On course to a ‘blindly bright' future for Web application firm
Patrick Quinn is the co-founder and chief technology officer of Webapper, a Fort Collins-based web application software firm. Patrick leads a dispersed team in all aspects of Web application engineering. Webapper has an impressive client list including Ernst & Young, NASA, Visa, Cornell University, The Royal Bank of Scotland, and numerous agencies of the U.S. federal government, to name a few. Q: How long have you been in business? Ten years this May. We currently have five full-time and two part-time employees. Q: Any startup costs? No. We followed the bootstrapped method of starting up. For the first few years, my partner, Mike Brunt, and I shared work that we each had won through independent contracts. It wasn't until 2004 when we first put ourselves on payroll. Q: Did you use a business plan? No, but I was the CTO for another startup in Los Angles where we went through an in-depth business planning process, and I'm an advocate for business planning. One of the best books on the topic in my mind is “Business Model Generation.” In the software world, it's far easier to generate immediate cash flow in the beginning than it is to create a sustainable business model around the software you've developed. Q: What exactly is a web application? The best definition I've heard was how Grady Booch from IBM defined it many years ago; “A web application is a website where user input, including navigation through the site and data entry, affects the state of the business.” “Business process automation” is a commonly used buzzword for the kinds of applications we build. Q: How have you managed to build such an impressive customer list? We are in a very tight niche within a tight niche, and as specialists there aren't many other people capable of doing what we do. We have a positive reputation we've worked hard to build. In addition to our application development practice, we also have an application tuning practice area. And in information technology, uptime is the holy grail, and downtime is death. “Sleep better by staying up more” is a slogan that we use in our marketing, and it's one that IT people can understand. Offering performance and stability engineering expertise is sort of like owning a funeral home – you're always going to have customers! Q: As a successful entrepreneur about to hit his 10-year mark, what keeps you going? The freedom and independence are the things I could never give up. Being part of a company with a culture I get to define is rewarding. Our industry is rich with companies who are redefining the workplace and I am fortunate to be part of the movement. Q: What has been the biggest challenge and how did you overcome it? A lack of business discipline. There's a cockiness in the software world that can come back to bite you. When the money comes too quickly you can get away with little to no financial discipline. We've had projects in the red for months, but never realized it. It wasn't until I had to lay people off that I got serious about business discipline. Q: What challenges lie ahead? Getting pulled into commodity areas of our industry that would drive our margins down is constantly on my mind. Our rates are above average and I'd like to keep it that way. Right now I'm putting most of my energy into redesigning our business and using the new book “This is Service Design Thinking” as my model. It's a must-read for anyone building a service-based business. Q: What were some of the major turning points in your history as a software company? In order for a company to last 10 years, it has to mature. For us, a sign of maturity has been writing down what we wanted our company culture to reflect. We have been very explicit in defining our culture and now have written policies to support it. Another major turning point for me personally was when I first attended the Business of Software conference a few years ago. I now attend every year. In my opinion, it is the best investment a software company can make. I've gotten immense value and developed close relationships with others in my industry Q: Anything else? I'm fascinated with the diffused workforce that companies like Webapper facilitate and it's a structure I will always advocate. The fact our so-called “workplace” has become increasingly virtual allows towns like Fort Collins to not only exist but thrive. I don't have a single client in Fort Collins, yet all of our revenue comes here. Communities like ours aren't the result of a single industry, but rather the efforts of thousands of individuals who derive their income from the around the world and then spend most of it here. Q: Any suggestions for those considering going into business for themselves? Don't wait.Some people want to start a venture part-time, which I can understand, but give yourself no more than three or six months and then go for it. Buddha said there are only two mistakes on the road to enlightenment: (1) Not going all the way and (2) Not starting. The future is blindly bright – when you figure out why this is true, you'll be forever prosperous and successful. Schwartz is an ePublishing consultant and can be reached at KindleExpert.com
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