Mike Muhney is the CEO of VIPorbit Software. Its Vipor Family of products providing solutions for relationship, activity and collaboration management for Apple users is best known as the Co-Inventor of ACT!, the product that literally created the entire relationship management software category and global industry. His vision with Vipor is to go beyond the success of ACT! and once again change the world.
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- ACT! – Mike’s baby—the software product that brought him his initial success
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- Team of Teams – Mike’ Best Business Book
- Trello – Mike’s Small Business Resource
3 Key Points:
- Opportunities abound, you just need to be tuned in.
- When you hit a home run, you’re not going to just run the bases and call it a day—you’re going to want back in the batter’s box.
- Commit to excellence.
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Time Stamped Show Notes
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
- [00:39] – John introduces Mike to the show
- [01:13] – Born and raised in Chicago—had a GREAT career at IBM
- [02:07] – How Mike generates revenue?—He’s not!
- [02:48] – Success breeds success
- [03:20] – Worst Entrepreneur Moment
- [06:22] – We have a blank sheet of paper—what do we need?
- [06:39] – Everybody sells
- [09:35] – Entrepreneur AH-HA Moment
- [11:06] – ACT! was a springboard, not a place to rest
- [13:13] – The birth of VIPOrbit
- [13:16] – Necessity is the mother of invention
- [13:44] – Smart Cuts
- [14:16] – When you hit success, you’re not going to ride off into the sunset… you’re going to want back in the game!
- [15:11] – Biggest weakness?—Caring too much about others’ views
- [15:57] – The bridge to relationships is communication
- [16:10] – Biggest strength?—a big heart
- [17:12] – VIPOrbit is what has Mike fired-up right now
- [17:56] – Everyone has fear of failure and if anyone says otherwise, they’re lying
- [18:32] – Opportunities are all around us… just keep your eyes open
- [20:42] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?—FEAR
- What is the best advice you have ever received?—Go have breakfast and see if you can come up with a good idea
- What is a personal habit that contributes to your success?—Commitment to excellence
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation—Trello
- One book to have on your bookshelf?—Team of Teams
- Imagine you awoke in a brand new world, identical to Earth, but you knew no one. You still have all your experience and knowledge. What’s the 1st thing you would do?—reflect on these words: of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these—what might have been?
Mike Muhney: Absolutely, John.
John: Yes! Mike is the CEO of VIP Orbit Software. It’s Viper family of products providing solutions for relationships activity in collaboration management for Apple users. He’s best known as the co-inventor of ACT, the product that literally changed the entire relationship management software category and global industry. His vision with Viper is to go beyond the success of ACT and once again, change the world.
Mike, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro and give us just a little glimpse of your personal life.
Mike Muhney: Alright. Well, I was born in Chicago. Graduated from U of I. Was accepted to law school. Life through a curve ball at me, didn’t make it there but got hired by IBM in the mainframe era and had a fantastic career at IBM and little did I realize it then, John, but so many things that they taught me in their intensive sales school, I later applied to the co-design and purpose of ACT and Viper today.
John: I didn’t make it in law school either, Mike so we’ve already connected on that level and you know what? It’s just one of those things, Fire Nation. It doesn’t matter if you don’t hit a home run every time you swing the bat. Now Mike, we’re gonna go through your journey as an entrepreneur. We’re gonna talk about the good, the bad, the history, all of that stuff. But before we dive into that, just tell us today, present times, 2016, how are you generating revenue today?
Mike Muhney: Well, it’s a good question John, because today, I’m not generating revenue, but we’re about ready to come out with a new family of Viper products that is gonna change the landscape of the software solution market. And it’s gonna be on a subscription basis and the Mac version as well, is gonna then go on sale as a one-time cost in addition to the other subscription services and so we will be getting into a revenue-operating mode very shortly here.
John: And Fire Nation, they call that pre-revenue and guess what? There’s no problem with that. Especially when you’re like Mike Muhney and you have prior successes. Believe me, success breeds success. So when you have that nice little cushion, that nice little nest egg, that runway, so to speak, it allows you to be in pre-revenue a lot longer and really make sure that when you come out, you come out with that bang. So Mike, thanks for breaking that down for us. And you have had quite the journey of an entrepreneur. I mean, it has really been full of ups. Full of downs of the roller coaster that we all experience on certain levels. But take us Mike, to what you consider the biggest dip in that roller coaster. The lowest of the low. Your worst entrepreneurial moment to date. And Mike, tell us that story.
