Founders’ Friday: William Fay, Partner Software, Inc.
Hi, Brandon here again. Today’s featured Friday founder is William Fay from Partner Software, Inc.. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to him about his company and what quality it takes to be a founder. Enjoy.
Founder: William Fay
Company: Partner Software, Inc.
BC: Tell me a little bit about your company:
WF: We do field operation software for companies, primarily electric power companies, although we are trying to diversify into other industries. These companies use iPads or laptops that have their maps on it, all their jobs to perform, forms they need, and the software interacts with all their other systems. Basically, it lets the person in the field work more efficiently. They can just go into work and begin without having to find maps and paperwork; it saves them about 45 minutes a day because they don’t have to go find things to start their job. The software is very effective; people get it and they keep it for a very long time. We have clients that have had our software for over 15 years. We have about 160 power companies that use our software.
BC: Where did the idea come from?
WF: When my partner and I were working at Savannah River Site, we tracked 5000 monitoring wells in a 300 mile facility. We had people who had to go to specific wells and find it and do something such as collecting samples. Although we had map books with directions, we thought there must be some way we can put this on a computer. We built the first map viewer on a Windows 95 computer; it was just images that you pan across and they would move and you could do a find on a well name. We showed it to our bosses, but they said they didn’t want to use it. That was about the time I was selling my share of the environmental monitoring company and my partner didn’t want to pursue the software anymore, so we spun the company off and started thinking about who would want to use this product.
We knew it was a good idea; we just had to find an industry that needed it. We built demos for three prospective clients. A county government said this is great, let’s play a round of golf, get lunch and talk about it. Which is okay, but we are just not those kinds of people. A major university was really excited; but the faculty review people said that it was great but that they could write the university a better one. The university could not override the faculty review people, so that was not an option. A power company said this is great and we want to use it. We said this is the response that we want to hear, so we picked power companies that were doing new construction. Till this day, we have never regretted going with them. They always pay, they are always nice, even when they are mad, and we love them.
BC: What have been some of your biggest challenges so far?
WF: A big challenge was selling the product to people when you could not show them the product working somewhere else. We could explain the product, and companies wanted to use it, but they also wanted to see it working somewhere else. It is hard to sell someone on being the first in an industry to try something. It has worked out for the company, but it was a challenge initially.
BC: What is the most significant thing you have learned in the process of building your company?
WF: You must always be looking ahead and realizing where you are going to be a year from now. Once a year from now arrives, it is too late. If you run into the problem and you haven’t thought about it and you are not ready for it, you have a mess.
For instance when we release new software, we release it to only 3 clients and they have to run it and it has to work perfectly for them. Then we release it three more clients and they have to run it, and it has to work perfectly for them. If everything goes well, we will get everything ready before we release it to the general public. That process can be up to one year. New features can take up to a year to get into a general release.
We have seen other companies test a new product with a few companies, and decide it is great then deploy it to a hundred clients. If the product has bugs, you now have to fix a hundred systems. Fixing those systems takes time and may create other bugs that will have to be fixed. You end up having a cycle of system problems.
BC: What is your specific role in your company?
WF: I am just a people guy. I don’t know anything about software. I know the talk, but that’s about it. I went to a talk once about our product and I actually learned what our release process was; I didn’t know. I am a geologist. I understand what the person needs and what his boss needs. I understand what the product should look like, but I am far away from the software at this point. My job is to make sure that we have the right people in the right place. I actually don’t have an office in our building. I deal with individuals, not the physical product. I am the Chairman.
BC: Would you ever consider selling your company if the right offer was presented?
WF: I have thought about it a few times and there are some good offers out there, but I am really not interested. Every one of my competitors has been sold to multi-nationals because they want the clients. I am just kind of having fun now. We are not trying to raise money; we have never tried to raise money, and we have never had outside investors. I am 60 years old. At some point I will have to not own it anymore because I will die, but I am not looking for a buy-out. If the right company came along that convinced me they were going to do a good job I would be interested, but I am not looking to sell.
BC: How does it feel to be the founder of your own company?
WF: Well it’s a good thing if you like being very independent, but it is not for everyone. There is a saying that “it is very lonely at the top.” When you are running your own company, you have employees and clients with whom you have relationships with but it is a business relationship. They are engaging you because they are paying you for a product and the truth is, especially at the beginning, nobody cares if you succeed or not. It is just you. If you go down in flames and lose a bunch of money, there will be plenty of people waiting to take your place. You don’t have peers very often; you are on your own. That can be very tough for someone who really wants to be part of a team.
BC: What is your favorite thing to do when you are not working?
WF: Travel. I travel a lot. I travel about 60% of the time. I have a sail boat and I enjoy sailing. I sail down to Florida sometimes. I drive around and see different sites. I just got back from Panama. Also, I garden in my yard.
BC: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about your startup?
WF: We are not like other sites such as Facebook that may be concerned with financial gains. That is very different from what we do; we are building a business. Our model is that this is a business that is designed to last 50 years; it’s not designed as a money making entity. My incentive is more about “ wouldn’t it be neat if we could build a business that did this; wouldn’t that be something neat to tell my grandchildren.” That’s the important part to me, not whether it is valuable to someone else. We are concerned with telling people that you can come here and work your entire career.
If you would like to know more about Partner Software, Inc., you can visit its website.