Listen to the podcast episode here, or read the transcript below for Unstoppable Software: Where Business Innovation and Technology Collide. Sam Schutte shares his philosophy and approach to developing software that solves business problems.
Kelly Scanlon: Welcome to Talking Business Now. I’m your host, Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us.
We’re Talking Business Now with Sam Schutte, the founder and CEO of Unstoppable Software. In this episode of Talking Business Now, Sam talks with us about the circumstances that started his entrepreneurial journey, the strategies he’s used to build Unstoppable Software and how he helps other companies achieve growth. Welcome, Sam.
Sam Schutte: Hi, Kelly. Thanks for having me.
Kelly Scanlon: You bet. Unstoppable Software sounds like something that is a force to be reckoned with. You don’t want to get in its way. What does Unstoppable Software do, Sam?
Sam Schutte: We are a custom business software development company. And basically we “bolt-on” to our customers that may or may not have development teams to help them deliver products and solutions more quickly, and kind of amplify their ability to get stuff out, create new products, new tools for their users, stuff like that.
Kelly Scanlon: Why did you decide to start Unstoppable Software. Tell us about the chain of events that led you to take the entrepreneurial leap.
Sam Schutte: I had worked for a number of years before I started the company for some three or four startups in a row that, you know—they had funding or were building products. And it was really like a four-year period where I’d spend nine to 12 months at each startup, and it would either get sold, run out of money or get a better opportunity.
And I think, you know, I learned good amount about sort of what it took to get a business like that off the ground. And I also kind of learned like, you know, I think this is something I can do, you know. A lot of these folks don’t have anything. They don’t have some magic formula that I don’t have. Right? And so at the time, right before I started the company—this was January of 2008, which was sort of a funny year because the beginning of that year was a good economy and by the end was a terrible economy, right?
Kelly Scanlon: Come October, all bets were off.
Sam Schutte: Exactly. And so I had finished up a contract or was kind of finishing up a contract as a software developer, I was always just the developer, writing code up to then. And a friend of mine, who actually was a drummer in a band I was in at the time, got promoted and said, “Hey, you know, why don’t you come and do like a six-month contract for me? Because we want to develop a new system.”
And at the time, my house was on the market for sale, my wife was pregnant. I was going to my school to get my MBA, you know, and I was out of work basically because this contract had just ended, right? So it’s like, “Sure, why not, let’s just start a company.”
Kelly Scanlon: Why not? You’re birthing everything else. Why not birth a company?”
Sam Schutte: Exactly. And so, I started in January of ’08. I called it Unstoppable Software because I just always found that when we were working, when I was working in key departments and product development teams, there was always just a lot of people who wanted to say “no, that’s not possible” and “can’t do that”—can’t, can’t, can’t.
And I really wanted to always say that I wanted to be in the business of “yes,” you know? I wanted to find a pathway to solutions to difficult problems that our customers had, right? Because there’s always a way. It’s just do you want to spend enough to solve it, right? So, I think that was a little bit around it. And I think just because I had so much going on, I thought, I want a name that really motivates me, right? So that was kind of how we all got started.
Kelly Scanlon: Essentially, you saw a gap in service, a lot of no’s, people in the industry not wanting to be a true partner. And so you recognize that and you parlayed it into a competitive edge for starting a new business.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, exactly. I think that’s evolved a lot over the last decade. But I think it’s still kind of the same idea.
And then that keyword you said was partner, right? But I think that almost, for the most part, most of our customers, very few of them would just call us a vendor, or a supplier or a contractor. I mean, yes, that’s what we are. But it’s pretty common that they say, you know, we want to partner with you on this project, or here’s our partners, Unstoppable Software.
And that, that means a lot to me, because, you know, we have we have a vested interest and a stake in their successes, right?
And there’s a lot of reasons that that’s true. I think, like our pricing model is different than most consulting firms because we do flat rate, total project ownership projects as opposed to just running up an hourly billing, bucket as much as we can, right?
And so we have skin in the game, right? And so if we build a product, and we’re overbudget, and it doesn’t succeed, we’re getting hurt too. And I think, you know, the other aspect of that is it’s really allowed us over time to focus and talk a lot about a client software development strategy, right?
