Palm Beach Tech AssociationPalm Beach Tech Association

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Locke Lord

Business: a full-service corporate law firm with global reach of 20 offices designed to meet clients’ needs around the world.

West Palm Beach office established: 1983

Partner John Igoe’s specialties: startups, venture capital firms, private equity firms

Igoe’s advice to startups: Organizational discipline is critical from the start.  Choosing the right structure and coordinating those structural decisions with the lawyers and  accountants is also very important.

 John Igoe, a corporate lawyer and partner at Locke Lord, has been representing venture capital firms and startup companies his entire law career. He’s also a longtime board member of the nonprofit Florida Venture Forum, a statewide member-based organization for the private equity, venture capital and angel community.

“A lot of my practice is working with startup companies from the very beginning, helping them raise capital and then helping them with a merger and acquisition transaction when it gets to an exit,” said Igoe, who began practicing in 1981 in Providence, RI, and moved to Palm Beach County in 1983.

Igoe has been recognized as a Top Lawyer in the South Florida Legal Guide from 2010 to 2019 in the area of private equity. He has been named a Florida Super Lawyer by Law & Politics Magazine each year since 2006.

Igoe has seen it all. Among his clients are a wireless equipment venture and a medical imaging device company that he helped all the way through IPO. A discussion with Igoe about the South Florida entrepreneurship scene is a discussion about promise, progress and growth.

“When I moved to Florida in 1983 when my firm opened an office here, there were only a handful of VC firms and there were virtually zero organized angel groups. That has changed for the better. Today there are a significant number of organized angel investment groups focused on investing in startup companies – New World Angels, Florida Funders, Deepwork Capital, Arsenal Ventures and many more.”

“A lot of these startup funds and angel groups collaborate with each other,” he said. “The good news is this is productive collaboration, and if you get one group interested in your startup, they could bring other groups along and increase the size of the financing.”

To be sure, the biggest challenge for startups remains raising capital. “What startup companies really need to do is find a way to get customers in order to start generating revenue as soon as you can. Prospective investors look at you so much differently if you have found a path for generating revenue. It’s validation of the idea, validation of the business model. Until that, you are really just a science project. “

While getting to revenue and raising capital are two big challenges, another may be conveying the right message to investors, he said. He sees this a lot: In pitches, startups will say it’s an $x-billion market and all we have to do is grab 1%.

“Investors can’t stand that, like it’s just going to happen by magic. I tell my clients you have to show your investors that you have a strategic marketing plan, a path for generating revenue and acquiring customers.”

Is Palm Beach County the place to raise a startup? He’s bullish.

“It’s always a challenge when people say it is easier to raise money in Silicon Valley and I am just going to move my company there. I have seen this work for some companies, but that’s depressing to me when it happens. I think there is enough of an ecosystem here now and we are starting to generate enough talent for whatever a company needs,” said Igoe. “The Palm Beach Tech Association has done a terrific job of pulling all the various constituents together and they have created a lot of awareness of resources in the county for startups companies.”

Igoe previously chaired the VC Committee for Palm Beach Tech and continues to serve on the committee. They have been working on a matching grant program and a resource about investment groups.

Locke Lord has sponsored Florida Venture Forum since the Forum’s early days. Back then, it hosted events in South Florida where companies presented their business plan to a relatively small audience — “kind of an early shark tank but more polite.” Said Igoe, who serves on the Forum’s board of directors and executive committee.

The Forum evolved into a statewide organization that hosts two annual major conferences – the Florida Venture Capital Conference and the Early Stage Capital Conference — as well as co-sponsors smaller events around the state. The conferences typically feature up to 20 presenting companies as well as  panel discussions,  keynotes and of course excellent networking opportunities.

Igoe and Locke Lord Partner Jon Cole pushed for the addition of the Early Stage Capital Conference 12 years ago because they saw a need for a separate conference that would showcase early stage startups. “We paid for the first one, and it has been steadily increasing in size almost every year. You could probably couple the growth of the conference with the growth of startup funds,” Igoe said.

This year, the conference included some startups at earlier stages than it had in the past. “It’s kind of back to the roots of 30 years ago when we were featuring startups. We had evolved away from that, to companies with revenue, but with all the startup funds around the state now it seemed like a good idea to go back to our roots and include pure startups and seed stage as well as early-stage companies.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Palm Beach Software Design

Business: A full-service software design and development firm that specializes in ERP systems, CRM, workflow management and document control.

Headquarters: Boynton Beach

Year founded: 1987

No of Employees: 11

Website: palmbeachsoftwaredesign.com

Secret to success: “Integrity and good communication and the ability to do what we say we will do. We always cross the finish line. Always,” said founder and President Mark Turkel.

In 1984, Mark Turkel, a straight A student, dropped out of college to take a job at a computer company. He worked his way up the ladder and then started his own company in Miami, called New Wave Computing, a few years later. In 1997, he moved the company to Palm Beach County and renamed it Palm Beach Software Design.

Palm Beach Software Design creates custom software solutions and applications for cloud, mobile and desktop for all sizes of businesses and organizations. Some of its clients include Fran Tarkenton, the NFL Hall of Famer, the Association of Mechanical Engineers in New York, the Diabetes Coalition of the Palm Beaches and the St. Lucie Department of Health.

 “Our niche here is that nobody writes software specifications as well as we do. We write world class spec and we have never failed a project in 30-plus years,” said Turkel, who is president and senior software architect.

Through the years, the boutique full-service software design firm has navigated a changing marketplace, including competition from cheap labor.

“We’ve grown and matured and because of the changing times we have had to switch to a hybrid where we have software developers in on our office doing analysis, architecture, design, QA and programming, but we also work with an overseas team in Europe that handles some of our heavy duty programming so we can offer a better price to our clients.” said Turkel. 

As a boutique firm, Palm Beach Software Design works off referrals. “All our staff are senior people whether it is project managers, developers or C-level people. We are all highly experienced and gray haired,” said Turkel, adding that some of his clients have been with the company for 15 or 20 years.

Still, he said, finding talented, responsible developers who really want to work is a challenge.

 “We find them in Palm Beach County but it is getting harder and harder. We are always looking for .Net developers. We are looking for seasoned senior developers that follow our philosophy of taking really good care of our clients.”

Turkel said he also seeks team members with excellent written and oral communications and the ability to understand clients’ needs and how their businesses run. “We all walk around with a lot of pride – we all love what we do.”

In the last couple of years, Turkel has created a couple of spinoff companies for software packages that Palm Beach Software Design wrote, sometimes partnering with clients and sometimes going solo.

For instance, with a company called Mend, Palm Beach Software Design has created Mend Learning and Mend is marketing the learning management system. There’s also Branded-pix, a 99 cent app that lets you seamlessly merge your logo onto your picture, and it copyrights your picture – ideal for posting anything on social media with your information or message. “Brandedpix.com – it’s kind of what snapchat does but it’s for business people and professionals who want to do marketing and not just put puppy dog faces on people,” Turkel said.

“We have also partnered with a company called The Jazoma Plan, and we produce both the software and a hardcover book that allows people to record their personal and family information in case something should happen to them.”

