Posted: December 01, 2013
CEO of the Year: Tim Miller
Bolstered by IPO, Miller's Rally Software sets sail for expansionGigi Sukin
Nobody fetches coffee for the chief executive officer at Rally Software. It's not that kind of place, and Tim Miller is not that kind of guy.
Miller fills his own cup, then chats about his favorite roast with co-workers in the break room at Rally, a Boulder-based business that's booming.
In April, Rally's IPO raised more than $90 million and the company plans for a nearly 90,000 square-foot expansion in the next two years. Its culture has earned it local and national accolades as a “Best Place to Work," including from ColoradoBiz.
Miller has had a banner year and a career to write home about as well, with more than a decade spent changing the way businesses build software and products.
The 2013 ColoradoBiz CEO of the Year, considered a “servant leader” among his internal team, embraces collaboration and trust and encourages members of his team to chase their dreams – just as he chased his.
Miller followed his brother to the University of Colorado-Boulder in 1981, pursuing a passion for mountain powder unavailable in his hometown of Cincinnati. He reveled in the university's non-academic offerings, such as his fraternity.
“I probably loved Phi Kappa Psi a little too much,” he said with a chuckle. Indeed, after failing out of school and attending night school in an attempt to bring up his GPA, he left Colorado to pursue real estate in Arizona. He later enrolled at Arizona State University to acquire an MBA.
“I had a baby girl and realized that I had to grow up pretty quick," he says. "Plus, I really loved finance.”
Miller returned to CU in 1990 to further his studies, starting out in a Ph.D. program in finance before changing course and earning a second master’s in Management Science and Information Systems.
“I had always loved computers and wanted to learn how to program them and use them in business,” Miller says.
In 1990, while studying the latest waves in technology development, he met future business partner Ryan Martens. The pair completed research on what is presently referred to as Agile software development, a term that crops up with virtually every reference to Rally.
The Manifesto for Agile Software Development, published in 2001 by a gaggle of techies, not including Miller, is as follows:
“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools; Working software over comprehensive documentation; Customer collaboration over contract negotiation; Responding to change over following a plan.”
“This became the basis for what our company is built on,” Miller said.
In a 2012 Fast Company magazine article, the self-proclaimed introvert recommended: “Evolve or die … Agile is so much more than a marketing buzzword or something developers do with their headphones on in their cubicles. It’s a way of working that represents the future of innovation. The ability to make a decision, trace it down to the execution level and deliver relentlessly in short, iterative bursts will make things happen faster.”
But back in the early 1990s, Miller confronted many naysayers.
“I had some 500 conversations with business people who said the Internet would never be anything, that it was purely academic. But I was patient.”
Sure, when the 51-year-old CEO was just starting out, the Internet had a “What’s New” page that listed the two or three latest tweaks or additions to the Web, and not much else. But, “It was a wonderful time to cut our teeth,” Miller says.
In 1995, he presented a business plan to his employers at a small Colorado-based consulting firm where he and Martens worked for more than three years. He offered them a 50 percent stake in his company concept in exchange for a full year’s salary. They turned him down.
So the next day, Miller quit.
“I was terrified,” he recalls. “I think every entrepreneur is terrified.”
Miller and Martens went on to build their first startup, Avitek, which grew to a 40-person, $10 million custom software development firm acquired by BEA Systems in 1999. After the BEA buyout, which he called “unsatisfying with no sense of legacy,” Miller remained with his company until 2001 before taking a breather.
He, his wife and two daughters set sail across the Caribbean and Mediterranean seas for the next year and a half. While on the open water, he received a business plan from Martens for F4 Technologies, which later became Rally.
“I told him it was a stupid idea,” Miller says. “That was the last time that Ryan got really mad at me. We’ve only had two or three fights in the 25 years we’ve known each other.”
When Miller returned to dry land in 2003, he became year-old Rally's CEO.
In its 11 years, Rally has served more than 192,000 users, including 36 Fortune 100 companies. It has become an award-winning software vendor, with a platform and products aimed at assisting companies to drive corporate strategies, govern development lifecycles and extend collaboration company-wide.
Gigi Sukin is an Associate Editor at ColoradoBiz. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.