David Rycyna’s background as a manufacturing consultant took him overseas for seven years. He lived in a number of countries, primarily in Asia, and was exposed to a lot of different industries. When one of his clients was working on a project in the outdoor LED screen industry, he realized the industry was devoid of any real innovation.
That realization led to the foundation of Cirrus Systems, which today makes software and manufactures an interchangeable tile system for outdoor LED signage. Customers like banks can market going interest rates seamlessly, or Dunkin’ Donuts can advertise a current promotion.
It’s a market that’s projected to be about $20 billion. “You see a lot of innovation in Europe and other places, but in the U.S., particularly in signage there wasn’t a lot.” Some of the other applications of Cirrus Systems’ products include digital billboards and other outdoor advertising and visual communications for corporate environments.
Proof of Concept
Now a patent holder for the innovative technology, David is proud to say his company is experiencing rapid growth. “It took us about 12 months to reach break even,” he says. Cirrus Systems has been shipping product for about two and half years and its average revenue growth is just under 150% YoY.
David’s kept the company lean. “It’s a model that is pretty scalable without people in a lot of ways,” he says. Even so, he has plans to add additional heads, mostly in a sales capacity.
Pounding the Pavement
“Like a lot of business school grads, I said: Okay, we’re going to go and do a bunch of online marketing and automation,” David says. “We were seeing zero ROI. Surprisingly it’s been more of a pounding the pavement approach.” Additionally, meeting and making partners of the installers of the signs has been key.
Particularly for Cirrus’ key accounts, it’s a very personal face-to-face type of sale. Their biggest customer cohort is multi-location retail. David says some of their well known customers include DuPont, Dunkin’ Donuts, and BMW.
Those names help to drive credibility in the market. However, David says that some of his most profitable customers are lesser known names for whom his software is really solving a problem.
“If I was going to do it again, I would not bootstrap, that’s for sure,” David says. At the same time, David values the sleepless nights he spent growing the company organically. “As a first time CEO, you need that.”
David believes if he hadn’t learned that, the business might have failed. “I would have been looser about things if there was a flood of cash in the bank.” He calls the struggle of bootstrapping a business a right of passage.