Turkel’s newest venture is called Palm Beach Creative Design with partner Rick Romano, who created the original Yahoo logo. The company will do web/UX development, digital marketing, digital imaging, and print media, he said. 

Turkel is bullish on the outlook for Palm Beach County, encouraged by the space programs ramping up again, which should bring more aerospace opportunities. “We are also excited the growth of the colleges and everything else going on, and looking forward to having a bigger resource pool in Palm Beach County soon. I feel like the economy is getting stronger.”

Turkel recently put together a business group of C-suite business owners and decision makers called the Elite Breakfast. They meet once a month on a social basis in the evening, and once a month for breakfast on a more formal level with a program and speakers.

 ”It’s a different kind of networking, much higher level and more relaxed, because everyone is in the same boat. At our meetings, I encourage people to talk openly about our businesses because we are not going to improve ourselves if we don’t.”

Turkel’s advice to business owners and aspiring tech entrepreneurs: “Cross the finish line by all means. Make sure you are going to do what you said you’d do and have pride in the work you put out.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | BRIC

What is BRIC? Boca Raton Innovation Campus, on the former site of IBM

Developer: Crocker Partners LLC, a Boca Raton-based real estate company

Website: workatbric.com (check out the events page)

Address: 4920 Conference Way North, Boca Raton

Home to: 36 companies and organizations so far, and counting

Coming soon: $28 million renovation of Amenity Corridor

 

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, IBM’s research & development campus in Boca Raton bustled with innovation.

The huge office building housed several firsts, most notably as the place where the world first personal computer was invented by Philip “Don” Estridge and his IBM team and introduced to the world in 1981.

It was also home to the first smartphone, Simon, and it was said to be the place where Bill Gates made his notorious licensing deal, licensing his operating system to IBM instead of selling it to them so he could license it to others and become Microsoft. The building itself, featuring a Y-shaped design by architect Marcel Breuer, was considered an engineering marvel for its day when it opened in 1970 and was designed to withstand a Cat-5.

That’s what made the purchase of the office complex in 2018 so special, said Giana Pacinelli, marketing director of Crocker Partners, a commercial real estate company headquartered in Boca Raton. Last April, Crocker purchased the 1.7 million square foot property, which had been expanded over the years and had changed hands a couple of times since IBM sold the property in 1996. It’s now called BRIC, the Boca Raton Innovation Campus.

Crocker has big plans for BRIC as it welcomes today’s new wave of technology innovators.

“Our goal is to take that past and bring it into the future so the campus continues to be a place where innovation happens,” said Pacinelli, adding that the giant office park is now home to 36 companies and organizations, including corporate and regional headquarters.

“We want to make it a destination, not just for the organizations that work on the campus but a destination for the entire community to enjoy, which is why we are partnering with Palm Beach Tech. We are hosting a lot of programming on campus. We have a program board of 11 community leaders that helps us put together programs. We partner with TedX Boca Raton to do speaking events on campus.”

Over the next year or so, BRIC’s Amenity Corridor will undergo a $28 million renovation. The renovated section will  include a STEAM Lab equipped with 3D printers, laser cutters and other equipment. Tenants can rent it out and BRIC will also house programming there for local organizations and schools. Hungry? There will be a food hall with seven  restaurants open to the public and a 1,200-seat dining hall that can also serve as a presentation hall. Also planned is a wellness center with an onsite nurse, two coffee shops and a co-working space. “It’s exciting times for us,” Pacinelli said.

Already, there are inviting outdoor spaces to work or relax, with miles of walking and bike paths, a conference center that can seat up to 400 where events are now held and a fitness center tenants can use. With the renovation will come special studios for yoga, pilates and the like.

Health-tech company Modernizing Medicine relocated its headquarters – and its more than 800 employees – to BRIC in January. BRIC is also home to MobileHelp, MDVIP, Transunion, BlueGreen Vacations and Shoes for Crews, among others. “We are the largest single office facility in the state. … We’ve been moving very quickly,” said Pacinelli.

 “Boca Raton has been Crocker’s home for years. We helped build Mizner Park and Crocker Center – we’ve been around for over 35 years. We want to make this a special place where we can bring technology companies and jobs and really just revitalize the area. The property, when IBM housed it,  was a very closed off, very secretive space, but now we want to open it up to the community.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Improving

Business: a full stack IT consulting company

Background: Improving’s West Palm Beach office was formerly part of Innovative Architects, an IT consulting company acquired by Improving in January.

Services: cloud strategies, interactive design, custom development, integration services, strategic consulting, collaborative solutions, data engineering, agile training and coaching.

West Palm Beach office: 324 Datura St., Suite 300

No. of employees: more than 400 in 10 offices

The name is Improving now, but you may know this technology consulting business better as Innovative Architects.

Innovative Architects was founded in 2005 by five people in Atlanta who believed IT consulting could be better in every way. Five years ago, the company expanded into Washington DC and about two years ago it opened a West Palm Beach office. By the end of 2018, it had grown into a $27 million IT consulting business of 140 people, most of them based in Atlanta. Along the way, it has been honored as a top place to work by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and on Fortune’s Greatest Places to Work among small technology companies.

In January, Innovative Architects was acquired by Dallas-based Improving, a company of more than 400 consultants now with 10 offices around North America. Both companies shared a commitment to building trust, delivering excellence and cultivating culture, Improving said in announcing the acquisition. With Innovative Architects on board, Improving expects to grow to $100 million in revenues this year.

“A lot of people still know us as IA — we still think of ourselves of IAers,” said Tim Shine, CIO of Improving’s West Palm Beach office who worked for IA for eight years. “Slowly but surely we are making that transition.”

Shine grew up in South Florida and went to college at FAU. After college he moved to Georgia and eventually joined Innovative Architects. When it grew and opened a West Palm office, he and his family jumped at the chance to make the move back to Florida.

Downtown West Palm Beach’s Improving office on Datura is small – about 6 consultants now – but mighty. The office’s clients include SMArtXChange, the Downtown Development Authority, Velocity Credit Union in Palm Beach Gardens, and NASA, to name a few. The office plans to hire about four more associates this year, and will likely be seeking a larger office.

“We can do a lot of different things. Any IT project across the board we can fit into – web development, mobile development, data visualization, collaboration or intranet development. We have other special services like CIO as a service and cloud based development. Start to finish or no matter where a project is, we can fit into and help accelerate that,” Shine said.

More clients are seeking data visualization for interactive business intelligence reporting and cloud-based services remain very popular. A year ago the office may have gotten one call a quarter about AI and machine learning, but now calls come in weekly about that, he said.

Although West Palm Beach is completely different from Atlanta, which has more of a technology hub, the local area benefits from a rich tri-county metro that includes the larger Fort Lauderdale and Miami areas. However, West Palm is special on its own, Shine said.

“What we love about West Palm Beach is the community effect. We love working with clients who become partners and we can help them move forward with their IT strategic goals. We love being part of Palm Beach Tech because we get to know these guys and we love helping them along the way.”

Indeed, one of its clients, SMArtX, is across the street. Another is a block away. It’s not difficult to meet for coffee or chat at an event, Shine said.

