Laser Image CEO and Co-Founder Barbara Morris takes risks to succeed.
By Stephanie Harris
When most people think of risk, they think of danger. Not Barbara Morris.
“I see risk as a reward because you’re really exposing yourself,” said Morris, chief executive officer and co-founder of Laser Image. “If you’re not opening yourself up to risk, then you’re not really changing.”
Morris, who started Laser Image with friend Chele Butler in 1989, has been taking risks her entire professional career. As a music major at the Conservatory of Music in Kansas City, Mo., Morris attended college on a full jazz scholarship to play trumpet. With no solid career plan after graduating, she began working in media buying before marrying her husband and moving to Fort Worth, Texas.
It was in Texas that she met Butler, who worked for a direct mail company. The two quickly became friends, and with Butler’s printing background and Morris’ creativity and technical knowledge, they developed a business idea in which document printing was heavily tied to electronic data management. And, thus, Laser Image was born.
When they started Laser Image, Morris and Butler were young and naïve, without much to risk. They built their business in their free time, and eventually Morris cashed in a 401(k) to put toward the company. As business grew, each gave up her full-time job and literally worked around the clock for Laser Image.
“I remember oftentimes getting suited up, going to an appointment, and then coming back and doing the job ourselves.”
The pair turned an apartment filled with laptop computers and printers into their production center. “We would run a project all night long after we sold it,” Morris said. “That was the worst part—not having enough money to employ people.”
“If you’re not opening yourself up to risk, then you’re not really changing.”
After landing a client who was willing to take a risk on them, revenue increased to the point that Laser Image was able to hire staff. Soon more business opportunities began to present themselves. Morris and Butler continued to take calculated risks, and in turn, their products evolved and business flourished.
“We always weigh the pros and cons, but if we don’t take risks, our product will be status quo,” Morris said. “We have to continue to put money toward ideas we think will be an important solution for our client.”
Morris has experienced success by practicing her own risk-taking philosophy. Between 2007 and 2008, when most businesses were experiencing significant losses, she continued to invest in—and develop—software applications designed to efficiently and seamlessly print, mail, scan and manage leads and data. Laser Image did so in order to create accountability, enhance time management and improve the bottom line for clients. In turn, the company experienced a $2 million in revenue growth at a time when many businesses where shuttering their doors.
Positivity Breeds Success
For Morris, a positive work environment starts with the facility. “If we’re going to be at a place for more than 40 hours a week—that’s more than we’re home—we should make the environment one that’s really enjoyable.”
With a staff of 47 employees, Laser Image now operates out of the 48,000-sq-ft former DuPont building in downtown Dallas. The company gutted the entire building, creating a work environment that fosters creativity while suiting the needs of employees. The space includes multiple conference rooms with state-of-the-art technology, a patio that overlooks the downtown, a workout facility, pool table, and “creative habitats” filled with couches and white boards where staff can meet to brainstorm.
Laser Image employees must be enjoying the environment: Sixty-eight percent of them have been with the company 10 years or more, according to Morris.
“We offer everybody flextime, and encourage people to take vacations,” Morris said. “We want them to have balance in their personal lives, and we try to model that behavior within our own subset.”
In addition to fostering a positive work environment, Morris understands the importance of developing her staff professionally. “Hiring talented people, allowing your employees autonomy, and paying them appropriately,” she said, are the keys to running a successful organization. “You also have to make sure people are in the right place,” she added. “If you have someone in the wrong position, they cannot make an impact to an organization.”
The Next Moves
“We don’t necessarily think of money first: It’s about the solution. The byproduct of that becomes the money.”
The future looks promising for Laser Image. Morris’ next goal is to grow the group’s LeadForce software—a lead distribution management software used primarily by insurance providers—to the point that it will be recognized as the superior data software management system. To do so, she will need to stay abreast of industry developments—such as the Health Care Reform Act, which will affect her clients—and be ready to respond to any changes that may occur.
“We have to make sure we don’t become complacent,” Morris said. “We’re constantly developing our products and technology.”
Laser Image recently launched a tablet application and iPhone redesign for its LeadForce software to better meet the needs of its clients, who increasingly are using tablet technology.
“We always have to be aware of changes that are occurring and make our products more efficient,” Morris said. “We don’t necessarily think of money first: It’s about the solution. The byproduct of that becomes the money.”
Stephanie Harris is a freelance writer based in Chicago.
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