RICS Software Inc: Overcoming obvious challenges and looking ahead to the future


rics.png

RICS Software Inc. was originally founded in 1982 in Iowa in order to help with inventory management, and now includes software solutions for retailers and brands. In my conversation with CEO, Jason Becker, he details the transformation RICS software took from its original development, through new ownership and management, to its current status. 

I very much took an inward look at the business and it took me a while to get my feet under me to understand those dynamics. When I say a while, I mean 12-18 months. When I landed, we didn’t make any immediate knee-jerk changes. I studied the business and studied the market to try to really understand it at a level that would enable us and our management team to make the next decisions count in a big way.
— Jason Becker

Jason shares the status of RICS when he joined the company in 2007; a team was built to innovate the product, the product was in place, and the subscription model was starting to take hold, however, the company was not profitable. Over a period of 12-18 months, he spent a lot of time and investment in determining the role of the product, the market, and how to ensure that any changes made, were done efficiently and with great impact. He details current status, and what’s to come for RICS. 

Topics in this episode

  • The most important things they do for their clients

  • Thinking about market/product fit, as opposed to product/market fit

  • How software like RICS is bought and sold in the market

  • The specific marketing difficulties for their product 

  • “Niching down” and delivering value to that category 

  • The future of networking connectivity they can provide for their clients 

  • Why looking at their competitors is not a beneficial strategy 

  • Some of the lessons he has learned through the course of being the CEO at RICS


Transcript

Mike Kelly:                          Welcome to the podcast. Today, we have Jason Becker with RICS Software. Jason, welcome.

Jason Becker:                     Good morning. How are you?

Mike Kelly:                          I'm good. Is it RICS Software or just RICS?

Jason Becker:                     It's RICS Software, technically. So, RICS Proper is called RICS Software Inc. We've got a couple of products within RICS Software. One is RICS for Retailers, and another is RICS Connect, which is used by brands.

Mike Kelly:                          All right. Give us a quick overview of both of those products. Give us the elevator pitch.

Jason Becker:                     Yeah. Sure. So, the simplest way to describe what we do is we create connectivity solutions for retail. More specifically, we enable retailers to run their business with point of sale, inventory management, ordering and connectivity with the brands they do business with, as well as their end customers. Make sense?

Mike Kelly:                          Yup.

Jason Becker:                     So, we do that for mostly North American footwear and apparel retailers. Those retailers range in size from single store, shop local retailers, all the way up to national franchise organizations or a national footprint like New Balance's licensed retail.

Mike Kelly:                          Okay. Got it. So, you're not a startup, and this is the Startup Competitors Podcast.

Jason Becker:                     No. That's right. We are not a startup. We are most definitely an end-up. One of the things I've heard described-

Mike Kelly:                          An end-up?

Jason Becker:                     An end-up. So, essentially, we've gone through all of those pains associated with finding product market fit overcoming some of the challenges that are obvious when you're trying to establish yourself. The company itself has been in business for 37 years. So, it was originally founded in Iowa by a gentleman who had a friend running an athlete's foot store, who wanted to use software to manage his inventory, but didn't have anything.

Jason Becker:                     So, this business was founded in 1982 and has existed ever since, which is very rare and extraordinarily uncommon in our tech world, where it's easy come, easy go.

Mike Kelly:                          That's like software from when software first came around.

Jason Becker:                     It's pretty remarkable that the business has been around for that long. I think for many years, especially under its first and original ownership, they did such a great job of taking care of their customers and making sure people were happy with them as their partner. So, we're grateful to be operating the business now. That transition took place in 2007, and we've been operating ever since.

Mike Kelly:                          So, there's some specific reasons I want and have you on, which we'll get to as we start to unpack this maybe with some questions. When did you join as CEO?

Jason Becker:                     So, I joined RICS Software in 2012. So, I'm just now in my seventh year. It's been an extraordinary journey. I joined the company at an interesting time, which we can get into if you want to pry in a little bit further.

Mike Kelly:                          I was just going to ask you, could you paint a picture of the company when you joined?

Jason Becker:                     Yeah. So, to be very candid, we were chatting before this conversation, I think, we're an open and transparent company. We like to tell the same story everywhere we go, whether it's with our clients or with the market or with friends in the industry. So, I'll shoot you as straight as I can here.