“We are a culture-driven organization. Having happy associates and consultants matter to us, it near and dear to our hearts. That work-life balance is real to us. We love presence. We love meeting people and doing business face to face. Maybe a little old school but we have been extremely successful at it.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Office Depot

Business: A leading B2B integrated distribution company providing business services and supplies, products and technology solutions.

HQ: Boca Raton

Beginnings: Launched in 1986 with a single store in Fort Lauderdale

No. of stores today: 1.350

Tech Team: 450 people

Robots and automation. Hundreds of real-time applications. Co-working spaces. Internal hackathons and an “Innovation Week.”

At the heart of much of the transformation of Office Depot from an office supplies retailer to a business services company is a IT team of about 450 people.

“One of the great things about my role is I enable [taking] business strategy to reality by using the latest tech. I truly love my job. Working in a retailer is an extremely interesting one because we need to transform and that’s what [Office Depot CEO] Gerry Smith is doing — his whole strategy is to transform the business from a retail based business to a digital services business… and he’s had success with that,” said Andrew Parry, VP of IT, Application Development and Support, who works in Office Depot’s Boca Raton headquarters. “60% of our business is digital now. It’s business to business.”

Parry’s team, about 200 employees, develops and maintains more than 400 applications, essentially all of the applications for Office Depot.

“We have multiple websites, multiple customer facing apps, mobile apps, retail stores … It’s all a real-time enterprise. When someone buys in a retail store I know not to sell it online for in-store pickup – the omni-channel just works and we spend a lot of time making these applications real time,” said the British-born Parry, who joined Office Depot in 2003 as part of an acquisition. He has lived in South Florida since 2006.

“Within IT we have so many roles,” he continued. “We are investing a lot in modernizing user interfaces. Also automation – we are in a wonderful world right now where the tools are available to us to do automation in a big way.”

A part of that is through CompuCom, a company Office Depot acquired in late 2017 that provides IT services to many organizations.

“We are having huge success with integrating those services to our customers. There’s tech services, building, automation services. Services has been doubling year over year, and that’s been awesome,  and moves us  away from selling traditional office products to providing real value add services to our customers. Sticky services.”

A big innovation within the company is its Workonomy platform, which offers comprehensive business services married with “human touch” expertise to small- to medium-sized business customers. This includes in-store tech service kiosks, self-service print and copy kisosks, pack and ship services in store and online, and most recently co-working.

Office Depot opened its first ever integrated co-working space within a retail location in California last year, and recently announced Workonomy Hub openings in Texas and Chicago. Customers can buy membership plans to use the modern in-store coworking spaces, including private offices, dedicated desks and conference rooms, all with access to mailing, shipping, marketing, printing, concierge and tech support services.

“It’s not like any Office Depot you have seen before in your life,” Parry said.

And then there’s Office Depot’s recently announced partnership with Alibaba that aims to connect its 10 million small business customers with the Chinese e-commerce giant’s 150,000 global suppliers to better serve the needs of its small to medium-sized businesses.

“Alibaba is a very exciting opportunity for Office Depot … there is a lot of opportunity. We are right in the beginning of this relationship, and I am looking forward to seeing that come to fruition,” Parry said.

Closer to home, Parry says he learns a great deal by being involved in the Palm Beach Tech community.

“We hosted Palm Beach Tech community hackathon in October here on site and doing the same again this year. It was a great success. We actually hired some of the talent and I’ve kept in touch with a number of the winners.”

Leveraging what it learned from the community event, Office Depot plans to do an internal hackathon in addition to another community hackathon, Parry said.

“We have 40,000-plus employees and they all have great ideas. We have an Innovation portal – an idea collection site, if you will  – and a number of them lend themselves to a 24- or 48-hour sprint to develop them through a hackathon-like event. We will wrap around that a whole Innovation Week to really show our people the art of the possible. If they can see what is possible, they can see what they can change about what they do for the better of Office Depot.”

Office Depot’s first Innovation Week will be in June; the root of this came from listening to what others are doing in Palm Beach Tech, he said. “That was the seed that made this grow.”

For the upcoming Innovation Week for its employees, Office Depot Invited in top companies to show their innovative tech, Parry said. “But also we have some great tech that goes on within Office Depot; for example, CompuCom has a building automation platform. Building automation is a big area – think switching on and off lights, the environment, security, panic buttons – and we will showcase all that. We will showcase what we are doing with our robots in warehouses – they are pretty cool, actually.”

He said he learned some different agile development best practices and strategies from the Palm Beach Tech community, and it goes both ways. During a meetup Office Depot hosted, Parry talked about the company’s success moving data warehouse platforms to Snowflake, a Silicon Valley SaaS company, and now other companies are using Snowflake too.

Parry says it’s important for him to get out into the community,

“I love going to meetups in Palm Beach Tech and talking to people outside of my environment to get new perspectives on things. I am always meeting interesting people. I love that. It lets me see different ways of doing things and bring that back to Office Depot and I can think about different trends going on in the market that maybe we weren’t thinking about here.

“I’m most impressed with the bench strength of the tech in Palm Beach County.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Back Office

Business: Automated bookkeeping platform for small businesses

HQ: West Palm Beach

Number of employees: 12 and hiring

Year founded: 2018

Co-founders: Felix Rodriguez, Glenny Rodriguez and Edwin Mejia

Website: backoffice.co

Fresh off a successful 500 Startups Demo Day, Back Office, which created an automated bookkeeping platform for small businesses, announced last week that it raised $1.8 million in seed financing to fund its growth. The round was led by Active Capital, and included PlugNPlay Ventures and angels from San Francisco, New York, Boston and Florida.

For this young startup, the funding news was another key milestone in a year marked by building, learning and rapid growth.

Back Office was co-founded by Felix Rodriguez, Glennys Rodriguez and Edwin Mejia in early 2018 and is based in West Palm Beach. The startup helps small- to medium-sized businesses by automating their accounting and finances, typically cutting accounting expenses in half and saving business owners at least 20 hours a month, the company said.  “We just take it off their hands,” said Felix Rodriguez, CEO.

The team will use the capital to expand operations, enhance its technology and add complementary tools to help small businesses succeed.

Felix and his co-founders have three exits under their belts. Their first tech company helped small businesses with their web presence and grew to 50 people and about 3,000 customers when they sold it.  “We’ve been building technology businesses ever since … but at the end of the day, the thing that kept coming back and was a core part of every business was having a good set of books.”

Yet for small companies, bookkeeping is intimidating, stressful and time consuming – and that’s where Back Office comes in. “We automate bookkeeping and allow business owners to see how they are doing all in an easy to use platform which saves businesses time and money,” added Glennys Rodriguez.

When Back Office was selected for the highly competitive 500 Startups Accelerator in Silicon Valley, as one of 20 companies in Batch 24, it had about 50 customers. By the completion of the accelerator, the company had close to 300 customers, said Felix. “We were getting as many new customers per month as it took us the whole first eight months. It was crazy growth and it was just the three of us — we had to quickly hire, we had to hire people over Christmas” for Back Office’s West Palm Beach office.

Said Mike Sigal, partner at 500 Startups Fintech Fund: “We liked Back Office from our first conversation with them, but were quite frankly surprised – and thrilled – with the ramp up of marketing, sales and customer service performance they were able to receive during our program.”

