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Executing a Game Plan

New Leadership Charts a Course for Estate Settlement Solutions Company
From left, Greg Caldicott, Tom Murphy, and Bill Zierolf, the new leadership team at EstateWorks.

From left, Greg Caldicott, Tom Murphy, and Bill Zierolf, the new leadership team at EstateWorks.

Greg Caldicott has developed a strong track record for taking emerging products, introducing them to the marketplace, and building strong sales organizations around them.

He did it at Wellesley-based XFormx, a Web conferencing and collaboration company, where he led the launch of an entry-level product built on an innovative, low-cost ‘desktop-to-browser’ architecture; it was eventually named PC Magazine’s best new product of 2004.

He handled a similar assignment at Boston-based Radio Active Media Partners (now Next Radio Solutions), where he was recruited by the chief executive officer to lead the growth of the company, considered a pioneer in Internet radio services, to portal partners like Bellsouth and Barnes & Noble. He quickly increased the number of monthly listener hours from 150,000 to 1 million by signing new affiliate partners and improving the quality of service.

It was numbers like these that prompted local attorney Tom Murphy to tab Caldicott for the assignment that will form the next line on his resume — taking the company Murphy started, EstateWorks Inc., developer of a Web-based on-demand estate settlement and planning product, to the proverbial next level in terms of sales and market expansion.

Actually, Caldicott represents one half of a new leadership team assembled for EstateWorks, a Maynard-based company backed with investments from several Western Mass. business leaders. The other half is Bill Zierolf, who brings with him to the job of ‘executive chairman’ more than 25 years of experience with information services, software, and Internet companies.

His most recent stop, for example, was at Southboro, Mass.-based True Advantage, a maker of on-demand lead-generation software. There, he directed a successful turnaround, during which he led the roll-out of new software and database products, restructured the organization, hired a new management team, improved renewals from 20% to 70%, and closed deals with several new customers, including IBM, Yahoo, and Herman Miller.

Together, Caldicott and Zierolf are tasked with taking a venture that has always looked good on paper — its products streamline and simplify the often-complex estate settlement and estate planning processes, issues that touch millions of individuals and the professionals handling their affairs — but has thus far not seen the results expected from Murphy and its primary investors.

“I think we’re just barely scratching the surface in terms of this market,” said Caldicott. “We have some great, very prestigious customers, we just need more of them; we’re at the point now where the product is developed and it’s time to gear up sales and marketing, and we have pretty high expectations for growth.”

Zierolf agreed, and said those expectations are based on the size and potential of the market, as well as some quick and effective steps planned to address several matters, including focused marketing and efforts to raise the value proposition for a product that is already in demand.

“This product has a very focused market; we’re in a defined space, and we know exactly who we’re selling to — estate and settlement attorneys and banks,” he said. “One problem some companies have is that they build a mousetrap and then they search for a market. It’s hard to create a market, and we didn’t have to; it’s there.”

Taxing Situation

As he talked about the challenge ahead for himself and Zierolf, Caldicott found himself referencing a recent Monday Night Football game — the one during which the Arizona Cardinals blew a huge third-quarter lead through a series of blunders and wound up losing to the Chicago Bears.

That staggering collapse is not in any way comparable to what has happened at EstateWorks, he said, but it does hit upon one of the clear parallels between sport and business.

“More than 80% of games are won on execution, not the game plan,” he explained, noting that the Cardinals obviously had a good game plan, as evidenced by the large, early lead, but didn’t execute well, or did but not for the entire game. “Usually, it’s not how you draw it up, but how you execute.”

EstateWorks has been drawn up very well, he continued, adding that better execution is at the heart of Murphy’s efforts to assemble a new leadership team and undertake what would be a third round of financing. Both were designed to provide the resources needed to take the company and its product to its next projected phase of significant market explansion.

EstateWorks has already established itself as a leader in Web-based estate-settlement matters for law firms and financial services companies, said Murphy, and it has amassed a star-studded client list that includes Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Branch Banking & Trust Co., Ropes & Gray, and the law firm Choate, Hall & Stewart. The next step is to become a major force in the trusts and estates market, thus moving the venture from startup to growth company.