Jason Becker:                     RICS Software was at a very interesting time in 2012 because it had gone through a change of ownership five years earlier. There was a team built to innovate on the product that was inherited from its prior ownership and leadership. They did a lot of things right, and they were able to take an on-premise installed piece of software that was hosted locally and retailers, servers that were in closets with cob webs, and they made all of that work through web-hosted servers and web-delivered products, which was extraordinary accomplishment in 2007 to 2012.

Jason Becker:                     At the time of originally looking at buying this business, the thesis was that it could take a perpetual license model and make it a subscription model, which in 2004 and 2005, that was pretty early days for thinking about a subscription model.

Jason Becker:                     The second thesis was that you can take an on-premise, locally hosted solution, and deliver it over the web, also very early days for that type of consideration. The team built in 2007-2008 focused on those two things. It was about making the product work on a web-delivered basis, and implementing a subscription revenue model.

Jason Becker:                     So, fast forward to 2012 when I joined, that product was in place largely, and the subscription model was starting to take hold. The company was definitely spending more than it was making at that time, which was uncommon for me. So, prior to being involved at RICS, I was in management consulting, and I was working with really large enterprises that made a lot of money, and were making more money than they were spending. They were very profitable.

Jason Becker:                     So, coming to RICS Software was an interesting situation for me because I had not worked inside or on an unprofitable business before. So, I came in with this mindset that I was going to help turn around and make this company profitable.

Mike Kelly:                          Real quick, you have to give real numbers, but order of magnitude, how upside down was it from a revenue to expense perspective?

Jason Becker:                     Fair question. It was two to one, just about.

Mike Kelly:                          Okay. Perfect.

Jason Becker:                     For every dollar of revenue, we were spending almost two. It was a very intense period of investment that the business had been in. So, it was not that way because it was misled or mismanaged. It was that way because there was a heavy investment cycle of standing this product up and delivering it via the web, and the customer base hadn't caught up yet.

Mike Kelly:                          I don't know if I asked you this before. Where did that capital for that investment come from? Was that just retained earnings in the business that they had built up a war chest to fund this transformation or had RICS gone out and gotten private investment to do that transformation?

Jason Becker:                     Great question. So, when the company was purchased in or around 2007, there was a primary lead investor. There were a couple of small investors with him. Then in 2012, RICS Software went out and did an angel round from the HALO group, which was a part of TechPoint at that time. So, there was a small investment from HALO that went alongside of the bootstrapped entrepreneurial investment that first went in to purchasing the company, but beyond that, RICS has never done a traditional or formal raise. There's been no venture capital injected in the business. It's been built entirely on the back of profit and operations.

Mike Kelly:                          Perfect. So, then the next set of questions, so that's a beautiful picture of where things were when you stepped into the business. Now, let's talk a little bit about the space that you're in. You compete against massive venture-backed point of sale systems like Square, as well as people who have built I'm sure custom ... THere's got to be at least tens, if not hundreds, of custom solutions for retail, probably retail in particular and things like that.

Mike Kelly:                          So, when you look at that landscape, when you got there, how did you navigate, "Okay. This is the market we're in at this time. We're upside down in terms of maybe some of the core financials. Where do we go from here?" Talk a little bit about how you and the team figured out where to go?

Jason Becker:                     That's an excellent question, and we could spend the rest of the time talking about how we navigated that-

Mike Kelly:                          ... and we will.

Jason Becker:                     ... and how we figured that out. I guess the simplest place to start is when I landed at RICS, I spent a lot of time trying to really understand our target market and really understand our ideal client. I spent a lot of time on site with clients. I invested a lot of energy into interviewing them and understanding, "Why are you using RICS? Why did you pick RICS? Why do you continue using RICS?" to try to understand who is it that we're serving.

Jason Becker:                     So, I took a very market-focused approach to studying the business that we were in and really try to understand who is our customer, and are they the right customer, and where do we need to be focused on as a business to make sure we keep our customers, and add the right nuance into our client portfolio.

Jason Becker:                     So, I very much took an inward look at the business, and it took me a while to get my feet under me, to understand those dynamics. When I say awhile, I mean 12 to 18 months. When I landed, we didn't make any immediate knee jerk changes. I studied the business and studied the market to try to really understand it at a level that would enable us and our management team to make the next decisions count in a big way.