The team moved out to San Francisco for five months for the accelerator, and then moved back. “South Florida is a great place to build a company with an immense untapped talent pool here,” Felix said. “I just don’t think we have the [investment] support system yet.”

During the fund-raising process, Felix sent a letter to Active Capital, a seed fund that invests in B2B SaaS companies like his.

“It was a cold email, a really good email — he had a lot of credentials and in his reach-out to me he did a very good job of painting the picture of why we would be a good fit together,” said Pat Matthews, founder of the San Antonio-based venture fund. “We traded emails and I went out there to meet the team and we all hit it off.”

Matthews is the co-founder and former CEO of webmail.us, an Inc 500 B2B company that sold to public company Rackspace in 2007. With Active Capital, Felix said: “It was not just the money. It’s was like here’s how we did it and here’s how we can teach and leverage what we know to help you build the company.”

Added Matthews: “Back Office is solving a big problem for a huge market, their execution so far has been amazing and I really look for entrepreneurial teams that have made a lot of traction without a lot of capital. They also at the same time have stayed very focused and built the core of the business without trying to do too much. … I think they have the makings of something great here.  It’s time to scale the company up.”

Back Office has about 12 employees now in West Palm and is in a hiring mode. “I think we will be at 20 in the next month,” Felix said.

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | LexisNexis Risk Solutions

Business:  LexisNexis Risk Solutions provides customers with solutions and decision tools to assist them in evaluating and predicting risk and enhancing operational efficiency.

Local campus: Boca Raton

Parent company: RELX, based in the United Kingdom

No. of employees: In Boca Raton: 643; globally: 6,166

Website: Risk.LexisNexis.com

 

As the technology industry looks for ways to attract more women into its careers, perhaps it should pay more attention to what LexisNexis Risk Solutions is doing.

LexisNexis Risk Solutions provides customers with solutions and decision tools that combine public and industry specific content with advanced technology and analytics to assist them in evaluating and predicting risk and enhancing operational efficiency. Its Boca Raton offices employ more than 600 people.

It doesn’t surprise Lisa Simmons, VP of Technology for LexisNexis Risk Solutions in Boca Raton, that 51 percent of Boca’s workforce and 25 percent of its development team are women.

”It’s an amazing company to work for. We promote from within. There are two tech [career] paths – manager-director-vice president, my path, or you can be an individual contributor on the path to become an architect,” she said.

“We move people around. If you’ve proved yourself in IT, and you want a developer position, we will do that. We allow you to learn and we teach on the job.”

Simmons’ LexisNexis career spans 20 years but her interest in technology reaches back to high school, when she talked her parents into buying her an early home computer – a TI-99 – and she started writing games. “I had a passion for programming since then. It’s in my blood. I am proud to say both of my children are in the field,” said Simmons, who majored in the computer information systems.

Simmons started her career at LexisNexis Risk about 20 years ago, first as a developer and then began managing developers. In 2004 she became VP of product development and ran public records system. “Accurint is my baby — I brought it up and made the product what it is today. I am very proud of that,” she said.

Today, as VP of technology, Simmons leads all of the company’s development of its products and technology for the government side of the business.

In order to attract more women into technology, outreach in the community is key, and LexisNexis Risk Solutions is very active.

“We have events all the time,” said Simmons. “We do a lot with middle schools, high schools and FAU.” said Simmons, noting that one of the women she recruited right out of FAU five years ago is already on her way to becoming a software architect.

One of LexisNexis Risk Solutions’ programs is Tomorrow’s Technologists, a free computer science/STEM initiative that LexisNexis Risk Solutions funds and hosts in events around the country. On Jan. 16, LexisNexis Risk Solutions kicked-off its technology education initiative with “She IS Tomorrow’s Technologist” — a free event held in Boca Raton that focused on educating young women about the advantages of pursuing a career in technology. More than 50 female high school and college students attended the event featuring female executives from LexisNexis Risk Solutions, including Simmons.

LexisNexis Risk Solutions also hosts programs for children on the autism spectrum. It does events with iRISE2, which is part of Florida Atlantic University. The camp and mentoring program helps help students with autism and other related disabilities develop skills in the field of technology, as well as provides coaching on resume creation and interviewing.

In another program, Simmons said, “middle school students come to our engineering conference and demonstrate what they have done in robotics. This past year they started doing agricultural robotics. They get to know Lexis, they get to know technology and the opportunities here.” 

Simmons lauded the company’s CARES program, in which the company gives two additional paid days off to employees to support the community in many different ways. She said other benefits include flexible hours, stock option purchases and an excellent bonus program. “If the company does well, every single employee of LexisNexis Risk Solutions gets a bonus.”

“It’s amazing how [Palm Beach County] has grown up into a big tech sector,” said Simmons. “It is very hard to find talent because … we have some of the most amazing companies right here in the tri-county area, We have all these companies drawing from the same pool of people so we need more.”

Software developers need to be dedicated and “the logic background needs to be with you,” said Simmons, whose mother would take five 30-piece puzzles and throw all the pieces together and at age 5 Simmons would do them all.

To be a good leader, the number one quality is integrity, she said. “You need to be a great manager, of course, you have to be able to work through all kinds of good and bad. But without integrity it doesn’t really matter if you are good at managing.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | SAMA Labs

Business: E-commerce marketing agency

HQ: Boca Raton

Websites: SAfishing.com, alphadefencegear.com, sama-labs.com

Founder: Thomas DeSernia

No. of employees: 150

Secrets to success: Believing in the people who work for you and allowing them to be creative and have their free range of motion, said DeSernia, adding that persistence and hard work are also important attributes.

 

Thomas DeSernia started an e-commerce company out of his bedroom with 50 T-shirts and an Instagram account in 2013 and turned it in to what it is today – an outdoor lifestyle brand.

Through SA Company, headquartered in Boca Raton, consumers can purchase apparel, gear and accessories for fishing, hunting, boating and other outdoor activities. DeSernia also launched Alpha Defense Gear, a brand selling military-themed outdoor wear, and because of the company’s success marketing products – that Instagram channel now has a million followers — DeSernia also started a marketing company called SA Marketing, or SAMA.

This year, DeSernia was named to Forbes’ prestigious 30 under 30 for his success in the retail and ecommerce sectors.

His entrepreneurial story started while he was in dental school. DeSernia had already graduated from Nova Southeastern with a business degree and from Florida Atlantic University with a degree in biology.

But while she was supposed to be studying dentistry, DeSernia found he was always thinking about what he could invent and patent. He invented an accessory for fishing that protected the bottom of a fishing rod so it wouldn’t scar the deck of a boat. But he knew very little at the time about branding and marketing and the product did not sell.

But as DeSernia learned more about social media, he opened an Instagram account  and put his first T-shirt up. Salt Armour, the name of the company then, received about 10 orders that day and that marked the birth of the company. “At that point I knew this was what I wanted to do.”

Goodbye dentistry.

With a strong social media following, the company began expanding its product lines and selling all over the country. It changed its name to SA Company in 2015. “We believed Salt would not resonate with users in Middle America that were into hiking or hunting.”

