Friday, September 08, 2006 11:43 PM
From Nothing to Something
This summer, we released DotImage 4.0, our fifth major release of DotImage. Why the fifth major release and only a 4.0 version? Because 2.1 should have been 3.0! Anyway, this release got me thinking about how far Atalasoft has come, people who have helped in getting us here, and just how lucky I really am. More about our products later (WARNING... there's a serious plug for our flagship product below). I'd like reveal some background on how Atalasoft got going, and some steps that led us to where we are now.
I got started in the imaging software industry with this little shareware batch image processing application called EyeBatch that I developed in my spare time using this little imaging component called ImgX. This really was a "toy" for me, but it turned into a healthy side income in a relatively short period of time. Success!! If I was single, wanted to live frugally and without a house, I could have left my job. But I was having too much fun at my day job anyway.
I really liked my career at Hamilton Sundstrand and had great opportunities working with smart people, and on some great very cool high-tech military and commercial aerospace programs. However the big corporate culture really wasn't for me, and I was always seeking a greater challenge. After 9/11 with the downturn of commercial aviation, I decided to make my move. I left my first job after college in good standings after 5 years; conveniently after being vested in my 401K plan. :)
I attended the Microsoft Component Builders workshop in early 2001 with Gary Chamberlain, sole proprietor of Designer Controls and developer of ImgX. My first trip to the "campus" and networking with other small component companies and ISV's really inspired me to do something more. Soon after that my wife was expecting, 9/11 happened, and rumors of no raises for the entire company started to spread. My personal goal then turned into providing .NET developers imaging technology and components while .NET was in its infancy. After taking out a home equity loan, maxing out all my credit cards, purchasing ImgX 5.0 from Designer Controls, and working crazy 100+ hours a week (50 during the day in my day aerospace engineering job and 50 at night for Atalasoft startup), we had a great ActiveX imaging toolkit called ImgX Controls 6.0 that brought in enough revenue to pay for my young family's modest living expenses and a few employees. Even today, this product continues to be the tool of choice for adding imaging capabilities to VB6 applications. I commend my wife, and fellow visionary, Kimberly, for putting up with me, especially that first year with our newborn daughter now 4.5 years and old pictured above.
We opened our first office located on the second floor of this Victorian home and doctor's office. In August 2003, we released DotImage 1.0, the first imaging toolkit for Microsoft .NET developers. It's been a wild ride ever since as our company has grown 6-fold since that release and our revenues continue to double every year. Not quite the growth you might see with a heavily VC backed company, but we've never been in the red, hiring when we can afford to and investing back into the company. What this really means is that we were more stable, more profitable, and much more likely to be around in 10 years than the VC backed company that has a 1 in 10 chance of survival. All of our employees are in-house, local to Western Massachusetts. We do not believe in outsourcing our development overseas, and we provide a fun, spacious, and productive work environment.
One of the reasons Atalasoft has been a success is timing. I knew that Microsoft .NET would be the platform of choice for professional software development, or at least a major player. I also knew that our competitors would take a lot longer to bring their product to the .NET market than a more nimble organization as we were with a solid imaging codebase behind it. There's a lot of baggage to carry forward in a larger more established software company, and it's difficult to manage a huge codebase targeting multiple development platforms. That's an opportunity, and one we took full advantage of. In terms of .NET technology, we had the "first to market" advantage and used that advantage to add other imaging features; especially for document imaging. We only had to concentrate on one development technology, Microsoft .NET. With the release of DotImage 3.0, and especially 4.0, the toolkit now encompasses nearly all the features one would need to develop an enterprise class document imaging application from image compression, image processing, document capture, PDF support, barcode reading, OCR, Document Cleanup, as well as Thick Client and AJAX Thin Client controls. (I told you there was a serious plug coming!)
The other key piece to this story is Marketing. A new product from a new company really needs to be marketed and branded to be perceived as profitable and solid. In our case, although being small, we had to carefully budget our sales to brand ourselves and advertise our product in popular developer magazines before we could *really* afford it. This was probably the toughest time in our transition to being a market leader as there is a fine line between marketing expense and development expense at this stage in a company's growth. We chose print as our primary medium, and also attended the 2003 Microsoft PDC trade show (our first show). Hats off to our marketing team for establishing a solid brand presence for Atalasoft.
Finally, the last key ingredient to our success has been customer service. We've always been there for our customers. I'm amazed at some of the horror stories I've heard from customers dealing with neglecting software companies that are usually larger than we are. But on the other hand, I can see where it can get out of control as a company grows. As a customer base grows, costs to support them grows proportionately. Those costs are more than made up for in happy customers spreading the word and returning to buy more products and more licenses, but it takes commitment from management. To stay true to our word, we'll be hiring a new technical support manager. Although this is not a true "developer" job, it requires writing nearly as much code as one. Stay tuned to our career page for this new position listing.
Perhaps this can motivate someone else to do the same. The idea of starting a company with no investors, no VC, and very little money still works in this day and age. It's just a hell of a lot of work, takes making the right decisions, and pays off. Kinda like raising a family. A lot of hard work, but very rewarding in the end! Like my little one year old terror pictured above. :)