Craig Gould (PMBA '97)
Markets Speech-Enabled Software Products to the World of Business
At the time Craig Gould (Professional MBA '97) decided to pursue his Professional MBA at the Cox School of Business, he was working in sales support for Consolidated Freightways in Irving, Texas. Gould decided to get his PMBA for one reason: Differentiation.
"Coming out of college in 1992," he recollected, "I had experienced a miserably bad job market in Dallas. I quickly realized that it was no longer enough to just have a BBA. I felt like I needed a leg up on my competition, and getting an MBA seemed like the most obvious way to go about that."
Gould was intimately familiar with the Cox School, having received his BBA from SMU in 1992. He majored in Organizational Behavior and Business Policy at Cox and minored in Studio Art at the Meadows School. From 1988 to 1990, he also was an offensive lineman on the SMU varsity football team.
"The Cox PMBA Program provides something no other program in the area offers: The collective experiences of seasoned Dallas professionals," Gould commented. "Professors and lecturers were always given a reality check by the real-world experiences of the students. I can't overemphasize the value of filtering three years of classes through the worldviews of classmates who are experts in various vertical markets."
While pursuing his MBA at Cox, Gould continued to work for Consolidated Freightways at their office in Irving. After Gould received his MBA in December 1997, the company offered him a job at its corporate headquarters in Menlo Park, California – in the heart of Silicon Valley.
"I landed in the Valley in April 1998 at the height of the 'new economy' buzz," Gould remarked. "I recall feeling that far less-qualified people were making dreams come true every day. When I realized that my core group of friends consisted of Harvard MBAs, Stanford PhDs, and MIT MSs, I knew that I had to take advantage of the unique time and opportunity."
In February 1999, Gould and a friend decided to start a Web-based business enabling individuals to search for information about the world's best restaurants on line. After investing in engineering resources to build the Web site and then receiving angel financing in mid-2000, Gould and his friend decided to differentiate the company by providing access to the restaurant information via the telephone.
"We began developing a speech recognition system to provide restaurant searching and automated reservations using the phone," Gould noted. "But we quickly realized that the larger market opportunity was not in the restaurant information business, but in providing speech-enabled software products. We subsequently identified the need for products that not only utilized speech recognition, but also speaker verification – also known as voiceprint authentication. Vocent, the name of our company, is Latin for 'to call upon,' which is the cornerstone of our technology."
In July 2001, Vocent sold its first product to a Fortune 500 financial services company. The product, called Voice Secure - Password Reset, uses speech recognition and speaker verification to securely automate password reset calls to IT help desks. Vocent has since added another product, Voice Secure - Confirmed Caller, which is also targeted at automating and securing telephone transactions. Voice Secure - Confirmed Caller automates the authentication piece of inbound customer calls. Neither a mother's maiden name, nor a birth date is required. The product is especially intriguing to financial services companies that receive tens-of-millions of such calls each year.
On May 31, Vocent closed a $7.2 million round of financing led by Menlo Ventures. Gould, director of marketing at Vocent, and his colleagues will use the money to rapidly expand product development, sales, and marketing.
Even in the midst of growing a company, Gould continues to apply many of the lessons he learned and the skills he acquired in the Cox PMBA Program. "I learned the most from the CISB courses taught by adjunct professor Bill Bartles and the managerial accounting courses taught by Marvin Carlson. For a marketing guy to point to a series of accounting and finance classes as his most memorable says something about the quality of the material and instruction. Both Carlson and Bartles focused on real world management of the enterprise through accounting and finance. Carlson's classes focused on the large corporation and Bartles' courses focused on the start up. Over the course of two semesters with Professor Bartles, I did case analyses of more than 60 startups, with particular emphasis on cash flow management. Those classes gave me the confidence to start my own business, and I am still using their principles today."
As Gould looks to the future, he sees no shortage of challenges or opportunities for Vocent. "There is very little competition in our emerging market, so we have to move fast. Whenever you experience success, it is closely followed by competition. With enough money, a competitor can hire an engineering staff large enough to eventually overcome our technological first-mover advantage. This means that Vocent must diligently build barriers to entry. In real terms, that translates into strategic partner relationships, a leadership position in the minds of industry analysts, and a leadership position in the minds of the decision makers in our target verticals. Since we offer a product line that companies have never considered before, we have to move fast to sell to the key decision makers in 2002 so that they make room in their budgets for 2003."
Gould believes managing rapid growth will be one of Vocent's key challenges. "Now is a great time to find good employees, but hiring, integrating, and getting those employees up to speed can be disruptive. It also means that we are going to have to move to a larger facility, which usually causes an uncomfortable amount of downtime."
Gould offered words of advice to MBAs entering the job market: "When you enter the job market, take advantage of opportunities to take ownership of projects, tasks, and responsibilities. In addition, there is no way that you can be an expert in every aspect of your business, so try to surround yourself with people who are extremely intelligent and the best at what they do. Managing those resources is what an MBA is all about. Constantly set goals and expectations (both short-term and long-term), and don't be afraid to change them if it makes sense. The ability to rapidly change to take advantage of an immediate opportunity is one of the best skills you could ever have."