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Naich S, 2u14

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Eiin Chan Bing

uouaiu Abel coulu have ietiieu at age 4u.
Foi a while, he uiu.
In 2u11, Abel solu to piivate equity fiims the majoiity of his stake in BigNachines, a
business softwaie company he hau been builuing foi neaily a uozen yeais. Last yeai,
0iacle Coip. acquiieu BigNachines, in which Abel still helu some owneiship, foi
moie than $4uu million.
Along with the changes in owneiship came changes in Abel's uaily ioutine. Be
stoppeu woiking. Be helpeu his wife take theii thiee chiluien to anu fiom school. Be
lost 2u pounus. Be ian, qualifying foi this yeai's Boston Naiathon in Apiil, in which
he plans to compete. Be tuineu himself into bettei a golfei, iecently shooting a
iounu unuei pai.
But the thiill of woiking with a team to builu a business luieu him back. A yeai anu a
half ago, he staiteu anothei company, u2 Ciowu.
"Why uo this. It just feels natuial," saiu Abel, now 42. "Anu it uoes give me meaning.
. Builuing companies: It's iewaiuing spiiitually, emotionally anu financially."
In summei 2u12, Abel anu foui of his fiienus anu foimei co-woikeis at BigNachines
gatheieu in the basement of his Lake Foiest home.
"We staiteu the company fiist, without the piouuct in minu," saiu Natt uoiniak,
whom Abel hiieu a uecaue ago to woik at BigNachines, a softwaie company that
helps businesses configuie anu stieamline theii sales piocesses. "We knew with the
iight people, you can giinu it out.
"Anu then uouaiu piesenteu this iuea, anu we kinu of steppeu on it, cheweu on it
anu saiu, 'That's the one.'"
Bighlanu Paik-baseu u2 Ciowu, staiteu with capital fiom the co-founueis, is iun by
about a uozen employees, a contiast to the neaily Suu at BigNachines' Beeifielu
offices at the time of its sale to piivate investois.
u2 Ciowu aggiegates usei ieviews of business softwaie by companies like, BootSuite anu BocuSign, functioning much like a Yelp foi business
softwaie. Its goal is to uisiupt the tiauitional mouel of ielying on analyst ieseaich
foi softwaie by piesenting thousanus of consumei ieviews insteau.
"Bey, we'ie using Yelp to make uecisions on iestauiants, TiipAuvisoi foi tiavel anu
Amazon to uo oui shopping," Abel saiu. "Why not have it foi business softwaie."
In }anuaiy, Abel investeu $S million in a Califoinia-baseu softwaie company
unielateu to u2 Ciowu, the uetails of which he plans to announce soon. Be has
staiteu hiiing foi the company's Chicago-aiea offices, which will be in Bighlanu
Paik, next uooi to u2 Ciowu.
It's moie eviuence that Abel is not maue foi ietiiement, at least not now.
"Be's one of the gieat stoiies," saiu Pat Ryan, a fiienu anu founuei of Incisent Labs
uioup, which tuins innovative piouucts into staitups. Ryan featuieu Abel in late
}anuaiy at tech hub 1871 as pait of his Chicago Founueis' Stoiies, which gatheis the
local tech community togethei to leain fiom entiepieneuis.
"In Chicago iight now, some of the most exciting stoiies aie little unueistoou
because they'ie B2B companies. Be's so unassuming that, even when he hau gieat
success, he stayeu giounueu, so you nevei knew he enjoyeu that kinu of success
unless you ieally got to know him."
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Abel, boin 4,2uu miles fiom Chicago in the city of Noenchenglaubach in noithwest
ueimany, founu entiepieneuiship inspiiation fiom his fathei anu his gianufathei.
Buiing Woilu Wai II, his pateinal gianufathei, Wilhelm Abel, ian Busseluoif
Wateiwoiks, the city's watei tieatment plant. At the enu of the wai, when the
countiy was in iuins, Abel's gianufathei pailayeu his expeiience into staiting his
own company, Abel Pumps.
The company passeu to his son, uoeiut Abel. uoeiut's wife, Naiia Abel, also helpeu,
seiving at one point as the company's chief financial officei.
Naiia Abel iecalleu that hei son, who has an oluei sistei, loveu statistics as a little
"Be woulu keep tiack of all these little slips of papei that woulu have numbeis anu
numbeis anu numbeis," she saiu. "When he got into something, he was ieally into
When uouaiu was 9, the family left foi Ameiica, wheie his fathei planneu to set up a
subsiuiaiy of Abel Pumps. uouaiu, who is a ueiman citizen but has peimanent 0.S.
iesiuency, continueu to spenu summeis in ueimany but giew up in the Pittsbuigh
subuib of Sewickley.
The tiansition was geneially smooth, anu within a few months he hau become fluent
in English.
"The only thing I iemembei that was, like, a little bit upsetting was some kius weie
calling me a Nazi, which in this countiy is not that big of a ueal, like you can be a
Soup Nazi, anu it's like kinu of a joke," he saiu. "But in ueimany, you uon't say that
woiu foi obvious histoiical ieasons. It's extiemely taboo. I just iemembei being
taken aback at that."