So what started as an outdoor apparel company became a lifestyle brand as accessories and other consumer products were added, including a website for military-style apparel. Because SA Company owns its own manufacturing facilities (all in Boca Raton) and sells completely online, it is able to sell at better quality and more affordable prices than competitors, the company says.

“So we took the inception of one product, grew the brand to a successful e-commerce business, diversified the e-commerce, and then we saw that we had this unique opportunity and the talent to do marketing that also helped other companies. And that became our marketing agency,” DeSernia said.
SAMA calls itself the anti-agency.

SAMA is now also launching an incubator for entrepreneurs and private equity fund.

 “It’s a little of everything now,” DeSernia said, admitting it wasn’t a premeditated business model. “It’s about a passion for helping people. I’m a big believer in positive energy.”

SA Company has never raised capital; it is self-funded. It has been growing at a double digit rate since inception, DeSernia said. The company is hiring about 12 to 15 people a month – everything from fulfillment to graphic design, video editing, creative directing, digital marketing, research and development, sourcing, merchandising and logistics.

“A lot of people say to build a technology-based company in Southeast Florida is difficult because of the talent pool, but I think the talent pool here is amazing,” DeSernia said. “People are much more loyal, much more passionate. Being sunny 350 days of a year is really important for overall morale. We may not be a big tech community but I think we are disruptive in our own way.”

Growing into other similar direct-to-consumer markets and investing more into SA Company’s people and infrastructure are business goals for this year.

Longer term, DeSernia plans to continuously diversify SA Company, mirroring the Berkshire Hathaway model. “That’s the goal — so my children’s children and hopefully my employees’ children’s children can one day work in the same organization.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | TouchSuite

Business: TouchSuite is a financial technology company focused on the payment processing space.

CEO: Sam Zietz

HQ: Boca Raton

Year founded: 2004

No. of employees: more than 80 in Boca Raton; dozens more in other locations.

Recent acquisition: Grubbrr

Purpose statement: Empowering Entrepreneurs

TouchSuite, a leading financial technology company based in Boca Raton, has acquired companies all over North America. But it didn’t have to leave its own back yard to find and buy a disruptive AI startup, Grubbrr.

Formerly based in Miami, Grubbrr brings the frictionless shopping experience that kiosks provide to businesses of all sizes. Think kiosk technology like you see in McDonald’s or Panera, but you don’t have to be a giant chain to afford the technology anymore. That’s because Grubbrr’s platform enables a variety of businesses to rapidly implement self-service kiosks, point-of-sale systems, mobile ordering and online ordering.

“It hits the sweet spot of tech and it is completely disruptive to the hospitality industry but it is really wider than that,” Sam Zietz, TouchSuite’s founder and CEO and one of South Florida’s most successful entrepreneurs, said about Grubbrr. “It’s exciting stuff. “

TouchSuite purchased Grubbrr late last year and moved the company to TouchSuite’s headquarters in Boca.

“Grubbrr built this incredible product — they spent three years writing millions of lines of code and they have the best product on the market. There is not really a competitor right now that does what they do,” Zietz explained. “So this is all about building out the distribution and making people aware of it.”

TouchSuite provides Grubbrr with the corporate infrastructure, systems, processes, management expertise and access to growth capital to take on what is a very ambitious disruptive technology, Zietz said. “Literally any restaurant, every stadium, any QSR, candidly, any place with a line is a client.”

Zietz explains that during the company’s due diligence, it visited businesses with kiosks. While there’s nothing like a long line at the counter to make people seek out another option, TouchSuite’s team also saw that customers – especially millennials — go right to kiosks even when there was no counter line, Zietz said.

“What happens is you end up generating 12 to 22 percent higher revenue and that’s because of what we call the hover effect. At a kiosk, you don’t feel pressured and you can take as long as you want. You see the pictures, I’ll take that and I’ll take that, too.”

Because of this, more workers are needed in the kitchen, which negates the job losses of counter personnel, he added.

TouchSuite targets the SMB business community in a wide range of verticals. The Grubbrr product offering and ecosystem targets the largest total addressable market that TouchSuite already sells to – the hospitality industry, Zietz said.

TouchSuite is in a pilot with a number of very high profile sports teams to completely improve the customer experience, such as ordering concessions from your seat or at one kiosk instead of multiple crowded food counters. It also allows TouchSuite to provide analytics back to the stadium owner to provide a better experience and easily provide discounts to season ticket holders.

“And we are in pilots with some of the largest QSRs in the nation and at the same time individual business owners,” Zietz said.

Acquisitions like Grubbrr fit with TouchSuite’s AI strategy, Zietz said. “We are rolling out facial recognition with AI. We are demoing it for a very large company that you would get coffee from and they want it for the drive-thru.”

In addition to knowing what your usual is, with the AI component, the business will also know you like a double expresso in the morning and cold brew in the afternoon and can make recommendations that 10 other vegans like you also like. “You are providing a better customer experience because it gets to know you.”

Zietz founded TouchSuite in 2004. He was a lawyer at one of the largest firms in the country and was doing structured finance deals, which led him to his interest in the payments space. Because he always wanted to be an entrepreneur, he launched TouchSuite in the space but pivoted to the technology side in order to better differentiate the company. TouchSuite’s offerings include point-of-sale systems, payment processing services, SEO solutions, working capital and marketing services.

In 2018, TouchSuite was named to Entrepreneur magazine’s Entrepreneur 360 list and awarded Business of the Year by South Florida Business Journal. Today it has more than 80 employees in its Boca headquarters. Largely because of its acquisitions, it has another 40 or so in Montreal, 35-40 in Washington state, a dozen in Maryland and a half dozen or so in its Miami office, said Zietz, the EY Entrepreneur of the Year for Florida in 2015.

What’s next for TouchSuite? “We are continuing to develop or acquire technologies to provide complete solutions for businesses,” Zietz said. “Our purpose statement is empowering entrepreneurs. The more successful we can make a business owner by default we’ll become more successful.”

TouchSuite is a big sponsor of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy run by the Boca Raton Chamber, and its employees have been mentors and speakers at YEA events. You’ll also find TouchSuite supporting community races and other charitable competitions, among other philanthropic initiatives. TouchSuite also runs an active intern program for both university and high school students, typically hiring 15-20 interns each year.

Zietz’ advice to entrepreneurs: “First and foremost, find what you are passionate about. You are going to encounter all kinds of obstacles, and it is your passion that keeps you from staying down when you get knocked down. You need that passion to get back up, dust yourself off, and do it again and again and again.”

What he’d like the community to know: “We are actively hiring developers. If someone is talented and wants to learn in an entrepreneurial setting, reach out, because we are very active in trying to bring talent in. We’re selective but we also do a great job of developing our team members.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Meetings.com

Business: Meetings.com gives corporations the tools to easily and efficiently source meetings all over the world.

Parent company: West Palm Beach-based HotelPlanner.com

No. of employees: 20, plus shared staff with HotelPlanner

Management: Bas Lemmens, CEO; Bruce Rosenberg, COO

Business growth: 100 percent in 2018

 

In 2012, HotelPlanner.com purchased Meetings.com and it turned out to be a match made in event-planning heaven.

