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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Change doesn’t come without pain, but extinction is worse

By Gary Griffiths, CEO

iPass: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I’m on another of the many long flights I’ve been on since February when the board decided change was overdue, and asked me to take over as CEO of iPass, and Patricia Hume to join as Chief Commercial Officer.  The board’s mandate was clear: the current plan is not working: build a new iPass.  I spoke to Patricia about writing a blog to share our experience.  So we put our heads together, and reflected on our first few months at iPass.

Patricia recalled sitting at a breakfast in those early days, trying to convince the board that “I can do that.”  “But I really didn’t know then what ‘that’ was,” she said.  “Because at that time I knew little about the ‘old’ iPass.” But this kind of challenge is seductive—the kind of thing both Patricia and I have sought in our very different careers.  And I was hungry to roll up my sleeves and get started.

I had been on the board before being asked to take the CEO spot, and I told our employees that I believed the company was undervalued—and misunderstood. That we were a $20 stock masquerading as a $1 stock.  I shared this vision with Patricia—that iPass must be Unlimited, Everywhere, and Invisible—and how together we could build this new iPass.  How we would simplify our messaging, remove the mystery and complexity that haunted the company—and start selling. Thereby, we hoped, returning value to our shareholders, customers, partners and employees. An irresistible challenge, though daunting.

We knew we had a lot of work to do, but we knew our time was limited. Shareholders were restless: the pitchfork and firebrand kind-of-restless.  There was no time for task forces and consultants.  It was time for decisive action with not much margin for error.  So we dove head first into these stormy waters.  And we found:

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

THE GOOD: For a small company,  iPass has some incredible assets—an enviable lot to work with. We have over 700 customers representing some of the world’s largest and most honored brands.  Many of which had been customers for years, delivering a recurring revenue stream.  We found passionate, talented and loyal employees—many who’d been with the company for over seven years—a lifetime in the hot Silicon Valley job market.  Employees who believed the company could be great, and wanted to be part of the company’s transformation.  We found what we believed was a huge addressable market that had not yet been tapped. We have an enviable market position.  Our technology is proven, and within this community, our brand is known.  Even respected.  Not to mention that Wi-Fi is hot – and getting hotter.  And, with the Internet of Things becoming a reality, we believed that the future could be very bright.  If we could set the course, rally the team, and execute.

THE BAD:  Soon we learned that the operating plan we inherited was inadequate to meet the goals set forth by the board.  The assumptions were unrealistic, and the Go-to-Market model required significant change.  Our customer churn needed to be addressed.  The organization was top heavy with defined silos, and this too was slowing down progress.  Our technology, while solid, needed significant new innovations in order to expand our market.   Additionally, iPass had more process, reporting and bureaucracy than our Alma Mater –IBM—where both Patricia and I learned the ropes of management.

THE UGLY:  The company did not have a strategy—but lots of ideas and thousands of Power Point slides.  We were spending a lot of money.  But most importantly, iPass was tired and needed a restart with the energy of the hot Silicon Valley startup we believed iPass could be.

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So we started down the path to build a new iPass.  A plan that embodied a new “Unlimited ” Go-To-Market model.  A plan that believed iPass customers needed to find iPass “Everywhere.”  And that our service must be “Invisible,” always on—always keeping you connected—like dial tone.  More specifically, our initiatives included:

  1. Fix the cost structure: fewer executives, and more people selling our services.
  2. A broader addressable market, including not only large businesses, but a sales and cost structure that worked for small and mid-sized businesses.
  3. A refreshed brand: a face lift and fresh positioning
  4. Facilitate a new spirit of innovation and creativity in engineering
  5. Hire new talent to supplement the experience and know-how of the incumbent team
  6. Unleash the power of an enviable but dormant set of channel partners
  7. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.
  8. Define the culture and values
  9. Think customer and quality first in everything we do
  10. While building a strategy centered on the IoT to help insure future viability

All of this, we hoped,  would culminate in returning value to our shareholders, customers, partners and employees.

The market has acknowledged that we are moving very fast—which we must. The key is balance—and execution.  Delivering on our promises, making sure that we major on the major’s—avoid looking at the ants while the elephants are stepping on us.  Staying the course—“strategy du jour” has no place in the new iPass.  While allowing ourselves to make mistakes and learn from them – striving for excellence in all we do—and therefore only doing as much as we can do with excellence.

It is amazing how my view of our company and the opportunity ahead has changed.  I really believed we had something  here—my gut said,  “Yup this is a good one—a real keeper.  Perhaps the one I can hang my hat on.” And now, after nearly six months of change, of lessons and learning’s,  I am more convinced than ever that the “new” iPass is a grand place to be.  For sure, there is still a ton of work to, and we have a long way to go before we can declare success.  But the vision is clear and the path ahead is filled with opportunity.  Speaking for both Patricia and me, there is an emotional connection to iPass and our people.  And I can state with passion and heartfelt commitment to anyone who asks: “iPass is awesome and getting better everyday.”