Helping communities navigate online world
Westford partners are building the way
WESTFORD - Entrepreneurs take many different routes to start a business, from working out of their basements or garages on an invention to buying a franchise.
Kevin Adolph and Larry Holt, both 38, took a route less traveled: They piggybacked on a municipal finance software package developed by a Danvers firm and upgraded it for their own use to cofound SoftRight of Westford.
It just so happened that the Danvers company, Sumaria Systems Inc., was looking to concentrate its efforts in other software areas, Adolph said in a recent interview.
"So, in the 1999-2000 time frame, we approached Sumaria and ended up creating a partnership with the firm," Adolph said. "Sumaria agreed to continue to provide support to their 20 municipal clients while we worked on developing a new, refined product."
Sumaria's vice president of finance, Bob Mosley, said his company had not kept the software package current because the firm is primarily a federal contractor, providing information technology services to the Air Force.
"To their credit, Kevin and Larry found out that we weren't keeping our finance software for cities and towns current and saw an opportunity for themselves," he said.
Sumaria has 300 employees and annual revenues of $40 million, Mosley said. With nine employees, SoftRight expects to report 2007 revenues "in excess of $1 million," Adolph said. "We've been doubling the number of municipal clients and revenues for each of the last three years."
SoftRight is in the third year of an extended five-year agreement with Sumaria and pays the Danvers firm royalties amounting to several thousand dollars a year, said Adolph, a Chelmsford resident and the firm's chief executive. Holt, the president, lives in Manchester, N.H.
Adolph and Holt are both 1991 computer science graduates of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. They began thinking about becoming small-business owners while working for the town of Chelmsford after graduation. "After we were asked to evaluate finance [software] packages, we said, 'We could write something better than these,' " Adolph said.
The two established their company 13 years ago, on the side, while still keeping their municipal jobs. They then set out on their own after linking up with Sumaria.
In June 2003, they unveiled a Windows-based product and upgraded software packages for 15 of 20 clients originally retained by Sumaria.
"The advantage of our software is that it's easy to use. And that's because many of these clients helped us fine-tune it," Adolph said.
SoftRight offers payroll, accounting, tax collection, and utility-billing software applications. Adolph said the firm bids on contracts, renewable every three years, and, if successful, charges about $25,000 initially per application. Then there are annual software support fees, he said.
So far, SoftRight has signed up 70 of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, he said, including Medford, Littleton, Wilmington, Chelmsford, Andover, Bedford, Billerica, Dracut, Tewksbury, and Winchester.
One of the oldest customers is the city of Medford. "We use the software for tax collections and for keeping track of all city receipts," said Medford treasurer-collector Alfred Pompeo Jr. "The software is easy to use, and SoftRight tweaks it for our special uses."
SoftRight's ongoing challenge is "to make more municipalities aware of us," said Dan Hamilton, the firm's 36-year-old vice president of sales and marketing. Toward that end, the Chelmsford resident said, he and others frequently attend trade shows and municipal conferences.
"In our field, we're now number two in Massachusetts and our goal, of course, is to be number one," asserted Adolph, adding that division of a large Dallas-based company,
"We think we'll reach our goal because we provide customer support that is unmatched," he said.
Recently, SoftRight has been fielding inquiries from potential clients in New Hampshire and Connecticut, Adolph said.
"But right now, we want to keep our eye on the ball and stay focused on additional Massachusetts opportunities."