 1997.
Sramana Mitra: I went to Smith College for my undergraduate. Western Massachusetts is something I’m very familiar with.
John Stewart: You’re in real western Massachusetts. Worcester is probably more central.
Sramana Mitra: That’s exactly right. When did you come out of college? What time frame are we talking?
John Stewart: 1997, right before the dot-com boom. I worked for MSC doing structural analysis. It was a really good experience. Around 2000, I decided to try my hand at enterprise software sales. I left engineering for a little while and went into enterprise IT software sales for various enterprise IT security products. It did teach me how to do enterprise selling.
In 2003, I stepped into being an entrepreneur. I was doing engineering consulting services on the side. I had gone back to my roots in engineering. I opened up a consulting shop doing engineering consulting services. I grew the company from just myself to a pretty decent-sized engineering consulting services shop. Then I decided to get into the world of manufacturing.
Sramana Mitra: How many people were there? What kind of revenue were you making?
John Stewart: About $8 million in revenue. We had about 45 to 50 people.
Sramana Mitra: What was the time period over which you built this $8 million engineering consulting shop?
John Stewart: 2004 through 2009, when I sold it.
Sramana Mitra: What kind of engineering consulting were you doing? Finite element analysis?
John Stewart: Finite element analysis and structural analysis.
Sramana Mitra: Who were the clients?
John Stewart: Military, aerospace, and defense contractors. Also, Lockheed and Boeing subsidiaries.
Sramana Mitra: How did you find these clients?
John Stewart: We’re in a specialized area. A lot of them found me through referrals. You get a reputation for this kind of work. Not a lot of people were doing it at that time. I never had shortage of work.
Sramana Mitra: That’s excellent. It’s a wonderful position to be in. You sold this company to whom?
John Stewart: I sold this company to another engineering services firm and another reseller of Siemens engineering software. That was in 2009. That was in parallel with shutting down my manufacturing facility. I built out a manufacturing facility in 2007 through 2010. We had opened up a sister company to the engineering services firm. We were doing rapid prototyping work and manufacturing.
The economy of 2008 for manufacturing companies wasn’t fantastic due to the financial crisis. I ended up having to close that down. That was one of the reasons I sold the engineering services firm – to be able to shutdown the manufacturing company. I had to liquidate it. That is what brought me to the business I’m currently in today. For the manufacturing company, our back office was MRP-like on top of the Salesforce platform.
In 2009 when we were done with all that, we opened Saber Business Solution which was a system integrator of Salesforce services. Basically, I was starting over and now building a services business but this time on Salesforce.