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The Purpose of a Company | Clint Oram from Sugar CRM

In his youth, Clint Oram shadowed his father as he built an early computer company that offered communication solutions before there was email. “I was standing at his knee looking up starry eyed at this awesome entrepreneur making it happen,” Clint says.

On this edition of Founders Journey, Clint shares the important lessons he learned from his father—and the many lessons he learned with his own company, SugarCRM, including how to build the right team, and why you should embrace change.

More information: https://www.sugarcrm.com


Clint helped found SugarCRM in 2004 with the goal of enabling companies around the world to turn their customers into loyal fans. Today, he leads strategy and acquisitions for the company. Clint was one of the original architects and developers of the Sugar application and has focused on building out the product, company, partners and community in a variety of executive roles.

Prior to co-founding SugarCRM, Clint held senior roles in the development, professional services and product management organizations at Epiphany, Octane Software and Hewlett Packard. He has 20 years of experience in the enterprise software industry and over 15 years designing and building award-winning CRM software solutions.

Clint holds a BS in computer science from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and is the co-author of multiple CRM software patents. Clint enjoys traveling and speaking at conferences on a variety of customer experience and entrepreneurship topics, and has visited SugarCRM customers and partners in over 25 countries.

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Clint Oram 0:00
Here’s my catchphrase on it. Don’t go from lean to visiting. Don’t create complicated processes. Just because you can strip it away, strip it away, strip away the complexity, you’re going to hire people to keep buying to put complexity in your business, strip it away. Don’t Don’t say yes to all of that extra stuff. Stay really focused on one core mission. Creating customers.

Alexander Ferguson 0:34
Welcome to UpTech Report. This is our founders journey series UpTech Report is sponsored by TeraLeap. Learn how to leverage the power of video at Teraleap.io. Today, I’m excited to be joined by again with my guest, Clint Oram, who’s based in San Francisco. He’s the co founder and Chief Strategy Officer at SugarCRM. Welcome back, Clint, good to have you on.

Clint Oram 0:53
Thank you, Alex, pleasure to be here.

Alexander Ferguson 0:55
Now this is actually part two, go back and listen to Part One of understanding actually the history of CRMs the evolution and to also where SugarCRM is headed, and the concept of how AI is playing a very interesting and growing role in and CRM, getting not

Clint Oram 1:11
just here, but how we work across the board. The future of work,

Alexander Ferguson 1:16
The future of work, so go back and definitely listen to that. But in this conversation, I want to hear a bit more about your journey. Because there’s there’s a lot and there’s no way we’re going to cover it all in just 20 minutes or so. But we’re looking at your LinkedIn profile from sugar, sugar crm, I love how you broke it out, it almost looks like someone else’s entire LinkedIn profile of all the roles that you’ve played. Can you take me back? Like, were you just always fascinated with technology? And like what led you to even starting sugar syrup?

Clint Oram 1:43
Oh, boy, where did that I let me go back way into the Wayback Machine into the 1980s 1983. My dad started a technology company called media computer network. In 1983. This is pre email. And, and one of the challenges out there in the early pre email period, but specifically in the early 80s was when public service agencies needed to get in contact with the media quickly. It was the phone tree, calling people Boom, boom, boom, boom. So if there was an earthquake, if there was a flood, if there was a fire, if there was something that needed the media to be involved very quickly, there was no quick way of getting out the information. Again, for those of us for those of people watching de who’ve who’ve never not had the internet, you’re probably sitting there scratching your head saying I can’t really fathom how that world operates. But that was the world I grew up in. My dad started a company to address that problem. It was essentially email before there was before there was smtp. and such. And, and in fact, he got disintermediated by email. So his business. He didn’t he didn’t pivot quickly enough. And in 1990, as as email came very common across the board, his company, frankly went under. And and so as a young teenager, I was helping my dad QA software, I was standing at his knee looking up starry eyed at this awesome entrepreneur, making it happen. I was out there attending trade shows and manning the booth. So this was my early

