by my friend and todays guest blogger Gregg Dourgarian, CEO of TempWorks
I love to hear from my clients how their companies got started.
It makes for the best stories – stuff you can’t make up. One started her company as an off-shoot from a baby-sitting gig. Another when she sent her secretary to bail out a friend’s company. Another when he got laid off from a national staffing company. Others with Mom and Dad at the helm, back when $1k made for a big week.
Swapping stories makes for great bonding. Here’s mine about TempWorks.
In the 1960s my father started Manpower’s tech services division, and he taught me about spreads, contracting, and how big the staffing industry was going to be.
He could never sit still. One day he built a photography lab in our basement and taught us how to develop our own film. Another day he bought a chemistry kit and we took samples from the Milwaukee River to document how industrial pollutants were threatening it.
He also built a typing instruction machine. This machine “spoke” a letter of the alphabet and lit up the corresponding key on a display panel. He tried persuading Manpower to incorporate training as part of its services, but his bosses dismissed him as a gadget freak. They got rid of him by giving him a franchise in California.
This happened when I was 16, and I was glad to leave cold, wet Milwaukee for sunny Sacramento. I got to spend a lot of time working with him in those first 18 months of business.
He wasn’t much of a sales guy, but he wanted his employees to work comfortably. In a few weeks he turned the office from a dive into a nice place, with new carpeting and well-organized offices. Later, he bought one of the early microcomputers, and together we wrote a payroll program to replace the old-fashioned tag board system.
Making money was a struggle. It was hard to change lifestyles, especially for my mother. We moved from a big house in suburban Milwaukee to an apartment in Sacramento. I think my Dad worried more about finances than he let on. We got really excited when weekly sales hit $2,000 for the first time.
After college, I couldn’t find a good job until I happened to tell a recruiter that I had programmed computers for my dad. The next thing I knew, Sperry Univac was flying me around the world to work on airline operating systems. Later I landed a programming contract with a French airline cooperative and went on to form a small consulting company.
While in Spain consulting for Iberia Airlines, I got fed up with the awkward programming tools on the Univac mainframe. I decided right there to write a diagnostic and training system, Supertrace, that made programmers more productive. Spain was a great place to do this because the Spanish are laid back: they drink wine and smoke in their computer rooms!
I hardly moved out of my chair for three weeks. When I completed Supertrace version 1.0 and showed it to Iberia, they were impressed enough to let me keep the rights to it, as long as I added a few additional features. With that, Supertrace went from a quick hack to a marketable product.
I was very excited about Supertrace. The Spanish really liked it, and I wanted everyone else to like it, too. For months I drove everyone I knew nuts with attempts to sell it.
After a year I realized three dark truths. First, I had no clue about how to sell software. Second, powerful figures within Univac were blocking my potential sales because they wanted customers to wait for their competing product. And third, I was running out of money very quickly.
With a wife and two children, the prospects for marketing Supertrace looked bleak. Fortunately, my wife won a medical school scholarship, and we scraped by. Most people thought me a buffoon with my Supertrace, and eventually I ran out of marketing money. It was back to contract software development contracts for me.
Then a miracle happened. Out of the blue, Univac called. They were in big trouble. They had abandoned their product and kept hearing about mine from the Spanish.
The Univac programmers had been trying to repair an airline software bug for weeks. They risked missing release dates and losing contracts if they couldn’t fix it. I walked in with Supertrace and found the bug in a single evening. Univac signed a big contract with me to license Supertrace and train their programmers.
Justice was sweet. The Univac director who had denigrated me for years as he tried to build a competing product got orders to abandon his project and market mine instead.
Back then customers who called an airline often heard that no help was available because the computers were down. Eventually, Air France, Scandinavian Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Japan Air Systems, and a host of other airlines around the world licensed Supertrace. Several are still with me to this day.
Although the Supertrace business was going strong by the early 1990s, I predicted (erroneously) that mainframes would soon disappear and my market with them. Coincidentally, the Air Force transferred my wife to Sacramento, CA
, where my brother, Mike, was running the family staffing business.
Mike had grown the business, and his computer system – an outgrowth of our original payroll program – needed a serious upgrade. I found myself writing the first TempWorks module.
Mike spread the news of the system’s success. When people heard that TempWorks had saved a $10 million temporary help account, other Manpower franchises wanted it. Thus began a sweat-equity stage during which I routinely worked 16-hour days, seven days a week, building invoicing, payroll, and front-office modules and winning new clients.
The Manpower CEO at the time was unhappy to be upstaged on innovation by a maverick franchisee. Just like the Univac director who made it his mission to block Supertrace sales, this CEO kept us from selling to several Manpower franchises at a time when we could have really used the money.
He undertook a $120 million dollar project with Ernst & Young to build a competing system, further locking out potential franchise business. Although the E&Y team outnumbered us almost a hundred to one, they continually missed deadlines. TempWorks began to market outside Manpower. We won a big contract with a group of Olsten franchises.
Manpower’s board of directors pulled the plug on their software development project in 1999, after an embarrassing article about Manpower’s situation appeared in Forbes magazine (Forbes, January 11, 1999). Soon we had many Manpower locations joining our system.
It’s odd that with both Supertrace and TempWorks, a very powerful opposing figure tried desperately to shut us down. I made a vow to never stop anyone from doing good.
If you don’t cannibalize your own success, someone else will. In 2006, my development team rewrote my system in Microsoft’s new WPF/Silverlight platform. Microsoft made the new product part of their massive marketing effort, which included a special showing at the Mix conference in Las Vegas in 2007 and 2008.
Every day we get dozens of visitors from around the world that come to see the possibilities of the Silverlight platform. You can check out a video clip of it here. In 2007, my son David who had been programming with me since he was 12 started TempWorks Venture, a payr
oll funding and back-office processing business that has become the engine for fast-growing staffing companies in the USA. My daughter Maria also joined the company as a software developer and is now watching the cash as company controller.
As of the end of 2010, the payroll processing and funding now account for 20+% of our revenue, and the software side is booming with more than 25 implementations going on. David and Maria have been running the business side for quite a while now. I get to spend most of my time developing new modules, working with strategic clients and helping out any team that needs me in a pinch.
That’s my story – The TempWorks Story. If you’ve got a story to share, I’d love to hear it!
by Gregg Dourgarian, CEO of Tempworks