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Vurv Revolution 2006

May 23, 2006
Related Topics: Featured Article

Event: Vurv Revolution 2006 (annual user conference)

May 21-24 at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Florida

Conference info: For more information about Vurv, go to

Day 3: Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Goodbye, customization: Vurv, which has a history of building nearly all customized products for clients, is moving toward a more conventional, standardized software model. Missy Greene, Vurv's senior vice president for products, says the company is handling very few big, customized projects these days and that most clients are moving to Vurv's conventional software offerings. Not only does this make it easier for Vurv to maintain and support a more standardized software model over time, but the company can also make money in the upgrade process. But CEO Derek Mercer was clear that Vurv would continue to support customized users. "The custom model will still be there," he says. "You can stay on it as long as you like and we will support you."

Is there an IPO in your future? One of the last sessions on the last day of the Vurv conference was a Q&A session with the company's top executives. The first question was brutally simple and direct: "When are you going public?" CEO Mercer was equally straightforward in his response: "We have big plans, but we'll wait until we're ready." He added that the recent addition of a new CFO (Mark Silverman) with 12 years of public-company experience is one of the steps that Vurv needed to take to get ready for an initial public offering. Although Mercer was clear that there are no expectations for when an offering might happen, the fact that the company invited a number of investment bankers to the conference, and that Mercer was incredibly open and upfront about Vurv's projected financial picture, leads me to believe that a Vurv IPO will come much sooner rather than later--perhaps this year or early in 2007.

Business center blues: If you travel and ever use a hotel business center, you'll appreciate this. Computer access at Disney's Grand Floridian Hotel is the most expensive I have found anywhere in America--an outrageous $10 for 15 minutes, with no discount for longer use. So, an hour of PC use will cost you a cool $40. That tops the $7.50 for 15 minutes I was hit with at a Marriott in Tucson, Arizona. As bad as $40 an hour sounds, there is a silver lining: The credit card/hotel room scanner in the Grand Floridian business center was not functioning most of the time, so I was only charged about one-third of the time. Can we blame Michael Eisner for this, too?


Day 2: Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Morning keynote, Day 2: British business consultant Rene Carayol, author of Corporate Voodoo, has been busy at the Vurv conference generally acting as the master of ceremonies. Today, he was the keynote speaker, treading on the same ground as so many other keynote speakers I've heard recently and preaching the benefits of building on one's strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses. It's a good topic that resonates with the crowd, but it also follows the same Peter Drucker-Marcus Buckingham approach and concept. Still, Carayol is more pointed than most on the need to focus on strengths at the HR department--and the famous lack of business acumen that exists in human resources. "It's easier to teach a business person HR than to teach an HR person business," he says. If you are in HR, "are you a process expert, or are you a leader helping us to make more money?" And in a point that would be more pointed if it were made at the SHRM annual conference in Washington, D.C., next month, he says, "The HR industry is at a fork in the road--and this one we can't afford to get wrong. ... The HR industry is geared at looking at weaknesses rather than strengths. There's just too much focus on what people are not good at. ... The HR industry can be the owners of talent ... can catch what people are doing right, but they need to break free of process and procedures if they are really going to add value."

The founder speaks (again): Vurv founder and CEO Derek Mercer gave an insightful state-of-the-company speech with lots of numbers and projections for Vurv's growth. And as one analyst noted, he gave much more detail than Taleo did at its user conference here in Orlando earlier this month--and Taleo is a publicly traded company, while Vurv is still private.

The details of his talk:

  • Vurv has expanded geographically, with an office in Paris, a data center in Sydney, Australia, and an 18-person office in London.
  • A lot of new people have been added to the management team, including a new CFO, director of operations and a country manager for France.
  • Revenue has grown from $3.9 million in 2002 to $35.3 million in 2005, and is projected to reach $52.5 million in 2006.
  • Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or EBITDA, is projected to go from a $5.6 million loss in 2005 to a $3.3 million profit in 2006.
  • Projections for 2007 are $76.1 million in revenue and EBITDA of $11.6 million.
  • Projections for 2008 are $104.4 million in revenue and EBITDA of $22.8 million.
  • Projections for 2009 are $140.4 million in revenue and EBITDA of $42.4 million.

According to Mercer, "We are a very open organization ... and feedback is critical to our success."


Day 1: Monday, May 22, 2006

If this is a technology conference, then it must be Orlando: What is it about technology companies and software makers meeting in Orlando? With the Vurv Technology conference this week here at Disney World, this makes no less than four events of this sort here in Central Florida this spring. Vurv (known until February as Recruitmax Software) follows SAP here last week, Taleo earlier this month, and Lawson Software in April. Florida can be nice, but this is a little more Mickey Mouse and big-league humidity than I can stand.

Morning keynote, Day 1: Former Apple executive and current venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki wrote the book, Rules for Revolutionaries, that inspired the theme for this user conference. Not surprisingly, Vurv founder and CEO Derek Mercer is a big fan of Kawasaki's, and has adopted many of his "rules" as part of his own credo. Kawasaki talked about "The Art of Innovation" and said that his talk reflects "what you should do, not what I did, because I did many things wrong."

Some of his rules include:

  • Jump to the next curve (his observation that your goal shouldn't be to do things only 10 percent 20 percent better, but 10 times better).
  • Hire infected people who generate revolutionary change (infected being infected with a love for your product or service).
  • Polarize people (create products that people love or hate passionately).

Kawasaki also did a riff on the utter stupidity of companies hiring high-paid consultants to help churn out generic mission statements (he used Wendy’s as an example). You can get the same gobbledygook using the Dilbert Random Mission Statement generator, he says.

The founder speaks: Vurv CEO and founder Derek Mercer followed Guy Kawasaki and was just about the exact opposite in style and temperament. Where Kawasaki was cool, calm and introspective, Mercer was passionate, gregarious and excitable. He borrowed from author Steve Farber in describing himself as an "extreme leader," saying, "The extreme leader is a generator, a powerful force for action." He added, "I am an enthusiastic believer in people and their capacity to do the awesome." This is not your typical CEO-speak, but then, typical CEOs don’t describe themselves as an overgrown surfer as Mercer does. Don't be fooled though; he did say he "pushes people to their capacity," looking for his staff to work from 8 to 8. That's more typical CEO talk, of course, and his passion and drive are clearly a large part of what is behind Vurv's 109 percent compound annual growth rate since 2002.

--John Hollon


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