Business development / Hardware / Software /

With new software focus and new leadership, is Neat eyeing an IPO?

The Neat Company got an all-new executive team in 2013. We spoke with current CEO Ron Kaiser about what that means and how that works.

One of the large-scale paintings Hidalgo painting on commission for Sallie Mae (Courtesy Photo)
After more than a decade in business, The Neat Company is changing things up.

Last fall, the Center City company launched a new product, NeatConnect, that shifted the company’s focus toward growing its mobile and cloud services footprint. The Neat of yore was heavy on its digital filing products that users hooked up to PCs and Macs.

But, as mobile grew, Neat realized it needed to change its tactics to keep up, CEO Ron Kaiser said in a recent interview.

The NeatConnect. (Photo courtesy of Neat)

NeatConnect was “the first step away from being connected to other peoples’ operating systems,” Kaiser said, adding that he’s “very happy” with the growth in Neat’s cloud offering, though he would not disclose numbers.

It’s a shift that former CTO Rick Bunker spoke of earlier this year.

It may also explain the mass exodus of Neat leadership in 2013.

Kaiser, a Neat board member before he became CEO, joined the company in October 2013, replacing CEO Jim Foster. Every other Neat executive — CFO Craig Calle, CMO Kevin Garton and CTO Rick Carragher — left and was replaced in 2013, except for Harris Romanoff, executive vice president for product. More recently, this summer, CTO Bunker left the company but remains an advisor, Kaiser said. Multiple attempts to reach former Neat executives were unsuccessful.

The departures don’t speak to poor performance, Kaiser said, but rather a way of bringing in talent that could execute the company’s new vision.

He explains it like this: “We had a CEO that ran the ocean freighter along the ocean really well, and now you need to transfer control of the ship to a harbor pilot.”

This particular harbor pilot has a long history of exits, and a special skill for navigating tech companies into public waters.

Kaiser, 60, of Annapolis, Md., (this could explain the sailing metaphor), was the CFO of Maryland-based Vocus Technologies when it went public in 2005. He was also the CFO of Maryland-based Sucampo Pharmaceuticals when it went public in 2007 and the CFO of Maryland-based Trusted Information Systems, Inc. when it went public in 1996 (and eventually sold in 1998). The list goes on.

Did Central Jersey’s Edison Partners, the largest shareholder of the privately-held company, and Neat’s board tap Kaiser to take Neat public? (Edison Partners, formerly called Edison Ventures, was an investor in Vocus Technologies and that’s how Kaiser got acquainted with the firm.)

Kaiser demurred. It depends what works best for the company, he said, and he’ll “continue to assess that.”

“An IPO is a process and for a cause,” he said. “It’s not an end.”

Kaiser said he joined the company to help it grow.

“We want to be able to handle one million subscribers in the next few years,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kaiser runs a 120-person team, many of whom have only been at the company for less than three years. Kaiser chalks up the turnover to Neat’s shift in focus.

So, what does it take to run a company where institutional memory runs shallow?

You’ve got to make sure everyone’s on the same page.

“You have to be able to capture and communicate the corporate vision so people don’t wonder where they fit in,” he said.

Neat has a policy called “Four After Four,” where every person in the company is supposed to be able to talk about the top four things the company is doing right now “even after they’ve had four beers or four Red Bulls.”

It’s also about building trust, Kaiser said.

“You have to make sure that the people on the boat trust where you’re going.”

Companies: Edison Partners / Neat Company

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