“5 Things You need To Know To Create a Successful App, SAAS or Software Business” an Interview with Rusty Wiley, Chief Executive Officer of Merrill Corporation
Some of the key principles we have used to build our brand with M&A professionals include maintaining a relentless focus on our customers, simulating solutions before building them, and testing our products with customers to ensure they meet their needs.
Rusty Wiley is President and Chief Executive Officer of Merrill Corporation. Since joining the firm in 2014, Rusty has led the successful transformation of the company from a collection of financial communications and print-related businesses into a leading, global M&A SaaS technology company.
Under Rusty’s stewardship, in 2018 the company completed its most successful year yet with revenue growth exceeding 20%, profit margins reaching their highest levels and market share hitting a historical peak.
Before joining Merrill Corporation, Rusty held a variety of executive roles across sales, consulting, and general management at IBM Corporation. Rusty holds an MBA from Duke University Fuqua School of Business, and a BS in Business Administration with a minor in Computer Science from East Carolina University.
Thank you for joining us Rusty! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve been in the technology sector a long time and am passionate about it. Before I joined Merrill six years ago, I led several business units at IBM, including sales, consulting and general management. My last role with the tech giant was leading its global banking and financial markets industry. The opportunity to take the helm at Merrill was an exciting next step as it combined my interests and experience in technology and financial services, while also providing the opportunity to transform a 50-year old financial printing company into a leading, global, SaaS technology provider for participants in mergers and acquisitions (M&A).
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Six years ago, we were a collection of disintegrated businesses, which included financial printing, regulated communications, legal services, real estate, as well as a due diligence and enterprise collaboration platform. Several of the businesses were in decline, faced stiff competitive challenges or their business models no longer made sense. Many were also capital intensive. However, among this group of businesses was a platform for due diligence and enterprise collaboration that was growing top line revenue at double digits every year. So, with support from our board and investors, we made the decision to invest in the platform and sell off the other businesses to market leaders, ensuring our employees would continue to have career opportunities. We leveraged the proceeds from the divestitures to rebuild our balance sheet and build talented teams across product, technology, marketing, sales and shared services. The transformation was challenging, including the cultural impact of constant divestitures for four years. After nearly five years of transformation, we have created a market leading SaaS technology platform serving the M&A due diligence space and is on its way to improving productivity and intelligence across the entire M&A lifecycle.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Without question, the most difficult part of our journey was balancing the need to execute divestitures while maintaining a positive culture and delivering financial results. We were executing a very complex transformation which understandably created a certain level of anxiety for many of our long-term employees. The journey was not easy, but we never considered giving up. The drive to continue was fueled by the opportunities we were creating for our team and the positive impact we were having on our clients and the overall M&A industry.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Our decision to invest in our platform is not only driving positive change for our customers in the due diligence space, but it’s helping to address other process inefficiencies still present across the M&A lifecycle. Late last year, we introduced DatasiteOne Marketing, a new application to help investment bankers, corporates and advisers securely collaborate on deal marketing content and execute the complex process of reaching out to potential buyers, with buyer insight and real-time dashboards showing the status of the deal marketing process. Additionally, our clients are increasingly focused on how technology can give them an essential edge in the business of M&A. New functionality like our AI powered redaction tool can decrease the amount of time spent on manual activities by over 50%. Our enhanced analytics tools provide valuable insight on deal activity and help prioritize valuable team cycles. Equally important, these tools improve the quality of work deal professionals do every day, making it possible for them to focus on higher value activities and improved deal velocity. These kinds of features make a material difference to M&A success. Our investments in technology and talent have resulted in rapid growth and expansion of our business. We now have 25 locations across 13 countries, and 670 employees worldwide. Our revenue continues to grow, too.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Very early in my role as CEO, I had planned a trip to one of our printing plants in Minnesota. A colleague advised me it was important to have some uniquely Minnesota experiences before I led an upcoming town hall. His recommendation was ice fishing! In preparation for the below-20-degrees weather on the day I was to go, I purchased every possible piece of warm weather clothing. So, you can imagine how I felt when I crawled out of my car in five layers and the owner of the ice fishing hut came out to greet me in shorts and a tee shirt! Yes, the huts are quite nice and heated! Of course, it did make for a great ice breaker at the town hall!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I believe it’s the combination of innovation, technology and service. However, I will focus on service for this one. The one constant in our company has been heroic client service. Along our transformation journey, we didn’t always have the best product, but we always distinguished ourselves with extraordinary service. There are many examples, but I think a great example was a call I got late one Friday night from a client. The client was in distress as they had accidentally deleted significant content in their deal room and did not have the skills or time to reconstruct it, as they were in the final stages of getting a deal closed. We engaged our service team at 11pm and by 6am we had completely restored their dataroom — demonstration we are much more than a tech platform provider and that we are a committed partner to our clients.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I’m not sure that there are any silver bullets that my peers in the industry don’t already know and every journey is different. A few activities have been important to our journey, including over-communicating the vision and impact to our clients and colleagues, speed of decision making, celebrating the small accomplishments, and never losing a sense of humor. At a level down, actively engaging all parts of the company in the discovery and design process for new SaaS products with clients is critical. Giving teams the opportunity to see first-hand the issues they are impacting is powerful. As a company, we are committed to frequent, high velocity design sprints. A great example of how this plays out is the result we had when we introduced our DatasiteOne diligence product we 24 months ago. Typically, it takes a year or more to move clients to a new platform from an old one. The success of our client engagement and design approaches was demonstrated when we went for product launch to 90% of all new sales were on the new product in 90 days!
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift the focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
Our platform powers secure, intelligent due diligence, asset marketing and enterprise collaboration for thousands of deals globally. We provide the world’s leading investment banks, private equity firms, law firms and corporations with tools to simplify, streamline and accelerate the due diligence process, helping them close more deals, faster. We support more than 9,000 global transaction projects annually, or about 20% of all global deal volume and our platform is used by the top 21 of 25 global investment banks and top 24 of 25 global law firms. Some of the key principles we have used to build our brand with M&A professionals include maintaining a relentless focus on our customers, simulating solutions before building them, and testing our products with customers to ensure they meet their needs.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Entrepreneurs and education create economic prosperity and that’s why we want to help connect, educate, and inspire individuals in our industry. To this end, we participate in numerous thought leadership forums on critical challenges facing businesses, including supporting greater diversity in leadership. A great example of this is our partnership with Exponent Women, an organization that provides women dealmakers with access to meaningful interactions and educational content.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m frequently on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/rustywiley