So, you know, a lot of people think of software developers in a department, you know, it’s almost kind of like, particularly if you’re a big company and you’ve got an IT department, it’s almost, you know, a pure cost. It’s just something you have. It’s like you’re paying your electric bill, and it just exists. But how can we leverage it? You know, how can you leverage the real asset, you know, the intellectual property you develop?
And I think our biggest successes are when, you know, we’ll work with a customer to drop a tool or a product on their market, that their competitors sort of say, where did they get this thing? You know, because just that piece of software will help them just start dominating the market. So I think you achieve that by really tying in technology development into your strategy.
Kelly Scanlon: Let’s talk about how you’ve been able to grow Unstoppable Software. What’s been your strategy, since this is a different business model? In a sense, you’re a consulting firm. But you’re using a little bit different model. You’re basically embedded almost it sounds like in these companies. So, talk with us about how you’ve had to adjust your growth plans for Unstoppable. How have you been able to—with the additional time and investment that you make into your clients—how do you still manage to achieve growth? How do you scale? When it seems like it’s probably got a lot more upfront costs in that initial investment?
Sam Schutte: That’s a good question. I mean, I think one aspect of it is, you know, because we have to do that upfront work—and I call it, you know, I say, “Look, we have to do our homework”—we start every project with an initial design and discovery engagement, okay? And that can vary from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on what it is we want to do.
So, if we’re coming in for three months, and really planning with you, and working through the details of how to make this project, you know, return and really hit some key strategic benefit, I mean that’s a value we’re delivering. And so we charge for that as a project. That is a project.
And then the deliverables from that are a lot of documentation on like, you know, here’s what we’re gonna do and why, and here’s why it’s valuable. So, you know, sometimes that can be stuff that we’ve had to go and like present to the executive board and stuff to justify the project in bigger companies. And, you know, we help our clients sell that to their board, building business cases, and that sort of stuff. And then, of course, also just like, you know, here’s this sort of roadmap of this of this plan, and how much every phase of that roadmap costs and how that all kind of works.
And the thing is, if you’re spending serious money on something like this, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars, do you want to work with a firm that just comes in and says, “Look, here’s our hourly rate. I don’t know what the plan is. I don’t know what the budget is. We’re going to just, I mean, I don’t know, maybe we’ll get there.” It doesn’t seem very professional. And I think if you look at other businesses and other consultants—like imagine if you’re hiring like a big-time auditing firm or something, or I don’t know what to solve these things, problems from a managerial consulting standpoint or something. At some point, they have to tell you a budget. You don’t just pay an hourly rate. That’s it. Right. And I guess that’s part of my philosophy too is like, you know, no matter what anyone tells you, there’s always the budget. So, let’s tackle that upfront, because if you don’t tell them about them, they’ll make one up on their own.
Kelly Scanlon: A lot of transparency there at the beginning saves you time and probably also goes a long way towards preserving the relationship for the long haul.
Sam Schutte: You know if you think about it, part of our clients’ problem is that they don’t—they’re not completely sure what it is they need. Yes, they know the business result they want. Without a doubt, they know that better than us.
But are they sure what they are going to put in place to get that result is the right choice? Because that’s based on their own biases and inside information and a lot of other stuff, right? And so I think what’s what’s most exciting to me, it doesn’t always happen sometimes, you know, we go kind of according to plan and so forth. But, but often when we’re doing this sort of upfront work we’ll say, “Have you guys ever considered doing this and implementing this or whatever?” And this whole new idea—because part of it is like an ideation process, right?—but that whole new idea becomes the focus of the project, you know, which I mean, that’s a huge value, right? If it was something they didn’t even they didn’t even consider.
Kelly Scanlon: Right, right. And they’re not stuck paying for something that later on, they’re sitting back thinking, why did we bring them in? This isn’t any better than where we were before? Because you guys take the time to find out what they really need, not just what they think they need necessarily.
