The story of precocious teenagers building a wildly successful Internet company is, by now, practically old hat. But Jon Perl and Oren Shatken’s entrepreneurial tale breaks the mold in one big way: They didn’t set their sights on social networking or music-sharing — they took aim at field service.
Perl, now a 22-year-old software programmer, started developing dispatching software when he was 17, while he was working as a dispatcher for a medical courier service in Virginia. In college at Purdue, he met Shatken (now 24), and the two started hatching the idea for what would become FoundOPS, a full-service software solution for field-service companies.
“One night we formed this idea for a fully Web-based field service management system that was really simple, generic, and easy to use,” Shatken says.
“We like to think of ourselves as the QuickBooks of field service software: usable by a broad range of service companies, but also really simple and everybody can grasp it right away,” Shatken says.
FoundOPS’ mobile app, which is available on Android or Apple devices, offers route optimization, CRM, data collection, signature capture, and GPS tracking. So far the company has about 15 mostly small companies as clients — which raises the question, who’d buy field service software from a couple college kids in Indiana?
“We thought we’d see clients having issues with our age more often, but everyone’s been really supportive,” Shatken says. “Smaller businesses and fleets are under-served markets, and they’re really just thankful that we’re addressing their problems.”
The project began in a spare bedroom in the pair’s college frat house. The guys went to class during the day, and stayed up at night working on the software. They eventually hired a few interns to help out, who are all now full-time staff, and found an office in West Lafayette, Ind., to set up shop.
FoundOPS has very little overheard — fewer than 10 staffers — and a one-person sales team. To be competitive, Shatken says they brought on experienced advisers early on in the process, and that they’ve been sure to carefully listen to clients’ feedback, and incorporate that into updates.
“The great thing about cloud software is that it’s iterative and we can start with a simple product and let the customers direct it,” he says. “That’s been our strategy. We’re never running out of feature requests from our clients. Listen to your clients and you’ll be in good shape.”
And despite being from the Midwest, Shatken says the company really isn’t that different from its West Coast Internet entrepreneur counterparts.
“A lot of our competitors are old-school software guys,” Shatken says. “We’re a bunch of young, hungry guys with a foosball table in the office, working 16-hour days and just a general Web 2.0 culture. We’re really trying to make a difference and our clients definitely appreciate that.”
More: Three Tips to Boost Field Service Referrals.
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