Innovative Thinkers 2012
The 2012 edition of our annual Innovators series might make you scratch your head, open your eyes a bit wider and exclaim, “I didn’t know that was happening in Johnson County!” For instance, did you know that Europe’s largest stock exchange (and the third-biggest in the U.S.) is located in Lenexa? Or that a local software company’s products are used in more than 30 countries? Or that an innovative local approach to transportation has been copied by a major Eastern city, with more certain to follow? Did you know that the head of one of the country’s top entrepreneurial training programs has just published a book based on her other passion, networking? The people and companies we chose for this year’s story show that when it comes to innovation, Johnson County is full of surprises.
Cary DeCamp, Perceptive Software
Field: Business Management Software
Fact: Perceptive’s products are used by companies in more than 30 countries
Silicon Valley, Austin, North Carolina’s Research Triangle … and Johnson County?
|Joe Ratterman & Chris Isaacson|
Cary DeCamp, executive vice president of Shawnee-based Perceptive Software, admits that his company is often at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting the world’s best software engineers. Johnson County lacks mountains, beaches and coastal hipsters — not to mention a legacy of high-tech innovation.
But for Perceptive, it hasn’t made much of a difference. The company, which builds enterprise content management and business process management software for businesses and organizations around the world, has enjoyed big growth year after year since 1995, when it created its signature product, ImageNow.
How big? Seven years after moving into a brand-new facility in western Shawnee, Perceptive broke ground on a 240,000-square-foot facility (more than double its current size) in Lenexa, its original home. The new headquarters, in Lenexa’s City Center, should be open for business in Spring 2014.
“We concentrated early on finding people who are not just talented, but who are willing to work hard and support one another, through thick and thin, every day,” says DeCamp. “Johnson County is a great place to live and to run a business. It’s a friendly community with great services and a talented work force.”
Perceptive isn’t the only player in its field. What sets the company apart, DeCamp says, is its laser-like focus on making content management and process management software easier to use and less expensive.
“There’s a constant effort to make products that are as simple as possible, but that accomplish something complex,” he says. “Our industry is full of products that are hard to use and understand.”
Perceptive’s engineers work hard to create those efficiencies, and they reap the benefits. The company is a perennial winner of “best place to work” awards, and employees enjoy free use of an on-site gym, sand volleyball and dodge ball courts (yes, dodge ball), a tornado slide to get from one floor to the next (yep, a slide) and other amenities.
Of course, staying on the cutting edge of innovation often doesn’t leave much time for extracurriculars, DeCamp admits.
“A lot of our fun things aren’t used much,” he says. “The foosball table is gathering dust.”
For more information, visit perceptivesoftware.com.
Alana Muller/Kauffman Fasttrac
Field: Entrepreneur Training/Networking Blogger
Fall 2012 Highlights: Published book on networking, appeared at TEDxOverlandPark
When Alana Muller decided to start her own consultancy, it soon became “painfully obvious” how limited her contacts were beyond the walls of Sprint, where she had worked for a decade.
So she called five non-Sprint friends, met with them, and asked each of them for another set of contacts.
Within nine months, Muller, president of Kauffman FastTrac and author of the networking blog CoffeeLunchCoffee.com, had networked with 200 people in 160 meetings.
The name of her blog comes from the habit, during this period, of meeting with three people or groups of people every day — one for coffee in the morning, the second for lunch, the third for coffee again in the afternoon.
“The joke is I don’t drink coffee, I drink Coke,” says Muller, an Overland Park native who still resides in her hometown.
Through one of those many contacts, in early 2010 Muller was hired as a consultant for Kansas City-based Kauffman FastTrac, which has provided training to more than 300,000 entrepreneurs since its founding in 1993. Soon after, she became its president.
Muller’s networking had paid off, but she wasn’t ready to let it go.
“I found it more difficult to stop networking than to keep going,” she says.
That’s because networking had taken Muller beyond the boundaries of business.
“I have a philosophy that the best version of ourselves is being the same person at home, at work and in the community,” she says. “Every networking interaction is an opportunity to connect with someone else — it could have professional, personal or civic implications.”
Muller created CoffeeLunchCoffee.com to show others that networking doesn’t have to be as hard and unpleasant as people think.
“A lot of people shudder at the idea of networking,” she says. “My approach is quality over quantity. It’s not just about collecting as many business cards as you possibly can.”