That’s because West Palm Beach-based HotelPlanner.com is mainly a consumer brand, allowing groups of people to book blocks of hotel rooms for occasions like weddings, reunions, school trips, etc. Organizations use HotelPlanner.com too, of course, but typically corporations prefer to have a booking platform geared completely to them, with a unique look and feel.

“Meetings.com is our business to business brand. It’s designed to work with larger companies and to perform event planning services for them,” said Bruce Rosenberg, Chief Operating Officer of HotelPlanner and Meetings.com.

Rosenberg explained that companies can source a meeting anywhere in the world on Meetings.com.

“If you want to book a meeting in Taiwan, we have local experts that cover that designation. Use the technology to find the right hotel offering for that particular event. Meetings.com can also build an ongoing event platform for that company. If a company had 40 departments, it can be set up so each department has its own entity.”

Meetings.com gave HotelPlanner an entry and a focus on corporate business. Its services include site search and selection, contract negotiations, and conference, housing and registration management for meetings and events large and small.

“We recognize there is business to consumer and business to business, and we wanted to have a brand, leadership, staff and technology that is driven toward the corporate market.  It’s built for ongoing management and relationships with repeat event planners,” said Rosenberg. “Often corporations have event planning staffs but they don’t have the tools. We say use our tools to source your meetings.”

Meetings.com has about 20 employees and shares tech staff and administrative functions with the larger HotelPlanner.  Both have offices in West Palm Beach. Traffic on the Meetings.com site is up about 1,000 percent year over year, Rosenberg said. The mobile-friendly software is available in 28 languages.

“Business will be up over 100 percent. Its sizable growth, and a lot of it is repeat buyers. Once they are in there they start building profiles. There is going to be a lot of stickiness to the site,” Rosenberg explains.

What makes the software better than competitors’ offerings?

Rosenberg says it’s the development team. The software is built in a modular manner that allows for a great deal of customization.

“We are winning business,” he said. “People say ‘we looked at other competing products but they can’t do what we need.’ Everyone wants customization. The way we built our software, we can provide a lot of customization.”

Meetings.com recently built new software specifically built for large events. Because corporations want to make sure to take care of their people, Meetings.com’s Book A Block software puts the right person in the right room for a specific event, Rosenberg said.

“If you are a CEO or board member or large investor, we want to make sure you are taken care of differently. We want to make sure each person gets a curated individualized hotel experience.”

With Meetings.com’s booking engine, once a room block is sold out, attendees can still book retail rates easily at the headquarters hotel or show hotels across the street, he said.

What’s next for the brand? With a strong base already in the U.S and Europe, Meetings.com plans to put more focus on expanding in Asia. Already Asia is the No. 3 market behind North America and Western Europe, but it is growing rapidly. “We are seeing a big uptick in Asia requests.”

Meetings.com is truly a global company; its CEO, Bas Lemmens was co-founder of Booking.com and is based in Amsterdam.  But HotelPlanner’s and Meetings.com’s corporate HQ will stay rooted in West Palm Beach.

“We are big fans of Palm Beach Tech,” Rosenberg said. “We think it has added vitality to the tech environment in West Palm Beach. We’ve been members from day 1.”

[READ ABOUT HOTELPLANNER.COM HERE]

 

 

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | PATHOS

Business: Marketing firm specializing in “creative intelligence”

Headquarters: West Palm Beach

Leadership:

Ann Savage, Founder & CEO

Shane Savage, Chief Strategy Officer

Employees: 20

Website: wearepathos.com

Tagline: Connect Minds. Build Brands

Step into Pathos’ funky offices in downtown West Palm, and you’ll see an open, collaborative space with skateboards riding the walls and perhaps some augmented reality projected. Employees are working on laptops, some in teams, some solo. A couple of them may be taking a mental break at the ping pong table.

Pathos calls itself a creative intelligence firm, specializing in enterprise innovation marketing. The West Palm Beach based company acts as a chief marketing officer for regional and national corporate clients.

“We’re full-service. We’re a CMO supplement to these corporations but we bring the power of an entire marketing department. Whether or not they have in-house solutions, we supplement or become their marketing department,” explained Shane Savage, who joined his mother’s company about four years ago as chief strategy officer.

Pathos works with hospitality groups, automotive, retailers, financial firms, hospitals and the Community Foundation of Palm Beach and Martin County. It often works with parent companies and services their entire portfolios. For instance it works with the parent company of Palm Beach Outlets, which has outlet malls across the country, and with Tenet, with hospitals across South Florida and beyond.

Ann Savage, Pathos’ CEO and co-founder, said Pathos’ services extend through implementation, including developing advertising materials, developing sales tools, building out companies’ digital presence, video production and content creation. For an e-commerce company, for instance, Pathos might manage their platform, and do their product design, branding and packaging.

The company was founded in 1991, but rebranded recently as part of its move downtown to Clematis Street. “We really reimagined the firm. Pathos is a new name for us,” said Ann.

“Pathos is one of the modes of persuasion founded by Aristotle, Pathos being the art of persuasion by appealing to one’s emotion. In everything we do, we are trying to tap into someone’s emotions. Through marketing, we need people to feel in order to make an impact and have something be memorable,” added Shane.

“The big piece is our involvement in the community. We are trying to help establish West Palm Beach as a creative capital by partnering with Joe [Russo of Palm Beach Tech] and all the other companies that are here,” he continued.

Shane said clients tend to stay with them an average of 15 years, but they have also brought in a plethora of clients in new industries.

What are some trends Pathos is seeing?

Creating authentic experiences is key, said Shane. “Consumers, especially millennials and Gen-X, are very intuitive and the key is to make things intuitive, easy to use and experiential but still maintaining the integrity of the brand.” He said experiences work because people want to be entertained and engage and interact with people and a brand. They don’t want the brand just to talk at them.

Another trend, said Ann, is that marketing companies are no longer thinking of content in terms of a beginning and an end, like an ad campaign: “Now it is more about creating content. Whether it is digital assets, animation or photography, it is very fluid and we are assembling it in all sorts of ways. It’s a different way to think about creative materials.”

Adds Shane, “the pace of change is so fast, we are helping companies find more ways to be dynamic and flexible internally as well.”

The team moved to West Palm Beach in November and the transition has gone well.

“It’s an exciting time to be in downtown West Palm. This kind of growth, with incubators for entrepreneurs and more collaborative work environments such as co-working spaces, it’s a priority for the city,” said Shane.  “For our team. we can feel it — the energy that is igniting amongst our group as we are venturing out more.”

To stoke the creative culture inside Pathos, the team takes outings and team cultural events, such as a recent trip to Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood where they took at street art class. It does a regular office event called IPA and FYI for creative endeavors such as book clubs, game nights and team building exercises, Shane said.

“The goal for the rebrand and creating that type of culture is we want to be more than just 20 people, we want to open our doors into the community, have that neighborhood feel, and start building things with those around us.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | 3Cinteractive

Business: 3Cinteractive is a mobile marketing company serving enterprise clients.

