In 1987, a 32-year-old Annie Safoian moved to Los Angeles from Armenia with her husband, Hovig, and their 9-year-old son, Tim.
Today and she and her family run an LA tech company called SADA Systems, a thriving Google and Microsoft reseller expected to do $65 million in revenue this year, she tells us.
And she has been fending off a constant stream of offers to acquire the company, for a healthy multiple over revenues. She wouldn’t tell us how much money she’s been offered, but given the market, offers have likely ranged from hundreds of millions of dollars to as high as half a billion, we understand.
But she likes her job and her company, worries a sale wouldn’t be good for employees, and simply doesn’t care that much about the loot.
“We have discussed selling within the family. Everybody wants to buy us. We are in our 60’s, our son is 38 years old. He’s the CEO, my husband is CTO. We’ve been all together here and working all these years,” she says. “If we sell this company and get more money in our bank account, we would still have to do something. My son is very young. We are still so passionate about this technology. It’s never boring, but so exciting every single day. Why would I sell?”
Back in 1987, when the Safoians first moved to America, she couldn’t have predicted her success. Her English was mediocre, she had no technical training and she wasn’t exactly sure what she was going to do for a living. But she knew she loved her new home country and became a citizen right away.
She took some accounting classes, got a job as a payroll coordinator, which she disliked, yet might have toiled away at forever if the company hadn’t laid her off. So she jumped into graphic designed, something she loved, and learned how to build web pages. Her husband found work as a programmer.
Slowly, her hard-work ethic had her customers asking her to do more and more tech jobs. One of them asked her to modify their accounting software. She enlisted her husband’s help for that and they founded a tech company, SADA Systems, which then went on to manage computers and networks for small businesses, doing small custom apps for customers along the way.
‘Hello, this is Google calling’
And then, out of the blue, Google called.
“The lucky year was 2007 when Google came to us and needed some help for their Google Apps. We were one of their launch partners on Work,” she says, referring to Google’s plan to sell Google Apps to more businesses.
Google also wanted SADA to build a tool that would let its customers easily transfer their email and documents into the Google Apps cloud, she says. SADA agreed to work on that, for no compensation, in exchange for becoming a major, early partner authorised to sell Apps.
“We had never had done what they were asking us to do. But we told them we could do it, and worked day and night and delivered it on time,” Safoian remembers.
To this day, Safoian doesn’t fully know how Google found SADA, except through word-of-mouth referrals when it was looking for a company to help it sell Apps for Work in LA.
Remember, in 2007, Microsoft’s Office ruled, businesses distrusted putting their documents in the cloud, and Google had no experience selling its wares to businesses. It needed to start with smaller but established resellers that could help it get a foothold.
Business took off for SADA after it began working with Google Apps. Microsoft took notice and convinced SADA to become a reseller for its cloud product, Office 365, too, which Safoian agreed to do. Both companies wanted SADA to help them steal customers away from each other, but she absolutely refused, she says.
“Believe me. You have to be a politician,” she explains when asked how it is to work with both companies.
“People have to trust you. They know we are going to play this the right way. We will never approach anyone and try to sell them something else. It’s never going to happen. We made that clear and now they don’t even talk about it,” she says.
As the cloud has taken off, and SADA has become a top-tier partner for both Google and Microsoft, SADA has found itself working with bigger and bigger customers and branching out in more areas. It’s worked with the city of Chicago, University of San Diego, Virgin America, the US Air Force, the state of Maryland, city of Los Angeles and so on, it says.
As of this month, SADA will employ 150 people, Safoian tells us. Revenue is expected to hit $65 million this year, up from $50 million last year, she says. All without any VC investment. Her family still owns the company.
Why she doesn’t want to sell
Other successful Google cloud resellers have gone the traditional route and are starting to get acquired. Accenture bought Cloud Sherpas in September for an undisclosed but likely hefty sum.
Cloud Sherpas took the traditional startup route and raised nearly $63 million from VCs. It employed over 1,100 people when Accenture bought it.
Safoian knows that it’s a risk to turn away potential acquisition offers. But she says it’s a calculated risk.
“All of a sudden, things might not be going as well. We are willing to take the risk,” she says.
And there’s another reason she and her husband keep advising their son and CEO not to sell. She believes that working for what you want is better than having it handed to you.
“One of the things I tell my son every day is you don’t need a lot of money. You want to give your children a chance to create something for themselves, to get the pleasure out of it. If everything is given, there is no fun in it,” she says.