Startup Stories: Adapx CEO Ken Schneider on the importance of customer advocates and hiring good people to the company’s success
Editor’s Note: This is a Q&A series that features entrepreneurs and executives who have successfully guided their startups to maturity. It is meant to complement StartUp Beat’s coverage of early-stage startups and an effort to provide further insight into the experiences of entrepreneurs.
Adapx, which was formerly known as Natural Interaction Systems, develops software that speeds data capture and collaboration for mobile teams by turning natural speech, sketch, and handwriting into actionable data in Microsoft Office, SharePoint, CRM, ERP, GIS, Command and Control systems, and a range of other back-end systems. By simply speaking and writing, teams get instant access to structured data collected on paper, touchscreens, mobile devices, and wall displays. Seattle-based Adapx was founded in 1999 and has raised approximately $27 million in funding in four rounds. Chairman and CEO Ken Schneider started at the company in July of 2007.
SUB: Please describe what Adapx does, and its position in the market.
Schneider: Award-winning Capturx software from Adapx speeds data capture and collaboration for mobile teams by turning natural speech, sketch, and handwriting into actionable data in Microsoft Office, SharePoint, CRM, ERP, and a range of back-end systems. With Capturx Forms solutions, teams can easily capture data using tablets or digital pens which instantly send and integrate data into market leading applications without the costs and delays of transcription or complex coding. Capturx Speech and Sketch solutions enable field teams and soldiers to collect data on digital maps through speech, sketching, and handwriting, eliminating the obstacles of cumbersome keyboard-and menu-driven interfaces.
SUB: What was your first entrepreneurial venture?
Schneider: I co-founded Cognisoft with a group of product managers from Microsoft in 1996. At Cognisoft, we created a server platform for monitoring multiple data sources—news, file servers, web—and delivering profile based data to any device. Cognisoft was acquired by Verity in 1997.
SUB: When did you join Adapx, and what job were you hired for?
Schneider: I joined Adapx in July, 2007, as CEO with the mission to turn great underlying intellectual property into scalable enterprise commercial products, raise capital, and build a go-to-market strategy and team.
SUB: What prompted you to join a startup like Adapx in the first place?
Schneider: Adapx had been a world-leading natural use interface R&D and consulting firm—with innovative intellectual property and a great team of scientists. I immediately saw the potential for turning that technology into scalable commercial software and cloud services for automating a broad range of mobile data capture and collaboration scenarios.
SUB: Was there a point at which you knew Adapx would hit it big?
Schneider: As soon as we started shipping products that were integrated into market-leading applications like Office and ArcGIS, our ISV partners start bringing us customers and prospects to help sell their own platforms. We knew we were onto something.
SUB: Was there a ‘tipping point’ (for lack of a better term) when Adapx really picked up steam and where it started growing exponentially?
Schneider: Our tipping point was the release of Capturx for SharePoint. That rounded out a broad product line that included Capturx products for Microsoft Office, Adobe, and Esri’s ArcGIS, which we were then able to sell into large install bases of customers.
SUB: If you had it to do over again, what would the first concrete step to establishing Adapx have been?
Schneider: Since our data capture solutions are very horizontal and applicable to any industry, it can be tempting to chase everything at once. If I were to do it over again, I would focus on fewer markets, such as oil and gas, energy, and manufacturing, where our Capturx data capture products solve a lot of customer problems and deliver very high ROI.
SUB: What were the most significant obstacles to growing Adapx to maturity?
Schneider: As with many companies, our employees and customers are among our most important assets. In the early growth days of any organization, it’s hard to find good people. It’s taken time to build out the high-quality team that we have today working on product development, support and sales. We also had an unusual experience with early customers. In the early days, customers were reluctant to talk publicly about their success with Capturx. Many of our original customers considered Capturx a ‘secret weapon’ and were cautious about letting their competitors in on the secret. Word ultimately got out, and we’re pleased to have 40 public case studies and hundreds of customers.
SUB: What kinds of outside funding have you raised?
Schneider: We have a syndicate of venture capital investors that focus on enterprise software, mobile and cloud applications.
SUB: What was the metric/milestone that indicated to you that Adapx had moved past startup stage?
Schneider: We started by building solid customer proof points for Fortune 500 companies in key industries like oil and gas. Once those companies began growing their deployments into hundreds of seats, we knew that we had moved beyond the startup stage.
SUB: What were the most important lessons you learned about entrepreneurship while building Adapx?
Schneider: At Adapx, I applied lessons that I have learned throughout my entrepreneurial career: hire great people, set and hit milestones that are aggressive and achievable, and always focus on the customer.
Ken Schneider is the Adapx CEO and Chairman of the Board. Since joining Adapx, Ken has led the company’s transformation from a world leading natural user interface consulting firm and DARPA supplier to an award-winning provider of broader data capture and collaboration solutions in the cloud and on desktops for enterprises and the military.
Ken has more than 20 years of senior level P&L accountability and management experience in product management, marketing, business development and strategic planning, and product engineering delivery, for a wide range of venture backed technology companies and industry sectors. He served in several senior director level roles at Microsoft Corporation including MSN, Consumer Products Divisions, Platforms and Tools, and World Wide Sales and Marketing groups. He was responsible for the launch of Microsoft’s worldwide ecommerce platform as well. Ken was both president and founder of Advantage Factory, a Microsoft Certified Partner that provided professional services in program management, business analysis, business process re-engineering and delivering complex, case study level .Net, SOA and Microsoft server-based software engineering solutions to enterprise and federal customers.
He was president and founder of Cognisoft Corporation, a web technology software applications company focused on the development of a suite of enterprise intranet/search products which was acquired by Verity Corporation. In addition he founded and served as chairman of the board for Smartpill Corporation, which developed an innovative non-invasive, medical device capsule technology for diagnosis of multiple disease states and disorders in the Human and Animal GI tract. Ken did his undergraduate work at the University of Oregon and has an MBA from the Pepperdine University School of Business. Ken has also held Director level product management and marketing roles at Nissan Motor Corporation and with the San Francisco Giants baseball franchise.