Mike Muhney: Okay, well, what’s interesting John, is it kind of coincides with the up side of it as well, so the down side is that here I was a corporate man, right? Working for IBM, great career security, etc. etc. and with my partner decided to start a company. Software company. We raised $100,000.00 from an angel out of Boston for a software idea that’s specific to, at that time, what we thought was going to be a huge market. And lo and behold, about $85,000 later, we literally said to each other, this dog ain’t gonna hunt. It’s over, we’re dead. Now it was a product specifically designed for the computer stores that existed back in that era where you had to go to buy a PC, you know, Computer land, Entre, Business land, etc. And they were growing leaps and bounds and people were franchising them. So we thought it was a great market.
In fact, it wasn’t. People didn’t want pay for the software. It was to help them achieve profitability in their business and help the sales people establish themselves and distinguish themselves as a professional compared to their competitors. Which we all have. So what happened was, in the process of trying to sell this product, one of the companies located in headquartered, fortunately here in DFW, where we are, I tried to sell this product to. To the CEO himself. He had 54 stores across the country. He never bought the product but he took a liking to me and he was notated that year as one of the 25 most influential people in the PC industry according to Computer Reseller News, and here I know the guy, right? So when my partner, Pat and I realized that this dog ain’t gonna hunt, I went to this gentleman. His name is John. And I said John, we’re in trouble. We only have $15,000.00 left. We don’t know what to do. The investor is coming down from Boston in about three weeks. Should we give the money back? What do we do? And this is what he said.
He said no, you know, you two guys are smart guys. Why don’t’ you go have a brainstorm breakfast next week, which was July 4th, 1986, and see if you can come up with an idea. Just brainstorm. Sit there from 8:00 to noon and see what you can come up with.
Well, that was great advice. Easy to do and cost us nothing more than a breakfast. So here, we realized our hopes and dreams and passions with this idea that we thought was a sure winner, right? And convinced somebody to invest in, absolutely failed. That was a dark side. A down side to us. But we didn’t let panic strike us and fear overcome us. It was what can we do? What options exist? Etc.
So the other side of that coin, the upside, then John, is that we had that breakfast and we literally started out saying this to each other. Okay, we’ve got a blank sheet of paper We can come up with anything we want. What do we need ourselves? What would help us do a better job in what we do? And let me give you a little bit of background as to what we do which is what everybody does. And that is that everybody sells. And you might do architecture or law, or engineering. But what you are is a salesperson because all of us have competition. We all have to distinguish ourselves. We therefore all have to establish very close and meaningful relationships. Who can’t relate to that, right?
So in the process of saying well, what do we need ourselves? Well if we could come up with a product that could this in software, help us keep track of the people, add our calendar of activities to it, keep some personal notes, customize it, you know, be able to deal with more people, more effectively, that might help us. As opposed to the paper systems that were prevalent back then, of course. And when we left that breakfast, John, we were three feet off the ground. We knew we had struck something. We were excited about it ourselves. We could use it. We could see the benefit of using it and a whole lot of people in the world using it. And therein, that morning, July 4th, 1986, what became ACT, nine months later on the market, was conceived. So we went from the down side, you know, bottom of the valley, to the top of the mountain passion and vision in a very short order.
John: Fire Nation, think about this journey that Mike is taking us on right now. I mean, this is the journey of an entrepreneur. This is why when you take that leap, or you when you look back on that leap that you took that didn’t work out, guess what? That wasn’t your only rodeo, Fire Nation. You know, get back on that saddle. Get back on that bull and ride. I mean this is what it’s all about is getting back in and staying in the game. Now, Mike learned a ton from what he was trying to get into. He said man, like this is something that I wanna do. This is some value I wanna bring to the world. And guess what? The world did not want that value. But he built relationships. He kept his mind open to do amazing things. Move forward and opportunity arose. He jumped on it, and voila, there was ACT. And a little random side note, I joined John Hancock in Boston back in 2008. I was trained on ACT software, and that was the software that we used going forward. So I’m very intimately familiar with ACT. And it’s just kind of crazy that here we are, eight years later, eight years, 2016 Fire Nation, I’m talking to the person that created that software that I use to make sales every single day in corporate finance with John Hancock. So crazy, crazy stuff. I love just how this world seems to work. And Mike, that lesson that you talked us about, you know, about just keeping your options open, building those relationships and then leveraging those when the time is right, is so valuable. And that was a huge aha moment you had to create ACT.
Now, I don’t know if that’s gonna be the aha moment story that you’re gonna tell us. And if it is, that’s cool. But you have your choice of all the aha moments that you’ve had. Of all those epiphany’s, those light bulbs that have gone off in your journey as an entrepreneur, what’s the one story that you’re gonna share with our listeners, Fire Nation, today? And again, Mike, take us to the moment you had that idea, and walk us through your turning it into a success.
