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Norm Francis: an interview with a Canadian software pioneer

Norm Francis

Norm FrancisWhen Bill Gates took the stage to launch Microsoft Windows 2000, he demonstrated software created by a Canadian company, Pivotal Corporation.

The Pivotal and Microsoft relationship was a result of Pivotal’s pioneering Customer Relationship Management (“CRM”) software, and was forged over a private dinner between the company’s leaders at Bill Gates’ futuristic Seattle home.

Pivotal co-founder and CEO Norm Francis had come a long way from humble beginnings in the small farming community of Oliver, BC. An early Computer Science graduate at UBC, Francis and partner Keith Wales formed BSG, which developed ACCPAC, a top accounting software of the early personal computer era. BSG was acquired by Computer Associates in 1985.

“We pulled in some of the guys that had worked with us before….top notch engineers….and we just did it again,” Francis told CEO.CA of launching Pivotal. That venture had began as a pen computing software company in 1991 but pivoted to CRM in 1994 and helped create the industry now dominated by Salesforce.com ($130 billion market cap).

The leading outside investor in Pivotal was famed venture capitalist-firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Kleiner invited Francis to invest in their limited partnerships which in 1999 co-led a $25 million financing for a 20% stake in a little known search engine called Google. Today that stake would be worth close to $200 billion. Francis has been a semi-retired investor and philanthropist since.

His many accolades include BC Technology Industry Person of the Year (1999), Software Entrepreneur of the Year Pacific Region by Ernst and Young (2001), Business Laureates of BC Hall of Fame (2016), and Fraser Institute Founders Award (2019).

On October 2, 2019 Francis joined CEO.CA for a rare public conversation about his life and career in technology. Francis has been a family friend for over 20 years and I took advantage of my proximity to him numerous times growing up, seeking advice about my own technology business and investments. Norm has been a major role model to me.

It dawned on me recently that not everyone has been as lucky as I have to know mentors like Norm Francis. In creating the CEO.CA Mentors Podcast I hope to inspire people interested in venture capital and wealth creation, especially those who did not learn about these topics around the kitchen table.

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About The Author /

Tommy Humphreys is the founder of CEO.CA, a popular Canadian stock market community and App, since 2012, and he is the President of Pacific Website Co., a web development and internet marketing firm, since 2007. Tommy invests in emerging technology and natural resources startups, and writes about business and investing when not playing golf, and hiking throughout Vancouver's North Shore.
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