We’ve talked a lot about how you’ve grown your own company. You’ve mentioned how you helped to increase ROI. On your website, you have some case studies. Can you talk with us about how you help other business owners grow their companies, you know, specifically perhaps using one of those case studies?
Sam Schutte: Sure. I think a good case study that we’ve got out there talks about one of our customers in the construction space. And they had an issue where, when there’s a major project out there and you know, one of their customers, it goes out to basically they get an RFQ, right? So, you know, somebody says, or an RFP says, you know, give us some proposals on this. And this sort of race begins, right? So everybody and all their competitors try to start putting down proposals and engineers start working, and architects and designers and all this stuff start working on this plan.
But on the customer side, it’s kind of really just whoever gets it in their hand first ends up winning, because it’s a commodity market. I mean, everybody, you know, anybody that they sent this thing to knows how to build, say a skyscraper or a building. So, if you’re one of the first three people to get a proposal in hand, you’re good. If your proposal comes two weeks later, it’s probably too late.
And so when we work with them at that time, the average lead time on their projects was about two weeks, okay? And that’s because they were doing everything with their engineers, architects manually.
And we came in and basically build a system where the salespeople who was actually working on an RFP could come to a website, populate, and work through sort of a web-based design tool, and then generate all the engineering and architecture drawings themselves, with a sort of background process around. So no engineer involvement, no architecture, involvement or anything. And that meant that when the RFP went out, we took their lead time from you know, this was our, this was our sort of tagline we use for the executive board, took the tag took the lead time from two weeks to two minutes, because they really could go in and just click, click, click, click, click, and then boom, and then send it.
And customers and competitors were sort of like, Did you know about this like a week ahead of us? Did you get tipped off some how? How did you get this to me in a half hour? And it was well, we ran it, we built this software, you know, and so, so I think that’s the example there’s like, well, how many more deals were they able to win because they were first in the door, right? So that, you know, that’s one aspect. But then you also had the savings of how much engineering time they needed to pay engineers to make these preliminary drawings, right? Well, if you’ve got a staff of I think they had, they had a staff of 300 engineers, to 80% of their time was working on these types of drawings. So now that’s gone. So that was a big, big deal that really helps them kind of beat out their competitors. And what’s interesting is, you know, we launched that project or that application probably about seven years ago now. So it’s been out quite some time, maybe six years. And since that time, everybody has played catch up, right? And now there’s actually a there’s some new products on the market. There’s, you know, that were developed by some competitors, and then sort of like, put out there as a product. And so it’s funny to see that now, finally, this is something everybody has, but for a good five, six years, they were the only one that had it.
Kelly Scanlon: Right.
Sam Schutte: And so, if you’re a $4 billion company, what’s that worth?
Kelly Scanlon: Not long ago, we used to distinguish companies as tech companies as opposed to other companies. But the reality is that all companies today are tech companies, or at least they’re tech dependent and innovations in tech are driving all businesses. It doesn’t matter what they are. So what are some of the innovative advances that you are seeing that businesses may not be taking advantage of, and could be, no matter what industry they’re in?
Sam Schutte: I can tell you some of the trends a lot of people are asking for, or at least some of the real innovators are pushing for. One thing is visibility—visibility for the customer to know what’s happening with their product or their account or whatever. And so a lot of companies are working on dashboards and other tools that if you’ve got, for instance, a factory that you own in Japan, instead of having to fly somebody over there to tell you what the error codes are on the machine, that you know, there’s this whole concept of like, I want to be sitting on the beach, open my laptop and view all that data, right?
And there’s ways to do that now, even just off the shelf, but it’s engineering level data. It’s, you know, it’s like, dumps of Excel sheets and stuff. And what customers really want is sort of like a consumable, happy, friendly way, or view, that they can look at, right? So, I think that kind of trend in general. I mean, you see that even now, like when you order a pizza or something. Or when you order Jimmy John’s, I can see what is the status of my order: Is it being delivered? Is it being made? So we think about all that, like peeling back the layers a little bit so that your end user can really see what’s happening. And I think there’s a lot of room for that. If I make an auto insurance claim, do I have a way of seeing all the information online somewhere to know what’s happening? Most of the time I’m not. Most of the time it’s in a document still, right? A lot of that stuff is really out of date.
