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Entrepreneurs
Business Observer Friday, Apr. 8, 2016 6 years ago

Enhanced success

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James Makris sold his first company in 2005. Now he owns another fast-growth business.
by: Steven Benna Staff Writer

When James Makris started VIP Software in January 2014, he didn't set out to replace any software.

Rather, his strategy is to enhance software already there.

The St. Petersburg-based firm does that mostly with property and casualty insurance firms that largely work with homeowners. VIP Software offers its product on a software-as-a-service basis through monthly subscriptions.

The idea to enhance, not replace, according to Makris, is simple: It's very difficult to sell something brand new. “It's like pushing a string up a hill,” Makris says.

But leveraging an existing infrastructure is a much smoother process. Makris highlights what he calls four key advantages for insurance companies when using VIP Software: automation, expense reduction, analytical reporting and visibility into the organization.

Insurance carriers rely on third parties when someone makes a claim, Makris says. VIP Software is “the conduit between carriers and vendors,” he says. “It gives them an ability to respond better and drives operational efficiency.”

VIP Software, through its partnerships with software companies Xactware and Symbility, has access to about 90% of the market share, Makris says. Xactware is the larger of the two, but Symbility is big in Europe and opens future opportunity for VIP Software.

In its first two years, VIP Software had year-over-year growth of 41%, Makris says. This year, he expects revenue growth of 175%. Makris declines to share specific revenue figures.

For Makris and VIP Software, building a reputation in the industry is crucial. He plans to achieve that with his enhancement model, by optimizing customer experience. “You need to gain credibility first,” Makris says. “But once you do, success becomes highly repeatable.”

Makris has developed that philosophy in several entrepreneurial ventures going back to 2002, when he co-founded 1Source Inc. That firm became the largest Toshiba/Konica/Minolta dealer in Ottawa, Canada, and Makris sold the firm to Toshiba in 2005.

The growth for VIP Software, meanwhile, both in credibility and in volume, is attributable to the 15 employees at VIP Software, Makris says. The payroll has more than doubled since 2014, when there were six employees. “We have a pool of very talented and committed people that are focused on our mission and achieving the business' objectives,” he says.

His approach with those employees does not incorporate middle management with lots of layers. Makris, instead, says the best way to get insight and results is encouraging employees. “We encourage innovation and voice from all of our people,” he says. “That results in retention. They feel like a key part of the organization, and that helps with quick and efficient growth.”

Finding skilled employees with an understanding of the industry is the company's biggest challenge. The key at VIP Software is finding people that will help maintain and improve the approach.

“What differentiates us is our people walk you through challenges,” Makris says. “We aren't some 1-800 number that takes you to a voicemail. You're always dealing with an actual employee.”

In the insurance industry, that becomes especially essential during a catastrophe, such as a hurricane or winter storm. “During a period of calmness, you set your service expectation,” he says. “It's imperative to sustain that level of quality when chaos hits.”

Follow Steven Benna on Twitter @steve_benna

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