Muller’s recently published book inspired by her blog, “Coffee Lunch Coffee: A Practical Field Guide for Master Networking,” is on sale now at amazon.com.
For more information, visit kauffman.org and coffeelunchcoffee.com.
Bill George, 10/10 Taxi
Fact: Five cabs two years ago, 87 today
A few years ago, Bill George started asking people in Johnson County bars and restaurants if they’d like the option of taking a cab home after a night of one or a few too many.
Yes! was the resounding answer. But they often fired back questions of their own at George, chief executive officer of Kansas City Transportation Group, which runs the Super Shuttle and Yellow Cab franchises in Kansas City, as well as Carey Limousine and the KC Strip Trolley.
How much would it cost? And how long would I have to wait for it?
“I tried to see where their threshold was, and came up with 10/10,” George says.
The first “10” in that equation concerns time: a blue Chevy HHR picks you up within 10 minutes of your call. If it’s late, you get 10 percent off your fare.
The second 10 covers price: $10 for any ride of five miles or less.
Armed with his simple equation and five cabs, George started 10/10 Taxi in September 2010, with a plan to cover everything within a five-mile radius of 119th and Metcalf.
Two years and a month later, 10/10 Taxi added its 87th Chevy HHR. That circle around Metcalf has been widened to take in Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs and the Legends in KCK, and a second 10/10 franchise is opening in Baltimore, Maryland.
“It’s perfect for the couple in Hallbrook who go to Bristol for dinner and share a bottle of wine,” George says. “We also have a lot of elderly customers who have the resources but don’t drive. Kids, too — it’s good for the soccer mom who can’t be in three places at the same time.”
For his fleet’s staff of full-time drivers, George recruits heavily within Johnson County.
“We wanted a different kind of driver, people who knew the area, knew the customers — people that elderly people and young people could feel comfortable with,” he says.
New this year for 10/10 Taxi is its Dine In With 10/10 program, where customers can order takeout from 20 area restaurants and have it delivered by a 10/10 cab.
“We’ve partnered with higher-end restaurants,” George says. “It’s not your typical pizza, Chinese or sandwich takeout.”
For more information, visit the1010taxi.com.
Joe Ratterman & Chris Isaacson, BATS Exchange
Field: Stock Exchange
Fact: Third-largest exchange in the U.S., largest in Europe
Here’s a Jeopardy answer for the ages: “Headquarters of the largest stock exchange in Europe.”
“What is Lenexa, Kansas, Alex.”
You’d find it under “Unbelievably Weird but True” for $500. Lenexa-based BATS Global Markets Inc. not only runs the largest stock exchange in Europe, it also operates the third-biggest one in the U.S., after the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq.
BATS, which specializes in developing and running electronic markets for trading cash equity securities, accounts for about 12 percent of all U.S. equity trading through its two domestic exchanges, the BZX Exchange and the BYX Exchange.
Risk management is one way BATS has been able to separate itself from its competitors, says Joe Ratterman, the company’s chief executive officer.
“Traders are at risk while their orders are outstanding,” Ratterman says. “As an exchange, one of the things that can differentiate you is the ability to operate a system that allows customers to manage risk better.”
Cutting-edge technology is one way BATS helps customers manage risk. Another is more down-to-earth: good old-fashioned customer service.
“We listen to our customers,” he says. “Some of our competitors get so big, they think they know what their customers want. We have better customer service, and that helps reduce risks.”
Being a smaller company in the Midwest helps guarantee that high level of customer service critical to BATS’ success. It’s also saved Ratterman and other executives a lot of employee-related headaches.
“There’s less turnover here than on the East Coast,” he says. “A lot of firms there recruit from each other.”
BATS recruits heavily from the metro area and surrounding states, says Chris Isaacson, the company’s chief operating officer.
“There are some great universities close to the Kansas City area, and we find it relatively easy to find technology talent,” he says. “There’s not the financial expertise, but they can learn the markets relatively easily. Markets are complex, but not harder than the technology they’ve learned.”
It’s a philosophy that has helped drive BATS to 30 to 50 percent earnings growth year after year, Ratterman says. Later this year, the company is expected to announce the development of a new market — and similar announcements are expected every 18 to 24 months going forward, he says.
For more information, visit batstrading.com.