Fishbowl and its cornerstone product, Fishbowl inventory, allows small to mid-size company to have the level of flexible and mobile inventory control solutions large organizations enjoy. We recently caught up with Fishbowl CEO, Dave Williams, to find out more about his Orem-based company and what is driving their fast-paced growth.
Silicon Slopes: Fishbowl is an interesting name. Where did the name come from and what does your company do?David Williams: When we were developing a name for the company, our VP of sales just threw it out just to be funny. It stuck because it had meaning. The name suggests people with inventory need to be able to look at all the moving components. A fish bowl is an environment that can be looked at from any angle you want.
Some in the company thought it wasn’t such a great name because it doesn’t have anything really to do with inventory management, while our competitors had more technical names. As it ended up, going with Fishbowl was probably one of the wisest moves we ever made. People don’t forget it. They ask what it means and they like what we do with our Fishbowl logo. It goes with our new tagline: Now You can Swim with the Sharks. It’s really been a fun company name, and it’s been very good for us in the long run.
Fishbowl builds software to manage inventory—it integrates with QuickBooks. Small to medium sized companies that distribute, warehouse, or manufacture inventory, whether for selling goods or services, need to be able to manage it. It’s a bigger need than most may think. If you look at QuickBooks statistics, about 40 percent of their 4 million users have inventory of some kind. That gives us a huge sea to swim in—again playing off of our name. We integrate with QuickBooks because they own the ocean. Small to medium sized companies like what QuickBooks can do for them.
Silicon Slopes: Can you tell us about the history of the company and how the idea for Fishbowl Inventory came about?
David Williams: The founder was looking for some seed capital or an investor. He came across a medical device manufacturer/distributor who was looking for software to manage his inventory. This customer ultimately provided the needed investment to develop inventory management software for the medical device company, as well as starting what is known as Fishbowl Inventory today. At about the same time we were building our software, we discovered QuickBooks was releasing a Software Development Kit (SDK) publically. The SDK would allow developers like us to create software to work with and enhance QuickBooks. So we decided to make it integrate with QuickBooks. The timing was perfect. Fishbowl was one of the very first companies to integrate with QuickBooks and to this day is the #1 requested inventory software for use with QuickBooks.
Silicon Slopes: Fishbowl is the #1 requested inventory solution for QuickBooks. Why is that?
David Williams: Intuit and our customers have indicated we have a very delightful user interface. As they look and compare us to the other solutions, our interface, functionality and intuitive nature wins the day.
A large number of QuickBooks resellers across the nation have also shown interest in representing our product to their customers. Fishbowl has the largest value added reseller (VAR) network of any of our competitors. There are 400 VARs that represent Fishbowl as well as QuickBooks. This gives us a lot of customer touches through the VAR network rather than doing it all ourselves.
Additionally, over the past two years we’ve really put a lot of attention into our training and customer services. We’ve found that we have a retention or annual renewal rate greater than 92 percent among our customers if they are trained on the product—using our training program onsite. We train them how to use Fishbowl within their own processes.
Silicon Slopes: How can Fishbowl Inventory with QuickBooks make a difference for small to medium businesses?
David Williams: Small businesses that do not have software to manage their inventory do so either manually or with some sort of legacy or spreadsheet system—something that is inefficient and inaccurate. Our greatest competitor is the yellow pad! A lot of people are used to managing their inventory by counting manually, touching things, and recording it on a piece of paper. In these economic times it is important to do away with such inefficiency. At the end of the day, they can’t be off in their accounting and they certainly cannot be off in their inventory management. It has to be precise, efficient and accurate. We provide that precision. It brings rapid returns to companies. We have customers telling us in less than 30 days Fishbowl more than paid for itself.
Silicon Slopes: As small businesses grow will they outgrow Fishbowl Inventory, or will it grow with them.
David Williams: I don’t know of any customer that has out grown us. Most small businesses can stay on the QuickBooks platform if they have Fishbowl. If they don’t have Fishbowl and just have QuickBooks, they are limited to what QuickBooks can do. With Fishbowl, QuickBooks customers can grow and multiply locations with a lot more efficiency and with more functionality than they could with just QuickBooks alone. QuickBooks becomes the general ledger, and Fishbowl becomes the heavy lifter for the management of all inventories.
We have customers that do 10’s of millions of dollars annually that are using Fishbowl with QuickBooks. A couple of years ago they wouldn’t even consider doing that because of the limitations QuickBooks has by itself. A company like Fishbowl takes them up into the mid-market range because we allow them to grow, and we allow them to grow with the accounting/inventory system they are used to.
There is a perception in the business world indicating a right of passage with QuickBooks. A time when QuickBooks is only for small businesses and “now that I’m a medium size business I need to jettison QuickBooks.” Fishbowl allows them to stay in a QuickBooks environment as they grow. In this economic climate it is a wonderful option for people to be able to say, “I don’t need to go to a high-end solution now and leave what I’m used to,” saving them the pain, complexity and cost of moving to those other systems.
Silicon Slopes: You recently announced you would be providing a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee to your customers. Why are you doing that now when you already have a high customer satisfaction rating with your customers?
David Williams: It was time to put our money where our mouth is. We’ve been saying we’re the best and decided we needed to back that up. Fortunately, our return rate is very low. We believe the satisfaction guarantee will reduce returns even more.
It will also help companies who hesitate to make purchases in this economic downturn more comfortable knowing their investment is guaranteed. We don’t think it is a risk for us to implement this. No one else is doing this. As it turns out, our partners and resellers think this is a brilliant move on our part and some are considering following suit.
Silicon Slopes: What is your business approach and how does it set you apart from others?
David Williams: I really believe in delegating and keeping my hands off. I want people at Fishbowl to feel they can be creative and do things a different way—I want them to feel entrepreneurial. I don’t worry about what people are doing. I know they are making a huge difference for our customers. I might ask when something will be completed, or provide input if needed, but overall I try to be a resource and to provide vision for the company and let these good people run themselves. When you give people a vision and some authority, they rise to the occasion. That’s exactly what our people have done. I believe our people have a very real sense of ownership. They don’t believe I’ll come back and tell them they are doing it wrong. Every single person accepts that ownership and solves the problems.
Our culture is really important to me. I always want to know how our people are feeling. Do they have a sense of wellbeing? Are they fulfilled in their roles? Do they have fun? Are we truly an open door company? I listen for laughter. I look to see if there is a lot of cross-pollination between departments. I really believe we need to share the bad with the good. If you have a healthy culture they’ll want to know because they will want to help. That’s been the case throughout our company history and we look forward to writing our history for a long time to come.