Starting a Software Company
Interview with Rony Ross, Founder of Panorama Software
Rony Ross didn't let getting turned down by 8 VC firms stop her. Today she is the founder of Panorama Software, a leader in the business intelligence space.
Rony Ross started Panorama Software in 1993 in Israel.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Founded in 1993, Panorama Software is a leading innovator in the Business Intelligence space. Panorama sold its OLAP technology to Microsoft Corporation in 1996, which was rebranded as SQL Server Analysis Services and integrated into the SQL Server platform, and has since been a close and strategic Microsoft partner. Panorama focuses on delivering business intelligence solutions for enterprise companies as a traditional "on-premise" offering or through an innovative Software as a Service solution.
Panorama supports over 1,500 customers worldwide in industries such as financial services, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, telecommunications and life sciences. Panorama has a wide eco-system of partners in 30 countries, and maintains offices throughout North America, EMEA and Asia.
How did you come up with your business idea?
We were working on a project to convert a Unix-based system to the Windows environment. Back then Windows was still a new environment and most applications ran in cumbersome mainframe, Unix or DOS environments. We created a module that retrieved data from the Unix Database and displayed it in a very attractive windows-based format. It looked so friendly and easy and attractive.
So we started thinking: why not develop an environment that lets EVERY organization take data from their mainframe databases and make it available and useful for the decision makers in the organization?
I remember discussing with my father, wondering if it was possible to build such a tool and if I could afford the cost of such a venture. We decided to go ahead, even though we had only very limited resources. We created a mock-up and tested the idea with 16 potential customers - and the feedback we got was good. We created a UI that was oriented for decision makers - with innovative techniques (at the tine) such as drag drop and slice dice. We realized we need to support the front end with a suitable engine that will optimize the response tine and so we started to build our own multidimensional engine. Then we started to think how to optimize the multidimensional database and make it effective not only in performance but also in size and manageability.
This is how we came up with the idea of an OLAP database that was optimized to the users and that had a self-learning mechanism. This is the technology that made panorama so successful and that appealed to Microsoft 2 years later.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I have a diverse background that spans software development, IT management, running of R&D centers for international companies, sales and marketing. I held a couple of senior management positions before I decided I should control my own destiny and start my own business. Panorama was my third venture, and a very successful one.
Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?
When I started, the VC industry was in its infancy. There were only about 8 active VC's in Israel at the time, and for most of them this was their first fund. I wrote a great business plan, I had half a dozen large customers who were already using the system and were willing to testify that the solution I provided had an unbeatable value proposition for them.
I met with all 8 VC's, pitched with enthusiasm and commitment - and yet none agreed to fund me.... I guess that the fact that I was not the typical ex-military-intelligence-officer scared them off (most of the start ups in Israel at the time were started by ex-military-intelligence-officers). It was a blow, because I had to finance the development by my own means, but it turned to be a blessing because I did not have to share the revenues from the Microsoft deal with any preferred shareholder.
Did you operate your business from your home? What were the challenges and benefits to this strategy?
We started in a garage-like apartment. The development staff were all sharing the same workspace (no partitions). I remember that when the guys from Microsoft came for the Due Diligence process we were worried that they will be taken aback by such an operation, but they actually loved it. They understood that a team who has been working in such closed proximity for so many months is most likely to stay together even after an acquisition, and indeed they were right.
The original team remained as a team, working together in Microsoft for over 10 years following the acquisition. It was for this visit that we paved the path that led to the office... and cleaned the keyboards with a toothbrush.
For women entrepreneurs, what specific advice would you have for young women who would like to become an entrepreneur? Are there specific advantages, disadvantages to being a women business owner?
Women tend to be more risk averse than men, and that makes going into entrepreneurship so much harder for them. However, studies show that women are more likely to succeed in the ventures, as they are excellent in keeping the budget under control and running a tight operation.
I went through sleepless nights when I was not sure who I am going to meet the next payroll. But the rewards were enormous, even prior to the Microsoft acquisition. Because it felt great to control your own destiny and to be perfectly aligned with the business and its goals. I felt so proud for every new customer win!
Finding employees to work in a new and growing business can be a challenge. How did you find your employees?
I found some of my best employees through simple recruiting process: putting an ad in the paper, sorting out 5 candidates from dozens of applications, and then interviewing and calling references.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
People. I found the right people to work for me and I let them excel in what they do best.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
No. I wish I could do it all over again... just the way it was.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Panorama has been very successful in developing and delivering innovative BI solutions to enterprise customers because it was very attentive to its customers' needs. Before embarking on full development of our first product we developed a mock up and interviewed 16 potential customers about what they liked or did not like about the proposed solution. The answers we got provided us with the right direction in which to pursue the development of the product.
If you developed an enterprise-oriented product, you should be able to find at least 3 customers who will appreciate the value such a product can bring and who will become your early adopters. If you cannot find these customers then the product is probably no good and it is back to the drawing board.
Perseverance is key. Sometimes it felt like I was climbing on walls. But - you only see obstacles when you take your eyes off your goal. As long as you focus on the goal, the obstacles will be overcome.
Thank you, Rony, for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your inspirational story.!
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