If travelling the world while running a successful software company sounds like a great gig, you’ll want to hear Glenn Rogers’ story, founder of GRR Systems. Glenn graduated from the Genesis Centre in 2013 and has been up to some pretty cool things ever since. His interest in photography is what led him to create DBGallery, a photo management database system used in 28 countries. We caught up with Glenn in Beijing where he had just finished walking the Great Wall, to find out how his company is doing and how he’s living the dream of never checking into an actual office!
1. When did you start GRR Systems?
GR: It was incorporated in Ontario in 1994 for software consulting services.
2. What led you to start GRR Systems?
GR: I had been shooting and selling photos and had a growing collection to manage. There wasn’t any photo management software available for organizing collections, so I started my own. That was in 2003. At the time I wasn’t thinking of making it commercially available. A year later I branded it DB Gallery and started selling it.
3. What did you like most about being at the Genesis Centre?
GR: The advisory board that they set up was a huge benefit. There was a great deal of experience and business intelligence on my board. Their knowledge of business strategy still plays a major role in how my company is run.
4. Your product, DB Gallery, has been getting a lot of uptake. What makes it different from the free tools that are available for managing and editing photos?
GR: The free tools are for individuals. DBGallery provides a concurrent-user tool which gives access and permissions to employees for corporate photo collections. It also offers advanced features which the other tools don’t provide. One example is the web server plugin, which gives secure access to portions of the photo collection via the web even when a collection is managed internally. Another example is a data import tool which takes existing image data and imports it directly into DBGallery’s database.
5. People think they can “get by” with multiple folders for managing photos. What is the main benefit of DBGallery for people who want to stick with their ad-hoc folder system?
GR: Customers can keep their existing folder structure. DBGallery points back to their original file locations rather than moving them into a proprietary database or file system. It’s the ultimate comfort for them!
6. Who’s your target market?
GR: DBGallery’s customers come from a variety of industries. Our focus was originally on engineering firms, but then we’d gain 10 new education customers. So we tried focusing there, but then gained a dozen marketing agencies. We are going against good start-up business strategy advice, but we chase customers based on where the interest comes in.
7. Where have you been travelling and do you have any good travel adventure stories for those of us who are locked to our desks?
GR: In the past two years I have traveled to Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and numerous cities in China. I just hiked the Great Wall of China. The Chinese call it the “wild wall” and now I understand why. Parts of the wall haven’t been maintained in centuries. Anyone who has hiked the touristy and well-maintained Great Wall can attest to the fact that even there, it’s a bit treacherous. The “wild wall” is insane! It traverses thin mountain peaks with sheer drops of hundreds of metres. Most of the steps are rubble, and sometimes there are 30 steps for every one metre forward so extremely steep stairs. It hits home that the Great Wall was built for war, not comfort.
8. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are just beginning with their start-ups?
GR: Focus on your customers first, then your product. Falling in love with your product (rather than solving a problem) is a slippery slope. The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank is a great book about this.
9. Who inspires you?
GR: My customers. It’s very motivating to hear about new customers using the software. I’m proud that something I created is adding value to other businesses.
10. How can you travel so much and run your company?
GR: My customers are global - in 28 countries to date. 99% of interaction with them is via the internet or over the phone. They don’t care where I am as long as I provide the solution they’re seeking, can communicate effectively, and that I’m available during some part of their regular business day. You get used to working in multiple time zones.
11. What tech publications or books do you read?
GR: I’m reading start-up and sales strategy books. Among my favorites are:
The Lean Startup (Eric Ries)
Crossing the Chasm (Geoffrey Moore),
SPIN Selling (Neil Rackham)
Questions that Sell (Paul Cherry)