Before Starting a Business, Map Out Your Priorities: An Interview with CEO Richard Milam – Info Entrepreneurship
By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner
“…there are many people who want you to like them and few who will tell you the truth.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Milam, CEO of Foxtrot powered by EnableSoft. A pioneer in the Robotic Process Automation technology movement, Richard Milam brought a revolutionary operational efficiency solution to organizations worldwide with his conception of Foxtrot RPA, EnableSoft’s flagship product. Since founding the company in 1995, Richard has become a leading expert in the related fields of AI and machine learning. He formerly held sales and consulting positions for several of the largest banking software companies and served in the United States Navy as a nuclear-trained engineer in the Navy’s submarine service. Richard has leveraged his passion for aviation to build the business using his twin engine aircraft to engage with customers in all 50 states.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?
After working with the Automated Teller Machine inventor and then marketing bank software, I found myself working with banks to help them merge data from acquired savings and loans into their accounting systems. This was during the 90’s S & L crisis and the data needed to be moved immediately and there was no automated way to do it in the short time frame. The banks were literally working around the clock manually keying in names, addresses and account information. It was a brutal and error prone process. With my engineering and software background, I knew there was a better way. After one particularly long data entry project at a Memphis financial institution, I was having a beer on Beale Street and started to prototype a solution. The prospect of liberating people from the drudgery of manual data processes as well as boosting the performance of organizations worldwide energized me. I truly believed that if we provided knowledge workers and subject matter experts with tools to automate processes to address business problems and opportunities themselves they would become heroes, their organizations would excel, and people would be more likely to be with their families enjoying sporting events and other entertainment on the nights and weekends. I believed that it would put humans in charge of the machines instead of people being slaves to the machines. Robotic Process Automation was born and we released Foxtrot RPA (although not called RPA at the time) and the pathway to improved quality of life and efficiencies was before us.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
Starting any company is a risky and arduous process. I had traded my six figure income for a desk, a telephone, some files and brand new software. It only seemed natural with a wife at home and a two year old as well. With only a few customers and no pipeline, the full weight of the situation was upon me. Well, I knew there would be no vacations for some time so I rented a Lincoln town car, acquired a mobile phone (they were huge in size at that time) and set off for the mountains with my family playing games in the back seat. We visited friends and family and I called on a dozen banks where we had done the ugly manual data conversions. While renewing acquaintances and sharing war stories, they viewed my demonstration and I shared my vision of performance liberation. More than half of them licensed our product and suddenly we had customer stories and a pipeline. It turns out that there are many day-to-day automation tasks where the same data is keyed into multiple systems including interfacing platform and internet banking data to the system of record as well as data breach recovery (securing and ordering credit cards). In fact, the needs are so large and worldwide that the RPA market is expected to grow to billions of dollars.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our vision from the beginning was that we would partner with our customers to enable them to implement an automation strategy versus merely selling them a piece of software. Our customer success team provides world class US based support and has access to developers in real time. During Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, financial institutions called on our team to support them in getting backup systems updated so that they could enable affected customers to get access to much needed cash.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
There are so many. I have been in CEO roundtables including Vistage and CEO Nexus where I have sought insights and advice and been challenged to learn, grow and become a critical thinker. My spiritual mentor has modeled how to become the gentle giant and not the 100 LB guerilla (I’m still learning) and my wife is my cheerleader, sounding board and truth teller. These people are critical to an entrepreneur as there are many people who want you to like them and few who will tell you the truth. Proverbs says, “The bruises of a friend can be trusted but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe to those who have been given much, much is expected. As much as possible, I make myself available to mentor entrepreneurs. It is my passion and vision for the people in our company to grow and become more valuable inside and outside of the company. We use our financial and time resources to that end. And certainly, we support our church and other mission-oriented nonprofits.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my startup,” and why?
- It’s going to take three times as much time and treasure than you think.
- Your not as smart as you think you are. I thought I was smarter than those for whom I worked. I was sure that I could hire and on board sales people more effectively than the people I worked for. I had to learn that one the hard way. Selling direct is very hard work.
- You will not be the only person doing what you do. Twenty years later, it turns out there were about 20 companies worldwide with an RPA solution, although I believe we were first and the first to improve efficiency in an entire industry.
- Debt is really hard to pay back. One of my CEO roundtable buddies once said that debt is evil. I’ve used some debt along the way but that thought never left me.
- Make sure you know what your priorities are in life. There was a time in life when I worked so hard that I was away from my family. I eventually changed the business model to minimize travel so I could be there for my half-time schedule with my two daughters.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Harrison Ford. We share a passion for aviation, both of us grew up in Illinois and both started with little.
Article Prepared by Ollala Corp