Caldicott was hired this summer in a consulting capacity to help shape the strategy for meeting that goal, and saw enough potential in the product and its future to become a candidate when Murphy launched an intense, five-month-long search for a new CEO last spring. Zierolf also became a candidate, and Murphy was impressed enough to add the new position of executive chairman and make him part of the team.

What Caldicott saw was a product already in demand, but one to be much more so as the Baby Boom generation, which has created and inherited great amounts of wealth, moves to retirement and beyond.

“We’re talking about a product that focuses on death and taxes, two of the constants in life,” he said. “They aren’t going anywhere; the market for this is huge, and it will only grow as the Baby Boomers age.”

It was this potentially vast market that Murphy, a partner with the Springfield-based law firm Murphy, McCoubrey & Auth LLP, envisioned when, in 2001, he laid the groundwork for the venture that would eventually become EstateWorks.

He was actually inspired in some ways when he encountered the complexities and frustrations of estate settlement after the death of his father. After discovering that many important documents were missing and difficult to assemble, he started thinking about a system that streamlined the process and put the important information and documents where people could get their hands on them. The resulting product was something called FamilyFiles

The initial target audience was individuals, said Murphy, adding that he and his investment partners soon switched their focus to the accounting firms, banks, law firms, and other institutions that handle estate planning and estate settlement.

Web of Intrigue

After years of R&D, the company created a Web-based product grounded in risk-reduction and greater efficiency. Among other things, it can:

  • Store client data, including contracts, documents, and assets;
  • Automate routine, manual data processes;
  • Provide detailed checklists, customized to a particular bank, law firm, or accounting firm;
  • Track due dates to ensure timely completion of tasks; and
  • Facilitate data sharing in documents, forms, and external systems.

The product was introduced at a convention of estate-planning and settlement professionals in late 2002, and soon thereafter, the company got a call from Goldman-Sachs and its New York office, which validated the EstateWorks solution and value proposition after a Web demonstration conducted from Maynard. The client list soon included several smaller law firms, but also national and international financial services giants such as Bank of America and Merrill Lynch.

The mission for Caldicott and Zierolf, which they’ve decided to accept, is to take the apparently strong demand for the EstateWorks product, as well as its solid foundation of clients, and build on them. In other words, they want to match the current quality of customers with far greater quantity.

Which brings Caldicott back to that word execution.

He considers it one of the many legs to the table supporting such a business venture, with others including a quality product, strong value proposition, capital, market (demand), and leadership. “We have all the pieces in place,” he said. “Now we have to go execute; and that’s why we’re really excited about this company and where we can take it.”

Specific tasks for the months ahead include bulking up and energizing the sales staff, creating stronger market-wide awareness of the product and its many benefits, and enhancing that product to create more value for customers, said Zierolf, who has experience with many of these assignments in his various turn-around projects.

“We want to enhance the product with more features and functions, and adding more professional services to our offering,” he said. “By doing so, we’re not just selling software, we’re selling a solution that can be implemented and add value right away.

“One of the worst things about the software industry 10 or 20 years ago is that people would just sell software; they’d sell a CD, and the client would have to install it,” he continued. “On-demand software is a service, it’s a completely different model; we help them get trained on the software and get it loaded. The key is that we’re not selling software licenses; we’re selling solutions.

Caldicott told BusinessWest that he, Zierolf, and other members of the leadership team are preparing a strategic plan and identifying financial goals. Specific revenue numbers were not revealed, but the leadership team does anticipate that 30% to 40% annual growth is certainly achievable.

The reason? The amount of the market that remains untapped.

“We have about 50 customers,” he explained. “There are 8,000 banks in the U.S. and several thousand law firms out there. That’s why we think we’re barely touching the surface.”

Going on Offense

Caldicott was wary about drawing too many parallels between business and sports — and specifically that bizarre MNF tilt.

But there are some similarities, he continued, including teamwork, leadership, having the right game plan, and, of course, execution.

That’s what he wants to help bring to this company that would appear to have all the other ingredients in place to go where Murphy wants it to go.

In short, he has no intention of losing this third-quarter lead.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]