Jason Becker:                     The easiest thing for me and our team to have done would have been to try to paint by numbers by looking at whatever someone else is doing and mimic their features or mimic their go-to market, but we took an inward approach and studied our clients, studied our market, and that's how we got started in this evolution and in this journey that we've been on over the last seven years.

Mike Kelly:                          So, you spent 18 months talking to customers. What did you learn?

Jason Becker:                     That's a great question. What did I learn? Let's see. I learned that what we do for our clients is an essential part of their daily workflow. The expectations of us are that the product always works no matter what. They don't care how hard it is for us to build something. They don't even really want to know how hard it is to build something. It just doesn't matter. There's an expectation that what we do for them will just work and always work.

Jason Becker:                     In that sense, we are very much a necessary utility for them. It's like think about your home. Think about whoever is supplying power to your home. You don't really care how hard it is for a Vectren to make your home work, but you do expect it to work everyday, and our clients are no different. They have a very high expectation for our product meeting their basic needs, which when it really comes down to it, the most important thing we do for our clients is twofold. One, take payment at the register, right? Transact with their customers. It's essential. If that has any service interruption at all, we're in big trouble.

Jason Becker:                     Second thing we do is help them manage their inventory. So, we are able to help retailers make more money by smartly managing inventory using the data coming out of our system. So, those are really the two primary use cases. It's all about the inventory, making sure they've got the right stuff at the right time for the right customer. That's what I learned.

Mike Kelly:                          So, once you understood that, talk to me about how you leveraged that into a strategy, whether it's product strategy to team, how you market, how you position yourself in sales. I'd be actually interested in all three of those. Once you understand where you are and now where you need to go, it's very easy, I think, to say, "Okay. We need to be over there."

Mike Kelly:                          I would even argue it's easier to get there if you're starting from a blank sheet of paper, and you get to build the team around that vision for where you're going. When you have an existing team and an existing product, you can't just start moving in that direction. Sometimes you might have to take a couple of steps back or sideways to do that.

Mike Kelly:                          So, I'd love that you start with any of those, any of the three that you want, but I'd love to hear, okay. Once you understand where you're going, how do you actually start to make that change? Because this doesn't just applied up to product and product market fit. This is anything in a business when you're trying to implement change and figure out how do we get to where we need to be. Just a light topic like that.

Jason Becker:                     Yeah. You're asking really easy questions.

Mike Kelly:                          Sorry.

Jason Becker:                     It's so very early in the day here. No. It's all good. I love this. Let's unpack. Let's unpack a concept first, and then I'm going to try to answer each piece of your question. I think there's a very celebrated construct in the technology world that is product market fit. The way I think about that is turn that on its side. I try to think about market product fit, but there's a lot of stuff in between the market and the product that matters just as much as the product.

Jason Becker:                     I'll try to make the argument here that those things in the middle between the market and the product will really determine just how good a fit your product is with the market. So, number one, and this anchors back to what I said about trying to understand a market, try to understand what are the problems that our target market faces. So, it's market, then problems. Okay.

Jason Becker:                     Now that we've understood all the problems, what are the potential solutions that fit with that problem space? Okay. Now that we have some idea about the solutions that deal with that problem space, who do we need on our team to make all those things come true? What kind of organization do we need to be in order to be the people that make those solutions? Do we have that organization? Yes or no? Okay.

Jason Becker:                     Once we have our organization that fits with our strategy, strategy for us is all about making sure there's alignment between the market, the problems they have, and the solutions they need. So, that informs our strategy, then comes the organization structure, and then we make stuff, right? We make products or we make services, and then deliver that back to the market.

Jason Becker:                     So, you're absolutely right that change and certainly transformational change does not happen quickly because those things in between market and product and product market fit are really challenging to understand at a deep level and then build. Building an organization is hard. Recruiting the right people to be the folks that put these solutions in place that fit the problems, that fit the market is a challenge. It's something we're always working on. That work will never be done, and that is really what accounted for most of our slow going transformation there. 2012 to 2015 and 2016 was really challenging to move that organization to where we needed it to be in order to be creating the solutions that we have and we are right now. It's very difficult.

Mike Kelly:                          It's interesting as you're talking about that, there's something that comes to mind for me. Julie DeSutter, who's our COO at Developertown, I used to work for her years ago, and back when I worked for her before, she introduced me to Dean Meyer. Do you know Dean Meyer? He's a management consultant. He's written a ton of books. They're some of the most boring books on the planet. I think the one of them that I read was this Cybernetic Structure of Organizations or something like that. It pretty much read like that title, but the content is amazing.

