A middling success story

To hear Daniel Duffy tell it, he was a lousy software salesman.

“”I couldn’t sell worth hell,”” he declares.

It was 1985 and Duffy was working for Columbus Computer Business Systems of Toronto, hawking its applications for distributors, which ran on the IBM System 30 series.

He’d wanted

a change from his previous job as an efficiency expert for a consulting company, which had him flying around the continent inspecting everything from lingerie companies to the killing floors of meat packing plants. Different, but fatiguing.

However, learning the information technology business from scratch and how to be a closer was a struggle.

“”I was the salesman they always wanted to fire,”” he says, “”but I kept pulling deals out of the fire at the last moment so they kept me on.””

Perhaps not surprisingly for someone who describes his university hockey style as being a grinder, he stuck with the industry and eventually set up his own company selling used System 30s.

Duffy’s now president of Mid-Range Computer Group of Markham, Ont., a reseller of new IBM servers and J.D. Edwards software which employs 40 people, and shows a modest amount of success: Despite tough times, the company will open a 6,000 square foot disaster recovery and hosting facility this month with some $300,000 in hardware, a redundant operation for the one in the firm’s headquarters. It expects to do $30 million in revenue this year, about the same as 2002.

There’s an application hosting and back-up partnership with an IT company in Mexico, a new partnership with PeopleSoft and thoughts of an acquisition. Duffy’s the lone Canadian representative on the IBM partner advisory council.

None of which, he insists, is due to his sales skills.

Well, maybe they weren’t that bad. Columbus co-founder Harry Debes, now vice-president of sales and marketing for the Americas at J.D. Edwards, recalled in a phone call from Denver that the young Duffy was “”fairly green.””

“”I do recall Dan eventually did make progress,”” he added.

Here’s how much: A couple of years later the 29-year-old Duffy decided to start his own business. He and partner Steve Crowe set up Mid-Range in his Toronto apartment, hunting for companies willing to sell the IBM hardware they knew.

“”I just cold-called and cold-called,”” he says. “”I made 54 calls to a company in Quebec, and bought a System 38 from them. I broke it down into parts, sold them, made a profit and did it again.””

When Crowe died in a car accident, Duffy recruited Zdy Orlinski, as co-owner. They were successful enough that Mid-Range grew to $10 million in annual sales. That embarrassed and impressed IBM enough to urge Mid-Range in 1995 to become a business partner so Big Blue could start its own business reselling off-lease equipment.

“”It was an interesting transition for people who had sold used equipment,”” he reflects. “”It was also a bit of a transition for our customers, many of whom said ‘I bought from you guys because I trusted what you said. You were always an alternative to IBM and others. Now you’re in bed with them.”

“”That went on for a good six to 12 months. Oftentimes we had to sit down and show them where the market was going, show them the comparison between new and used. And often we still gave them the option of buying used.

“”And you know what? We told them the truth whether they liked it or not . . . But the bottom line is we still have some of those customers after 18 years.””

Over the years Mid-Range has expanded from being an AS/400 (now iSeries) specialist and into the RS/6000 (pSeries) storage, middleware and services such as hosting and disaster recovery. In addition to JDE and PeopleSoft, the company also handles products from Lawson Software, Lotus Notes/Domino, Silverblaze Solutions, Maximum Availability, Lansa and New Generation Software.

The Mexican opportunity is something that just happened six years ago when Mid-Range’s disaster recovery expert heard the country needed that service. Rather than go in alone, it found a partner. However, Duffy finds it takes time for decisions to be made there, and growth has been slow.

While hardware accounts for the majority of revenue, services income has been growing at 30 per cent a year recently. The goal is to have services represent half of the company’s income in three years.

To those who want to follow his company’s success, he offers this advice: “”Don’t just pick a logo and sling it on the wall. Guys get away with it for a while. But if you’re not willing to put the skin in the game don’t count on making big money for very long.””

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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