Vic Cherubini Interviewed on Entrepreneurs R Us Radio Show
September 20, 2011 - What does it take to start and keep a small business going? This is just one of the many questions that Stephen J. Blakesley, host of the internet radio show Entrepreneures-R-Us, asked Vic Cherubini, President of the epic software group on this weeks' show. If you have not yet tuned in, Entrepreneurs R Us is a gathering place for anyone who wishes to succeed in a business start-up. Blakesley, a Serial Entrepreneur, Author and Speaker has interviewed a number of successful entrepreneurs and provides the listener with ideas they can put to immediate use.
Click here to listen to the interview with Vic Cherubini. You can read a transcript of the show below.
Blakesley: "Good Afternoon Vic and welcome to Entrepreneurs R Us. Glad you can join us today."
Cherubini: "Thanks Stephen - I am happy to be with and appreciate the opportunity to be on your show."
Blakesley: "Tell us about your background before launching the Epic Software Group."
Cherubini: "I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and attended The State University of New York at Geneseo where I got a degree in Photography. I worked as a professional photographer and taught Photography at Illinois Central College in Peoria, Illinois in the mid-70's; I got interested in Industrial sales, and spent 15 years selling for Johnson & Johnson, Nitto Denko, and Shaw Industries. In 1987,I completed an MBA at The University of Houston, and launched the epic software group in 1990's; We are in our 21st year in business and operate epic from a state of the art production studio in The Woodlands, Texas."
Blakesley: "What does Epic Software actually do? "
Cherubini: We provide four services to our clients which include:
1) Multimedia and 3D Animation
2) Web Design and Development
3) Commercial Photography
4) Video and Special Effects"
Blakesley: "Why the name Epic Software? It doesn't seem to fit with my current picture of what you do?"
Cherubini: "Prior to launching epic, my background was sales and marketing. In the early 1980’s, my responsibility was to keep our printed product literature and sales catalog up to date. It seemed as soon as we would print a new brochure something would change and it would go out of date. I thought there had to be a better way. One Saturday morning I was sitting in an Information Technology class at the University of Houston and we had a guest speaker come to show us a new software application he developed for coming up with an optimal stock portfolio. The program would ask a person a series of questions and based on their answers recommend stocks best suited for their specific goals and objectives.
I looked at what he had done and realized this is just what was needed to help me solve my problems with print catalogs. I had imagined a software program delivered on a floppy disk (there was no internet at the time). My client would put the disk in their computer, it would load the program which would ask them a series of questions, Based on the answers, the program would recommend the best product for the application at hand. At that point I got really excited about computers and thought there might be something here for me. I imagined a company that would develop “interactive electronic catalogs” to replace paper catalogs."
Blakesley: "What was it actually, that pushed you into an entrepreneurial effort?"
Cherubini: "So now I had this cool idea, but how can I turn it into a company? Part of the MBA program included a Capstone course where you take what you have learned from your other classes and develop a business plan based on a real or imagined company. This was a comprehensive business plan and I worked on it for the full semester. I was pretty happy with the way mine turned out. It was due a week before graduation. I turned in the plan, got an A. After graduation I went back to my regular job thinking one day I would get around to doing something with it.
Two months passed and over the summer I got a call from my Professor, Dr. Jon Goodman. She asked me to come by her office to pick up my paper and asked me to clear 2 hours from my day for the meeting. Even though I graduated, I was worried there was a problem with the paper. So I go to her office and she tosses the paper back across the desk to me and says… “what are you going to do with this business plan? I said, “nothing – I got my A and I am back to my job, and it is a good one. I have hot and cold running secretaries, an expense account, company car and lots of bennies”. She then said – is that all you want from life to make a quota for someone else? That was like a stab in the heart.
"Dr. Goodman was not only my professor, but the Director of the Small Business Development Council for the Houston region. She said, “Look, you need to do something with this and we can help. The SBDC can help you find an office, an accountant, an attorney, and some MBA students to help you turn this plan into a real business.” Wow – she really believed in the concept and in me. Over the next two years I worked to get everything in place to launch my own company, and did in 1990."
Blakesley: "Tell us about the early times in Epic Software."