Mike Kelly:                          I'll spare you having to read that book. He basically came up with this model, which says every organization has five systems. When you find the pathology in an organization, it's really a breakdown between the balance of those five systems. It's internal economy. So, once money comes in, how does it move through the organization? How do you account for things, pay for things, things like that.

Mike Kelly:                          Structure, org chart, culture, how we treat one another? Do we do what we say we do? Methods and tools, so the way that we do work, and then metrics and rewards, the incentives that we put behind the work that we do.

Mike Kelly:                          So, those five systems, and he does a great job of basically saying, "Look, if you look at any big public company, what's the first thing a CEO does when they come in? They change the structure. Why? Because of the five systems, it's the easiest thing to change. It's very visible. Everybody sees it, but you've in effect addressed none of the actual problems by just changing the seats and the people," right?

Mike Kelly:                          All your problems still exist because most of your problems are probably culture, internal economy, the way that you're moving money through your organization, methods and tools, the way that you do the work or incentives, metrics and rewards, and structure, while it's important, doesn't address any of those.

Mike Kelly:                          Anyway, while you we're talking about that, I was reliving that model in my head, which Julie has beaten into me, thankfully, over the years, which is you can't look for the easy solve. You have to look at the balance between all five of those to figure out how do we go from where we are to where we need to be.

Jason Becker:                     Yeah. Well, that's such a fascinating topic, and I've read a lot about that subject. I've studied it in my master's program at Northwestern, and I'm an organizational strategy design student. I consider myself still a student. It's something I love to read about, think about. Honestly, I want to spend the rest of my career working on those challenges because it's a never-ending requirement for every organization to always be thinking about the org's design and do we have the right skills, knowledge, and experience in our organization to do the work we need to do in order to meet the market's need? Yes or no? That work is never done because the market needs are always moving, and you can't always stay up with those changes without making organizational enhancements or changes and movements.

Jason Becker:                     I'll just answer your topic very directly and say my view of org design is that it really has very little to do with the boxes on a hierarchical org chart. If some of my teammates were sitting here with us this morning, I think they might even express frustration at how slow I am to make those kinds of visible adjustments or changes. The reason I'm slow on that front is because experience and what I've read has taught me that those are the most ineffective ways to make real change.

Jason Becker:                     The best way to make organizational change is through really understanding the skill and knowledge fit with the essential work to be done, and that's way more important than where those boxes are on a hierarchy. It's way more important than who reports to who. We don't spend a lot of time concerned with those issues in our company because it doesn't really make a big difference.

Mike Kelly:                          All right. I distracted you from the original question. So, product, marketing, sales, talk to me a little bit more about how you guys continued that migration.

Jason Becker:                     Yeah. So, let's talk about sales first, okay? So, I think it's an interesting subject, especially when you take it through the lens of our market and our company. Here are a couple of fun facts for the way software like ours is bought and sold in our market. Number one, retailers don't like to make system changes.

Mike Kelly:                          Does anybody like to make a system change?

Jason Becker:                     It depends, right? It depends on if the system you're purchasing is something you can just start using without migrating from something else or if it's an add-on or a bolt-on, but what we do for our retailers is core to their business processes and business functions.

Jason Becker:                     So, change is perceived as difficult and unwanted, even if the benefits on the other side of that change are obvious. Most retailers go into the market looking for a new solution because they're forced into doing so. Either their current provider has gone out of business or has stopped supporting the product or has declared they're no longer developing on the product, they're almost galvanized into the market out of force.

Mike Kelly:                          Yeah. They're angry about it, too, right?

Jason Becker:                     Not happy. They're not happy to have to make a change. In many cases, there are household name retailers that you and I know that are using systems that were built many, many years ago, maybe even several decades ago. We have brought on new clients to our network that they were using systems where the reporting didn't even work, where they could not report how their business is performing and what sold yesterday. It was impossible.

Jason Becker:                     So, we find these clients in the state of suffering with what they have because their perception of change is that it's going to be so traumatic to their business that they're unwilling to do it. So, we spend a lot of time talking with people about what that transition will be like for their business.