Mike Muhney: Okay. Well, you know I have a very interesting background because of ACT. It’s basically John, a double-edged sword in many ways. What appears to most people to be this great success, also has some down side risks because it set a standard that even back then, we had no idea would be created. I mean here it is on the market 29 years later. Try to find a software product that’s been around that long, has impacted the world that much, and has created a global software category and industry.
John: Doesn’t exist.
Mike Muhney: Yeah. And I’m just a regular guy, as was my partner Pat. Two straight guys. Two sales guys. That’s all we were. People even put us down and said, what do you two guys know? You’re just sales guys. We had to overcome a lot of the damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead and basically some other colorful words I won’t use on your podcast, in our approach and attitude for people like that that got in the way. You know, move them out of the way. The real aha moment to me in a way was, ACT created a sense of self-awareness that I didn’t know existed in me. It created a sense of ability to do something way beyond my own imagination at the time. You know, it unfolded, John. I believe in the saying, “success should be a springboard and not a hammock.” To me ACT is a springboard. Not something to rest my laurels on.
So having said that, all it did was lay a foundation. Now, it’s very hard to come up with follow-up on ACT. No pun intended, to a successful first product that literally changed the world and still is affecting the world, right? So what do you do against those odds? Well, it was very tough for me and I was in a long period of what I’ll call depression. Now, not psychological depression but a sense of loss. A sense of meaninglessness compared to what I one enjoyed with ACT. What happened was, many, many, years later, I abandoned Windows. ACT is obviously a Windows product and of course, not today going toward the net. But I abandoned it and I went Apple and got my first desktop. Then the iPhone came out in 2007. I got it. By the end of 2009 I was sitting in my house, literally in my robe on a Wednesday morning I will never forget it.
I was reading the cover story of Business Week magazine and it was entitled ACT’s. And it was all about how ACT’s were gonna change the world. And here I had this iPhone in my hand. Something with me 24/7 that could’ve only lusted for back in the ACT era. I mean if you want something with you 24/7, it certainly isn’t Worddocs or a spreadsheets or your Power Point presentation. No, what it is, is everybody you know, everything you know about everybody you know, your entire calendar, all the custom things you know about those people, your little black book, on demand, instant recall, photographic memory, executive assistant. And nothing existed. So when I got done reading that article, John, I literally stood up and I said, holy – I’ll leave this blank – I can’t believe nobody has invented yet, what I thought they would have by now. I need it myself again. I need kind of the same ACT story, right? What do we need? And I know how to create a company. I’m tired of waiting around for somebody else to do it. I know how to raise money. I know how to design software. I know how to pull together a team. I’m going to start a company and therein the reason for the creation of VIP Orbit Software because of personal need. Need is the mother of invention often. And it definitely was in my case.
John: So this is so fascinating. I’m really glad you gave us this insight, Mike. Because so many entrepreneurs, they see people like yourself and other successful entrepreneurs and they just assume that hey, they hit a home run. And you know what? Now they’re just riding off into the sunset and life is good and happy. And it is just not the case. I mean, you look actually, there is a great book. It’ll come to me in a second and I’ll share it. Oh, no, wait a minute. It’s called Smart Cuts by Shane Snow and he talks about all the successful entrepreneurs of our time and even just successful people like Buzz Aldrin. People that landed on the moon. They went into massive bouts of depression and just wandering and really not feeling like they were relevant in this world because you know, they had hit the pinnacle. They were at the top and where do you go after you walk on the moon? I mean literally, that’s what Buzz Aldrin was struggling with. And Neil Armstrong. What do you do after that?
So Fire Nation, realize that this is a journey that we are on. You’re gonna hit a homerun hopefully sooner rather than later. But when you do, you won’t ride off into the sunset, believe me. Like just sipping margaritas on the Puerto Rico beach is only fun for limited amount of time. We are human beings. We want to keep going forward. Especially you, with that entrepreneurial but inside of you. And Mike, in his bathrobe was just sitting there, reading the paper and reading the magazine and boom! He could not have been more excited. For now, this huge opportunity for him to jump back in and provide incredible value to get back on that horse.
So remember, this is the journey that we’re on as entrepreneurs. It has the ups. It has the downs. You hit a grand slam and then we still say hey. What can I do to still keep being relevant in this world? And Mike, I’m just really happy to be able to get a peek inside of your life like that. That’s just fascinating on so many levels. And you talked about a lot of your strengths about pulling a team together, about financing XYZ. What would you say your biggest weakness as an entrepreneur is?
