Spokane Journal of Business

LineSoft sees blitzkrieg growth

Software firm more than doubles in size in two years

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Quiet through most of its first decade of existence, LineSoft Corp., of Spokane, has more than doubled in size during the past two years, and hopes to grow even faster over the next four years.


The specialty software and engineering consulting company, which posted more than $10 million in sales last year, projects blitzkrieg growth through the early years of the next century, during which LineSoft President, CEO, and founder Fred Brown expects it to become one of the largest companies in its niche market.


We think there is a $5 billion to $10 billion market in the United States for what were doing, the 38-year-old Brown says. We want to have 10 percent of that market within four years.


The company markets seven software productsfive of which it added last yearthat help power companies engineer and maintain their distribution systems more efficiently. It hopes to develop 11 additional software programs by 2002 and make an initial public offering in 2001. Brown predicts that it will enjoy sales growth of 250 percent per year from 1999 through 2002.


A hiring blitz almost has doubled LineSofts staff size in the last year. With 54 employees now, the company plans to add another 20 people, primarily engineers and software programmers, before year-end. Most of the companys employees37 of the 54work out of Spokane, with some people in field offices in Columbus, Ohio, and Atlanta, and sales offices in Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas. Most of the projected job growth will occur here, Brown says.


As it previously announced, LineSoft expects to move its corporate office next month into 10,000 square feet of office space at the Pinecroft Business Park in the Spokane Valley from cramped quarters on nearby Cherry Street. The company will use all of the space in its new corporate headquarters before the year ends, Brown says, but has an option to take more floor space in that office park and likely will exercise it.


In addition to moving to its new corporate office, LineSoft plans to open two more field offices this year. Brown hasnt chosen cities for those offices, but wants to open one in the southwestern U.S. and another in Florida.


LineSofts niche


LineSofts growth can be attributed to deregulation of the power industry, which has forced electric companies to become more efficient and, ultimately, more competitive, Brown says. Consequently, power companies are more open to trying products such as those sold by LineSoft, he says.


Montana Power Co., one of LineSofts earliest software-product customers, currently uses two of the Spokane companys software applications, says Gary McWhorter, transmission and substation design manager for the Butte, Mont.-based utility. Montana Power has been downsizing in preparation for deregulation and is searching for ways to do more work with fewer people, McWhorter says.


He estimates that TLCADD (pronounced Tee-El-Cad), a LineSoft program designed to determine the most efficient places for a utility to install power-transmission towers, saves Montana Power 10 percent or more on tower projects by cutting down on staff hours and materials. LD-Pro, a program that automates power-line design, has resulted in additional savings for Montana Power, but the company hasnt quantified those savings, McWhorter says.


Montana Power is LineSofts nearest client geographically, but many of the Spokane companys customers are based in the eastern U.S. Some are among the largest power companies nationwide, including American Electric Power Co., a Columbus, Ohio, utility with 3 million customers in eight states, and Tennessee Valley Authority, a U.S. government-owned corporation that supplies power in six southeastern states.


LineSoft also serves international clients, working with 60 companies worldwide, most of which already used TLCADD when Brown bought the rights to the program from its inventor, John Bates of Burbank, Calif., in 1997. Brown, who still is majority owner in the company, doesnt plan to concentrate on growing LineSofts international business until its domestic business plan is well under way.


The companys software


TLCADD is the only software program LineSoft has bought. It has developed its other six applications in house, starting with its stalwart product, LD-Pro. Customers are becoming acquainted with its newer programs, but most already are well-acquainted with some version of LD-Pro, TLCADD, or both.


LD-Pro is used in power-line design to determine the most efficient way to supply power to a new electric company customer. For example, if a family buys a 20-acre parcel and plans to build a home on its land, the power company will use LD-Pro to determine where to place the poles, how much voltage should be directed to the house, and other pertinent factors.


Two of the newer products, Nip & Tuck and Laser Amazer, work independently of LD-Pro, and the other three, LD-Field, LD-Track, and LD-Sub, work in conjunction with it.


The five newer software products are:


Nip & Tuck, which determines the most efficient way to shorten power lines that are in danger of sagging too close to the ground.


Laser Amazer, which monitors the sag of power lines and warns a utility company if a power line gets too close to the ground, letting it know how far from the danger zone the line is and about how much time the company has to fix the problem.


LD-Field, an application that uses a hand-held laser gun to determine whether a power pole is strong enough to hold a line load.


LD-Track, which monitors cost-reduction efforts and triggers an audit when costs on a project exceed projections.


LD-Sub, which is used to design or modify substations.


Thus far, LineSofts products largely focus on the engineering aspect of power delivery, but future software will delve more into the business side of the utility industry, Brown says. Examples of new applications that the company is working on include an accounting package, a work-management package, and a virtual-reality modeling software that will illustrate how proposed power lines will look in a community.


Cowboy logic


Brown says LineSoft is succeeding because it offers solutions that contrast with the conventional ways electric utilities have operated. Some would call this thinking outside of the box. He calls it good old cowboy logic.


Brown, who rodeos professionally on the weekends, earned a masters degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M University after receiving a bachelors degree in the same field from Gonzaga University. He says the pragmatic problem-solving skills he learned growing up on farms, splitting time between one near Cheney and one in northern Alberta, have proven to be as important as his formal education.


He points to the Nip & Tuck software as an example. Several intricate formulas, taking into account wind velocity, amps, and other factors, could be used to determine ways to keep power lines from getting too close to the ground. However, none would be as simple, or as cost-efficient, as shortening the line.


Theyre just common kinds of things, but they have huge value to electric utilities, Brown says.

Linn  Parish
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Editor Linn Parish has worked for newspapers and magazines since 1996, with the bulk of that time being at the Journal. A Montana boy who has called Spokane home for some time now, Linn likes Northwest trails, Deep South foods, and lead changes in the ninth inning.

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