Martin Goodwin never thought he'd head an international software company, let alone one partnered with high-tech heavyweights Microsoft, IBM and Hewlett-Packard.
The soft-spoken 46-year-old has yet to take a computer class, and until three years ago the office he and partner Bob Henry shared was in the leaking basement of a supermarket. That market wasn't in Silicon Valley, either, but in Crestline, a small town in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Today the men are co-presidents of MSS Global, a Riverside company that in six years has gone from being a basement operation to a world player. The key to their growth: partnering.
"It's a global age," Goodwin said. "That means you have to partner globally."
Back in 1993, Goodwin ran a supermarket in Crestline and two general stores nearby, all owned by his family. He monitored his stores' inventories, product pricing, purchase orders and other functions on a computer, but he was using a dozen software programs to do so.
There had to be a simpler way, he thought; so he attended trade shows and scoured the Internet for an easy-to-use system that could handle all his retailing needs. When his search turned up nothing, Goodwin asked Henry, a church friend and computer systems developer, to help him write software that would enable him to better mind his stores' peas and queues.
Windows-Compatible Software for Retailers
Within a year the two men had developed Retail, the first software for retailers compatible with Microsoft Windows. With Retail, Goodwin and store administrators like him could replace traditional cash registers and cumbersome computer systems with an easy-to-operate computer system.
With Retail, every item that crosses a cashier's scanner or is punched into a cashier's keyboard automatically adjusts a store's inventory, making it easy for retailers to know what's selling and what's not.
The software also helps retailers calculate pricing, maintain customer information and track cashier productivity.
Anxious to recoup their costs, Goodwin and Henry contacted Microsoft for help in selling their product. After all, Retail was designed to work with Microsoft products such as MS Word, Excel, Access, SQL, Visual Basic and Windows NT.
The two demonstrated Retail at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Wash., and the executives there liked what they saw. Appreciating that Retail would help Microsoft's sales, they agreed to introduce Goodwin and Henry to Microsoft-certified computer consultants nationwide and overseas.
"Most software developers don't know the retail business," said Dave Primrose, business development manager in Microsoft's Business Solutions Group. "They know computer code, but they don't know grocery retailing, let alone any other kind of retailing. These guys do."
MSS Global's first major sales occurred in Mexico. There, Microsoft officials introduced Goodwin and Henry to three national Microsoft representatives. The men chose as their Mexican partner Antar Soluciones, one of the country's leading computer systems consultants.
Antar Soluciones had a sales strategy for Retail: If the Soriana supermarket chain could be persuaded to install Retail in all of its stores, Antar Soluciones would be well-positioned to sell the software to other supermarket chains.
At that time--1995--Soriana was looking for software that was compatible with any of the new personal computers coming on the market. Soriana simply did not want to be locked into one company's equipment and held hostage to that company's maintenance contract.
Retail filled the bill.
"With the Microsoft platform, we can adapt rapidly to meet the requirements of our stores," said Jose Pio Rosales, information technology director for Soriana.
Competing chain Comercial Mexicana quickly followed suit.
Meanwhile, Microsoft continued to introduce the presidents of MSS Global to its Latin American representatives, and more partnerships followed.
The partners receive 60% of the revenue from Retail sales they generate, plus 100% of the income they make through service contracts.
As of Oct. 1, MSS Global had sold 23,581 licenses in 20 countries.
"For us to go into another country and set up an office and learn that culture and all of the tax rules and then to advertise--it's a tremendous headache," Goodwin said. "Not just a headache, but you can't move so quick."
By partnering with other companies, Goodwin and Henry have kept MSS Global to a manageable 10-employee company--one that has made a mark in the highly competitive software industry without a marketing team or a direct sales staff or even venture capital.
After Guatemala's Pais, the leading retailer in Central America, and major chains in South America switched to Retail, both IBM (in 1999) and NCR (this year) paid MSS Global to design versions of Retail that would work on their equipment, rather than continue to lose market share. MSS Global makes money on every Retail license that IBM and NCR sell.