The past year or two has been a break-out time for a small Spokane Valley high-tech company that cut its teeth in the shareware software world but now is building a reputation for itself by doing custom programming for clients around the world.
Started in founder Luke Richeys basement here 13 years ago, whats now called Tometa Software Inc. moved to an office setting for the first time just over a year ago and already is outgrowing that space, says Brandon Marchand, external development director and part owner.
While for most of its years it employed fewer than three people, Tometa now employs 13 here, more than double what it did a year ago, and plans to add at least another half-dozen employees within the next year. It also routinely contracts with about 100 freelance programmers globally, Marchand says.
Tometas revenues are expected to top $1 million this year, Richey says, adding that its revenues shot up about 60 percent in 2004 and this year already have doubled that of the entire 2004. He says the companys goal is to hit $5 million in the next two years.
Says Marchand, We decided to take this to the next level.
Currently, most of Tometas work is custom programming, usually task-specific assignments both from software makers that include its code in software they sell to others and from companies that use Tometas work themselves.
For instance, it has developed a reservation-tracking system for a hotel-management company in the United Kingdom, a customer-management system for a financial advisory firm on the East Coast, and a way to synchronize data on a California-based real estate valuation companys Web site with that of that companys accounting software.
Marchand says the variety of work Tometa does is diverse, but most often involves the Internet and e-commerce. Its promotional materials boast that its clients include such companies as Agfa, Boeing, Volvo, Compaq, and Nasdaq.
The projects Tometa takes on range from small tasks, for which it charges $100 or so, to its largest ever, a $150,000 contract that took months to complete, Marchand says, adding that $100,000 contracts arent so rare anymore.
He says the company gets its work mostly from word-of-mouth, and even pays its customers a referral fee when they recommend Tometa to other potential customers that ultimately hire the Spokane Valley company to take on a project. Marchand says it also is becoming known for its no fail policy. If it doesnt work, we fix it, he says.
Adds Richey, Most of the stuff we do just drops in our laps. We do very little marketing.
Most of Tometas development work is for U.S. customers, though a growing amount is for clients located overseas, mostly in Europe and Australia, Marchand says. The weak U.S. dollar has made the companys services more competitive globally, he says.
Tometas other source of revenue continues to be the sale of software it develops and sells retail, mostly as shareware, which is software that users generally download from the Internet free for a trial period, then buy if they choose to continue using it.
Its most popular piece of shareware has been Cool Info, which has been downloaded and installed on more than 1 million computers since its introduction about 10 years ago.
Cool Info is aimed mostly at businesses, which use it to inventory and track the computers they have installed, including each computers brand and type, current configuration, what hardware add-ons are installed on it and what software its running.
The current version of that software, Cool Info XP, sells via Tometas Web site for about $30, but the company plans soon to release a newer version, to be called Cool Info FX, that will be the companys first packaged software to be sold in stores. It likely will carry a single-user price tag of $39, Marchand says.
The company also offers a handful of other shareware and freeware products, including one that stops pop-up ads from appearing on Web sites, one that enables users to publish recorded voices and other audio on a Web site, and another that can help track down a stolen laptop by transmitting information online once the culprit connects it to the Internet.
Tometa plans to introduce more shareware products by the end of the year, and hopes to release next year another packaged software product to be sold in stores.
Marchand says Tometas shareware software is downloaded 20 to 100 times a day, and that as many as one in 10 people who download the products end up buying them.
Luke (Richey) was able to sustain himself just from Cool Info, Marchand says.
He says the company evolved from primarily a shareware-software maker to a custom programming shop because some companies that downloaded its software asked to have modifications made to it to meet their own needs.
Now, he says of the shareware, We use it as a marketing tool.
Tometa is located at 7406 E. Sprague, where it now leases about 1,500 square feet of space, having expanded recently to ease overcrowding. Marchand says he expects the company will outgrow its new space within a few months.
For now, its employees work in close quarters, though they alleviate the space crunch by working nontraditional shifts and sometimes working part of the time at home, he says.
Theyre all youngmostly in their 20s. They call the companys 31-year-old president, Richey, the old man, Marchand says. Almost all of the companys employees are programmers. Some are hired fresh out of college. Some are paid interns, but even they work more than full time, says Richey.
Tometa currently is owned by three peopleRichey, Marchand, and Aaron Lennon, who is operations manager and became an owner in December.
Marchand says the partners likely will expand Tometas ownership further by granting other employees there an ownership stake.
When someone steps up, puts their life into it, we make them part of the team, he says.
The company found its contract programmers mostly through connections it made while developing shareware. With that extensive network of programmers, We can do pretty much anything under the sun, Marchand asserts.
Tometa Software, which originally was called Creation Software Inc., took on the Tometa name five years ago. While the companys Web site is coy about how the name came about, Richey admits that he came up with it while eating a tomato and thinking about Internet meta tags, the bits of information that help search engines find Web sites.
Getting the company to the next level, says Marchand, is mostly about somewhat intangible goals, such as being well-known among its peers.
When they think of custom software, we want them to think of us. Its nice to go to a convention, introduce ourselves, and have people say, Hey, I already know you guys, Marchand says.
He says the company so far has financed its growth through its own cash flow, and has tried to operate modestly, including in its selection of office space. He says it has shunned venture capital, and adds, Were debt free.
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