Posted on Medium
How does someone who got their start in the 1980s designing coin-op arcade games in Chicago become a pillar of the Denver entrepreneurial and startup scene? The promise of Broncos tickets helped, but there’s much more to that story.
It may sound cliché, but seasoned entrepreneur Bob Ogdon proves that the old axiom “timing is everything” is a truism that should not be overlooked. Ogdon weathered a snowy Denver night in February to speak with Denver Founder’s Network about his experience building startups and working as an entrepreneur in Denver. The peaks and valleys of Ogdon’s story are likely familiar, in some degree, to many in the startup community. Although the measures of success and failure may be different, the trajectory of Ogdon’s projects provide a type of familiarity that illustrates what success looks like and how to recover from setbacks along the way.
At present, Bob Ogdon is the Chairman and Founder of Swiftpage, a company that offers CRM solutions to small businesses through a SaaS product called ACT! that features embedded email marketing. How Swiftpage, a relatively small company at the time, acquired the much larger ACT! proves that reality trumps fiction sometimes, but we’ll get to that in a few moments.
Over the course of the evening, one theme to which Ogdon returned repeatedly was the importance of timing. How, though, can one capitalize on timing? Again, the old maxim about creating your own luck becomes relevant. From Ogdon’s experience, the trick is to figure out what the world will be like in five years, and to build technology for that so when everyone else is playing catch up, you’re already waiting for your customers. In sum: foresight helps predict timing.
“PR is the cheapest form of advertising you can get”
While it was Broncos tickets that initially lured Ogdon to Denver, CD-ROMs made him stay.
In 1991, seeing the potential for CD-ROM technology, Ogdon started Mammoth Micro Productions. The need gap in this market was on the software end. According to Ogdon, the Japanese were really good at creating hardware but when it came to software there was plenty of room for improvement.
Mammoth worked on various CD-ROM technologies for several years. Mammoth did fine, but didn’t garner a ton of national attention. One reason for this was that Mammoth didn’t have the money to spend on marketing. A fortuitous break came when a PR person Ogdon worked with managed to get the company profiled by Forbes magazine. The timing was perfect because the piece came out right when the CD-ROM market was starting to take off. It wasn’t long before the national suitors started knocking on Mammoth’s door. Ogdon credits the Forbes piece with creating value in the company, suggesting that “PR is the cheapest form of advertising you can get.”
With everyone was clamoring to get into the CD-ROM game in the mid-1990s, Mammoth had thirteen offers to purchase the company within a six month period. They ended up selling to the Washington Post for a cool $30M.
“No one ever fails at business, they just run out of money”
Whereas previously the “internet” was confined to a few academic and government institutions by the mid-1990s it began to gather steam among the general population. Looking for his next endeavor at this time, Ogdon started another company in 1996 called MSHOW that specialized in web conferencing. Over the years running MSHOW Ogdon raised a total of $66M, an impressive number to be sure. But the number that blew Chris Franks’ mind was when Ogdon told him he raised $30M in angel funds (from about 70–80 investors).
— MeetMindful (@MeetMindful) February 26, 2015
After a few years, MSHOW got to the point where they were doing $5M in revenue. Once again, buyout offers emerged, and this during the height of the dot-com era where insane valuations were the norm (c. 2000). Ogdon had two offers on the table, one for $500M and one for $700M. He decided not to sell. Within three months the bottom fell out of the market.
For all intents and purposes MSHOW imploded with the rest of the tech industry. The lesson here is that not all timing is good. Ogdon, however, tried to put a positive spin on the experience, stating “no one ever fails at business, they just round out of money.”
“You can’t do it alone”
Ogdon was candid about the toll that MSHOW’s failure took on him personally. He found himself depressed in the wake of the company’s decline. “The worst part is you have people you feel really responsible for. The reality was at the time is it wasn’t my mistake. It was the market, and so I was able to deal with that,” he explained. Ogdon also emphasized the importance of having a strong support network in family, business partners, and investors to get through that trying time. “I’m a huge believer that you can’t do it alone…you need somebody to whine with,” says Ogdon.
The fact that his failure was largely driven by market forces and not poor decision making or ineptitude, combined with his ability to weather that storm made Ogdon an attractive investment option when he started Swiftpage in 2002. In hindsight, Ogdon suggested that people respect the fact that failure happens. Therefore, the way that you deal with failure becomes more important than the fact that you failed in the first place. “I think humility is a good thing,” says Ogdon.
David acquires Goliath
The original Swiftpage team consisted of Ogdon and two others who basically worked without pay for two years to get the software ready to ship. When the platform was ready they decided to give it away to about 600 business partners. The thing took off and within about two years Swiftpage had a purchase offer from KPMG on the table.
Fortunately, Ogdon’s sense of timing worked out in a roundabout way. Just before the KPMG offer came in he had hired John Oechsle to take over as CEO. Ogdon identifies himself as a product CEO, so he was more than happy to cede that seat to Oechsle, who was more of a traditional CEO. So when the offer to purchase Swiftpage died on the table at the eleventh hour, Oechsle suggested that instead of selling Swiftpage, what if they offered to purchase Sage’s Act! and Saleslogix platforms instead? Now Swiftpage was good for about $5M in annual revenue at this point, and Sage was an industry leader with much higher revenues. To make a long story short, what started as a “what if” scenario actually came to fruition after some wheeling and dealing. With some external financial backing Swiftpage acquired both Sage products in 2013.
The past is a learning tool, and Bob Ogdon certainly picked up a few tips from his entrepreneurial experience. So how is he doing these days? According to the man himself, “I’m having a blast.”
Bob Ogdon Timeline
- 1984 — Midway Games, Chicago, IL
- 1991 — Founds Mammoth Micro Productions, Denver, CO
- 1996 — Sells Mammoth to the Washington Post
- 1996 — Founds MSHOW, Denver, CO
- 2000 — Dot-com crash implodes MSHOW (eventually sold to Intercall)
- 2002 — Founds Swiftpage, Denver, CO
- 2004 — Launches Swiftpage application
- 2013 — Swiftpage acquires Act! and Saleslogix from Sage