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Eric Goodwin

Eric Goodwin

Eric Goodwin

Serial Entrepreneur

Eric is a serial entrepreneur and leader extraordinaire. He has been involved in numerous companies over many years and is considered one of the founding pioneers of the high technology community in Ottawa, Canada. Eric brings a very dynamic and thought provoking style to his work, challenging those around him to seek excellence on every issue. Entrepreneurs look to Eric to help them turn important corners without crashing. As such, he has helped many companies reach their own levels of success.

InsideSpin sat down with Eric and asked the following:

If you were to start a company like Fulcrum today focusing on technology OEM licensing, what two or three key decisions do you think would need to be made differently today than in the 1980's to get it going in the right direction?

I would look to OEM licensing much differently today. I believe the norm for start-ups is early exits rather than a NASD IPO. So if you have products that you sell directly (direct sales or internet direct marketing) you might supplement your revenue, and increase your visibility by recruiting OEMs who have a strategic fit. Selecting a few, who would see the partnership as strategic could pave the way to a successful M&A transaction.

You have worked with and for many companies over your career, what traits do you most value in the business leaders you worked with (no names mentioned please)?

My mentor when I first became a CEO said something profound to me. Obvious but profound. He said: "Eric, you can only lose your integrity once." Those few words provided a lasting impact, and when your back is up against the wall, I needed to have a guiding light like that to keep you on the 'straight and narrow'.

Many of us have seen start-ups with great ideas never really succeed. What are the key two or three reasons you feel they often fail?

Great companies are built with great execution. Great execution needs a great team, total commitment, and products that are appropriate to the market you are targeting. Many small companies develop cool technology, based on a vision, not a market, and with no clearly identified compelling need. Fulcrum had great technology, a terrific and highly committed team, and although we were in the top 10 software companies in Canada and had a market cap of nearly $400 million at the peak (when the NASDQ index was barely 1000) the marketing and sales functions were highly difficult because we generally did not have a market with a compelling need. It was a nice to have, not a need to have.

You have entered and left retirement several times, what interests you so much that you agree to come back to work to slug it out in a start-up scenario?

It is in the blood. I have spent over 45 years working in start-up environments-some successful, some that just never made it. As an entrepreneur I have led 4 companies, and led three of them to exits, one as an IPO and ultimate merger, and the two others had very positive exits and still operate with many of the same employees today. I have also participated through board positions in another eight, five of the eight had good exits (one was outstanding). Exciting, challenging and a solid foundation for learning. Sorry, I was exciting and fun.

From what you know of InsideSpin, what do you think its greatest accomplishment could be in helping entrepreneurs seeking excellence?

My greatest learning experience, perhaps one that people could walk away with from InsideSpin, would be to develop a set of model companies to help you build comparatives. I first did this at Fulcrum where an Italian partner (who later acquired the company, before our IPO) provided me with this advice and some early financial's and metrics from Oracle. I used this information to help build a strategic plan that we used to establish targets and success measurements. Once you see that it can be done, you can establish a credible plan to emulate.

The investment community in Canada is often asking itself why the Canadian experience seems to be different than the American experience, do you feel this is a real issue and if so, what should a new entrepreneur focus on to avoid the negative aspects of this?

Well, the investment community in Canada is generally in disarray at the moment, and the American experience is also undergoing rapid transformation. I believe that if you have the team, the commitment and a product that your prospects will see as something to help build their revenue (a vitamin) then you should be able to raise money in Canada or the U.S. However, most companies build products that prospects see as a medicine....something they need but painful to take, and lower in their priority.

You have sat and continue to participate as an active Board member. What should CEO's look for in independent board members?

Someone who has worked in similar environments, and made a lot of mistakes. People learn from mistakes, because they confront them and overcome them. Success is not always a measure of potential contribution. I have met a lot of people who claim success, because they held an important job and it is not always easy to determine why they were successful, was it the company, the product, the timing? I have probably met a hundred people who claim that they were a key component in the building of Oracle. In my opinion only a small handful of people led by an enormous person like Larry Ellison made Oracle the company, get an Ellison or a Gates, or at least someone that has done it before.

What was your best company to work for and what traits did its organization have that you thought all companies should have?

Tough question. Flonetwork would probably take first place. Near closure, I came in as a temporary CEO with a mandate to recruit and hire a replacement. I shook my head more than once, wondering why I did it. However, a couple of key hires and developing and communicating a clear strategy, we launched a new and exciting rocket ship. In the first 18 months we transformed ourselves from a late to market company to a market leader. We grew from virtually nothing (25 people and $300K quarterly revenue) to $11 million and then enroute to $33 million in the next year. The company had a very positive exit during the nuclear winter in 2001. We increased our staff to 250 people, who were focused, committed, relentless in competitive spirit, and had an unbelievable culture. It was the culture that set it apart from other companies and from the competition. The culture was developed by the employees, led by the management team and almost everyone that worked for the company believes it was the best working experience of their life. Can’t beat that!