Mike Muhney: Well, my biggest weakness unfortunately, is I care too much about other people’s viewpoints and I take them to heart. I’m very sensitive in that regard whether it’s differing opinions of my staff on a function or purpose or marketing campaign, whatever. I try to weight everybody’s concerns and perspectives in the balance. That’s not easy to do. I obviously take it to heart both good and bad, when somebody writes a review on the store, whether it’s a five-star or one star. But I’m true to myself and that’s part of my weakness is being true to myself means I reach out to everybody even if they don’t like what we’ve done to try to communicate with them, John, which is the only thing that bridges relationships is communication. And that’s’ really what life is all about. And so it takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of my energy. But it’s well worth the results if I can achieve it.
John: What’s your biggest strength?
Mike Muhney: My heart and the way I see people. People are precious, priceless and purposeful. That’s what relationships are. And I want to be authentic and be true to myself in that regard that I have an interest in other people and back it up in my actions.
So you know the software and in fact today Viper that I’ve created is really just a tool to perfect an attitude and a commitment and a discipline of my person. Because you could have the greatest software but if you don’t apply attitudenly and emotionally, because all relationships, good ones anyway, sustainable ones, are emotional, bonded, connected, nothing’s gonna come of it. There’s the heart that I have toward people and just finding other people like me. Regular streetfolk to succeed in life and find their full purpose.
John: Mike, your aha moment led up to this. But take a minute now and share the one thing that has you most fire up today.
Mike Muhney: Well, no surprise here, John. It certainly is Viper and what I alluded to earlier with this forthcoming revenue opportunity and new family of products. Like I said earlier, ACT’s a standard and I want to surpass that standard. I don’t know how much yet, I’m capable of achieving but I’m certainly on the journey of discovery toward it and that keeps me going every day because I know I’m on a quest. I know the odds are great. It doesn’t matter. It’s my purpose in life. It’s my passion in life and I know that it will help other people and so it literally is the thing that fires me up every day despite the odd, despite the fears and hey, I’m human. I have a fear of failure. You know, I don’t believe people that say they don’t have a failure of liars. Of course I fear that. But I had the courage to supersede that and just preserver on his journey. And that’s what fires me up right now.
John: Fire Nation, there’s one thing that I’m pulling from this interview that I really want to make sure that you’re getting from this as well. Opportunities are all around us. You just need to keep your eyes open. You know for Mike, it was reading that article in the magazine for fill in the blank. It’s walking outside and seeing somebody on a skateboard. You don’t know where that opportunity is going to strike. And by the way you should not jump on every opportunity you see out there. I mean. Mike, when he saw that opportunity out there, he ran it through the rigmarole and he said okay, this is my sweet spot because I know how to build a company, I know how to run a team, I know how to raise money, etc. All these things. So it has to be the right opportunity. But just have your eyes open out there and Fire Nation, don’t go anywhere because we are about to answer the lightening rounds. But we’re gonna take a quick minute to thank our sponsors. Mike, are you prepared for the lightening rounds?
Mike Muhney: Absolutely
John: What was holding you back for becoming an entrepreneur?
Mike Muhney: A fear, at first, John, that I was not a has-been. That my glory days were behind me. But it was also that quest that was dormant in me to find an idea that had a defensible solution that I could create something out, take to the market, and get back in the game. And so that’s what it was.
John: I love those words, glory days. Actually took me back for a second, Mike to a senior in college, Glory Days came on by Bruce Springstein, and as song was playing in the bar, I looked around at all my friends having fun, laughing and I said, these are my glory days. It is all downhill from here. And you know what? At 22 years old, I was wrong, Fire Nation. The glory days are not behind. They are always ahead of us to have fond memories and know that your glory days are ahead of you. Now Mike, what is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Mike Muhney: Well, you know, a pivotal point in my career, my life, obviously and the way I have seen myself and the purpose for my being, I’ll point back to John, that recommendation to go have that breakfast and see if we could come up with another idea. That’s sounds very simple, wasn’t it? It almost sounds dismissive. But we took is seriously and that was a fork in the road. Had we taken the other fork, probably what would’ve happened is Pat and I would’ve gone back to the big corporate world where we came from, been safe and secure or so we would think but we didn’t. We sought out a mentor, we humbled ourselves and we took that advice to simply have a breakfast and think.
John: I love that word think and I really like that you ended with that word because so often Fire Nation, our faces are stuffed in our computers responding to that Facebook text, the text on our phone, you know we’re doing Snapchat. Always doing some thing. When’s the last time you just sat back, gave yourself enough space to think? Now Mike, what’s some personal habits that contributes to your success?
