From basement to 200 employees in 15 years, Ektron is a software success story
NASHUA, Feb 20, 2013 (The Telegraph - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Bill Rogers still remembers how Ektron got started, 15 years ago in his Hollis basement.
In mid-career, the electrical engineer was looking to turn his experience at preprinting, videoconferencing and telemedicine firms into some sort of online communications business.
This was 1998, when building a website still required writing HTML code. A potential client, a dentist looking to create some online content, tossed out an idea related to Microsoft's dominant word-processing software.
"He said, 'Why can't you have it like Word inside of a web page ' and it was like, Ding!" Rogers, 51, recalled in a recent interview. "I was looking for an idea, and that was the idea."
Ektron did well enough that it had to leave the basement of Roger's Hollis home to a business condo in Amherst -- his wife, Michelle, "threw us out after three months," he jokes -- and slowly transformed, as start-ups often do. It grew from focusing on word processing within websites to the websites themselves, creating a variety of content-management approaches for other companies.
It has continued to grow, moving a half-dozen years ago into a former Digital Electronic Corp. building at 542 Amherst St., where almost 150 people of the firm's roughly 200 employees work. The company has full-size offices in London and Syndey, Australia, plus sales offices in Toronto, Canada, and scattered around the U.S.
Clients are as big as Wal-Mart and as exotic as the Sydney Opera House, although the bulk of its roughly 3,700 clients are more prosaic, mid-size firms, universities and nonprofits. Most of its connections are through partners like Hubspot and Razorfish, with Ektron providing the infrastructure.
And Ektron's transformation hasn't stopped. In fact, it's probably speeding up, thanks to the two huge trends sweeping the digital: Using remote servers (a.k.a. "the cloud") and shifting from desktop computers to smartphones and tablets.
"Mobile is the most disruptive technology," said Rogers, demonstrating the "responsive design" that allows Ektron's website to morph from suitable for computer screens to suitable for smartphones.
Along with this, Rogers said, is the need for companies to better interact with customers from the instant they first make online content. The result is a shift from systems that handle content management to those that handle customer relationships, which is more than a swap of buzzwords.
"The outbound approach to marketing doesn't work any more," he said, using a euphemism for traditional advertising. "What's important is the inbound approach" -- being instantly relevant when found via search engine or through social media, snagging customer loyalty as soon as possible.
Partly as a result, he said, the company is hiring people with writing and other content background to be "content strategists," as well as more traditional jobs like software engineers.
Rogers doesn't release sales figures for the privately held company. He is proud of the fact that Ektron has grown largely through its own financing. The company's name was created after a tabletop brainstorming session between him and his daughter, now-25-year-old Nicole, a Hollis Brookline Co-op High School graduate.
It had one round of early angel investments totaling $2 million, but hasn't needed to go to venture capitalists or similar routes, he said.
However, Ektron is now entering the size where organic growth can sometimes be more difficult to handle, although it anticipates an increase in software licenses of around 35 percent this year, so outside financing may become more of a necessity, Rogers said.
The company is likely to move within the next two years, because its 27,300-square-foot office is just about full. It will stay in Nashua, said Rogers, citing the factors that the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce likes to emphasize: Proximity to talent around Boston, as well as the lower costs and better quality of life of New Hampshire.
And no mater what happens, Rogers said he expects growth to continue.
"I'm an optimist," he said.
David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua telegraph.com. Follow Brooks' blog on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).
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