An Employee Fires His Employer, Starts A Forty Million Dollar Business.
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Patrick Martucci Story
In 1980, Patrick Martucci, just out of high school, left his hometown of Cleveland with $300, pointing his Trans Am toward Dallas. He landed a $6-an-hour job at a company that was launching an odd, new product at the time -- "voice forward mail."
When he tried to explain voice mail to his grandmother, she thought he was a postal worker. Others, however, caught on. He was soon in the sales department, where he was a natural. "I had the opportunity to watch a product go out the door and gain world-wide acceptance," he says.
He leapfrogged to increasingly challenging jobs across the telecom industry, setting up distribution channels, running sales departments. A stark opportunity stared him in the face when he worked at a company that provided maintenance on Rolm phone equipment. Mr. Martucci was thrilled to pitch a sale to J.C. Penney, which, after a trial, offered him the maintenance contract for the entire retail chain's phone service. But his company could handle only Rolm equipment in specific geographic areas, not the full sprawl of a retailer with a mishmash of phone systems. Mr. Martucci says he saw what could have been "a $10 million contract go to $1.5 million, and that bugged me from that day forward."
From Chicago, he launched United Asset Coverage, which could have struck that deal. It would informally stitch together a network to fix anyone's office equipment -- no matter the brand, and no matter the place, a sort of managed-care approach to the frustrating world of office-machine maintenance.
Mr. Martucci unveiled the concept to a small venture fund, where he worked at the time. "It's a $36 billion marketplace, and I'm familiar with it," he told his partners. They jumped in, investing a total of "a couple million" dollars, he says.
He called the best salespeople he knew from previous jobs and hired 17. They told potential customers that UAC would handle all the maintenance chores for less if they paid upfront. Just like explaining voice mail to grandma, the new business model, part insurance, part repair clearinghouse, wasn't an easy sell. "There is nothing more boring than telephone maintenance," Mr. Martucci admits.
It took six long months in 1997 for the company to secure its first customer: A TGI Friday's in St. Louis signed up for UAC to maintain its lone copier. By 2001, UAC installed a call center in Chicago so that anyone could call and order service. Establishing a network of service providers proved easier. Once they saw that UAC provided steady revenue, acting as a sort of agent for them, many agreed to discounts on their services to be part of the network.
Though new competitors are sprouting up, today UAC is the largest telecom-maintenance company in the world. The closely held firm doesn't disclose revenue, but earnings reached $40 million this year.