Jason Becker:                     So, bringing that back to this topic of sales, when you know that most of our new business is coming as a result of those retailers having to make a change, the way you approach sales and marketing is perhaps a little different than greenfield selling, where anyone can be your customer, and we do digital funny business on the internet to try to spread our message as far and wide as we can.

Jason Becker:                     What it requires us to do is be very precise in our targeting of the market, and very exact with who we are trying to approach, and the kinds of conversations we want to have with those people because there's very little our organization can do that will compel a retailer using another legacy incumbent to consider a change. It's challenging.

Jason Becker:                     I've really challenged myself to think carefully about that and make sure I'm not just making an excuse for why sales is hard, but the fact of the matter is compelling a retailer to move on from legacy entrenched incumbent is really challenging.

Jason Becker:                     So, we've had a direct sales and marketing effort for the time I've been involved at RICS. That has taken many variations, many different forms, and it's because we haven't got it all the way figured out yet, right? I mean, when the market condition is such that selling in and compelling people to make a change has such a natural barrier or a gravity against that change, you really have to be quite creative.

Jason Becker:                     So, through that learning, we've influenced our product roadmap and our strategy as a company to account for that. So, our learning stemming from our sales and marketing effort is really informing our product strategy and our service delivery strategy.

Jason Becker:                     Once we figured out that client acquisition was going to be such a challenge, given some of the gravity of staying with entrenched incumbents, we prioritized service delivery for our multi-store retailers, and even some of our single-store retailers. We really went above and beyond to create an amazing service experience for these retailers, so that whenever a footwear and apparel retailer in the United States starts their consideration process, which, oh, by the way, there's no ad we can run on Google that's going to force them to do that, whenever they start that consideration process, when they talk to someone about the experience they've had with RICS, they need to say, "This product works, and those folks will do whatever it takes to help us if we have a challenge." That's been our strategy for a number of years is to just overdeliver on the service side to make sure that our reputation speaks for itself.

Mike Kelly:                          Did the service delivery team have that core focus when you stepped into RICS in 2012?

Jason Becker:                     RICS Software has always been a service-oriented company, and I hope it always will be.

Mike Kelly:                          Okay. So, you didn't have to completely build that from scratch or-

Jason Becker:                     We didn't have to build it from scratch. However, we had to make some significant changes in defining internally what excellent service means. The old way at RICS was really about doing whatever the client asked. When I landed on Plymouth Rock at RICS, our product roadmap was a list of couple of thousand feature requests from clients. Clients had the telephone numbers of developers and would call up a developer and say, "Hey, make this thing work differently in your product," and they would say, "Okay. Just give me a few minutes. I'll call you right back." That's a terrible way to run a business.

Mike Kelly:                          That's horrifying.

Jason Becker:                     It's really scary, right? Cutting off that line of communication and putting formal lines of client service communication in place between our business and our clients was a real difficult transition for our business. At first, people were unhappy with us, "Hey, I used to call so and so, and they used to do such and such for me," and we had to change and move beyond that, which was hard.

Jason Becker:                     So, RICS has always been a service-oriented culture, but we had to redefine what service meant for our business, so that we could scale that and grow on a service culture that was stronger than what we found in 2012. Does that make sense?

Mike Kelly:                          Yeah. Totally. The last time we talked, you had mentioned maybe it was around the time you came in or while you were there you had read the book Niche Down. Do you have a brief recap of some of the core concepts there and how you applied those at RICS?

Jason Becker:                     So, this concept of Niche Down, it's something I've actually fallen into over the last couple of years. How I stumbled upon this body of work was I saw Christopher Lochhead speak at a conference in San Francisco, and I think it was the Drift Conference in San Francisco. He was part of a panel. Most panels at conferences are not great at all. They're awful, but this one was different.

Jason Becker:                     For me, it was different because of Christopher Lochhead. He was phenomenal on this panel, and grabbed my attention unlike almost any panelist I've ever seen. I'm really fanning out here for a second, but he caught my attention, and I thought, "You know what? This guy is really smart. He's got an interesting point of view. I'm going to go deep on this person and try to understand his methodology and the way he sees the world."

Jason Becker:                     So, I went really deep on the Lochhead podcast series, and also started reading his work and really trying to understand his point of view. What I learned from his philosophy of niching down is keep zooming in to that problem space that is the best fit for the market you're trying to serve, the company you have, and the products and services you make, and niche down until you can be a category king or queen. That's the core idea is making sure that you're able to become the category king or queen because being anything less than the category king or queen stinks.

