In 2004, Reston, Virginia–based IPIX Corporation was looking at some bleak numbers. Despite having $500 million in funding and a number of innovative, patented technologies on record, IPIX was preparing to post a $22 million loss.
Until it hired a new president and CEO—Clara Conti, a woman with an impressive history of turning companies around in a short period of time. In 2000, she sold her eight-year-old company, Aurora Enterprise Solutions, for $18 million to Belgium-based Ubizen. Then, she turned the failing dot-com, Object Video, into one of “Federal Computing Week’s” Top 10 Companies to Watch, and it raised more than $22 million in venture funding— in just 18 months.
But IPIX, which was originally founded in 1986 as Internet Pictures, posed a new challenge, one Conti was ready to embrace: “When IPIX recruited me, I saw real opportunity there,” Conti said. “I enjoy challenges like this one: anticipating obstacles and making the necessary adjustments to the business plan is an art form of sorts. The satisfaction upon success is indescribable.”
Upon taking her position in September 2004, Conti immediately turned her attentions to reevaluating IPIX’s strategic direction, corporate culture and its hold on market share. And she found the answer to its problems.
When Conti took over, the floundering company was focusing its efforts on providing panoramic, 360-degree photos and video that were used mainly for real estate and tourism purposes. Yet, in her research, Conti determined that immersive imaging is the next generation for video surveillance and it is a key component to safeguarding the security of both life and property. Immersive imaging, like the IPIX 360 technology, can be described as the ability to create the perspective of being inside the image being viewed.
“This is a time when security is top-of-mind for individuals, governments and businesses alike,” Conti said. “Upon my review of IPIX’s business plan, I realized we were focusing our marketing and development on real estate and tourism when our unique immersive technology could transform homeland security as well as military, civilian and municipal protection.”
And commercially, she realized that IPIX could prove invaluable for the retail, municipal and casino industries. For this reason, Conti decided to shift the focus of IPIX to more strongly utilize its value as a security tool for both government and commercial applications.
In doing so, Conti shifted the company’s business model from that of a software development firm and value-added camera reseller to a world-class security systems and solutions development company. This step included the sale of AdMission, the nonsecurity related business unit, which allowed Conti to refine IPIX’s core technologies. She further streamlined the company by merging the photography and video units under one umbrella. By adjusting the focus of IPIX’s capabilities, the company could engage in more targeted research and development, as well as more effectively conducting its promotions and marketing.
The rest of Conti’s plan for IPIX was simple, yet drastic: she decreased the operating costs by 500%. Despite such extensive cost cutting, Conti has still expanded the product pipeline, has opened new channel marketing opportunities with video camera manufacturers and camera resellers and has signed on major national retailers and broadcast network customers.
Protecting IPIX’s unique technology is just as important as developing it, and Conti took the steps necessary to protect the company’s innovative products from its competitors. She has implemented an aggressive product-to-market strategy and ensures that IPIX stays ahead of the curve by way of expedited product release through efficient product development. Every IPIX design is submitted for patent protection well before development and protected through both patents and top-notch security measures throughout its development.
Conti also realized that changes and improvements behind the scenes only go so far—no matter how drastic or innovative such changes may be. That’s why she also placed emphasis on the people behind the IPIX technology. She restructured the compensation package so that it exceeded industry standards and would further motivate the talented team members to stay on board. And she added to that team by hiring top-notch talent. Her focus was on creating a close-knit team that shared her optimism, work ethic, vision and intellect.
“I can’t begin to describe how important it is to hire the brightest people and equip them for success by providing training, guidance and support throughout their careers,” Conti said. “A great team creates great success.”
After recruiting the team she envisioned, Conti continues to cultivate the team members in her daily “CEO Stand Ups”—morning meetings where they gather in an open environment in order to share their thoughts and make recommendations. All staff members are also encouraged to pursue professional development.
After just six months at IPIX, Conti drove a 7% increase in gross revenue. And in 2005, her first full year at the helm of the company, IPIX’s gross revenue enjoyed a 40% increase. Conti also arranged a $10 million private investment in public equity funding to boost sales and marketing efforts.
Her shift in business strategy has proved to be just what this once-struggling company needed. IPIX has established an impressive—and dedicated—client list that includes the 2005 Presidential Inauguration, Circus Circus casino and Loyola University. IPIX technology has been used to aid the United States troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and is being used by the Transportation Safety Administration in some of the nation’s busiest airports.
IPIX’s technology is easily adaptable and the company—and Conti’s efforts to establish it as a complete security and surveillance solution have paid off. For instance, IPIX’s CommandView Dome and CommandView 360 cameras provided a solution to a problem faced by the University of Minnesota’s Mobile Command Unit. The university wanted to create a vehicle that would more effectively monitor incidents and responses as they happened on campus—without putting the mobile command officers in personal danger. By equipping their mobile command vehicle with these cameras, the officers can drop a camera into a situation and use the digital pan-tilt-zoom to navigate within the image.
But IPIX reached a new pinnacle in May 2005 when it was selected by the U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop the world’s most high-resolution video camera. IPIX also hopes to find commercial interests for this ultra-accurate, wide-area video camera in domestic applications, such as disaster response, border security and critical infrastructure monitoring.
“This contract with DARPA is testimony to our now established leadership in the visual intelligence arena,” Conti said. “It highlights the direction we’re headed in. And we feel it’s just the beginning of bigger successes to come.”
Conti and her team members are working hard to make sure those bigger successes happen. IPIX, under Conti’s direction, continues to undertake an aggressive business growth strategy to further establish itself as the solution leader and technical innovator in the immersive image technology market. Conti is continually working to position IPIX as the leading provider of immersive technologies—a provider that will lead the charge of the $5 billion international security marketplace through innovative research and development, corporate partnerships, sales and marketing efforts and high-value products and services.
“IPIX is not out of the woods yet; but we have come to a clearing. It is my vision for IPIX to become the premiere international resource for cutting-edge surveillance technology,” Conti said. “And we will become just that.”