Still, he thiiveu, anu at the piivate school he attenueu, Sewickley Acauemy, he
seiveu as business managei foi the school newspapei.
0ne weekenu, when a teenage uouaiu enueu up in tiaffic couit, accuseu of ignoiing
a stop sign, his mothei saiu he aiiiveu with "photos fiom all angles" to piove that
the officei coulu not have seen the stop sign fiom wheie he was. The officei uiun't
show in couit, anu the case was uismisseu.
The inciuent, Naiia saiu, showeu hei two things: Bei son is not afiaiu to confiont
uifficulties, anu he appioaches tough situations "totally piepaieu."
"Be likes challenge," she saiu. "Be uoesn't like to sit aiounu."
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Abel stayeu east foi college, giauuating in 199S with a bacheloi's uegiee in
engineeiing anu a minoi in economics fiom the Nassachusetts Institute of
Photos in Abel's home exeicise ioom show him in the eaily 199us, iowing foi NIT
on the Chailes Rivei. While at NIT, Abel also joineu a fiateinity, Beta Theta Pi. Be
jokes that he was motivateu by beei, but two fiateinity biotheis latei became his
co-founueis at BigNachines.
In 1994, Abel got his mastei's uegiee in engineeiing fiom NIT, uoing his thesis on
what he uesciibeu as "ieseaich numeiical simulation softwaie of manufactuiing
"I call uouaiu my smaitest fiienu, anu that is without a uoubt the tiuth," saiu Rocky
Pontikes, a golfing buuuy anu a managing uiiectoi at Nesiiow Financial. "uouaiu is,
without a uoubt, not only an incieuibly smait peison, but he's ieally been veiy
successful suiiounuing himself with a lot of othei smait people."
Abel, along with a fiateinity biothei anu, latei, BigNachines co-founuei Chiistophei
Shutts, toyeu with licensing technology Abel hau woikeu on at NIT foi a thiee-
uimensional manufactuiing piocess but ueciueu to get "ieal jobs" fiist.
"I think we both got a little scaieu, 'cause we weien't suie it was going to woik,"
Abel saiu.
So he uiu management consulting in Clevelanu with NcKinsey & Co., often tiaveling
to woik in ueimany. Abel hau begun college with the intention of one uay taking
ovei Abel Pumps, but aftei thiee yeais at NcKinsey, he applieu to the Stanfoiu
uiauuate School of Business, wiiting on his application, "I want to become a hi-tech
While at Stanfoiu, Abel woikeu with a staitup that was bought by the Niku Coip., a
piofessional seivice automation softwaie company. Abel stayeu as a geneial
managei. Aftei Niku went public in Febiuaiy 2uuu, Abel solu his shaies, gaineiing
close to seven figuies. Be put it all into his new ventuie, BigNachines.
At the time, he uiun't think of it as a iisk.
"It just seemeu easy to uouble uown anu make it woith that much moie," he saiu. "I
ieally hau no appieciation foi what that meant."
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BigNachines may not have come about without Abel Pumps.
"At Abel Pumps, we always hau this (paits configuiation anu piicing) pioblem, anu I
uiun't know that theie coulu be a commeicial solution," uoeiut Abel saiu. "I uiun't
think theie woulu be softwaie that woulu be quick enough, cheap enough anu fast
enough to ieally solve those issues."
Biawing on his knowleuge of manufactuiing, uouaiu Abel solveu that pioblem by
using clouu-baseu softwaie to stieamline sales piocesses foi manufactuieis, as well
as foi technology companies. BigNachines helps companies pick the coiiect
combination of featuies foi customeis anu piice piouucts coiiectly, meiging it all to
geneiate a pioposal.
Abel uesciibeu it as functioning like Bell uoes when consumeis configuie anu
puichase a computei on its website.
In Becembei 1999, thiough his fathei's connection with Baviu Sculley, who was an
executive at the B.}. Beinz Co., Abel met with Baviu's biothei, }ohn Sculley, foimei
CE0 of Apple.
Sculley, who heaueu an angel investment funu, agieeu to inject $1 million into Abel's
company, anu on the fiist uay of the new millennium, Abel anu his foui co-founueis
incoipoiateu BigNachines. Within thiee months, the company hau iaiseu $6 million.
By the enu of 2uuu, it hau iaiseu $2u million. Then, the uot-com bubble buist.
"In Naich 2uuu, it was, 'When aie you going to ietiie.'" Abel saiu. "Anu a yeai latei,
'When aie you going bankiupt.'"
Be anu his co-founueis uioppeu the ".com" fiom the BigNachines name, but it uiun't
help sway investois uuiing the bust.
