Bendyworks co-founder Grzesiak creates software shaped to meet a company's needs [The Wisconsin State Journal :: ]
(Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 16--Brad Grzesiak wanted to be a rocket scientist when he grew up. And he did just that.
But then he switched gears, and instead of designing products to be launched into space, Grzesiak helped design and launch a company that deals with cyberspace.
Grzesiak is co-founder of Bendyworks, 106 E. Doty St., a company that creates all sorts of software programs -- whatever their client companies need to do business.
Bendyworks has 16 employees, four of them added in the last three months of 2013, a 33 percent increase. Created in 2009, bootstrapped by Grzesiak and co-founder Stephen Anderson, Bendyworks took in $1.75 million in revenues in 2013.
Grzesiak, 31, also is heavily involved in Madison's tech scene. He was an early member of Capital Entrepreneurs, a networking group that fosters entrepreneurship. He chairs Madisonium, a group working to raise Madison's visibility as a tech/Internet hub. And Grzesiak recently was named to the city of Madison's Digital Technology Committee.
A Brookfield native, Grzesiak is a UW-Madison graduate with a double major in computer science and in engineering, mechanics and astronautics.
Q: After you graduated college, you worked at Orbitec, or Orbital Technologies Corp., for five years, a Madison company known for making rocket engines and items designed to work in what used to be called "outer space." What types of projects did you work on?
A: For the most part, I worked on payloads -- not necessarily the rockets themselves but devices that went inside them. I worked on the advanced animal habitat, commonly called a rat cage for space. It's actually complicated. You can't exactly open the window of a space station if it gets smelly. There are all sorts of materials to absorb odors. Ideally, it would be something that captures the odor and then when it is exposed to space, all of the odor gets extracted and evaporates into space -- like silica gel packets intended to keep moisture out of electronics.
One of the more important parts of my job was the "clearview system." Because rats are in zero gravity and they urinate, the urine continues flowing in the same direction. We needed to make sure it wouldn't obscure the camera lenses in the space station.
My favorite thing ... I designed, built and tested a cutterhead for mining on the moon. It is the only on-the-fly, variable geometry cutterhead in the world, as far as I know. It's a large cylinder, like a giant rolling pin, and the surface is studded with picks that have tungsten carbide on the tips. They grind into rock and break it apart. It was a prototype, about 4 feet in diameter and 5 to 6 feet long, in case we eventually go back to the moon.
Nothing I worked on ever went into space. But it was not the fault of Orbitec. It was usually Congress that decided NASA didn't need as much money as it was promised.
Q: What got you interested in space flight?
A: When I was about 6 years old, my family went to Disney World in Orlando. On our last day there, in the hotel, we watched the space shuttle launch on TV. I walked over to the window and saw the plume of smoke rising, far off in the distance. And it stuck with me. I was pretty good at math and science in school; the pinnacle was to become a rocket scientist. At Orbitec, I designed a one-third-size prototype cold-flow rocket engine. It was never built, much less tested. But this past Christmas, the employees at Bendyworks gave me a gray T-shirt with white lettering that says: "As a matter of fact, I am a rocket scientist."
Q: How did you make the move from space devices to computer programming ... and start Bendyworks?
A: I was always interested in computers, ever since grade school. Later, I would come home from work at Orbitec and for fun, I would program stuff. That was my version of whittling wood.
It didn't click as something I would enjoy doing on a large scale until I encountered this framework called Ruby on Rails. Ruby is a programming language like Java or C++. The original author's intention was to optimize programmer happiness, with the principle of least surprise. It gives programmers more options for figuring out how to design a code that will perform a specific function. That allows the programmer to do pretty complex things that would be a challenge using other programming languages. Ruby on Rails is the web application framework that uses Ruby.
In 2008, I was blogging about trying to become an astronaut (unsuccessfully) and was invited to speak at a meetup group. The speaker after me was Stephen Anderson, who was teaching a class on Ruby on Rails at Madison Area Technical College right around the time I was getting interested in it. I took his class on a lark, and it was a lot of fun. When the class ended, we stayed in touch. He was freelancing and had too much work to handle on his own. So we started the company.
At first, we were working out of Stephen's living room and a bunch of coffee shops. Within six months, we were looking for office space and wound up here, above Madison's restaurant and bar. Since then, we've grown, and we now take up the entire second floor.
Q: What types of programs does Bendyworks devise?
A: We help businesses build software to make their business run. We design, build and fix digital applications. We have designers, developers, user experience experts -- a full staff development shop. We do everything from fleshing out ideas to focus groups to making a website look pretty to making sure applications work.
For example, for Murfie (a Madison music CD marketplace), we helped build the initial version of their website and later refined it and trained some of their employees. For Getty Images (a Seattle photography company with a Madison office) we have worked on the Photos.com website for their stock photography -- adding functionality, upgrading the software and making it more user friendly.
Q: What makes Bendyworks different from other software development companies in the Madison area?
A: We are one of the few that use Ruby on Rails -- it's the platform we lean on the most. We follow Agile methodology, a flexible philosophy for creating software. That may involve two people working on one computer with two keyboards. Having a teammate work on software with you raises both of your energy levels. You are subconsciously trying to impress the other person, and only one person can type code at a time. You may be using your left brain -- the syntactic, procedural side -- while the other person is using the more creative right half of the brain. It allows the pair to really explore both halves of the brain as they're writing software.
We also have constant communication with the clients. We meet with our clients every day in stand-up sessions -- usually over Skype or Google Hangout. It usually takes only about 5 minutes. We show them what we're working on, making sure that's what they want.
For employees, we have a weekly growth day. If you get the work done for a client, Friday is spent either making yourself or your company better. That may be working on open source (free, public) software, reading a technical book or participating in one of our many book clubs.
Q: Is the web application development/mobile app industry very competitive here?
A: Yes, there are about two dozen companies or more in that area.
But there also is a lot of business available. We're getting to the point where every company needs to be a software company in addition to what they do normally. A company that could previously get by on filing cabinets full of invoices needs to turn that into a database with their own software reading map. Otherwise, they're just not going to be competitive.
(c)2014 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)
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