This article was originally published at The Clubhou.se
theClubhou.se member Thane Plummer can think through nearly anything with anybody. He has participated as a mentor with programs at theClubhou.se assisting youth interested in programming as well as the Code Bootcamps. Meet Thane and his business, AppVizo!
What is the business and when and where did you found it?
AppVizo LLC was formed in Augusta, Georgia, on January 1st, 2013, as a software development company. I’ve been writing software for over forty years, and it’s something I am passionate about, so it was the obvious thing to do. It’s my opinion that you should strive to get paid for doing something you love, so that was the motivation. I have a lot experience with different jobs – from timber falling to teaching – and writing software is something I’m fairly good at, despite the fact that I don’t have any degree in computer science.
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and have worked since I was a teenager. One summer I borrowed $800 from my dad to buy a flatbed truck to start a firewood business. It was hard work, but very gratifying. I’d get up at 4 AM and drive for about an hour and then cut wood until lunch. Then I’d drive the load home, split it and make deliveries, then go to sleep. I sold it by the cord or half-cord, so when I was cutting I always tried to figure out how close I was to having a full cord of wood. Someone asked me once how I knew when I had a cord. I answered, “You cut and cut and cut until you think you have more than a cord. Then you cut some more, and that’s usually about a cord.” There’s a good lesson there in estimation: it always takes longer and costs more than you think.
What were you like in school?
I did well in school and got good grades, but also really enjoyed athletics. When I got to college I couldn’t decide on a major, so for two years I just took all the classes that sounded interesting and were something I wanted to learn. After two years I took a look at all the majors to figure out which one I could complete with the classes I’d taken, and it turns out it was Bioengineering. So that’s how I got my undergraduate degree.
How did you fund the business?
AppVizo has been self-funded from the start, and our goal is to market and sell the software we’ve created. We have a few customers, and are now focusing more on sales and marketing.
How did you choose who to hire?
Before AppVizo was formed I did contract programming. I usually worked on site, but after moving to Augusta I mostly worked from home, migrating between the basement and attic depending on the season and weather. To help with the workload I hired a few interns from Augusta State University. Eli and Jeremy would come to my house to program, so that changed the work environment somewhat. I got acquainted with “new” music. We all liked to listen to music while working, but finding a compromise of something we could all work to was pretty amusing. Dubstep? Uh, maybe not! Now at AppVizo we’ve settled on a few Pandora stations, mostly classical. Back then we had a ping-pong table that alternated as either a desk or entertainment device; we got pretty good at ping-pong after a few months of daily challenges.
How has your idea progressed over time?
I have a doctorate in Neurobiology and am familiar with the business of scientific research, so we were in a good position to provide solutions to researchers at the Medical College of Georgia (now Augusta University). Although we still have a few smaller scientific/research related projects, our focus has changed to more enterprise-level projects with higher complexity that require more resources to complete.
I formed AppVizo with Chris and Elizabeth Campbell, and our original goal was to create apps for the iPhone. We wrote an app and showed it to a company who I was certain would want it. No interest. None. However, they did need other software, so this was AppVizo’s first official project. The product we created, IQAutoScan, was recently sold to another bank software vendor in Austin, and we’re pretty jazzed about that.
As a business owner, you are constantly learning; learning from others, from books and online resources, and especially from your own experiences. Early on we took on a lot of projects without much regard to the complexity of the situation. These were fun because I viewed them as challenges, but now it’s very different. Even with more experience and a great team to work with, I’ve learned to be cautious about taking on these kinds of projects. An important lesson for me was (and still is!) the process of managing expectations.
Not that long ago, AppVizo took over a project that had been subcontracted to a dev shop in India. The business owner had spent hundreds of thousands in development over nearly two years and still didn’t have a completed product. We took the job and rewrote the system in about 3 months for considerably less money, but it was a bad business decision. We learned in this particular instance that it is essential to share the vision of the customer and that you are more than just a hired hand. The business owner didn’t understand the software business and ended up pivoting to a different business model. He learned that it doesn’t pay to try and skimp on software development.
Who are your main competitors?
Our competitors approach is to create a massive website that someone has to learn to navigate, and have hundreds of web forms that need to be filled out in order to meet compliance regulations. Our approach is very different. We try to leverage existing technology whenever possible, so our solution has what we call “Smart Document technology” that greatly simplifies things by allowing users to work with technology they already know. We’ve found that users would much rather work with MS Word, than learn a new system. We plan to use this technology in more fields, such as OSHA compliance, and continue to grow and expand the business.
At AppVizo our goal is to make great software, so of course, you have to ask, “What is great software?”
Great software just works. It should be so good that it surprises you. It should make you say, “Wow! That’s really cool” and never get in the way of what you’re trying to accomplish. This sounds very simple, but it’s really hard to do, because you have to spend more time thinking and less time programming. The visual design and user experience are probably the most consistently overlooked component of software.
Best piece of advice?
To succeed in business, you have to surround yourself with people who are good at things you aren’t. Luckily for me, I have business partners that are really talented in what they do, and they do a better job than I ever could. Chris is tremendously talented in design, and he’s also a really good programmer, so his contribution is essential to our success. In fact, this is true for all my business partners: each one has a skill that I do not, and this makes the team and business stronger as a result.
What is next for your business?
We’ve been working for several years on a product called Aztech, that helps universities reduce the amount of time and resources required to run compliance departments.
How has working out of theClubhou.se benefitted your company?
We’re fortunate the have a good community here in Augusta for programming and technology. We’ve been members of theClubhou.se since the beginning, and enjoy participating in events and staying in touch with the tech community. One particular guest speaker at theClubhou.se had a business model very much like ours. Talking with him one-on-one was a tremendous benefit, and helped both with guidance and reinforcing our business goals and plans. AppVizo is a great business; it’s fun and challenging, and right now there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.