Interview with Emmet Keeffe III, CEO of iRise

iRise ( is a Los Angeles-based firm that develops software for the enterprise market. iRise was recently named one of the fastest growing companies in Los Angeles by the Deloitte Technology Fast 50, and has done quite well with enterprise customers. We recently caught up with with Emmet B. Keeffe III, CEO and co-founder of iRise to hear about the company and learn how his quest to start a Formula I racing team resulted in the founding of the company.

Ben Kuo: Let's start by talking a little bit about iRise. Can you tell us a bit about your products and history?

Emmet Keeffe: iRise was founded in 1996, and what we do is provide computer aided design software for business applications. Prior to manufacturing a car, you go through a modeling and simulation process, where you visualize the car and make design changes. We provide the same capability for larger business applications, like SAP, Oracle, and custom and portal type applications. Some examples are banking systems, automotive dealer portals, and large insurance broker systems. Right now, there is no way to simulate and visualize those. That's the solution we provide.

Ben Kuo: Who are the customers who use your products?

Emmet Keeffe: Prior to iRise, large Fortune 1000 companies used to have a business analyst who would interview business users and stakeholders, and create a large document--maybe 200, 300, or 400 pages--which documented all the needs of those users. They would then pass that document over to the IT department for the development. The problem with that process of creating that document, is that there is no way to make sure of what the system will look like, and that the system will function. What happens every day on those projects is that millions of dollars are spent, business people see the end result, and realize they actually want something different. It's incredibly costly to fix after building a system like that. With iRise, a business analyst can simulate that system before any code is written.

Ben Kuo: How is this different from visual development tools?

Emmet Keeffe: There's a huge market for visual prototyping. The real differentiation is that visualization tools are for analyst and business users, and no knowledge of technology is required to create these simulations.

Ben Kuo: iRise has been around for awhile, how is the firm doing now?

Emmet Keeffe: We started the company with a very specific goal, which was to become a public software company with a billion in revenue. We spent the first five years to find a problem large enough to achieve our goals. We spent 2000 doing R&D, 2001 with our alpha/beta version, and since 2002 have been in an explosive growth curve. We have tripled our business in the last couple of years, and have more than 100 Fortune 1000 customers right now. It's the most exciting moment in our company's history.

Ben Kuo: Can you tell us a little bit about your venture capital backing?

Emmet Keeffe: We received $11 million in funding in 2002 from private individuals, and $17M in 2004 led by Morgan Stanley.

Ben Kuo: Why did you decide to start the company?

Emmet Keeffe: It's sort of a crazy story. I decided in the early 90's to start a Formula 1 team. I got clarity on how to get there, and figured out the best thing to do was to start a company and take it to a billion in revenue. That's where the goal came from. iRise was what we wanted to do, and we are extremely confident on what we want to accomplish.

Ben Kuo: So you actually started the company to start a Formula 1 racing team?

Emmet Keeffe: I had two options--either get into the racing business at the time, and spend thirty years bootstrapping my way there. Or, I could build a successful organization and go over from there. I thought that was better than coming bottoms up from the racing business. That was one of the reasons why we were so successful raising $11 million from private investors. I had been articulating that dream for the previous twelve years, and they knew how dead serious we were, even in a horrible fundraising environment.

Ben Kuo: How has iRise done in getting enterprise software business, which we always hear is a tough market right now?

Emmet Keeffe: It's a problem that is an absolute nightmare for large corporations. Literally every project that is funded suffers from this problem. Businesses constantly complain they can't deliver on time and on budget, and when the software shows up it doesn't meet their needs. According to market research, 84 percent of software projects fail. Through the recession, people continued to build software, and for the first time we fixed the problem and made things better.

Ben Kuo: Thanks!


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