At one point, when BigNachines, baseu in Fostei City, Calif., hau $2 million left in
ventuie capital, Abel saiu, "We hau oui come-to-}esus moment, anu we weie like,
'Bey, uo we just give back the last $2 million oi uo we just buckle uown anu uo this
oiganically.' Anu we ueciueu to uo the lattei, but we also ueciueu to uo it in Chicago,
because in the Bay Aiea, we just won't be able to affoiu it. Anu we'll be closei to oui
customeis, anu people will stick with us."
Noving the heauquaiteis to Beeifielu in 2uuS , an intense focus on piouuct quality
anu a paitneiship with, the clouu-baseu customei ielationship
management giant, helpeu the company giow. By 2uu7, ievenue at BigNachines hau
uoubleu, to $1u million annually fiom $S million. Foui yeais latei, by the time of its
sale to }NI Equity anu vista Equity, its annual ievenue iun iate was appioaching $Su
million pei yeai.
"uouaiu was veiy, veiy piogiessive," uoiniak saiu. "Anu he was just a veiy goou
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Abel stanus 6 feet tall, but his boyish face anu peiiouic jokes give him an easygoing
aii. At u2 Ciowu, though, it's cleai he's the CE0.
"With uouaiu, theie is no b.s.-ing, because people will finu that out. You just uon't
have time foi platituues, but theie's also vulneiability," saiu uoiniak, a co-founuei at
u2 Ciowu. "Beie's the ueal: Be's veiy open to ciiticism. But at the enu, if you just
gotta make a call, he'll make the call."
The casual atmospheie at u2 Ciowu it's a 7Su-squaie-foot space with leathei
office chaiis anu computeis that suiiounu a table scatteieu with tiail mix belies
the woik uone theie.
Staff membeis say they woik 6u to 6S houis a week, though no one ieally monitois
each othei.
"It's ielaxeu, but it's unspoken, I guess, like 'This is getting uone,'" saiu Nolly 0'Baie,
u2 Ciowu's maiketing managei anu the sole female employee. "It's eveiyone in.
We'ie all woiking haiu to get it uone, but also, we ieally all just enjoy hanging out
with each othei, so it makes it beaiable, woiking haiu anu woiking long houis."
Tim Banuoif, a u2 Ciowu co-founuei, saiu Abel "uoes a veiy goou job of setting
goals anu uiiving people to them, in his own unique way. In geneial, people like him,
so they iespect him, anu they want to uo a goou job."
u2 Ciowu employees believe it's at the vanguaiu of business softwaie evaluation,
ieplacing analyst auvice fiom companies like uaitnei with thousanus of usei
ieviews. The name "u2 Ciowu" seives as a nou to the militaiy teim foi intelligence,
but also as a cheeky way to imply the company is a kinu of uaitnei 2.u an
upenuing of a tiauitional mouel.
}ochen Renz, a Chicago-baseu angel investoi anu founuei of Renz ventuies, saiu u2
Ciowu's methou cieates "the kinu of stuff we neeu: inuepenuent, ciowusouiceu. You
want to see othei people's expeiiences."
Though basic access to ieviews on u2 Ciowu is fiee foi useis, the company makes
money fiom softwaie buyeis who pay $99 to $S99 to look up piemium ieseaich
geneiateu by useis anu cuiateu by staff. u2 Ciowu also licenses its iepoits to
venuois, which can also pay to auu featuies like uemo viueos to theii listings. The
company is not yet piofitable, Abel saiu, but its numbei of useis is giowing each
While it's eaily yet to talk about futuie liquiuity, u2 Ciowu coulu, if successful, go
the way of piivate equity. But, Abel saiu, "I uo have an unfulfilleu uieam to iing the
bell at the Nasuaq someuay."
Seeing how the tiajectoiies of his othei uieams have gone qualifying foi the
Boston Naiathon, becoming an aumiiable golfei, tuining into a technology
entiepieneui Wall Stieet may want to cleai space foi anothei tickei symbol.
uouaiu Abel, CE0 of u2 Ciowu
3D#/ 42
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:2;'.</ Wife, Stacy, S9; twins, uavin anu uiayuon, both 9; anu Naueleine, 6
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:2;'.< 21(#=&%+#/ Abel's wife anu thiee chiluien aie spenuing this yeai in San
Niguel ue Allenue, Nexico, wheie his chiluien aie attenuing school anu picking up
Spanish. Abel says he flies theie to spenu time with them about twice a month.
:2(,+'&# 4##+/ Spaten
A,>& 21;'+#>/ Nelson Nanuela. "It was his peiseveiance anu willingness to
saciifice foi his cause. I also think the kinuness he hau aftei all of (his piison time)
to foigive, that's extiaoiuinaiy, what he uiu."
J,%.1 .'F# &, ';?+,(#/ "I am continuously tiying to impiove all paits: my
companies, my health anu fitness, my golf game, my skiing, my pauule tennis, my
consciousness, anu my ielationships with my wife anu kius."
7= .#21#+>C'?/ "The thing is, as a leauei, if you just uon't quit, then the team won't
quit. 0ftentimes, I uo have a lot of uoubt anu feai. Is it going to woik out. If you keep
moving foiwaiu, people will keep going foiwaiu too."