Amplifinity grows despite CEO’s sudden health struggle
A near-fatal staph infection forced Dick Beedon to step down as CEO of Amplifinity in August. He was released from the hospital in October and plans to return to the Ann Arbor-based company in a role that’s still to be determined.
There has been a lot of good news this year for Ann Arbor-based Amplifinity Inc., which uses social media websites to help companies such as DirectTV, Sirius XM and ADP grow their businesses through customer and employee referrals.
In March, the company got its second round of venture capital funding, $2.7 million. It has continued to grow its client base and expand sales and marketing, and even hired a chief marketing officer recruited from Compuware Corp.
And as December rolled around, the company was preparing to double its space and take over the entire building at 912 N. Main St. to house its 35 employees, up from 25 when the year began.
But the best news of all, says board member Jonathan Murray, was that last Tuesday, company founder and former CEO Dick Beedon flew to Chicago for a company board meeting planned for the next day. Seemingly a mundane thing was anything but.
Despite all the progress, 2014 was marred for Amplifinity by Beedon’s long struggle to live after a staph infection that first exhibited symptoms while he was in New York to meet with a prospective client.
Beedon said when he arrived at his hotel in New York on April 30, he felt bad, took a couple of Tylenols and went to bed. In the morning, he woke up with a temperature of 104, called his doctor and was told to get to the emergency room.
Beedon took the next flight home and went to the ER at the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor. He would stay in the hospital there for more than five months, the first four in the intensive care unit.
Doctors quickly diagnosed a severe staph infection that had begun to eat away at an aortic valve he’d had implanted 17 years earlier.
“There was a leak where it had already eaten through. It was getting ready to blow, and if it had, I’d have been dead in minutes,” said Beedon.
Two days after surgery to replace the valve, he went into total septic shock, had a heart attack and underwent a second operation. In subsequent months, he had a third operation on a perforated ulcer in his stomach and a fourth on an infected vein.
“They had the paddles on me 15 times,” said Beedon in an interview last week, referring to defibrillators used to shock his system back to life. “And three times, they got my daughter out of school to come say goodbye to me because I was going to die. The only thing that saved me was I was in really good shape when this happened.”
Until his illness, Beedon, 60, had been a long-distance swimmer, swimming 3,000 meters a day, or about two miles, six days a week.
New CEO Larry Angeli says he and Beedon share the same vision for Amplifinity and says of his former boss: “We want him to be involved, trust me.”
It became clear to Beedon and the Amplifinity board that he needed to be replaced as CEO. On Aug. 15, Larry Angeli, who had been a senior vice president and head of worldwide marketing at Compuware before joining Amplifinity in December 2012 as vice president of sales, replaced him as CEO.
In early December, one of Angeli’s former colleagues at Compuware, Trisha Winter, joined Amplifinity as chief marketing officer. Most recently, she had been vice president of brand and communications for Dynatrace, the division at Compuware that monitors the performance of software applications for clients.
On Oct. 7, his wedding anniversary, Beedon was released from the hospital after losing 60 pounds. He is feeling well enough now to resume work at Amplifinity.
“My exact role is undecided yet. It depends how well my recovery goes,” said Beedon. “It’s going to be a long road back. I’ve gained 10 or 15 pounds back. I get tired easily, but I don’t use a walker anymore, and only use a cane if it’s a long walk. I can go up stairs, now, too.”
Angeli said he and Beedon have the same vision for the company.
“He and I used to go on sales calls together. He was the best combination of CEO and sales guy you could have,” Angeli said.
“We want him to be involved, trust me. We welcome him back in whatever capacity he wants. Customers love him. He’s a great asset.”
Murray, the board member, was involved in the first VC round for $3.5 million in 2012, a round led by Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based firm Murray then worked for.
Murray now runs the Kerrytown office in Ann Arbor for Pittsburgh-based Draper Triangle Ventures, which led the B round for Amplifinity in March.
“When Dick became ill, there was an outpouring of support from the community that was overwhelming,” said Murray. “When he made his first visit to the office after leaving the hospital, it had such an emotional effect that he was finally able to come in and see everyone.”
Chris Rizik, president and CEO of the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund, said Beedon is respected as one of the true entrepreneurs in the Ann Arbor area.
“That Amplifinity was able to not only keep going but to keep growing while he was gone is a testament to him and the team he recruited,” said Rizik. “He’s had a number of people who have been with him at two or three companies. Eric Jacobson, for instance, the president and CFO.”
Amplifinity was founded just before the Great Recession hit. Originally called uRefer.com, it went live with its website in July 2008 and soon landed its first customer, Farmington Hills-basedAmerican Laser Centers, which later became American Laser Skincare LLC. (American Laser Skincare closed its clinics and filed for creditor protection in bankruptcy court earlier this fall.)
Amplifinity generates referral requests on behalf of companies across a range of social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Yelp, and automatically tracks lead generation and sales.
Amplifinity markets its software platform directly to customers and through such resellers as network integrators, major IT service companies and advertising agencies. The company also offers referral services by email and direct mail.
The recession stalled growth and delayed a planned series A round of venture capital by two years.
Before that, Amplifinity raised $2 million in seed and angel funding. RSVP Capital, a venture capital firm in Ann Arbor headed by Paul Vlasic, who is Amplifinity’s chairman, joined both the seed funding and the A round.