Recently, we were able to catch up with Harrison Kelly (CEO), and Jeff Berg (Co-Founder and CTO) of InnoSoft in a very special in-person meeting. In our conversation, we discuss their career progression since joining Jonas through the acquisition of InnoSoft in 2017.
Tell us about your background.
I founded InnoSoft with a few partners back in 2006, and we started building club management software and turned that into recreation management software for higher education.
I was studying at Western University and in campus rec. I was working part-time and became familiar with fusion at that point. So I started using it as a student staff member part-time, and here I am today, 11 years later, running the company.
Describe your career progression since joining Jonas.
I mean, on my end before the acquisition, I was in a Director of Sales role, so I had grown with the company for about seven years or so.
In post-acquisition my growth really took off as an employee, so we navigated the integration process really seamlessly. I took over as a VP of Operations soon after and really got well-rounded experience in the business. And then in 2019, just before the pandemic, our founder and CEO Brian Foster retired and I took over the business at that point.
So it’s been a really rapid growth period for me post-acquisition in only 4 years.
My side of the story is a little bit different.
As the Chief of Technology coming into the acquisition, I’m still that. So what’s really interesting, though, is how we develop software. We really were pointed 100% at Microsoft Azure as far as the cloud provider, and then we’ve pivoted towards A.W.S. 100% and now we’re building fully cloud-native products.
So it’s been phenomenal. It’s a great time to build software.
How has your experience aligned with the Jonas ABCs? (Autonomy, Buy and Hold Forever and our Culture of Sharing Best Practices)
From our perspective, right after the acquisition, we immediately became involved in Best Practice Initiative, so I think it was a few months into the acquisition or right after it. We went down to a Jonas Fitness event in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where we got introduced to all the businesses in our smaller unit, the fitness division at that time, and got to know other business leaders, other business unit managers, other staff at these businesses, and started to learn from them on what had worked and what hadn’t worked for them as a Jonas company.
So that piece, in particular, was huge because that was a really great launch-off point to get acclimatized, meet everyone, and build from there. Since then, I’ve been a part of personally, probably 10 events where I’ve gone down as a staff member of InnoSoft met with levels of staff, from business unit leaders to portfolio managers to just experts at their trade, and learned a ton from these individuals along the way.
Yeah, those summits were great. You know, I still keep in contact with several of those other people that we met down there and we often go to a reinvent or something like that where we’ll go to a conference together as well.
So it’s been a lot of fun to meet those people and share those trade secrets.
A couple of examples in this arena too… Jeff and I reflect on this lot.
That first event was the first time I ever saw a user test in my life, so that was something we weren’t doing in our business. Our feedback loop with customers was really struggling, and we didn’t really know how to approach that problem, we saw another business demonstrate a video of what a user test was, which is basically a quick way to get feedback from a customer or potential customer before you deploy and invest in R&D resources.
So seeing that user test today, we’ve now invested in four people in this area of the business for the first time to not only do user testing but really improve our feedback loop with customers for the first time ever. So that one little event at that event launched into an investment in specialized resources in that way.
How many staff did you have before and after the acquisition?
A great question. We probably had what, 35-40?
Yeah, I think we’re in that range.
Yeah, and we’re now up to about 60 and that’s during a pandemic as well.
So Jonas is really allowed us to equip our team and ride through the toughest time in our company history and invest for the future in staffing, of course, but also in resources and technology.
As a founder going into the acquisition, it was critical to us that we find the right partner that is going to allow us to continue to do what we do and grow our staff.
I’ve heard a lot of acquisition stories and not many are like this one where we didn’t lose a single staff member in the acquisition, and we’ve just continued to grow. So it’s been pretty phenomenal.
Even speaking from a staff member perspective, I have two close colleagues that were a part of our team before the acquisition, one of them is now leading another business and the other one is the Vice President of Technology at Jonas Fitness, one of our largest sister companies.
So I’ve seen my colleagues grow around me too in just a few short years.
How is Jonas Software continuing to help develop your career path?
The events are number one, first and foremost, even remote during the pandemic have been really crucial for continued growth.
Before the acquisition, again from a staff member perspective, you’re in a silo. I mean, we are surrounded by amazing people at InnoSoft. But when you expand your horizon and you see things from a different perspective that allows you to grow as an individual, so just even those informal meet and greets that are powered by these events allow you to think differently. But then there are a lot of formal resources in place as well to allow you to grow as a staff member.
So one great one is… there is a formal program in place to invest in education for all of our staff so they can spend up to 5% of their salary on professional development outside of InnoSoft. And just to have that there, we have a lot of staff take advantage of that every year is huge. Because they’re funding their personal development through the company, which is a huge asset for them and for us.
