April 29, 2017

The True Story of How and When CRM Software Was Invented


It was in the earliest days of the Personal Computer revolution. Many small businesses were using PCs for word processing, spreadsheets, billing and inventory. The marketplace was evolving rapidly; lots of new software was imagined, programmed, and sold. It seems ridiculous now, but in the early times these programs would be displayed in baggies hanging on carousels by the cash register in the local computer store, containing one or two floppy disks of magic software.
Imagine it: Software as Impulse Buy! Might was well get some extra software for the new computer, right? After all, the more it can do, the more profits, right? That's just Business 101. Cheap, too... games for 5 bucks at the low end to inventory software for 50 bucks or more. The best and most expensive software came with binders in boxed sets, hundreds of pages of documentation to explain how to use the software.
But it was all really awful stuff.
That statement comes from a guy who, at the time, had 20 years experience imagining, designing, programming and selling business application software on mainframes. But the people who were writing software for the PC were learning on the job, and there were not a lot of other ways to learn. Video did not exist on computers, there was no internet. It was a simpler time, in some ways...
Patents were not issued on software at the time. So if you had an idea, you had to program it fast and start selling it before the next guy comes along and copies it and starts selling it for less, trying to steal your lunch and put you out of business. The software business was a race, and a gamble, and a game of smarts playing against some of the smartest.
VC money was not a concept until later. Act! appeared in 1986 backed with VC money. The concept of "startup" didn't exist. 
It was the Wild West of the Software revolution. There was no clear leader in the commercial application software business for PCs. It was very fragmented, lots of small bit players. These small players could stand out by gambling on an ad in the industry magazines Byte and PC. One page cost a small fortune. Software publishers who could afford it showed up in Las Vegas in August, the world's biggest trade show, Comdex, takes over the whole town with non-stop innovation and deal making and partying. Software publishers were really just techies who built a product and had little to zero business and sales experience.
As these very early years of the Personal Computer revolution were changing the way we do business, there was a guy, let's call him DoubleM, whose fortunes were about to change for the better but only after changing for the worse.
It was on March 17, 1983 that personal bankruptcy was DoubleM's only option, the bottom was hit, and there was no place to go but up.
When faced with the reality of the line that was crossed, from success to failure, from luxury to poverty, and when it happens so suddenly, it gets your attention and forces immediate action or there will be nothing to eat...
DoubleM had some skills and some good experience with business due to having two previous startups and they were both business software that was used as a service (not SaaS, which came much later).
Another factor that helped align the stars for the birth of CRM was the fact that in this one person there existed a combination of skills, talents, whatever. it was this rare combination of all of them in one person that defied the odds by a big margin. For example...
There exist two worlds: the world of the nerd and the world of the "suits". Very rarely do they inter-breed. You either spent your time with your head inside the computer, learning and programming and debugging and fixing stuff... or you were running the business, and selling and marketing and focused on taking care of business. The nerds hadn't a clue about business and the suits had no clue whet the nerds were saying. This caused no end of problems in those early years, still does.
And then there are two other worlds when it comes to business: the owners on the one hand, and the salespeople / customer service people on the other hand, and they create the money that pays everyone else's salary. The bosses don't have a clue what or how to do the sales and service, and live in fear that someday all the sales will stop when the salespeople go work for a competitor. These two kinds of people existed on opposite sides of the world of business. Rarely did they mix in any individual.
So we have one individual with multiple essential and yet mutually exclusive experiences. Highly improbable.
The kicker is that he was ambitious, he had something to prove, he was "hungry", and that can make all the difference. He didn't like being bankrupt. He wanted to get his Ferrari back.
He decided to return to basics and do what he did 20 years earlier when working at IBM as a sales rep / systems engineer, right out of college. IBM was the greatest company in the world in 1964. He learned a lot. His assignment was to roam parts of 4 states, and find factories and sell them computer systems and then get them to do whatever was needed; to design and deliver the systems and procedures and software solutions. This time he would do it in San Diego, as an independent computer consultant.
The story has been told many times about what came next, how he asked a young and pretty lady friend to hand out some posters and deliver a one-word script ("Computers?") with a smile. The phone rang the next day with a call from a company who would soon become the first user of a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software product.
The name of that company is Coffee Ambassador in San Diego, California, and the guy who bought that first CRM is still working there, because he's the owner. Sean Curtis is the guy who got one of the first posters and made the call, possibly hoping the pretty lady would return. 
Instead, it was "DoubleM", who showed up.  At the time he had no illusions about building a software product, he just needed to pay the rent and eat, and save up for a car. It was a humbling time. 
The first meeting went well, the office coffee company was growing quickly and having trouble keeping up with the paperwork. They needed a computer and a good bit of hand holding and custom programming, fast. DoubleM made a proposal to do an analysis of their needs for $950, with half of that at the start, the balance payable on delivery of what would essentially be a plan for using computers most effectively.
The coffee company bought the proposal, gave him a check for $475. The pressure was off for at least a week.
More calls came in, and in short order he had enough cash to buy his own PC, which was essential because he knew nothing about the PC. This was a key ingredient in his plan to survive. If he was going to master this new technology he needed to have his own PC, full time, instead of learning on the job at a customer's office. It's embarrassing looking through manuals in front of customers; it's erodes confidence.
Soon there was enough cash to buy the bits and pieces for a home office space in his studio apartment. For a desk it was two 2-drawer filing cabinets with a block of wood as the table top. The chair was a folding wooden torture device, cost all of 15 bucks at Sears.
He picked up a used mattress, a cast-off from a relative upgrading. He had a place to sleep, but the PC kept him awake.
PCs were only part of the rich tapestry of hardware and software that he worked with during the years of 1983-1984. Other systems included IBM mainframes, Apple II machines, and mini computers such as Altos and others. The hardware had its own unique operating systems, and languages, and application software. It was always a challenge learning new tech fast to deliver the solution, and get paid.
This guy, DoubleM, was just selling his time by the hour to whoever needed help, on whatever computer, operating system, application, or language.
DoubleM was soon eating regular and paying the rent. Within a couple of months he bought a cheap used car, a beater of a '65 Mustang, in red, because it reminded him of the car he drove when he worked as a sales rep / systems engineer at IBM almost 20 years previously, except then the Mustang was brand new, not 20 years old. Although cell phones had not come into use yet, that Mustang was truly a mobile device; it could get him to clients without borrowing a car from friends. It was a great milestone in his recovery from bankruptcy.
DoubleM considered work a meditation during those two years, with total focus on service to others, without focus on dreams of grandeur, without ambition, just keeping his head down and doing the work to earn the money for food and rent. 
He had one fork, one spoon, one knife, and one bowl. Life was simple.
There was a detail that needed to be solved, however. The maximum earnings that could be achieved was limited by the hours that could be billed by one person, DoubleM himself. If he wanted to play frisbee on the beach, not a billable activity, usually, he would be taking a pay cut to do it.
The "suit" within him knew that he needed a product that could be sold by others and that revenue could still flow IN when he played frisbee or was sleeping. A software product, a product that was unique, something that didn't compete with existing products, a software product for people like himself... sales people and entrepreneurs and customer service people, a program that would do the work that the suits needed done, and a program that the workers would want to use.
That was the big issue with software of the day, it was so difficult to use. it was crazy how some of the stuff was put together. And it was buggy of course. The biggest issue with that seemed to be that programmers of the day didn't understand users, and users didn't understand programmers. To make it worse, programmers liked to show off their skills and knowledge of software features, and that would result in software that users found baffling.
DoubleM had skills as a programmer, as well as a "suit",  a sales rep, a manager, and a startup entrepreneur. He saw things others couldn't because of the combination of so many experiences that rarely, if ever, existed in one individual at that time.
For those two years, the idea was brewing for what would eventually become a whole new category of software, and because it was new, there wasn't even a category, it existed alone, a free-standing and unique creation.

