Sam Levin was working at a bar when a Temple University fraternity brother got him an interview with a company developing transportation management software, something Levin admits knowing nothing about at the time.
Still, he got the job and quickly absorbed everything he could learn, becoming a globe-trotting consultant for companies that need software to ship their freight worldwide. By 2005 the company he worked for was acquired by a large firm and he turned down a chance to remain with the new owner to start his own venture with former colleague Chris Plough, who sketched out their business plan over coffee.
Six years later, MavenWire
has 50 clients, 100 employees and offices all over the world, a known leader in logistics and IT infrastructure, particularly with its core competency of Oracle Transportation Management.
What was the biggest challenge in getting MavenWire off the ground?
It was really important to us to grow MavenWire organically. By that I mean, we were against having debt. We had seen our previous employer cycle through several rounds of funding and as employees, we watched our share value deplete to nothing. As Chris and I were new to entrepreneurship, we were firm in our stance to keep MavenWire completely debt free and we did it. Instead, we were investing almost all of our profit back into the business. In doing that, the pace of the economy and the pace of closing new deals dictated the pace of growth for MavenWire. Knowing what we know now, we probably would have done things differently and taken more control over the pace of our company’s development through smart growth.
How is MavenWire growing?
MavenWire has consistently grown every year at a rate of 30-40 percent. Since the company’s start in 2006, we have gone from two employees to approximately 100 worldwide.
What resources did you take advantage of to launch MavenWire?
One of our most important resources early in our history and now are talented partners. What some businesses refer to as vendors or contractors, we refer to as our partners. In the beginning at MavenWire, we were extremely focused on bringing in business. We used our initial resources to hire someone to handle the back office activities, like invoicing and bookkeeping. That person allowed Chris and me to grow our business and focus on customer relations. As we’ve grown, we’ve continually understood the value of finding solid partners - good legal counsel, a good accountant. Their expertise provides much needed services, but also the freedom for us to focus on our core areas of expertise.
What resources did you take advantage of to grow MavenWire?
Internally, we’ve drawn on talent with whom we’ve worked with previously. More than three quarters of our team is made up of people we’ve had relationships with before MavenWire. The sense of friendship and family in our company comes from years of working together. When you can go into a job every day and know you can enjoy the job and the people, learning becomes fun and you want to grow.
Externally, our legal counsel has been a blessing to help us grow in the right way. We give a lot of credit to the advisors who help us make the right decisions and validate our thoughts and opinions, especially during the acquisition earlier this year. You have to be willing to reach out beyond yourself and admit that you’re not always the expert. Now that I have people who work for me and are counting on me to make the right decisions, I constantly ask myself if I have the resources and knowledge to make the right choice. With that kind of responsibility, I have no problem going outside the bubble to ask questions.
What key partnerships in your region or state have helped MavenWire grow?
Since the beginning, we have worked hand in hand with Oracle
. They make and sell the software that our company implements. Oracle acquired the company that Chris and I once worked for. Many of our colleagues continue to work at Oracle locally and we were able to continue those relationships while making new ones within Oracle nationally. It is and has been a very collaborative relationship from the start.
What advantages does being in your region hold for entrepreneurs?
I feel very fortunate to have found the Philadelphia chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization
(EO). As a CEO at the age of 33, I was having trouble finding peers who could understand the level of responsibility I have and the day-to-day challenges I face. Throughout my career, I found success and enjoyment drawing upon the experience of others, so I wanted to put myself in an environment where I could relate to others and they could relate to me. When I first joined EO, I was the youngest member in my forum, which was humbling. I soon discovered not only was I surrounded by incredibly successful business owners with vast knowledge, I could actually talk shop and bring value to our meetings. It has been a highly valuable experience.
Where does your region need to improve in terms of support for entrepreneurs?
I’m not a political guy, but I do continue to hear about the struggles of younger businesses in the realm of banking and lending. I believe that’s a national problem and not limited to our region. I’m not convinced that there is a lack of support for entrepreneurs. I believe entrepreneurs need to be educated and there are resources out there. You just have to find them.
What's the big differentiator for MavenWire?
Our company competes with major corporations, with global reputations that span beyond the niche of transportation software. We have made a name for ourselves and I believe that comes from our reputation and depth of experience. We believe our customers are more partners than customers. They need to be able to come to us when something doesn’t feel right and we need to be able to be up front with them when something doesn’t make sense either.
What's next for MavenWire?
We see where technology is going. Everything is moving toward the cloud. We want to get there before others in our industry. We want to be the pioneers. Beyond that, we want to have a larger footprint. We are usually brought in once a customer has chosen the software they want to use. We want to expand our reach and approach customers by first looking and their needs and then helping them narrow down their options. We see an opportunity to take on a role as a trusted advisor early in the selection process and we want to be that for our current and future customers.
-- by Joe Petrucci