Rocket at 25: The value of being contrarian
When I look back at Rocket’s growth over the last 25 years, I am amazed by the number of “fork in the road” moments that allowed us to grow and succeed. Of course, we make decisions every day – both large and small – but a handful of the critical decisions that we have made as a company stick out in my mind not only because they were the right choices, but also because they went against what everyone else was doing, and what everyone else advised us to do. In fact, going against conventional wisdom has been one of the keys to Rocket’s success. Here are five contrarian decisions that we made that proved to be impactful, and that define who we are:
1. Let’s look at day one. That’s when we started a mainframe software company in the middle of the client/server revolution. It seemed like a crazy thing to do; at least that’s what everyone said. But many of the companies that were formed around the same time that we founded Rocket are distant memories. A few years later, during the dot-com boom, we also resisted following the herd and as the bubble burst, we continued to grow and thrive.
2. When faced with the need to expand our software development capabilities, we had plenty of opportunities to outsource to overseas development shops. Instead of outsourcing, we built our own R&D labs in Russia and China. And even then, we didn’t follow others. We created world-class labs in Chelyabinsk, Ekaterinburg, Miass, and Dalian. Building our own labs continues to allow us to strengthen our global Rocket culture of R&D excellence.
3. Early in our history, Rocket made the decision to partner with IBM. This may seem like a no-brainer today, but at the time many people considered it to be a risky strategy because it would limit our growth and limit our access to customers. We knew instead that it would give us amazing access to new markets that we could never reach on our own, and would allow us to work with one of the greatest companies in the world. To this day we continue to expand and strengthen our unique partnership with some of our closest friends to help drive growth for both IBM and Rocket.
4. We began to acquire companies in 2000 to help us expand our product lineup, access even more software engineers, and gain expertise in areas that had not traditionally been part of Rocket’s technology footprint. This definitely raised a few eyebrows because other software vendors had a horrible track record acquiring and integrating. We had a different vision for how software acquisitions should work. Sure, we made mistakes along the way, but we learned from them, and today we have a reputation as an acquirer that’s no-nonsense and does what we say we’re going to do. When we acquire we welcome the new team as fellow Rocketeers, we invest for growth and take excellent care of products, customers, and partners.
5. During our first 20 years in business we went against the grain by not taking any outside investment when it seemed like everyone else was getting big checks from venture capitalists. And then we went out and secured a significant investment from a private equity partner when everyone else was retreating from the market. Both of those proved to be good decisions: we escaped the dot-com bust unscathed and were then able to get the funding we were looking for to make significant acquisitions that have helped support our company’s growth over the past 5+ years.
We’ve made a lot more than five critical decisions over the years, but these are great examples of how Rocket zigging when everyone else was zagging has paid off for us over the last 25 years.