Alexander Ferguson 3:30
teenage years. So I was just building up and you you’re like, I feel like I want to do this. I want to do

Clint Oram 3:36
that. Yeah, exactly. I actually not with that much clarity at that point in time it there. You know, there’s some teenage cynicism and there’s like, Oh, God, dad, okay. Yeah, I’ll help you with that. Sure. It probably wasn’t until my 20s I ended up realizing Oh, wait, that was really cool. That was I got I got that right. Yeah. Coming back to Gladwell 10,000 hours, right. And, and I got my 10,000 hours in early. And, and that’s that’s what launched me along on this journey of being an entrepreneur. And and in there. You know, the Myers Briggs personality tests. So when I fill out that that Myers Briggs personality test, I’m an estp, which is called the entrepreneur I have, I have, I’m addicted to change. I have no patience for details. I’m always driving for what’s next. What’s next. And, and in there, you can imagine, in some circumstances, that’s fantastic. In other circumstances, not so much. So. So one of the things I learned from my dad’s journey was to surround yourself with experts to do the things that you’re frankly not very good at doing. And that was a challenge. If I look back on on my dad’s journey as an entrepreneur, that was probably the biggest challenge he had was, was wanting to control everything and and Not being able to envision scaling the company up through the help of others. And that’s something I think that I, I’ve put a lot of energy into thinking about. And I think that’s been a big part of my journey.

Alexander Ferguson 5:13
You have first hand experience of what didn’t work you’re like, how can maybe even subconsciously applying that when you start your own venture, you’re like, I need to surround myself and not have as much control was, was it conscious or subconscious, that decision

Clint Oram 5:26
was very conscious. But let me tell you, when dad’s business went under, that was catastrophic to the family. It reverberated for years across and it was it was something that, you know, every dad and son have their, their stuff to figure out and that was part of our stuff that we had to figure out. And so let me trust trust me conscious, very, very, were very conscious.

Alexander Ferguson 5:52
When you started, sugar, you and your co founder, how did how did that begin? Can you just share some of those beginning stories?

Clint Oram 6:00
Oh, let me walk you through 2004. It’s burned into my memory. I love 2004. So it was January 18 2004, that the guy who sat the cube next to me, john roberts said, Hey, you want to go out to lunch set shirtless lunch, we went down to this local Thai place in San Mateo. And he starts throwing out these ideas of open source, open source CRM, starting our own company. And in there, I’m thinking, yeah, this is why I’m here. This is why I’m in Silicon Valley. Yeah, keep talking man. And on the way back from lunch, I remember very vividly standing and maybe two feet or up behind him at one point. And looking at the back of his head and saying, I’m doing this. I’m doing this. And so john, john recruited me. And we were working together as product managers at another CRM company started kicking around the idea just you know, pulling together nightly phone calls, shaping a business plan, really trying to figure out what it is that we want to do. Fast forward to March, we recruited our third co founder, Jacob, the engineering guy. I’m a I’m a developer by training. But in my head, I’m a product manager. So that’s that’s how that’s the lens I look at the world through when it comes to businesses. As a product manager. I’ve done every other role around it, but so I can code. And I wrote the the front end to the application, Jacob was the Brainiac, and he created all the the back end stuff. And so the two of us together were pretty, pretty dynamic duo. And john was our sales and marketing guy. And so we quit our jobs in at the end of March. We started on this this venture, April 1, we released our first source code on SourceForge. In May started getting 1000s of downloads. We did a a venture incubator presentation. So we went to this place that we presented in front of a bunch of of VC guys in on June 4 2004, July 15, we had $2 million in our pocket from from Josh Stein. August, we hired our first 10 people and moved into our offices. October we started selling. And by December 31, we had sold our first $250,000 with the software and we had 15 people on board and boom, we’re off to the races.

Alexander Ferguson 8:23
It I can tell you, it’s very much burned into your memory, just every step.

