Thursday, February 4, 2010
Interview with Tom Allanson, PerfectForms
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
For today's interview, we talked with Tom Allanson, CEO of Carlsbad-based PerfectForms (www.perfectforms.com). Tom tells us how he went from running Intuit's Tax Group--which is behind the popular TurboTax tax software--to his own startup, which allows non-technical, business users to create their own business forms and processes.
What is PerfectForms?
Tom Allanson: It's pretty simple, conceptually, although it's harder behind the scenes. I've watched businesses operate throughout my career, and saw that so many times business users struggle with relatively simple applications, where they can't get them build, can't get them to work, and where they have to kludge together an email system to route things to get things approved. PerfectForms is a platform for business users to create web applications, to provide visibility to processes, and to report on information collected. The really important distinction is that non-technical business people can build, deploy, integrate, and create reports on these applications to help them run their business.
How did the company start?
Tom Allanson: A little history might be useful. In 1999, I was involved with GE Financial, launching a broker platform, so that they could self-score and autodoc their funding deals. It was a very manual process. Through the course of that development, what I observed was that people who were knowledgeable about the process of credit scoring spent an inordinate amount of time imparting that knowledge to developers, who then had to build, QA, and integrate, and test it to get it right. Later, when I was in the tax business at Intuit and H&R Block, running those businesses, every year we had to hire a couple hundred tax professionals, who had to unwind the tax code, and who had to write it all down to give again to developers, in order for them to interpret and provide a usable product to consumers. What we really needed was, instead, a tool for those tax professionals to build the interface and the program itself, rather than iterating through an error prone process. That's what we were trying to build into our product at H&R Block, and that's what I envisioned when I started my own company in 2003. I left H&R Block, and this company was the perfect place to come.
So you ended up here in San Diego because of Intuit?
Tom Allanson: Yes, I came to San Diego in 2000 to run the tax business for Intuit, including the TurboTax group. I ran that company for about four years, then started my own company focused on Internet tax. H&R Block bought my company a year and a half into that venture, which was a great deal, and we helped H&R block integrate the systems together. I decided to get back to startups in August of 2008.
It looks like you've had lots of experience both in small startups and larger firms, how would you contrast that experience?
Tom Allanson: The larger companies have a lot more money, but when you're outside you have the ability to visualize what you want to accomplish as an entrepreneur, see that become real, and deliver a real value for consumers and business people. That's the joy of being an entrepreneur. There's so much bureaucracy in big companies, it's hard to get things done, which can be very frustrating and tiring. Being an entrepreneur, working for a company like this is rewarding and exciting.
How long has your software been available to customers?
Tom Allanson: We launched our beta of PerfectForms in September of 2008, and had a product which we believed was complete in December of 2008. The product has now been on the market for a little over a year. It was a very good year, considering we launched into the worst downturn we've seen in twenty years. We did very well last year, and started very strong offering both an on-demand and an on-premise product. That was one thing I've tried to be very vocal about--giving our customers choice, not only the ability to control the process, but also not having us tell our customers how to deploy things. That's been helpful with growth.
How are you funded?
Tom Allanson: When I came into the company, there were two groups trying to get the company off the ground. They knew some friends of mine at Intuit, and recommended I talk to them. They were two venture funds out of the UK, who I talked to in the April of 2008, and they needed someone to run the company. I developed the leadership team and proposal, and we came in August of 2008.
Finally, what's next on your plate?
Tom Allanson: This year, we are really going to focus on verticals that customers have shown lots of interest and traction in. If you look at education, medium sized companies, and human resources, they don't really have the tools they need to get their jobs done. They're all paper focused, and very inefficient. We've gotten lots of traction with them. So, we'll put lots of efforts in these areas, and we're expecting pretty significant growth in 2010.