My First Interview in the Software Business

“You show me you can sell, and I’ll hire you.” I was 22 years old and working as an accountant in a South Florida CPA firm. This was my shot to be a part of the newly forming software industry. I became acquainted with the founder of Management Control Systems, Richard Brock, through IBM in Coral Gables, Florida. As a customer of his company, I spent a lot of time on the phone with Richard since the software didn’t work all that well.

Richard came to town to make it work and not lose the deal. I was on a seriously steep learning curve and enjoyed the heck out of it.

Being the early days of small business computing, you had to go deep in making the software operate properly. This included learning the operating system as well as the application and programming. I loved it and wanted in.

Can You Sell?

One night after a particularly exhausting day, Richard said, “Would you like to work for me?”

I said, “I’m not going to work for anybody. I am going to have my own company, even if it has to be a CPA firm.”

He replied, “If you join me as an employee and it works out, then you and I will be partners. But I have a concern. We need sales, and I’m not sure you know how to sell.”

“I can sell,” I said. “What do I need to do to prove it to you?”

He said, “I have a sales trip to Key West coming up. There is a medical services business there which is interested in our General Ledger software. You come on the trip with me, and we’ll see if you can sell.”

I met Richard at Miami airport where we boarded a DC-3. The name of the airline was Air Sunshine, and all us Miami locals called it Air Sometime. I was really excited to be on my first sales call as a software sales rep.

When we arrived at the prospect’s office, Richard set up the overhead projector and his overhead slides. His presentation was to last an hour or so. About fifteen minutes in, he lost his voice. His lips were moving, but only a whisper was coming out. He asked if I could take over.

My Big Chance

I picked up where he left off and finished the presentation. I answered the questions the prospect had, and we started talking terms right then and there. It was all very exciting. Within an hour of completing the presentation, we closed the deal!

To celebrate, we all went to dinner at a beautiful restaurant right on the water in Key West. The client was telling us the plans they had for their business and how they would be using the new system they had bought.

Richard, who did get his voice back, was telling them more about the software and what it would do for them. The conversation got deeper and deeper into their needs, and then it happened.

They came to realize the system wasn’t a good choice for them because it was missing a vital feature. So here we were at dinner, and now we had lost the deal we had just closed two hours prior to this. Yikes!

Richard and I back peddled quickly. He said, “There isn’t a problem here. We can add the required feature in the morning before our flight leaves. You’ll be ready to go.”

Adding Key Features

The client agreed that if we added the feature and we could demonstrate it, he would buy the system.

Richard completed the program modification the next morning, showed it to them, and they were satisfied.

Richard said, “Before I leave, I would like a check for the software per the contract.”

The client said, “We have to wait until the bank opens later, and then we will mail you the check.”

I sized these guys up quickly. They were a new business in Key West with a newly formed group of founders. Richard’s software business was living hand to mouth at the time, but so were these guys.

Getting the Cash

As we were all standing around the computer, I stepped in and said, “Richard, I need to get back to Miami, but you can take a later flight. Why not have breakfast with our new customer, then go to the bank together. Then the contract will be honored, and they will have the software.”

I asked the customer, “Will that work?”

Surprised by the new plan, they said, “Sure.”

Richard got the check and flew back to Mobile, Alabama which was the world headquarters of Management Control Systems.

He called me from Key West airport with the check for $25,000 in his pocket. He said, “Thanks for that recommendation. You’re hired!”

That’s how I got the job which launched my career as an entrepreneur and software executive.

Also published on Medium.