Clint Oram 8:29
You literally walk you through almost every day of the year. Right.

Alexander Ferguson 8:33
What would you say is one of the key factors that contributed to that initial success and growth?

Clint Oram 8:40
You know, I’ve been asked that question a lot. And I will give you a surprisingly non technical answer because I think the product minded folks out there like like me, will want to say it was the product. You know who our very first hire was? Tara Spaulding. Tar Spalding is a fantastic marketer. So she worked with us at the previous all three of us worked at the same CRM company called epiphany. And and Tara was in the the marketing department doing field marketing demand generation. She She was kind of the fourth co founder To be quite honest. She was our first hire, she came on board she she had that magic touch when it comes to building. Right and and she did did a fantastic job of that.

Alexander Ferguson 9:34
Do you remember any one of the initial AI campaigns or elements that she created that?

Clint Oram 9:40
It actually you asked that question? Oh, here, here is the scrapbook my wife made for me back in 2009. And here’s a whole bunch of the first articles breaking the rules with open source Sugar Syrup mix commercial open source sweet with sugar sales. Open Source. Now it’s an ecosystem. Open source is more than just sharing code. There we go. There’s some of the talk tracks that got launched.

Alexander Ferguson 10:15
And it’s just it’s, it’s against having that initial hire, it’s a powerful note, I think for a lot of founders and realize marketing, creating the buzz creating the awareness, not just the product itself helps. When your

Clint Oram 10:28
product does not always win, back, the best product rarely wins. That’s marketing wins. I think about that.

Alexander Ferguson 10:37
Thinking back to 17 years, over the 17 years, if there’s one thing that you go back and tell yourself, when you started, sugar, Sam, what would be what would be that one thing you would want to or two things if you come to your mind.

Clint Oram 10:51
The one thing that I would go back and tell myself Don’t worry about change. So so for me personally, my job has been different at sugar every two to three years. Because my personality is one of driving change. And and there’s been a few times along the way where I had a hard time letting go of the last so that I could go embrace the next. And, and again, it comes back to that that. I think number one challenge for any founder, which is ego. Ego gets in the way. Your investors don’t care about your ego, your investors care about making money and growing the company. Ego can is to me is the root of all problems for founders, because you have this, it’s part of your personality, you want to change the world, you want to you want to shape the world you want to you want to control what’s happening ahead of you. And you need to recognize that you need to step back and let go of the reins and go focus your energy on whatever needs to be done to grow the company next. And whatever you’re doing today may not be the thing that you need to be doing tomorrow. So you talk about that list of things that I’ve done on my on my journey here at Sugar CRM, and what’s not on there, because it would just be completely egotistical to put it on there was i was i was effectively the first CFO, I you know, hate to call the CFO, I ran the books, I lined up, I lined up the first I paid the bills, I ran QuickBooks, I line up our first insurance, you know, because, well, mostly because my two other co founders didn’t want to do it. And I said, I’ll do that. That sounds interesting. In fact, let me go figure that one out me and, and so for the first six months, I was VP finance, I guess you might want to call it but again, I’ve met so many CFOs in my time that did to even try and put myself anywhere near them, which is just completely ridiculous. And here’s the story. So I was deep into doing at one of our first deployments for one of our first customers working hard on a Friday, hammering away on the keyboard, writing code getting stuff done. And I forgot to run payroll. This is a crazy thing, you actually have to click a button every two weeks. Like Like, why can’t you just set up an auto pay? I don’t get this why you have to actually click the button. I don’t. What’s that all about? Talking about the need of automation? I forgot to click the button. So there was an intervention the next week, and the intervention was by our wives. Because our wives were funding us at this point in time. And and and yeah, I stopped being the CFO, right. And we went and hired somebody better than me. Not very hard to do.

Alexander Ferguson 13:56
Oh my God, that’s quite quite a then a moment to realize, okay, yeah, that’s not the role. I’ll play

Clint Oram 14:02
anymore. That was fun learning time move on.

