When I co-founded Clarity Systems we started as a professional services firm focused on solving corporate business problems for the office of finance. Fifteen years later, when Clarity was acquired by IBM, we were a software and professional services firm solving corporate business problems for the office of finance. Our focus on the needs of the CFO provided our talented team and company its north star, allowing each of us to grow and mature to become industry experts and build a sustainable business that would set us apart and on a path to success.
The office of finance became Clarity’s axis but it was our genesis as a professional services firm that set the foundation for all roads that followed.
The introduction of our software business was very natural as our vantage point allowed us to identify underserved market opportunities. Our professional services engagements drove our decision to develop our first product, Clarity Budget Web. Then, our close working relationship with our customers made Clarity Budget Web possible as our MVP was developed in partnership with key customers. Our business model involved collecting front line market intelligence then partnering with our early adopter clients to iterate on software opportunities. This continued as a strategy throughout my career at Clarity.
From the beginning our services business provided cash flow to fund initiatives like our growing software business while ensuring high customer satisfaction. I would argue though that it was our professional services bench strength that became a strategic advantage. In a world where attracting and retaining tech talent is difficult, especially considering the hundreds of graduates we hired, these professionals became domain experts along various career streams within our professional services and software organizations.
So, we grew our services business in tandem with our software business, with a single vision to solve corporate problems for the office of finance. Our professional services team grew dramatically to meet the financial planning and disclosure management needs of our clients. Our theater of professional services talent was encouraged to grow simultaneously, to take on bigger roles, encouraged to explore opportunities in product management, software development, professional services, HR, Marketing, IT, Finance and other areas. Our leadership team was well aware of everyone’s performance and regularly elevated those with high EQ, competency and a desire for continued personal growth into leadership roles. The need to provide continuous opportunity to colleagues and acquaintances was second nature and formed a pillar of Clarity’s culture.
In hindsight, we should have added “Labs” to our company name as our culture encouraged market research to drive improvements in software and services.
The healthy competitive tension between software and services teams made both stronger. Our customer intimacy also generated adjacent non-core business problems that needed to be solved. Problems that could be solved with bespoke implementations of our software or custom development.
A number of ideas however, were real software opportunities that we elected not to pursue due to capital or talent constraints. But were they really constraints? It’s something I continue to think about. At Clarity, like most companies, our incentive structures were to drive growth of our existing business, no one was incented to be thinking about co-creating new Startups. Which leader would voluntarily give up their most talented staff and be supportive of them leaving their group and the company to become founders when they have a sales quota to achieve?
There was no shortage of great business ideas that came out of our Lab and yes, we were successful in bringing strategic initiatives to market. The missed opportunity was co-creating Startups with non-core ideas allowing them to spin out on their own with capital and dedicated independent founders. My personal line of sight was the next Clarity growth milestone, I did not have the leadership maturity to take non-core software ideas to co-create a Startup on its own axis. At the time, I simply did not see the business model — it was personally frustrating. My need to control outcomes limited my ability to identify an alternative progressive approach to Startup formulation.
When I reflect on my time at Clarity Systems, I think about its culture of encouraging people to push themselves into new experiences, providing continuous personal growth and maturity in a research-based environment that challenged staff to experiment and identify a better way. We encouraged our colleagues to fluidly move across the organization with the company benefiting from the knowledge exchange. Co-creating Startups with our talented staff would have been an incredible opportunity.
This is why I joined my partners to create Sherpa Venture Studio. We are founders partnering with founders with viable enterprise software or managed services ideas at varying stages of maturity. We believe that scalable business ideas start through a set of personal experiences.
With funding and our venture studio services, we co-create Startups with founders. Our active participation shortens the venture maturity curve and ultimately reduces risk. You can learn more about Sherpa Venture Studio https://www.sherpaventures.ca/ or follow me on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/frankpizzolato/.