Business Name: BlackLine Systems, a finance and accounting solutions service
Type of Business: High Tech
Business Location: Woodland Hills, California, United States
Reason for starting
I’ve always had a passion for technology and finance. So, after a successful career with Sungard Treasury Systems, I basically got bored and set out to do something on my own. I was originally focusing on providing a wealth management solution to First National Bank of Nebraska when a contact there expressed frustration over the company’s manual process of reconciling its books. From this initial conversation, BlackLine Systems (as we know it today) was born. A programmer at heart, I went to work developing an automated solution for account reconciliations and re-shifted the company’s focus to address the need in this previously un-served market. A few years later, we made the decision to shift to a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) business model, an uncertain and somewhat risky move considering it meant (significantly) less upfront cash for BlackLine. But, I believed more customers would be willing to sign on in the beginning due to the lower capital expenditure. The gamble paid off. Almost all SaaS customers increase their number of licenses over time, generating more and more recurring revenue for the company. I am now very proud to have a client roster that includes such household names as AT&T, Boeing, Costco, eBay, Northrop Grumman and United Airlines. And the list goes on.
How do you define success?
I feel blessed (and therefore, successful) because I am surrounded each day at work by smart, hard-working people who I truly respect and enjoy being around. Happy clients are another key indicator of success. There’s nothing like hearing clients tell you that what BlackLine has provided them has really made their lives easier. That they can now leave the office at a reasonable hour during their month-end close period and get home to be with their family—which they weren’t able to do before using our software. Client satisfaction gives me a true feeling of success. Then, most importantly, I have a terrific husband and family at home who loves and supports me.
My biggest success is that my kids have grown up to be amazing, healthy, kind, awesome people even though I worked madly at building a company for most of their childhoods! I admire them both tremendously.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
I was badly burned by a co-worker in the early days when a key competitor arose from within my ranks and nearly destroyed the company. A person whom I trusted started a competing software company, outsourced my ideas and concepts to a firm in India and eventually sold the company to a publicly traded U.S. company that directly competed with BlackLine. The former employee also started a slanderous marketing campaign against BlackLine. Rather than back off or waste time and money on lawsuits, I did my best to take the high road and fought back against the much better capitalized competitor on the merits of BlackLine’s superior software solution and eternal dedication to client satisfaction. I guess my perseverance and determination paid off. BlackLine is stronger than ever now and wins most competitive bids against the much larger competitor (which is also still in the market).
Who is your most important role model?
Great advisers are worth their weight in gold. All three of the directors on my Board have been and continue to be my most important role models, advisers and mentors: Greg Pond, Lee Reams and Tom Unterman. I’ve known Greg Pond for more than 20 years, and he helped me enormously with my people skills. He taught me to let people talk—often times they need to be heard before they can listen. He taught me to temper my own quick reactions for more thoughtful responses. I’ve also known Lee Reams for almost 20 years and have built software products with him and learned the importance of great software. Both Lee and Greg have been terrifically successful entrepreneurs and have built sizable companies that were then acquired by Thomson Reuters and Sungard, respectively. Finally, I am ever in awe of Tom Unterman’s (managing partner with Rustic Ventures) business acuity and depth of experience. His ability to synthesize massive amounts of business information and pinpoint the critical areas of need is unparalleled. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.