Mike Kelly:                          Actually, that's very congruent with Jim Collins' Hedgehog concept.

Jason Becker:                     Right. Do something really well. The hedgehog survives because it's got a defense mechanism that's extraordinary, right? So, in a similar vein, this idea of niching down is all about getting into a space where you can really be the owner of that market. That is something we've definitely pursued. When I joined RICS in 2012, of course, we were within footwear and apparel, but that's a very broad category, right? I mean, just sitting here, we can think of 20 variations of a footwear and apparel retailer.

Jason Becker:                     So, when we applied that niche down concept to our market and we start to zoom in on who are the clients using our product, here's what we find. We find that we actually have over 50% of the North American running specialty market using RICS. We have close to 50% of the multi-line family footwear market, so your local shoes store in towns all across America. We have a growing concentration in urban athletic apparel and footwear.

Jason Becker:                     So, when we look at our market, you start to add segmentation to the category footwear and apparel. You can see some niche down categories where we're not only the leader of that space. We're dominating that space.

Jason Becker:                     Now, that's something that's been built organically over time, but as we think about our future, our focus is on creating value at the network level above and beyond the individual client level because when you put the lens of who are our clients on our market, you start to see those commonalities of run specialty retailer, multi-line family footwear retailer, and there's some crossover between the brands and products they carry between those two sub-segments.

Jason Becker:                     So, we've built a strategy around how can we deliver value to this niche down category that no single retailer within that category could achieve on their own. So, we're extraordinarily focused on delivery value to these segments of retail that would be impossible for Square or Vend or any other competitor to do this trying to be all things to all retailers. We're taking a niche down focus for our client base to do things for them that no other generalist provider would ever consider because it would be too specific, too niched down, and too concentrated on one sub-segment of retail.

Jason Becker:                     Our strategy has been informed by this idea of really niching down, owning the category, and doing things that only the owner of the category would do.

Mike Kelly:                          Contrast the company today with the company seven years ago. So, give us current stats. So, you've shared a little bit about what the company was, where it was when you stepped into it. Talk about where you guys are today.

Jason Becker:                     So, fast forward seven years, the company is three times greater in revenue. Profitability is there, which is always exciting. In 2012, for every dollar of revenue, we were spending two. Now, for every dollar of revenue, we're spending 60 to 70 cents. So, we're quite profitable. Our margins are good. Our service deliver is excellent. Our product is extraordinarily stable, very efficiently hosted in the Azure cloud. So, we're doing things right. The business is working. Seven years ago, the business wasn't working.

Jason Becker:                     Now, you can make the argument that, "Hey, you got to go through the deep of software as a service. You're going to come out the other side and it's going to be fine," and this was an inevitable conclusion, but I know a lot of people who've worked very hard at RICS over the last seven years that would tell you it was not an inevitable conclusion. We had to make a lot of difficult choices, and a lot of strategic decisions that got us to where we are today. So, we're very proud of it, but we know that what's ahead of us is going to be even more challenging, even more prosperous if we make the next moves right.

Mike Kelly:                          What's ahead of you?

Jason Becker:                     Fair question. So, back to this idea that we're focused on creating network value, we've applied the lens of niching down and owning our category, but also the concepts of network thinking. I've read a lot and studied all the concepts that Kevin Kelly talks about related to network thinking and network economies.

Jason Becker:                     Look, we're not a social network, but when you look at our business, there are network properties that are true about our client base. Most of them carry similar products. Most of them are in similar situations, brick and mortar retail trying to grow, trying to be profitable, et cetera. So, there's a lot of commonalities between the people and the businesses we serve.

Jason Becker:                     When you apply the network lens on top of that, what you see are some obvious opportunities for a player like us to provide value to that network of retailers that no one would be able to achieve on their own. Let me give you a specific example.

Jason Becker:                     So, in order for retail management systems like ours to work, retailers have to get product catalog data from brands to put that into their management systems, so they can write orders, receive inventory, and sell that inventory with accuracy.

Jason Becker:                     Well, if you look at our 2,000 retailers, if they're all selling similar products, and let's just pick one for an example, if they're all selling New Balance shoes, why would each retailer have to go to New Balance and get that data? Why can't we do that for them? Why can't we do the work once, distribute that information and content across our network, and take tens of thousands of hours of waste out of our client network?