A reason why it was so unique was because it represented a paradigm shift in the nature of user software. Virtually all software products at the time were really special-purpose tools designed to accomplish a certain task (word processing, spreadsheet, accounting), whereas what DoubleM had in mind was a collection of tools that were integrated to perform real world needs (sell more, build a business, customer support), and to do it in such a way that you didn't need to know much about computers. At the time, most computer users were the early adopters, the people who knew about computers, so the software of the time was designed knowing that users were already literate with them. In order to enter an entirely new market, the software had to be an order of magnitude easier to use, it had to be so easy to use that a salesperson could use it, someone who had slim to zero computer experience.

The essential purpose of the product was to create cash for the user, because that was DoubleM needed most at the time.
If he could get a computer to create cash, that would be a good thing. There were zero products in existence at the time that were focused on creating cash, quickly, and building a business around that goal.

The software would have have a couple of key features:
1. It had to be Open, integrating with other software products, for example it had to integrate with whatever word processor and accounting software the user was already familiar with. After all, if you are going to be using the computer to sell, you should be able to enter the order and send a thank you letter at the same time.
2. It had to be able to dial the phone, regardless of what phone system the user had.
3. It had to be customizable by users in a wide range of "vertical markets" for example, stock brokers, recruiters, real estate sales people, insurance, telemarketers, and even Catholic churches. It had to be a universal product.
4. And not just customizable by users, but also other developers who could get deeper into the operation of the software and create entirely different market specific capabilities. These would be product variants that could be sold by others at a higher price than the base product. This gave the product the aura of a general purpose opportunity for people to get into the highly profitable and rapidly growing software industry.
5. It had to keep notes that documented the history of all interactions with the customers. This feature alone would have huge advantages for company owners and sales reps alike.
6. It had to be trivially easy to find any customer's records, quickly, by business name, or individual name, and able to file the records by "recall date" (when the customer was to be contacted next). Virtually all sales record keeping at the time was done with 3x5 cards in a shoe box, or a Rolodex™and once the customer's card was filed by recall date, it was no longer retrievable by company name or individual name. So having the ability to retrieve records from a database using multiple keys (indexes) was big stuff in those early days. The tools to do this were primitive and clunky and not suitable for inexperienced users.
The idea was presented to Sean Curtis, at Coffee Ambassador, in late 1984, and it went like this: the product DoubleM imagined would cost the company $5,000 and they could use it forever with free new features and bug fixes.  The only catch is that the ownership of the software would stay in the name of DoubleM, who would sell it to other companies, hopefully. The deal was agreed.
After the check was signed, DoubleM did the name test and offered Sean Curtis his choice:
    1. TeleMagic, or
    2. Michael's Magical Money Machine