Obviously there’s a lot of buzz around AI and machine learning and all this stuff, which is still kind of in its infancy. But even sort of like just basically just, you know, letting machines help you make better decisions, because maybe a better way to look at it, there’s a lot of sort of insights in the manufacturing process that people can discover using those type of tools.
So, I think those are two big trends. Certainly, people are always wanting their employees to be more connected and have better mobile apps and better experiences. And it’s, I mean, I think it’s rare. I mean, it’s, you know, particularly if you look at an industrial services company. I mean, I bet only one out of 50 of them has a really nice mobile interface for their employees. And what does that mean? What I mean, how many phone calls have to be made and stuff. So there’s a ton of room, I mean, I often say that of all the problems we can solve that are that are worth it to solve, we’ve only probably really solved like 5% of them, you know, from an IT standpoint. So there’s a lot of opportunity.
Kelly Scanlon: It’s interesting, especially when you talk about the visibility part of it, the first thing you mentioned there. You may not think that if—I am using your examples—if I’m an insurance company, and that my competitor is Jimmy John’s. But the reality of it is, is that if Jimmy John’s creates a platform or a dashboard or an interface that I use frequently, and that becomes the norm that people are used to, to be able to access that kind of information, you are in some ways then in competition with Jimmy John’s because you’re not bringing what customers perceive as the latest conveniences to them. You’re outdated, you know, you’re an old horse, and we’re going to go with somebody, we want to look for somebody that does incorporate those kinds of things into the relationship.
So, I guess if you’re thinking that this doesn’t apply to me, because those are industries that have nothing to do with mine, well, from a visibility, convenience, deliverability standpoint, those people who are not your competitors, quote unquote, are still establishing standards in consumers’ minds about access to information and communication and so forth that you’re not offering.
Sam Schutte: That’s absolutely true. It’s true for internal employees and stuff too. I remember I was working with a client once, and one of the managers there was, you know, in his early 60s, and I mean, this was probably close to 10 years ago. But he said, you know, I hired this quote, unquote, kid, 25-year-old quote, unquote, kid, and he just quit, because he doesn’t like our computer systems. And that blew his mind. Like, why would you quit a job because you didn’t like the CRM you had to use? Because 10-15 years ago, like that would be insane that would even rank on irritation or something, right?
But like you said, if I can pull up my iPhone and buy stock and send emails or Facebook or whatever it is, I’m doing check my bank account balance. Super, super easy. But then I got to go into a mainframe to generate a quote if I’m a salesperson or some really like onerous Excel sheet that has all these formulas out the wazoo. I mean, there’s this, like, disconnect between my personal life and my business life at that point. The tool they have makes it feel like the Stone Age.
Kelly Scanlon: Exactly.
Sam Schutte: And people will quit because they start feeling like, it just irritates them, you know, especially millennials and such that are used to that stuff more. And I think it’s true. When you think about it, how many people would put their money with a bank right now that didn’t have some kind of online banking to do your account? Would you? What interest rate would they have to offer to get you to put your money in that savings account?
Kelly Scanlon: It’s an external facing customer as well as an employee attraction and retention issue as well when you get behind on these software and the different technology advancements that you can incorporate into your business.
Sam, it’s been wonderful having you on the show today. If someone’s interested in finding out more about what you do or want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that?
Sam Schutte: So the easiest way would just be go to the UnstoppableSoftware.com website. Or you could also reach out directly. My cell phone is 513-382-8499. I’m always available just to be directly called and happy to chat about any questions your listeners have.
Kelly Scanlon: Thank you again so much for your time and best of luck to you.
Sam Schutte: Thank you, Kelly.
Kelly Scanlon: And I’m your host Kelly Scanlon. Thanks for joining us today. Be sure to visit the Talking Business Now website at TalkingBusinessNow.com for access to all my podcasts and to sign up for the weekly Talking Business Now newsletter.
Guest: Sam Schutte, founder of Unstoppable Software