Headquarters: Boca Raton

Co-founders: John Duffy, Mike FitzGibbon, and Mark Smith

No. of Employees: 100

Company mission statement: “Each day we strive to inspire our clients, inspire each other and make a difference.”

 

For 3Cinteractive, leading the deployment of next-gen RCS messaging for brands and staying on the cutting edge of chat bot technologies, loyalty programs and multi-channel engagement strategies is just another day at the office. But the foundation of a great company is the culture.

How do you build a great culture and then maintain it at a leading mobile marketing company 100-employees strong? We asked 3C CEO John Duffy about that, because in addition to racking up industry and business awards, 3C has been repeatedly recognized by the South Florida Business Journal, Sun Sentinel and Florida Trend as one of the best places to work.

It all started with the commitment Duffy and his co-founders, Mike FitzGibbon and Mark Smith, made to each other about the kind of company they wanted to build. That was back in 2007, in the early, early days of mobile marketing.

“Before we opened our doors,  we spent a lot of time thinking about what success looks like, what will make us happy, what is going to be sustainable, what are we working toward, and how will we measure ourselves along the way. And we came up with a series of principles.”

These were (1) being sustainable and not controlled by investors, (2) doing something important for a world-class client and (3) investing in a culture focused on the personal and professional development of its team.

“As our business grew, we decided to make repeating those principals part of every message we have in the organization: This is who we are, this is what we stand for and this is how you know whether this is the place for you.”

And of course it is important to practice what you preach, he said, and that starts from the top.

It’s the basis of all 3C’s decision making. When deciding whether to buy a competitor in 2017 – the go or no go discussion — they asked themselves if the integration goes badly will it jeopardize 3C’s sustainability? It wouldn’t. And even though the failure rate for integrations after mergers and acquisitions is high, the team members who would be most responsible for getting that work done saw it as a professional development opportunity and said they wanted to be part of a team that successfully identified, acquired and integrated a company into 3C. So it was a go, and it went very well, by the way.

And yes, culture affects the bottom line.

“For a company like ours in a competitive market and environment like South Florida and wireless, reducing churn is an extraordinarily important component of the bottom line. Every day we are doing at least one new thing, and all those learnings translate to future success. If all of that expertise and scar tissue is going out the door, that would be a challenge,” said Duffy.

“If we are a good place to work, it makes us a desirable place for the best people. If we maintain that, those best people will stay with us.”

That goes for customers too, he said. They value consistency of the team.

One of 3C’s best customers is Tracfone of Miami. 3C employees who work on 3C’s Tracfone support team are building a career of helping that customer — and in turn, helping both businesses solve problems and be successful, he said.

Here is some more advice from Duffy:

On building a top engineering team: “Create an interesting environment for building a great engineering team by giving them awesome problems to solve.”

On management style: Practice what you preach, be transparent with the team about the decisions the company makes and problems it faces, and be consistent.

On choosing customers: “For me, the higher the quality of the customer and problem, the more likely to create value. They aren’t mutually exclusive. … Let’s be proud of what we do and who we work for.”

On the flip side, Duffy said, “we will fire a customer that doesn’t treat us right.”

On recruiting talent: “We do the work before making the hiring decision so both parties understand what’s expected and what a cultural fit is. We understand who’s coming in and they understand what they are coming in to.”

 “Personally what I get the most joy in professionally is seeing the most junior employee entering the company and succeeding.”

On building a board: “We have the luxury of choosing our board members; we aren’t controlled by investors or banks. I think diversity in thinking is key. If you get people who are qualified and competent, and have different perspectives and are empowered to challenge our thinking, then you’ve got an opportunity to do something special.”

Advice for young entrepreneurs: Agree in advance about what’s important and what success looks like.

“I see teams struggle when things are tougher than expected, and they always are, and the team comes apart because they haven’t built a sustainable plan to keep themselves together. Or worse, the team does very well, but they go in different directions because they didn’t agree in advance what’s important — someone wants to sell real quick, someone wants to build. You can’t solve for every scenario upfront but you can get the big picture things right.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Dockmaster

Business: DockMaster Software pioneered the marine management software industry, deploying the first marine management system.

Launched: 1984

HQ: West Palm Beach

Employees: 20

CEO: Cam Collins

Website: dockmaster.com

 

Cam Collins is a 7th generation Floridian. In fact, his great-great-great-great grandfather was the first elected governor of Florida.

But this sun-loving Floridian flew the coop for a while, working at startups and building a successful software business, Lexington Software Associates, in Massachusetts that was acquired by a Silicon Valley darling during the dotcom boom.

By 2002, after the dotcom bust, the world had changed and so had Collins. Collins had become a new dad and traveling five days a week just wasn’t going to cut it, though he wanted to continue in the software business.

“I’ve always been a big boater and grew up in South Florida, and we found the DockMaster business for sale. I thought what a great match for me. ”

Collins bought DockMaster and began running the business in 2003.

DockMaster today is a business management software platform for the recreational marine industry. For businesses like boatyards, marinas and dealerships, “we sell a product that effectively runs the businesses of these companies,” Collins said.

Still it was a sea change from the last company he had worked for, Interwoven, the Silicon Valley company that had acquired his company in Massachusetts.  

“Interwoven was on the bleeding edge of Internet technology in the dotcom era, so I am now trying to shift my thinking from fast moving Web 1.0 to ‘now I own a software technology that is character based and is selling to a very slow moving, very conservative marine industry’.”

Yes, you read that right: DockMaster was a character based software system. The company was founded in 1984, a year marked by the launch of DOS. Yet, Collins and his team were up for the challenge: “My vision back then was just to migrate the character based system to Windows.”

Fast forward through the years, and DockMaster has evolved and innovated. In 2012, the company was one of the first in the marine industry to come out with an API to connect various third-party applications to it.  Today, the cloud-based DockMaster has 16 integration partners, including Salesforce and apps for SMS messaging and mobile fuel management. “That’s how the vision has evolved. “

DockMaster today can handle accounting, inventory control and business management for the marine industry. There’s a reservation system for booking a slip, a visualization tool for moving boats around and applications for sales and service.

“One of the things unique about DockMaster is that we have a full marina component and we can manage multiple marina properties,” Collins said. “If you are a boat dealership and you have a marina, we are a real good fit for you.”

Since 2013, DockMaster has been sold twice, but Collins has continued to stay at the helm. In the most recent ownership change, in May 2017, DockMaster was purchased by Valsoft. Based in Canada, Valsoft is a vertical market software company that owns 14 companies so far.

Since the sale, DockMaster has been cruising and Collins’ role has grown, too.  

Collins, an executive with Valsoft, is president of Dockmaster and also runs Valsoft’s GG Golf, the leading golf management software in Canada.

Since Valsoft acquired DockMaster, DockMaster has tripled profits and improved top line growth at the same time. In 2018, ARR alone grew 12 percent, Collins said.

DockMaster, with 20 employees, is continuing to grow its market space with new product offerings. It recently announced it is about to roll out a mobile app for field service techs.

These days, Collins is also co-chair of Palm Beach Tech with David Bates. In that role, he has been focused on the launch and rollout of 1909, a rebranding and total refacing of Palm Beach Tech’s downtown West Palm Beach co-working space, including the move to larger quarters on the second floor.

