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October 25, 2007

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Edwin Miller got his job as CEO of Everest Software by making a bad impression.

As CEO of collaboration software maker iKimbo in Herndon five years ago, he was meeting with venture capitalist John Burton over the possibility of doing something “strategic” with Maryland software firm OTG, which Burton’s firm funded.  The meeting, well, didn't go so hot.  “I was waaaaay over the top," Miller remembers. "You haven't seen me intense yet."

Give him time. He doesn't drink coffee because he found out early on it makes him too hyper. And telling this story from his Sterling, VA office, it's a battle to stay in his seat.

When Miller gets excited about an idea, he becomes an evangelist, he says.  "I was evangelizing that day," he remembers. "It was like I had a stack of Gideon bibles the size of Montana and John did not want one."   At age 32, Edwin was all vision; John, a fair bit older, was more interested in practicalities.

Nothing came of it, but Miller and Burton crossed paths again a year later. Miller apologized for his behavior, and it must have impressed Burton, who eventually helped convince him to come on as CEO of Everest Software in November of last year.  (Burton’s Updata is a funder, together with Sierra and Boulder—to the tune of about $20M, the most recent round in 2005.)

It wasn't just Burton's words that convinced him. Miller has a specific set of what he calls "Nine Quadrants" he uses to figure out whether an investment, career move, etc., makes sense.   He's hesitant to reveal all his secrets, but he'll let us know one of the nine:  Continuity with the past.  He likes to see founders still with the company, people who have been there from the beginning, that kind of thing.

In general, Edwin's a big fan of formulas (and of not sitting still).  As we talked in his office, he jumped up to the white board to diagram how he chose his first team of sales people when he was employee #38 for PSINet in the early 90s (some still are with him at Everest). Truth be told, he loses us halfway through:  something about ENRs (Experience, Network, Resource State) having to work with RTPs (Resilient, Tenacious, Passionate), with problem solving, humility and ethics thrown in.   Oh.

His energy surplus is evidently a good thing.  In January, at age 37, he was named one of the top "40 under 40" CEOs by Venture Magazine. When asked what it's like to be the youngest guy in the board room, he says, "I don't feel young."

Some of that has to do with his upbringing. From the age of 13, he was working long hours at his father's combo gas station, beer and liquor store, and pool hall.  He grew up in Oglethorpe, Georgia in a town without a traffic light where many people didn't graduate from high school.

A basketball scholarship got him to college, Liberty University, where he was shooting guard at 6’3”.  But he doesn’t brag about his prowess in that area.  He remembers being a sophomore in high school who was usually benched but one day got his chance to play. Not once but twice after his team scored, Miller attempted to take the ball out and return it to his team.  Unfortunately, the referee instructed him, “It isn’t your ball, son.” He had to run back down court to play defense wishing he could disappear.  Naturally, he got up from his chair to re-enact the moment.

But his judgment has improved.   From XML to distributive messaging to content management, Miller seems to be able to identify trends and run with them.  Everest's software helps small and medium sized businesses handle their myriad back office functions from accounting to inventory control. The company is "almost break even," investing heavily in sales and marketing.  He sees raising another round and potential acquisitions in Everest's near future.

Formerly iCode, the company began in India in ‘97 and stays in touch with its counterparts there by running sports competitions with each other on the Nintendo Wii’s set up in each office.   “You'll see a little bit of Silicon Valley here," Miller says, remembering the foosball days of the dot boom.

Everest —named of course after that big mountain in the Himalayas—now has 170 employees, 65 of which are in Sterling, another 12 sprinkled around the country, and the rest in India.   Miller himself likes the mountains in Colorado for snowboarding, or if he can’t get out west, a little action at White Tail or Liberty.  In the summertime he also long-boards on asphalt.  “Wicked fast,“ he says.  Why are we not surprised? 

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