Jason Becker:                     That's an example of something we're doing to add network value that no one individual player can do on their own. So, that is a strategy that was born from this consideration of, "Let's figure out the problems that our clients face. Let's really understand where the pain and friction and their business stems from, and let's go see if we can solve some of those things."

Jason Becker:                     In the beginning, the strategy was not obvious, and when we first started talking with our retail clients and the brands they do business with about this idea that RICS Software would play a connective role between the retailers and the brands, some folks looked at us like we were totally crazy. They'll never share data. They'll never work with you in that capacity, and we thought they were wrong.

Jason Becker:                     The reason we thought they were wrong is because we can observe that digitally native companies are powered by connectivity. One of the biggest problems in retail in 2019 is that a lot of the big players, both on the brand and on the retailer side, one, they're not digitally native, but worse, they're not even digitally relevant. They're not even equipped to play the game that's being played in 2019 through systems, and technology, and data, and information, and artificial intelligence. They're not in the game.

Jason Becker:                     So, for us as a technology company, we have a responsibility to bring those capabilities to our market and make sure they're not only prepared to be in that game, but they're prepared to win inside of that game.

Jason Becker:                     So, when we started thinking about our strategy, we could have very easily looked at all the features that were being built and distributed by these other "competitors". We didn't do any of that. We don't spend any time thinking about what some of these lightweight POS and inventory companies are doing because they're not focused on creating network value for the people we serve, and we are, and that's a differentiator for us, and that's why we have focused on our market because it's not helpful for us to obsess over what those other folks are doing because they're not in the game that we're in. Does that make sense?

Mike Kelly:                          You have probably articulated that better than anybody in 100 episodes has articulated that.

Jason Becker:                     What? I appreciate the feedback. You're making my morning here, but that is how we think about our business. I think that is what will put some separation between us and some of the providers that would consider themselves our competitors. The reason we're in a position to add this network value is because we've built up concentration in these niched down categories over many years.

Jason Becker:                     Once you put the lens of network thinking on this market, what we're doing starts to appear very obvious, but no one else is working on that like we are because they don't have that concentration. They don't have that network, right? It would be very difficult for a new entrant to come in and just drop in connectivity to this market without one side of the marketplace already a part of their solution set.

Mike Kelly:                          When you've stepped into the role, you certainly had preconceived notions of what it would demand like what would a day look like, what would you be doing, and what were going to be the hard decisions. When you reflect back on the last seven years, what was the hardest thing that you did that you weren't prepared initially to do, that it wasn't even on your radar?

Jason Becker:                     There are quite a few things that come to mind of what was very hard that I was unprepared to do. I'll share a couple. One, finding extraordinary patience within myself has been a very big challenge for me. I came from a world of management consulting where we were brought in to do very efficient and effective assessments that would result in implementation plans that were immediately acted on, and we were able to navigate projects and opportunities without a ton of regard for resistance, and we're able to just move.

Jason Becker:                     Working inside of a company and navigating the realities of organization building, and organizational change, and people's expectations, and people falling out of fit with the organization, and me ultimately not only having to transition through changes, but then live and operate on the other side of those changes was a new way of working for me. It's one that I understood, and I thought I knew a lot about, but practicing that from within a company is very different than practicing that as an external consultant.

Jason Becker:                     So, finding that patience was really hard, and something that I just didn't have the experience of when I got started at RICS. So, I would point to finding that patience to navigating change and giving people, really, the time and space to embrace new was a challenge for me because my motor is high. I run hot everyday. My appetite for change and evolution and transformation is really high.

Jason Becker:                     I don't know if that's an innate thing or if it's a learned behavior because of the work that I've done, and prior life as a consultant or studied at Northwester, whatever, but I love this work. So, my appetite for the things that we're doing, challenging everything, exploring things, and testing and moving is really high. So, dealing with and managing through a slower pace was a challenge. Finding that patience was hard.

Jason Becker:                     I would say in addition to finding patience, probably the hardest thing that I've had to do in the role that I'm in as CEO is have conversations with people when really good people who've done extraordinary things for our business are no longer a fit for our organization. That is hard.

