By Gary Griffiths, CEO
A few months ago, I wrote a blog named The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I hoped in that piece to honestly assess the opportunities I had inherited when joining iPass and detail the depths of the obstacles in the gauntlet we would be running: investors brandishing pitchforks, customers and partners waving tomahawks, and activists throwing Molotov cocktails. I signed my first 10K, our annual report, as CEO last week, and we are currently in the final throes of closing the fourth quarter of the “new” iPass. It seems like a good time to reflect on the past year.
Well, we promised change, and if you’re a change fan, I think you got what you paid for. There simply aren’t many aspects of the company that are the same – or even similar – to a year ago. For example, just today we met with one of our largest customers, a global giant whose name you’d all recognize. The meeting went pretty well. We gave them an inside view of our roadmap – of iPass SmartConnect, its cool features and customer benefits. And they loved it, except for one thing: “For all the time we’ve been an iPass customer,” their executive said, “this is the first time we’ve ever had a technology briefing – the first time we’ve seen your roadmap.” I was shocked, but that was at least one explanation for customer churn – clearly one of the “bads” we’ve had to deal with.
But one of the “goods,” at least with respect to change is that this customer now realizes that not a single iPass employee that they’d dealt with in the past is still with the company. We’re 100 employees leaner than we were a year ago, and of the 155 on the roster today, more than a third have been on board for less than a year. That’s a lot of change – and the closing gap to profitability is another “good” that we’ve achieved over the past twelve months by operating with a smaller management team and streamlining processes.
Another one of the biggest changes I see – one that’s slightly less obvious, is that we’re a simpler company to understand today. It’s not hard: we’re a software company with a simple message: we deliver connectivity to our customer that is unlimited, everywhere, and invisible. As most of you reading this blog know, we don’t own a single network. We’re like Uber in that we’re the largest Wi-Fi network in the world, but we don’t own a single hotspot. We buy capacity at wholesale and sell it at retail. So in a world where everyone wants to be connected – all the time wherever they are – this is a pretty simple value proposition. Sure, the technology may be tricky, and supplier contract negotiations complex, but who cares? Certainly not our customers who just want to connect. It’s like my car – as long as it starts in the morning, I don’t give a damn how the carburetor works. In fact, I doubt if most cars even have one anymore. Anyway, I’m amazed at how many people have said to me, “You know, I never really understood what iPass did in the past, but now I get it.” Go figure.
Speaking of technology, while the changes in our product are becoming evident – iPass SmartConnect is the poster child for this change – I’m proudest of the new attitude these changes have inspired. Our engineering team is pumped. They are excited. Pee-in-the-pants excited. And that’s partially because every day iPass SmartConnect is showing new, expanding capabilities, n ew features that some day could offer new benefits to a whole new class of customers. It’s like being in a Silicon Valley start up again. Wait – we are a Silicon Valley start up. Except we don’t have to constantly look for more capital from VCs ( but then again, we don’t enjoy the stratospheric valuations of private tech companies, but that’s another blog…).
The other changes, well, you’ve heard them all: a new, much larger addressable market. Lots of new customers. A global network nearly three times the size it was a year ago. A new brand, a new logo, etc. And, most importantly, a new vision of being on one billion devices by the end of next year. Now THAT’S a BIG change from worrying about a couple million international business travelers.
One thing that hasn’t changed much is our stock price – not withstanding the nice run-up we’ve had in the past week. But I truly believe that as long as we don’t stop to rest – that we keep innovating, keep changing, and start executing – the market will take care of our stock price. I believe that enough to have purchased another 50,000 shares last week – that’s 130,000 in total since taking the helm. This past year was setting the table. Now, I’m ready for the feast.