Mike Muhney: I can clearly tell you, John. It is a commitment to professionalism, a commitment to excellence in all that I do. And that may sound clichéish, and to some people it is. But to me, I put it into action. You know, I said earlier, we all are being sized up by the people we encounter. Comparing us to other people. We all have options of other choices for a solution. How do you distinguish yourself? I want to distinguish myself as a professional; I believe most people are amateurs because it’s not based on their view of themselves. More importantly and essentially, it’s based on how others perceive them. So what we’re really talking about is what are you doing? And Mike, mine is a commitment to this excellence and professionalism such that your perception of me is that I’ve to such a distinguishable and highly regarded reputation, that you choose me over others more of the time than not.
And that takes work. There’s a saying in baseball. You know the batter’s up at the plate. You know every attempt doesn’t produce a hit. And every hit doesn’t produce a homerun but every homerun is the result of both the attempt and the hit. And I attempt and I hit everything I do with everybody. And I occasionally get those homeruns. But I’m always going for that home run to distinguish myself and that’s the kind of commitment I’m talking about.
John: Have you seen the movie that came out a little while ago called The Intern with Robert De Niro?
Mike Muhney: I absolutely did. It brought tears to my eyes.
John: Fire Nation, I just absolutely love that movie and when you were talking, Mike, about being professional, that is really what popped into my mind. And because here you have Robert De Niro, he was 70 years old in the movie. He’s 72 years old in real life and he joined this internet start-up company. It was like a seniors’ program. He was an intern and he just wanted to be relevant in life. And actually this kind of even circles back, Mike, to what you and I were talking about earlier about being relevant. Like, we don’t wanna just glide off into the sunset. Like that’s boring. We wanna stay with it. And I think that movie does a great job of showing like how boring life can be when you stop being relevant in it. And so Robert De Niro does a great job and he’s this intern and he just start dressing – he dresses the part every day. He goes in, he has a suit, he has a tie. And all these, you know, mid-20s, low 30s, millennials are just like what are doing, dude? That’s not comfortable. They’re all grubby with no haircuts and shirts are untucked. And he, over the course of the movie has such a positive impact on them and their professionalism. It’s fascinating to see. So that’s what came to mind. And not to get too off topic but I wanted to share that.
But Mike, what is an internet resource like Evernote that you can share with the Fire Nation?
Mike Muhney: Well, as a software developer, my team and I find a lot of value in a product called Trello. It’s a great way for each of us to submit bugs and screenshots of the bugs. Obviously we’re always in an effort as a software developer to clean up the product. No software is without bugs as we all know. And it’s just a great collaborative tool. So I would recommend Trello.
John: If you could recommend one book, Mike, what would it be and why?
Mike Muhney: The most profound book I’ve read lately is Team of Teams by General Stanley Mc Chrystal. Led our forces in Afghanistan and really had to upend the hierarchal approach and how information wasn’t being shared across the various governmental agencies that were affecting their inability to respond in a timely, agile fashion to beat the enemy. And when you look at the value of collaboration, it really has great business insight into a different way of sharing information, working with people across different boundaries, not just within your own company to achieve the goals and so that’s the book I would recommend.]
John: My Commander and Chief. Well, Fire Nation, I know that you love audio, so I teamed up with Audible and if you haven’t already, get an amazing audio book for free at EOFirebook.com. Now Mike, let’s end today on fire with you giving a parting piece of guidance. The best way that we can connect with you and then we’ll say goodbye.
Mike Muhney: Okay. I appreciate if anybody would care to write me, I’m easily reached at [email protected] You can go to my personal website, MikeMuhney.com and let me know you’d like to talk and we’ll connect.
John: And what’s that parting piece of guindancce?
Mike Muhney: Well, you know, I’ll give you a quote from a poet, and I’m not a poet or that kind of guy. But it really has a lot of inspirational value to me, especially in some of the dark down days that you still experience, right? And this is the quote. And it’s very entrepreneurial. It goes like this; “Of all sad words, of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, what might have been.” As an entrepreneur and realizing that I’ve not yet achieved what I think I’ve been made to do and accomplish in my life, you know, it spurs me on to now allow myself to fall back into; I can’t do it or it’s impossible attitude because I don’t wanna come to the end of my life, John, God willing, and say doggone it, I wish I had tried and I wish I had done it. Even if it did fail, but I’ve gotta try.
John: Wow! Fire Nation, you know this. You’re the average of the five people that you spend the most time with. You’ve been hanging out with Mike Muhney and JLD today. So keep up the heat and head over to EOFire.com. Just type Mike, in the search bar. The show notes page will pop up with everything that we’ve been talking about today. So head on over there and thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that, we salute you Mike, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Mike Muhney: Well, I appreciate it. It’s been an honor, John. Thanks very much.
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