The security guard of a Calgary office building where Lakshmi Raj and her husband Raj Narayanaswamy rented a small space in the mid-90s may be kicking himself today should he come across Raj in any international business periodical.
“We worked so hard,” laughs Raj as she recalls the endless hours the duo of Canadian software engineers spent tirelessly working on what only they believed to be software that would tap into a revolution about to take place in business.
“We would work at that little office on programming until three in the morning and we’d be right back at it at eight the next morning. One night the security guard came and told us maybe he should invest in whatever it is we were working on because we were so dedicated.”
The couple had spent their savings, maxed out their credit cards, were carrying $100,000 in debt and had failed at three product lines, but Raj says all the naysaying and failure only enhanced their belief that there was still something to be mined out of their journey.
“A lot of friends and people around us at that point would say, ‘You guys should quit and get a job and pay you credit cards off,’ Raj recalls. “All the advice we got was in the opposite direction but we just believed we had something to offer that was productive and helpful.”
It was a time when suddenly, everyone, even grandmas had URL,” Raj says from her Replicon office in San Mateo, California, where the company opened a second site in addition to its Calgary head office and Bangalore support-staff site. “We knew that every five or ten years there was a real revolution in the way things are done, and that the time between those revolutions was getting smaller and smaller, so business was set for some major changes in some of its operations.”
After failing to successfully launch three software-based product lines, the couple began to take on odd consulting jobs to make ends meet. It was in the hands-on experience of being contractors having to keep detailed time records when they hit the eureka that has them projecting $25 million in revenues for 2011.
“That whole administration of tracking your hours and invoicing can be very painful and challenging – no one likes to do it and yet it has to be done. We knew we could create a solution based on the possibilities of the Internet where groups could come in and look at the amount of time being spent on their projects and see what that project is costing them as a result.”
They launched their time-sheet software through their website in 1998, and within two months had their first customers and business grew steadily from thereon in until they were able to pay off their debt and hire a salesperson a year later.
And while the security guard missed his investment opportunity, two of the companies for which the couple was consulting did invest and remain investors in the private company. The couple’s Replicon, Inc. is now considered the worldwide leader in timesheet software solutions, has some 1.5 million users in 70 countries, with 300 staff in the company’s three locations.
“The failure of the first three products, even with all the time and money we invested, really helped us. Our backgrounds are in the actual software engineering, and there were a lot of lessons from the marketing and sales side and even cash management that were very hard lessons to learn and lessons we needed to learn through failure. Looking back, I’m really not sure if I would have the strength to do it again, but we were so involved and into it and we believed we just have to figure this out, and keep trying and keep building.”
Raj says they set their sites on the international market from the starting gates because of the nature of their business, building in things such as different currencies and time zones. Today, Replicon’s client list includes the planet’s heavyweights from Ferrari and Amazon to Cargill and Pitney Bowes, but not before striking out the first go-around.
“Truthfully, we built relationships with companies like Netscape and Microsoft around our failed products, and we were still able to leverage that to get in front of companies like Kraft and HB.”
As the company grew, Raj says she knew to compete against the world’s best would be contingent on the ability to keep pace with new trends and roll out leading-edge innovation faster with a greater pool of the world’s best engineering talent