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Continued: Fishbowl Solutions charts course

  • Article by: TODD NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 19, 2012 - 5:20 PM

Fishbowl Solutions, a tech small fry in St. Louis Park, was facing rough waters.

As the recession hammered its manufacturing customers, uncertainty also prevailed after the acquisition of a key local partner by one of the biggest fish in the corporate software world.

Rather than see his software and consulting services company get swamped, Fishbowl Solutions president and owner Tim Gruidl worked to capitalize on the challenges.

The company began approaching manufacturers proactively, offering to help them find ways to use its software and services to solve complex problems and operate more efficiently.

Gruidl also invested heavily in training, expertise and expanded offerings from Oracle. That came after the global software giant's 2006 acquisition of Eden Prairie-based Stellent, whose content management software Fishbowl had resold and implemented.

After navigating those hazards, Fishbowl Solutions has enjoyed explosive growth and relatively smooth sailing the past two years. The company has nearly doubled since 2009, with 40 employees and 2011 revenue of slightly more than $7 million, Gruidl said.

Fishbowl Solutions specializes in consulting and implementation services using Oracle's WebCenter content management software as well as product-development technology from PTC (Parametric Technology Corp). Fishbowl also offers its own suite of off-the-shelf software to expand the functionality of those products. The company also performs maintenance and provides ongoing consulting on everything it installs.

"With the technologies we focus on, it sounds strange but I would put us up against anyone in the world in the PTC area and in the Oracle WebCenter world," Gruidl said. "Fishbowl's goal is to become the most frequently recommended solutions provider within the Oracle WebCenter and PTC communities."

Award winner

Fishbowl's efforts have earned industry recognition. Last year, Fishbowl became the first company worldwide to achieve specialization status in Oracle's WebCenter Content and WebCenter Portal solutions.

In September, Fishbowl won one of Forrester Research's prestigious Forrester Groundswell Awards for an iPad-based, Oracle-integrated content management application that enables sales reps to download videos and presentations, to make them quickly accessible when visiting customers.

"The result,'' Forrester noted in bestowing the award, "is one-on-one conversations that are as much about continuing education as they are about selling.''  

The company appears to be on course for continued growth. Gruidl projected revenue would rise by perhaps 50 percent this year. He's already made five of the 13 hires planned for 2012.

Longer-term, Fishbowl aims to expand into hardware sales and service, with the goal of becoming Oracle's preferred North American partner.

Gruidl, who has an MBA in operations from the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, started Fishbowl Solutions in his basement in 1999. 

Work hard, play hard

His idea was to take advantage of the then-emerging Internet as a means to make knowledge created within a company more readily accessible to employees and departments across the room or around the world.

He pitched the idea to his former employer, unsuccessfully, and then pursued it on his own.

One challenge Gruidl sees is hiring people who are both talented enough and who will adhere to the company's values: customer first, intellectual agility, ambition, continuous learning and teamwork.

"We hire and fire based on our values," Gruidl said. "We'll hire for talent. ... We care more about the talent than we do your skills."

The company has a play-hard, work-hard culture, Gruidl said, with foosball tables in the office and team happy hours and trips to sporting events outside of work.

Longtime customer Fairview Health Systems has brought in Fishbowl on a number of occasions, said Drew Lamosse, Fairview's Web and interactive services manager. Fishbowl has provided on-site consulting services and installed some of its own software products to enhance the Oracle systems that manage content of internal and external websites.

"They've demonstrated a high level of expertise in supporting the tools that they support," Lamosse said. "They've always delivered what we've asked them to deliver, on time and on budget."

The expert says: Mike Harvath, president and CEO of Revenue Rocket Consulting Group, a Bloomington firm that consults with tech companies on growth and other strategies, said Fishbowl Solutions appears well-positioned to succeed if it maintains its focus.

That's because, Harvath said, Fishbowl is focused on a hot technology area, the convergence of online portals and content management. Adding momentum is Fishbowl's ability to make portals and content accessible through iPads, at a time when companies are looking for such mobile solutions. Its focus on manufacturing is a strong point now and offers great growth potential.

"If they keep their eye on the ball, there's a big market opportunity," Harvath said.

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com.

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