Alexander Ferguson 14:05
Speaking of, of, of team and building, that’s one of the whole pieces, okay, you have to market get the product out there, get people there, and you have to build the right team and have that scale. How big is the team today?

Clint Oram 14:20
500 plus worldwide? Wow. 520 something like that.

Alexander Ferguson 14:25
What What would you say are some of the the lessons or experiences you had going from the initial three, four, and then scaling to 20? And then 100. What were what did it take? What were the like the pain points that you were a

Clint Oram 14:40
couple couple pain points in there. So so one when you’re building teams don’t hire a bunch of people that that sound act look like you You want balance? Right. So So, you know, again, personality profiles and such but but there’s all kinds of of psychology team psychology research. It shows a balanced team is such more effective. You know, if you’re, if you’re a guy who’s not that great with details, I need to I need a detail person next to me, right? Then that sort of thing, right? So balance out your teams don’t hire people that that think just like you because you need somebody who’s looking out for your blind spots. Right? Secondly, hiring is not easy. You need to go get some help. On that topic of hiring help. Well, first person to hire when you’re really starting to scout is the recruiter. Right. And that’s, that’s something that a lot of people forget at first. And that was something that we learned pretty quickly. And we had some great people helping us hire as we as we grew. And then the last thing that I would throw out is when you’re scaling out the business, and you’re hiring people, and you’re building processes, and you’re deploying technology, people process technology, I’m sure you’ve heard that that catchphrase before. Focus on lean. There’s all kinds of research out there about the Lean Startup the lean machine. Don’t try and automate the corner cases that deliver ultimately very little value to the company focus on what really matters, and strip away the complexity. This was a hard one for me. Because I tend to like to automate everything. It’s just the way my brain works, right? You know, like, oh, why is somebody pushing paper for that we should go automate that right? Instead of asking the question, why are you even pushing that paper? Right? What Why are we paying attention to that? Why don’t we push that away? And stop doing that? That’s the real, real question that you should be asking as a founder. So I found us. And here’s my catchphrase on it. Don’t go from lean to Byzantine. Don’t create complicated processes. Just because you can strip it away, strip it away, strip away the complexity, you’re going to hire people who keep wanting to put complexity in your business stripped away. Don’t Don’t say yes to all of that extra stuff. Stay really focused on one core mission. Creating customers.

Alexander Ferguson 17:22
If that’s your your core mission, that you’re on the right track, and switch writing else away. Wow, that’s powerful. That’s powerful. Over the over the years, curious, have there been any moments of plateau? And how did you how did you get out of that?

Clint Oram 17:38
Yeah. Yeah, like any business, you hit plateaus. And here’s the the uncomfortable reality of that. Sometimes it takes new people to look at a problem differently. So you end up changing out, some executives might change out some key people along the way, because the way that they look at solving the problem is, is not helping you in the past is not helping you go and initiate that next growth curve.

Alexander Ferguson 18:15
And like, do you let that go where nothing’s happening, I

Clint Oram 18:18
had a CEO who said he fired somebody too quickly. Never met that CPU CEO. It’s it’s in our nature to try and make it work longer than we should. So I’ve never never, ever once heard the CEO said, I fired that person too quickly, or replace that person too quickly. Unless there’s the reality of it. All right.

Alexander Ferguson 18:43
No change when you hit a plateau, you have to reassess the people that are there they able to look at this problem with fresh eyes, or do we need to bring a new insight or new perspective to change it up?

