Wednesday, January 22, 2003
Interview with Romeo Elias, CTO of Interneer
In these lean times, it's pretty difficult to find startups of any kind. However, if you look hard enough, some companies are still hard at work building their businesses. To get a perspective on how at least one of those companies is doing, I asked Romeo Elias, one of the founders and CTO of Culver City-based Interneer (www.interneer.com) about the company and what they're up to.
BK: Tell me a little bit about Interneer--what's your product, and what market do you serve?
RE: Interneer was founded in 1998 and provides Business Process Management (BPM) and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) products and solutions that serve the Energy, Aerospace and Consumer Electronics markets. Combining BPM and PLM functionality, Interneer's flagship enterprise software application, Interneer Intellect, is the leader in the resulting Product Lifecycle intelligence Management (PLiM) space. Offerings in this space will replace PLM solutions and will deliver on the vision that PLM set, but failed, to achieve.
Designed by engineers for engineers, Interneer Intellect streamlines design applications and processes into a single intuitive and flexible Web-based system, enabling engineers to get a higher return on their time investment with minimal training and IT support compared to any other system. It captures the intent, processes, workflows, and key insights inherent to any engineering design, thereby providing all users with real time knowledge, context, and control by combining a project center, a process engine, a workflow manager, a modeling broker, and data capture system all in one. As a result, we enable better decisions and actions, greater organizational efficiency, effectiveness and project predictability.
BK: What stage is your company at? How are you funded?
RE: Interneer is in its growth phase, privately funded by a committed and supportive group of angels, and managed by a strong executive team led by Ronald Huch its CEO. The company has signed on major clients including Harman International, Boeing and AECOM. We are also expanding our distribution to overseas markets setting up partnerships in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
BK: What are your funding plans--i.e. do you plan on looking for more capital?
RE: Interneer is currently raising a small private round that would lead the company to profitability. Although a Venture Capital round is not out of the question and would be used primarily to speed our growth, the lead-time involved and cost of such capital in the current market environment is not encouraging. We have been very successful thus far in being resourceful, operating very lean from revenues and private investments, with low overhead expenses, and a small but effective team.
BK: How did you decide to start the company, and why?
RE: We were entrepreneurial mechanical engineers. We founded Interneer initially as an engineering consultancy and started exploring business opportunities while maintaining full time jobs. Working in industry and in academia, we quickly realized that we were always frustrated due to great inefficiencies in the engineering design and manufacturing process. We were constantly in search of the right information and best practices to help us manage our projects, improve our designs, avoid known mistakes, and found that we were wasting a lot of time.
At the same time, the Internet had become the de-facto medium to share knowledge and information, but we felt there were no tools or applications that helped companies organize and manage all this information. It became immediately clear what the focus of our company would be and we began putting together an executive summary, and learning our way through making deals and building the team that would help establish our vision. We spent a number of months researching the concept part time and established some key early relationships.
A turning point occurred when we got involved with the UCLA Anderson school and competed in the Knapp business plan competition in 2000 which placed us first among all software companies that year and second overall in the competition.
Andrew Young, Jaime Sipila and myself worked together to create the business plan, establish key relationships, recruit the first employees and the Interneer advisory board. This was crucial in raising our first friends and family round and launching Interneer's operations in 2000.
BK: What's the background of your founders?
Interneer was founded by two UCLA graduates in engineering:
I had previously worked at Synerdyne Corporation as a mechanical project manager for products in consumer electronics developing products from concept through manufacturing. I resigned to pursue Interneer fulltime and founded WWWID LLC on the side, a software development consultancy which provided me the opportunity to increase my skills in web software development and to pay the bills. I have an M.S. in Manufacturing Engineering from UCLA, and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from UCSD.
Jaime Sipila had worked in software development and engineering in the aerospace industry, including projects at Boeing, JPL, Hughes, and NASA. He completed both his M.S. in Electrical Engineering and his Engineer Degree in Mechanical Engineering at UCLA. He was working on his PhD dissertation at UCLA dealing with nonlinear control and MEMS before leaving to found Interneer. He also received a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan.
BK: How many employees do you have?
RE: With a core team of 8 employees, Interneer has managed to secure global clients, three major software releases of an enterprise software application and establish sales channels. The company also leverages a number of local and overseas partners for consulting engagements and software development. Interneer plans to grow its operations to 15 employees in 2003.
BK: What are some of your plans for the future?
RE: Interneer's goal is to become the leading digital asset management solution for technology firms. Our growing customer base is helping us define the PLiM space and ensure the optimal product functionality set. We have also found that the problems they face are also faced by other customers in different markets.
Thus, our future plans include penetrating the Medical Devices, Pharmaceutical and Construction markets leveraging our existing enterprise application core platform. Our approach is to penetrate these markets, understand clearly the pains and needs of the customer, leverage our flexible .NET architecture that is the foundation of our enterprise product, and configure it to maximize value and ROI for that market.
In addition, we plan to license our technology to vertically focused consultancies and distributors, expand direct sales nationally, increase our international presence and establish long term strategic partnerships that could prove fruitful in a merger to help grow the company.
BK: Finally, as an entrepreneur, what has been the hardest lesson you've learned so far on starting a company?
RE: The most critical lesson that I have learned is that the team is the most crucial part of a company. Having the right team can mean the difference between a company's success or death. So much depends on the team: customers, investors, products, marketing, intellectual property, bills, taxes etc. It is the core of any enterprise. And the team isn't just the internal staff of developers or sales, but also your partners, resellers, attorneys, advisers, landlords, contractors etc. Everyone has to work together synergistically to execute on the company's goals and make the company a success. So, value and appreciate your team and pick wisely who belongs in that circle.