What advice would you give employees that are about to join Jonas through an acquisition?
That’s a good question. What would you say?
I’d say be patient, right. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s a methodical process.
There’s going to be some uncertainty because you’re feeling each other out from a company perspective and then from a colleague’s perspective. And it’s going to take time. So be patient, let the process unfold and also have an open mind.
I can speak from personal experience that I was against some of the new practices as a business. Because you’re stuck in your ways, you’re a bit stubborn in the ways that you run the business. One example is price increases, right? We had never increased our prices in eight years, and we were originally against that. “Why would we increase our customers’ prices? They deserve to pay the same amount they’ve always paid.” And then you look back now and you laugh at yourself and you just think “What a silly thing to think”, because we as a business need to grow and it’s best for our customers if we’re continuing to invest in the business and price increases is one vehicle to do that.
So definitely keep an open mind because there are a ton of best practices that the earlier get to deploying those, the better the business is going to be, the better your staff are going to do because you’re growing as a business.
I would agree.
I mean, patience is key because it doesn’t just happen overnight, but at the same time, the changes that do happen for us in particular, have just been great in terms of the knowledge-share and the contacts and the personal development growth.
These are all things that are pushing us in the right direction.
Again, you want to maintain a sense of autonomy and culture, right?
So at InnoSoft, we have this amazing blend of feeling like a startup, but then being backed by a billion-dollar organization. So thinking about that as you navigate the acquisition process is huge because that all ties back to patients as well.
We’re keeping our autonomy, so that’s why it’s going to go slower than maybe you would expect because you don’t have these hired guns coming in and popping the hood on the business and making changes rapidly. We’re working together in a collaborative way to figure out what’s best for InnoSoft and how to move forward together. And so that’s huge for the business.
What advice would you give to a business owner thinking of selling to Jonas?
Take the plunge.
It really is the best decision you can ever make for your staff and for the business because we are surrounded by 800+ companies that have seen the same problems you’ve seen and know how to fix problems that you’re facing in your business, but it’s also an amazing opportunity for your staff.
I am an example of that. Coming in, I was just as scared as you’d expect of any acquisition process, right? Not knowing what’s next. And here I am today running a business in my early 30s, and I couldn’t be happier in my life.
Yeah, I’ve no regrets here, but I would go back to that comment I made earlier.
There are other ways to get acquired. Other companies that do M&A and Jonas in particular, is one that stands by their motto in terms of software for life and your company will be set up.
What is it about Jonas that makes you excited for the future?
For me, it’s the continued opportunities from growth at the Jonas level and InnoSoft level, so we both have grown along the way over these last four years.
I’ve seen the opportunities and doors open up for me personally, but also our staff, as I mentioned with so many staff even taking over other businesses or developing their careers outside of InnoSoft. That’s a massive opportunity here, and that’s very exciting for me to see my colleagues thrive around me as well.
Then at the InnoSoft level, we get to do a ton of amazing things, so we’re working on projects and new products and technology that we never would have been able to do without the backing and the funding from Jonas.
So seeing our company grow, our product grow, and really help our customers in new ways has been a tremendous opportunity for us. I’m excited about the future.
In terms of the future and my excitement for what’s next, I mean, I just love seeing our sister companies grow.
It’s a real family of companies, and to be able to call up so-and-so at a sister company and just like, talk about, “Hey, this is one of my challenges.” Never had that anywhere else. I’ve always been that guy who’s had to solve all those problems alone.
So in terms of what’s exciting, it’s great to see new companies come on board. It’s great to be able to help those new companies come on board so from the flip side. But then the opportunities for our staff have just been amazing.
Harrison, you highlighted a couple that has had extremely great launching points. It’s just phenomenal.
Yeah, for sure. And that’s a great point to Jeff.
Just with the growth of other businesses around us, we’ve been doing a great job at InnoSoft to be able to be a part of processes outside of InnoSoft, so helping sister companies or helping with an acquisition. It’s amazing. It’s such a humbling experience to impart the things you’ve learned over your… in my case, still short career and help a new business come into the Jonas family or solve a problem that they’re facing that we’ve now seen before because we have had help from sister companies ourselves.
So it’s that collaborative approach. It’s just so unique to our model in the way that we’re growing as a business.
Thank you Harrison and Jeff for sharing your story with us. Learn how you can join the family at Jonas Software by visiting our career opportunities page.
If you own a software business, we would love to learn more about your company. Feel free to reach out and have a conversation with us and to learn more about how you can take your company to the next level with Jonas Software.