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As a mom and a software industry professional, Maureen Strehl spent years wishing for a better work-life balance. When the economy crashed in 2008, Strehl lost her job—and found her opportunity.
“I found myself picking up part-time work at the dance school my daughters attended,” Strehl says. “I quickly learned the studio needed help with the software they were using and setting organizational procedures. I became the go-to person.”
Her break came when the owner of the software firm wanted to cash out. Strehl wanted in.
“By January 2009 I was the new owner of CompuDance Software, software for dance, music and gymnastics studios,” she says. “It was partly about being in the right place at the right time but also about always keeping an open mind and recognizing there are opportunities around every corner.”
If we embrace diversity and young women in technology, we can change the scope of business and make a difference in many lives. —Maureen Strehl, owner, Compudance
1. How has your business grown since you started it?
When I purchased the software company, the software was a desktop software, CD-based. We knew the software needed to be rewritten. The decision was whether to rewrite it in desktop form or develop a web-based platform. At the time, it was not yet clear if web-based was the way to go. In hindsight, the decision to go cloud-based was the best decision we could have made. We have increased revenue four times over the previous owner's best year. We have added employees and continue to grow our client base across North America. We have expanded the software features tremendously utilizing the latest web technology such as online registration, online bill pay, auto-pay and document sharing. We have integrated with credit card processors to streamline payment collection. Going forward, we will continue to add value-added features and are looking into integrating with other companies that add value for our clients.
2. What hurdles have you overcome?
Early on, I was handling every aspect of the business: support, implementation, data entry, training, sales, marketing, budgeting and accounts payable. When I finally had enough money to hire one part-time person, I was able to pass on certain tasks, but the bulk of the work still resided with me. I realized that the balance of work and family was so much harder when it's your own business.
At the start of any business it may seem like it is not worth it. You work 12 to 16 hour days and barely take home $1,000 a month. Many times I just had to literally put my head down and forge through. I remember in my first year I got 10 clients onto our web-based model. I was thrilled with 10 clients but we struggled with rolling out a complete package. I had no experience in this new web world but I was determined to figure it out. After that first year, five clients left us. That's a terrible churn rate. I remember crying when my first client told me they were moving on. We have reduced our churn rate to about 5 to 7 percent and I don't cry anymore if we lose a client. We figure out why they left and what we can do the next time to make it better so we don't lose that client.
3. What sets your business apart?
First, I am a woman business owner in a field typically dominated by males. However, our primary clients are often female-operated businesses, allowing me to easily build relationships with our clients. It's important for young girls to know that women can be successful in the tech world. It's also important to note that people from very different backgrounds can come together for a common purpose. If we embrace diversity and young women in technology, we can change the scope of business and make a difference in many lives.
4. What’s been the most inspiring compliment a customer has given you?
Every week we get compliments about our customer service and support. We compete against much larger companies, but what sets us apart is the service and support we provide to our clients. Our employees are truly dedicated and care about our business and our clients. Last year, a client wrote a review of us not only praising our customer support but telling us how our software has helped her run her business more easily from home. She was a new mom and new business owner and we were able to help her with that work-life balance. Hearing stories like that are what make it all worthwhile. My mission when I took over this company was to help others with the work-life balance I struggled with myself as a young mom. It is so gratifying to see that mission is becoming a reality.
5. How has the dance business shifted since you began?
The dance and entertainment industry has been in a growth stage for the last five years or so. Many TV shows about dancers and the dance world have increased the popularity of this extracurricular activity for young children. More boys are taking part in dance, and dance has become much more serious and creative for the advanced dancer. A huge shift in technology in the dance world also began about five years ago. We have listened to our clients about what they need to service their growing clientele better. They need online access for students and parents to register, pay and maintain their accounts. Everything needs to be easy access and we are working closely with our clients to meet the ever-changing demands of this growth industry.