Going For Growth
Ping Fu began 2003 with a New Year's resolution: Focus on growth for the company she cofounded, Raindrop Geomagic. Not long ago, the challenge was about simple survival. Revenues at Raindrop, which makes 3-D geometric modeling software for such manufacturers as Toyota and Fisher-Price, had run dry. Fu gave up her salary—and gave herself three months to turn things around. She did: Revenues have doubled, bringing the company back to profitability.
From Ping's original entry:
Tell us what you do and the specific challenge you faced.
Ping Fu was born in China and grew up during the Cultural Revolution. She has worked to support herself since the first grade, when her parents were sent away to a re-education camp. Without formal education, Fu passed an entrance exam and earned a post-graduate degree in Chinese literature. In 1983, she was the first to report the killing of baby girls in China, and was asked to leave the country. Arriving in America in January 1984, she took on menial jobs to subsidize her computer science education and later hooked up with a high-tech start-up. In the early 1990s, Fu joined the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, where she started the Mosaic project that led to Netscape. In 1996, she and Herbert Edelsbrunner co-founded Raindrop Geomagic, a software company that fundamentally changes the way products are made, allowing large-scale customization of individualized products at the same cost as mass manufacturing.
What was your moment of truth?
In early 2001, Raindrop Geomagic was almost out of cash at a time that venture capital was scarce for early stage companies. Conventional wisdom might have been to sell the company to the highest bidder or just fold altogether. Ping Fu took over as president and CEO, poured her own money into the company, and worked without compensation to make sure that employees were paid. Fu asked her employees to give her three months to turn things around. If she didn't, she would sell the company and no one would lose jobs. All employees stayed. They had doubts, Fu says, but "they were not going to let their leader be hung out to dry." Fu divided company goals into six-month intervals, every one of which was achieved. A business contract with Align Technologies brought in $1.8 million in revenue. A switch from direct sales to resellers jump-started product sales and significantly reduced costs. And, an emphasis on products instead of projects ensured long-term growth.
What were the results?
Raindrop Geomagic is now profitable, has a worldwide network of resellers, and continues to expand its net profits. Since Fu took over the company, product sales have tripled under some of the harshest economic conditions in recent American history. This year Raindrop Geomagic has won a national Technical Insights Award from Frost & Sullivan, been named to the North Carolina Technology Fast 50 by Deloitte & Touche and private company of the year by the North Carolina Electronics and Information Technologies Association (NCEITA), and received $2 million in research funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Advanced Technology Program. Ping Fu has been named as Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year for the Carolinas and received the 2003 Entrepreneurial Inspiration Award from North Carolina's Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED).
What's your parting tip?
From Ping Fu: "Value cultural diversity and personal differences. When people have complementary skills, they respect one another. Together, they shine."