We talked to Steve Roatch of 27GLOBAL about software development and COVID-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Steve Roatch: My family and I are fortunate to have avoided the virus so far. We are able to work from home and social distance. In the early, scarier days of the pandemic, my siblings and I took turns bringing dinner to my parents, who are at greater risk. Now we focus on trying to keep our favorite businesses afloat by doing curbside pickup and so on.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded 27GLOBAL.
Steve Roatch: I’ve been into software since high school, did a lot of programming work through college then worked for Accenture, so building software has always been my passion. After 18 years at Accenture, I joined a small software as a service company as COO, helped it grow, then sold it. The difference between the engineering rigor we put into software at Accenture and the shoot-from-the-hip approach I saw in the small company gave me the idea for 27 Global: I would create a company that targeted the mid-market but used the same rigor (and more) that only seemed to be available at large companies and top consulting firms.
How does 27GLOBAL innovate?
Steve Roatch: We constantly listen to our clients. One book I frequently recommend is “A Good Hard Kick in the Ass” by Rob Adams. Adams, formerly of Austin Technology Ventures, advises startup companies to relentlessly validate their ideas in the marketplace. That means speaking with 50 to 100 potential buyers. We started this way and continue to ask our clients and prospects what we’re doing that could be better or what we’re not doing that we should, or what services they have difficulty procuring. Additionally, we challenge each of our employees to be the very best at what they do and allocate 10% to 25% of their time, depending on role, to research new ideas. It’s been over 12 years since our founding, but we’ve never stopped innovating.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Steve Roatch: The pandemic caused an abrupt fall in revenue for at least two of our clients who had to cancel work midstream. This left us with a revenue shortfall as well as excess capacity. We’ve studied the market and expect the downturn to be short-lived, and therefore have chosen to focus on building competitive advantage rather than making drastic cost cuts.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Steve Roatch: Keeping too large of a team through the pandemic-induced downturn is a difficult choice. But we’re very proud of our team and have worked very hard to assemble the team and grow the skills and culture that make us successful. So rather than cut back on our greatest asset, we’ve doubled down on innovation. We’re expanding from two to twelve service offerings. Many of the new offerings are components of what we already do but haven’t put much effort into selling, and some are extensions of what we currently do.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and 27GLOBAL in the future?
Steve Roatch: From the beginning of the pandemic, we adopted the attitude that we need to be strong so that we can help others in need. We’ve been flexible with everyone’s schedule, communicated aggressively with our clients and suppliers, have agreed to price reductions that we would not ordinarily agree to, and have helped friends and family that either have become sick or needed extra support. This “we are strong” attitude has given us the right mindset to get through this. As a leader, it’s my responsibility to lead with courage so that our team can continue to serve our clients without undue stress.
Your final thoughts?
Steve Roatch: Competitive advantage beats cost reduction every time. There will be business cycles that go up and down in the future, and there are fast and slow times in any company despite what happens in the larger economy. The downtimes test your grit. Hunker down and fight. You can do it–and you need to do it.