Clint Oram 18:54
Yeah, you know, the, the, the nevermind my business partner, I talked to you about john roberts, who started the company with he and I are both world war two fans, right? So just total history nerds just such an interesting period, in that it’s just completely shaped the modern age that we live in today. And the United States as it is today that the post war era, just fascinating. And what was that, that that era? And and john was a huge fan of Pat. Right. And and patent has there’s a book of all the patents catchphrases that he had and we would actually, john would have us as part of the team building exercises go through. He had these cards called Pat cards, like smashing a card deck with all these catchphrases from patents on hair, right? And I gotta tell you what that first happened to like all the amount of eye rolling happening in there would have put any teenager to shame, right? It’s this right? But I gotta tell you, I walked away from those those exercises of five During the each week at the leadership team meeting, but the patent catch phrase that we were thinking about as we went into the week, focusing exercise. And here’s one, and I’m probably not saying it exactly right. But here’s one from George Patton. build teams ruthlessly. build teams build teams ruthlessly. Testosterone, he sounds a little, little mean sounds. But I gotta tell you, every founder who’s sitting on this call right now is going to build teams ruthlessly. If you’re not evolving, you’re die. And, and there are some people that can evolve with you. The majority can’t. And so the team that has taken you to today is not necessarily a team that’s going to take you to tomorrow, you asked me about about plateaus. Now, by the way, there’s a lot more underneath that. It’s not just about you know, shaking the the, the the eight ball and see what it says this time, right? It’s about much more. And I’ll take you through a couple of the thoughts. If you got time on this one. I’m talking about this for another minute or two. Okay, so. So first off, what’s the purpose of a company the purpose of a company is to create customers purpose of a company is not to build great products, purpose of company is not to create revenue, or returns on investment for the investors, those are byproducts. Those are great things that happen when you focus on creating customers. This is my this is my mantra that I learned 15 years ago from very, very wise man, the editor of selling power magazine, care hard dish fonder. He, he led this talk that that I still vividly remember, you know, I remember looking at john roberts and saying, I’m going to do this. And I remember looking at gearheart, fishfinder, I go, dude, you’re smart. And and what he did is he’s leading a workshop for a bunch of our customers very, very first event we ever did the very first event we ever did. And he was the speaker. And he asked the question to the audience, what’s the purpose of a company, and he got a lot of ideas that were thrown out, make products, hire people, return on investment, etc. Those are all byproducts of the thing that you haven’t said yet, which is create customers, the purpose of a company is to create customers, if you can focus on that you’re going to build the right products, you’re going to go after the right markets, you’re going to hire people, you’re going to make money, you’re going to get a return for your investors, all that kind of good stuff. So in there, when you find yourself in a law, come back to your customers. Who are the customers I want to create? What do they look like? What are Where are they? What are their problems? How do I solve those problems? Am I solving those problems differently than my competition? There’s those that’s that whole body of work is extremely effective, and frankly, a bit hard to do at times the easy one is to say, I need to go drive efficiencies in the business. Right? Isn’t that the easy one to do? And by the way, nobody likes to cut their way into into growth doesn’t really work that terribly well. Right? So So driving efficiencies, very important, great conversation to have. But if you’re find yourself in a in a plateau, you got to come back to your customers, what are you selling to them? How are you finding them? What are their pain points, and just center all that discussion around the customer? And by the way, you need a great CRM system to tell you about those customers. How about that for a plug? So there’s,

Alexander Ferguson 23:48
there’s some thoughts in there. I love it. You have your Packers with so much great insights here and wrapped us up nicely back to SugarCRM. This has been powerful and I know you have a ton of more insights, we may have to do a part two on the federal charity sometime. But thank you for this time. It was awesome.

Clint Oram 24:06
Alex, thank you for giving me the time.

Alexander Ferguson 24:08
For those who want to hear more about SugarCRM go back and listen to Part One or discussion to get actually the history history of serum and the future of work itself.

Clint Oram 24:16
Robots are coming the robots are

Alexander Ferguson 24:20
Star Trek not not

Clint Oram 24:23
Skynet.

Alexander Ferguson 24:24
guy that, yes, Star Trek’s. Alright, we’ll see you guys on the next episode of UpTech Report. Have you seen a company using AI machine learning or other technology to transform the way we live, work and do business? Go to UpTech report.com and let us know

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