Jason Becker:                     I don't know if it will ever become easy. I hope it doesn't. I think if it becomes easy, there's something wrong with me, right? Those are really hard conversations, and it's something that I never had to do as a management consultant, but it is probably the hardest thing that I do as a CEO is to sit down with someone else, have a face-to-face conversation, look them in the eye and appreciate everything they've done to help contribute, and also acknowledge together that if I were building the team now, they would not be the person hired in to do that work, and that's such a hard conversation, and it's something I'm still working at, I want to be better at, I want to be the best at, but I don't think it will ever get easier no matter how many times I go through that and I practice that. I would say that's very much more the hardest things I've had to do.

Mike Kelly:                          That resonates.

Jason Becker:                     Yeah. It's not easy. It's not easy, and I don't think it ever will be.

Mike Kelly:                          When you look forward, what's the skill that you don't have today or that you're just starting to develop today that you feel like you're going to be investing in for the foreseeable future?

Jason Becker:                     Personally or as an organization?

Mike Kelly:                          Yes.

Jason Becker:                     Personally, I would say delegation. It's very challenging for me. As a management consultant, the type of work we did was very implementation-focused, and I was always involved in the very finite details of everything we were doing. I've carried that forward with me. It's very difficult for me to let go of participating at a low level of detail on what we're working on in part because I really love it. It's a joy for me. I love talking about what we're doing. I love challenging our assumptions. I love being in conversations with people about what's not going well. It's sport, and it's a joy. It's a source of joy for me.

Jason Becker:                     Zooming out and removing myself from where the problems are the hottest, it's not even fun. I don't want to work that way. I want to be in the mix. I want to be very close to the fire in that sense.

Jason Becker:                     So, that's a skill that I'm trying to get better at, and I'm trying to develop within myself. I think the way I'll ultimately get the motivation to do it I recognize that it's the best thing for other people's development for me to step a few paces back and allow people who are learning some of those things for the first time to really struggle, and to overcome things that from my vantage point might appear obvious, but it's because I've seen it play out 100 times. I know the way that movie is going to end. I've seen it before.

Jason Becker:                     For people to have the experiences that will enrich them as professionals, I have to give them the space to go through that themselves and learn how the movie ends without me spoiling it. So, that's something I'm trying to learn and work on.

Jason Becker:                     I would say at an organizational level, something that we're not great at yet is intense cross-functional collaboration. We're an organization that makes things. We're an organization that supports a service. We're an organization that goes out into the market and talks to people, and the skills that make each of us who do that work great don't necessarily translate into those other functional areas, and we need to be better at intense cross-functional collaboration.

Jason Becker:                     To get there, we've got to let go of our egos related to what makes each of us good at our particular function, and start to appreciate more what goes in to making others in additional functions great. I think that I'm really obsessed on that subject right now. I'm trying to figure out how can I get people to drop their guards a little bit, and try to walk in the other person's shoes to understand from their vantage point, "What goes into making JIRA tickets? Why is that important? Why is it important that we try to translate a Word document or business requirements into JIRA tickets?"

Jason Becker:                     Until you really understand that, it all looks like funny business. It all looks like a waste of time or pushing paper. When you understand the way products are built as a marketer or as a service person, your appreciation for the work we do goes way up. Your ability to talk about what we do goes way up.

Jason Becker:                     So, I want to get to a place in the organization where everybody within it really understands how our business works, and really understands what goes in to making and doing the things that we do. I don't want people to come in and just think about, "Okay. Today, I got to check these 10 boxes for my role." I want people to really have an opportunity to understand, so that we can get to that place of intense cross-functional collaboration because that's what's going to be required for us to take these next evolutionary steps as a business and continue to transform ourselves with where the market is going as we see it.

Mike Kelly:                          I've taken a lot of your time. If people want to get a hold of you to ask any questions or if they want to learn more about RICS, how do they do that?

Jason Becker:                     So, anybody can send me an email. I love talking about these things. I think that's probably obvious this morning. It's not even 9:00 and we're really wrapping here. Send me an email, jbecker, B-E-C-K-E-R, @ricssoftware, R-I-C-S, software.com. Super happy to take any questions you have. You can call me. I probably won't put my phone number on this podcast.

Jason Becker:                     How about this? You send Michael an email, he'll put you in touch with me. That's an open invitation. I love what we do. I love what I do as an org strategist, designer, developer, and would be happy to help anybody.

Mike Kelly:                          Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It's been awesome.

Jason Becker:                     Yeah. You're welcome. Thank you.