Cherubini: "For the first three years (1990-93) we starved. I spent all my time going around trying to convince marketing managers and advertising companies that the computer was more than an air cooled calculator and it could be used for more than word processing and spreadsheets. I tried to convince people that it could be used to sell things. But try as I might, we had only minimal success – just enough to keep us alive. I remember in business school they called a company that had enough revenues to remain in business, but not enough to grow “the Living Dead”. That is where epic was in the early 90’s."
I had spent this time talking with Ad agencies and Marketing Managers when something amazing happened. The internet appeared on the scene, and it quickly went from an interesting curiosity to a business tool companies wanted to experiment with. Now, the people I had been calling on needed help, and they called me."
In the Mid 90’s we hit a real growth spurt. I took the money we made and invested it in 4 acres of land, and build a multimedia studio on the edge of the Woodlands just outside of Houston. We filled the studio with very talented artists, animators and programmers."
"In 2008, we hit another growth spurt, and used that money we earned to build a new 5000 Square foot Video production facility called the epic Creative Co-Op. It is an amazing facility built from recycled shipping containers. We have blogged on every step of the construction process, and you can learn about it in the blog section of the epic web site."
Blakesley: "How has it been different from what you expected? The same as you expected?"
Cherubini: "When I started the company, I thought it would be simple to sell the concept of using the computer as a sales tool. It wasn’t. It was a radical idea, and no one wanted to be first to give it a try. We wanted to develop software applications, but our customers reacted more positively when we showed glitzy graphics, animations, cool photos and dramatic video. And that is the direction we have taken the company in. As the power of the computer and internet access speeds increased, we were able to do more from the desktop. The future of the internet is video and interactive applications, and we are positioned directly in the path of progress."
Blakesley: "What do you think have been the determining factors in your success?"
Cherubini: "We have always been very conservative in growing the business. We have never taken a loan, but have grown from the cash flows generated by the business. This allows us to weather the inevitable downturns in the energy industry, and the economy in general. When we have a good year, we put the money right back into the business to help us grow to the next level."
"Over the years we have developed a production process that allows us to competitively bid a project and get the job done on time and in budget. This has helped to keep our margins healthy while providing the best value to our customers."
Blakesley: "What role do people play in your current efforts? Your early efforts?"
Cherubini: "It is all about our people. Every night at 5:00pm all our folks walk out the front door and with them goes the intellectual property of the company. It is a double edged sword. Ten years ago several of our key employees left to form a competing company and of course they immediately contacted the clients they had been working with at epic. We try our best to keep our employees motivated and happy but continuous change is just part of the challenge of running a small business.
Right now we have a great team and I really look forward to coming to work every day."
Blakesley: "How does your attitude play into the achievements of your organization?"
Cherubini: "I am really passionate about epic, and I expect a lot from our employees and vendors. In turn, our customers expect a great deal from us, and we strive to deliver results, not excuses. We have an internship program at epic that I am very proud of. Over 100 students have completed internships at epic and have gone on to do some amazing things. Some, who have become entrepreneurs, have told me that their experiences at epic helped them when it came time to launch their own company."
Blakesley: "How did you find the money to begin Epic? What challenges did you overcome?"
Cherubini: "In 1989 PW World Magazine had a contest called their World Class awards. The April issue of the magazine would include a card which asked you to select from the top hardware and software in over 30 categories (example – Best laptop, best spreadsheet, best CAD program, etc). I filled out the card and along with 30,000 others, sent it in. In September they tallied all the results which appeared in the October issue. They put all the cards in a hopper and the person who’s card they drew from the bin won the #1 item in each category. My card was pulled from the hopper and I won $28,000 in prizes.
That year I also exceeded my sales quota with my previous company, and earned a substantial bonus. I used the winnings from the magazine, and the sales bonus as the seed capital for epic. We have had good years and bad years, but have managed without the need for capital from other sources.
The future for epic is in producing rich media for the internet and television. We are working closely with our local Chamber of Commerce and the newly formed Woodlands Area Film Commission to bring more feature film production to our area. Our new studio will allow us to do commercial photography and produce high quality video that we have only dreamed of in the past."