Sean chose option 1, and so TeleMagic was born at that moment.
Going from idea to reality was the difficult part, of course. There was zero money to hire a programmer for the work, so DoubleM had to do it himself, nights and weekends, when he was back from the paying customers offices. Don't give up your day job, the one paying the bills. Violate that rule and you wind up homeless and hungry. So the days were long during that winter, but eventually the demo day was set in early 1985. The customer loved it. CRM was born.

The Main Menu of that first version had 3 choices:
    S - Start
    E - Everything else
    X - to exit the program

The Start concept was unique in that the product represented a semi-automated process that could be turned on or off at will. Start initiated the process of creating cash. Enter S to Start making money, enter X to stop making money, and E for everything else, like printing letters, reports, doing backups, etc. Just 3 choices, S, E, X... oh, my, look what that spells! Well now that we have your attention, let's see what this thing can do...
DoubleM gifted the software to friends who used it in their businesses; they got excellent results with it. It was time to take the next step. The first sales rep was hired, John Briches, a waiter in a local restaurant, who started part time as a commission only telemarketer, using the software to sell the software, to Value Added Resellers (VARs), people who would in turn use the software to sell their software and services and consulting, which is exactly what DoubleM was doing before he built the software. it was magnificently recursive and self optimizing. People who saw it "got it". It was off to the races.
Soon enough, however, competition popped up: Act!, Maximizer, SaleMaker, GoldMine, and a cast of what seemed like hundreds of copycat products. It was as if the wold of software all got the idea very quickly starting in 1986-88. When there were a few products that seemed to do similar things, some software industry writer put them into a category and called it "Contact Management".  If you called it "Sales Automation" you could get more money for the same software! Then years later it was changed again to "Customer Relationship Management". But it was all the same, really. Just an electronic Rolodex, a name and address list, on steroids, with lots of bells and whistles that improved the productivity of all who used it.
That first software product was continuously improved to version 14.5 for the DOS platform. There was a Windows version in early '93.
The software was primitive by today's standards but it was amazingly effective. Among all of the early CRM products, the first of them, TeleMagic, stood at the top because it was so easy to use, and yet very powerful. By the time competition appeared, that first product had lots of iterations of the Build-Sell-Learn loop, TM was, and stayed, far superior to other software companies' offerings. But hoards of rabble copycats were catching up fast and it was always a game of cat and mouse, rapid development, and mad selling.
There are lots of stories out there that credit the first CRM to Act!, which appeared much later, in 1986, and even GoldMine, which published in 1988 at the earliest, but TM was there before them all, chugging along every day at Coffee Ambassador in San Diego. They continued to use the software for the following 25+ years. Many companies still use the earlier DOS versions to run their entire businesses. Besides the PC, for DOS and Windows, TM versions were built for Unix, Mac, AS-400 systems,  translated into foreign languages and sold in many countries, although the USA remained the primary market.
Freed from the stresses of the software business at last, DoubleM went on to some other amazing adventures that have been recounted elsewhere. This is just the story of the first CRM; you can do more research at DBLM.com.

Sage seemed conflicted about their investments in the CRM marketplace, having also purchased Act! and another CRM product, then sold them off, but kept TM all these years. TM is still selling, 32 years later, and supported by a core of dedicated VARs, even though Sage stopped development many years ago. Based on Sage's actions, it could be argued that they did everything they could to kill TM; but it's the software product that will not die. 

This post was originally created on 4/29/17, and may have occasional edits as typos and/or inconsistencies arise.
Signed: "DoubleM"
aka:
Michael McCafferty,
Del Mar, California
Mobile:  858.342.6949
Email:    mm@DBLM.com
Website: DBLM.com

Links:

Wikipedia (TeleMagic)
Wikipedia (Michael McCafferty)
The TeleMagic Adventure  with photos of early product, Inc. 500 awards, etc.
YouTube: TeleMagic, The Secret Files   (many other TeleMagic origin videos on YouTube)

Books:

What You Say Is What You Get
Describes the days of desperation and poverty, the bankruptcy, and how the turnaround started. The premise is the power of positive (self) talking. Click the title to read the chapter. Copyright 1991, George Walther.

The Greatest Sales Stories Ever Told, from The World's Greatest Salespeople
A brief look at the start of the TeleMagic adventure, and the critical role played by the poster "The Ten Commandments of Managing a Young Growing Business". Also describes the negotiations during the sale of the company and the lessons learned. Click the title to read the chapter. Copyright 1995, Robert L. Shook.