“What I am mostly focused on is promoting the space and getting people to see it and be a part of the culture and connect with the energy. You can rent a desk for a day or you could have a dedicated office, and everything in between. It really is one of the top tier entrepreneurial spaces in the county.”

This 7th generation Floridian, who also mentors young companies, has some advice: Connect with other entrepreneurs in the area.

“When you get into a place like 1909, you realize you are not alone and there is a support network there for you.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Ship Sticks

Business: Ship Sticks picks up, ships and delivers golf bags and luggage to customers’ hotels, clubs or homes.

Launched: 2011

HQ: West Palm Beach

Employees: 80

CEO: Nicholas Coleman

Website: shipsticks.com

No. of golfers served this year: More than 300,000

“Efficiency, convenience and cost — If you can nail all three of those and add value in the process you have a good opportunity to build a great business.”

That’s sage advice from Ship Sticks CEO and co-founder Nicholas Coleman, and his high-growth West Palm Beach-based company is showing how it’s done.

Ship Sticks picks up, ships and delivers golf bags domestically and internationally to customers’ hotels, clubs or homes. According to Coleman, Ship Sticks offers a simple, efficient alternative to traveling with your clubs in an airplane and, by leveraging the buying power of the masses, tamps down the pricing to make the service palatable and affordable to all traveling golfers.

“Prior to Ship Sticks, it was a very expensive proposition to ship your golf clubs, and the process was disenchanting to end consumers because consumers didn’t understand the difference between the quoted and actual price,” said Coleman. “One of the problems we were solving was to commoditize the price of golf bag shipping and to make sure the quoted price was the actual price so the consumer would never have a bad experience.”

How’s the company doing? The numbers tell the story.

This year, Ship Sticks will ship more than 300,000 golf bags to golfers in destinations worldwide, and the West Palm Beach-based company is growing at a high double-digit pace. Since its launch in 2011, the company has grown from two employees to 80 and has outgrown its HQ four times.  It’s brought on about 4,000 partnering facilities that use its technology and service, said Coleman, who worked on Wall Street, started two internet gaming companies that were sold, and worked for a hedge fund before starting Ship Sticks.

Ship Sticks charges from $39.99 and up depending on whether people want overnight, one day or five day service and how far they want to go. Shipments include $1,000 of insurance and customers can add additional coverage.

“Being a company of golfers for golfers … we were able to deliver A-plus customer service and in turn build a brand that was trusted by PGA of America and by professional golfers as well as the consumers,” said Coleman, a 2 or 3 handicap golfer himself.

What’s next? Ship Sticks has quietly added skis and luggage as other options for people to ship. Ship Skis is being test marketed and Ship Sticks will be launching a luggage vertical in Q1.

“We will also be launching an app that will allow people to schedule and ship directly from their phones and they won’t need to use a printer to print the label,”  said Coleman. “We will keep refining and bettering our process and making sure our customer experience is awesome.”

Coleman said he’s happy with his decision to launch in Palm Beach County, the epicenter of golf. West Palm Beach provided economic incentives that helped the company build out a bigger space and in the hiring and training of employees.  Now its headquarters on Datura Street is 12,000 square feet and Ship Sticks is outgrowing those offices, too.

Still, he says, recruiting talent is a challenge for the county and the city. New condo and office buildings are going up and BrightLine is a big deal – five of Ship Sticks’ recent hires live in Fort Lauderdale or south of there and use the high-speed train to get to the office — but he also believes focusing on improving the education system will pay dividends.

It’s just going to take a while, Coleman said.

“Typically people don’t think of Florida as a tech hub. They think of it as a vacation, and you have to shift the mindset from the beach to business. If you can get beach and business in the same sentence, well, more power to you.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Third Wave Technology

Business: Software Development

Launched: 2011

HQ: West Palm Beach

Employees: 7

CEO: Frank Barbato

Website: thirdwave.it

CEO’s advice to new entrepreneurs: “This is advice I have to give myself all the time – don’t let your life get out of balance. If you go in that mode for too long, you will lose your creativity and you will lose yourself.”

Recommended books: “The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” by Jeff Sutherland; “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” by Deepak Chopra.

 

Frank Barbato has seen it all since writing his first line of code in 1976.

When he moved to Palm Beach County 25 years ago, there wasn’t much tech down here then but he found a job writing a Windows software application for a real estate settlement system that became the No. 1 such system in the country.

Then, in 1999, he had the chance to architect and build out VirtualBank. The bank then added private banking under its Lydian brand, where he was CIO, and it went from startup to a $2.2 billion bank, Barbato said.

“I learned a lot there and enjoyed it but when the financial crisis hit … it seemed like I was spending more time with auditors than with developers. In late 2010 I decided it was time to leave and go innovate again.”

Barbato started his current company, Third Wave Technology, in July 2011. Now, seven years later, he is making a big change to his business model – but we’ll get to that in a bit.  

Third Wave, a name inspired by Alvin Toffler’s book by the same name, is a software company that develops SaaS and PaaS cloud platforms, data analytics and IoT solutions, dashboards and mobile apps for industries including healthcare and finance. Clients include CareUSA, South Florida Vision and a number of mid-sized companies.

“Technology is moving so fast and I felt a lot of companies were being left behind … I want to help companies close that gap and help them succeed and make money and grow,” said Barbato, who has been on Palm Beach Tech’s board since 2016. “That is what I have done my entire career.”

Barbato said he also wanted to build his own company culture based on mutual respect, where ideas are listened to openly and discussed. “It is a culture of achievement and excellence but it is also about keeping it fun,” he said, noting that every year Third Wave has been a sponsor of the Seven Mile Run for charity in the Florida Keys and the team makes a weekend of it.

Third Wave doesn’t compete on price, but rather on business acumen and technology knowhow: “Being in the industry for over 40 years now, I feel like that is our advantage. We aren’t just order takers.”

Over the years Barbato has had to buy out two partners and he’s had raiders from Silicon Valley steal four or five of his employees. But dealing with long sales cycles and the ups and downs of the custom software business has been the biggest challenge.

Now in a major change in its business model, Third Wave will be developing its own intellectual property, allowing the company to continue to build products for clients but also to be able to market and resell those products. Look for Third Wave to begin releasing some of its own applications and SaaS-based products in the next six months, marking the first phase of its transition.

“That’s reinvigorated me, that’s what I love, that’s what I enjoy. I’m very excited about what the next couple of years will bring for Third Wave.”

For his team, now seven, Barbato said he is always looking for self starters with skillsets such as data analytics, QA and project management, among others. He credits Palm Beach Tech with helping him maintain a solid core of talent. “Palm Beach Tech can help businesses accelerate building relationships it has taken me 25 years to build.”

Barbato also wants to help stem brain drain, a passion he shares with Palm Beach Tech. Instead of Boston, Austin or Silicon Valley, he’d like to persuade entrepreneurs to build it here. “I mentor and come across so many great business ideas – we have everything we need here, we just need to work together to build it.”

He believes more founders should get involved in Palm Beach Tech. “If you love living in Palm Beach County, it is the best way to commit time, energy or a simple membership — it’s the best way to grow this thing.”

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