Software Entrepreneur Targets Wider Market
Nov 01, 2017 01:33PM ● Published by Emily Stevenson
Photos provided by The Brand Leader and Josh Jones
When Andrew Kurtz arrived in Greenville in 1983, his original plan was to earn a degree in business and computer science at Furman University. He wound up with a degree in accounting. But a brief stint at PriceWaterhouseCoopers led to the realization that while he enjoyed accounting, he didn’t really like public accounting.
“That’s the realization I came to,” Kurtz says. “It’s about looking forward and using that accounting knowledge to help improve things rather than look back and find out what happened.”
Kurtz’s realization has certainly helped improve his own life. After a lot of hard work, the local entrepreneur is now CEO of two companies, Kopis and Vigilix. Kopis provides custom software development and other software solutions. Vigilix offers a software that monitors information within a company and notifies team members, allowing businesses to proactively address issues instead of finding out hours, days, or weeks later.
The journey wasn’t always easy. At the age of 24, he and a partner decided to start their own company doing a similar industrial process control. His first business, Turn-Key Integration, was born.
Kurtz was the resident accounting guru, while his partner was the engineer who understood the industrial automation. For a while, all was well. But the recession of 1990 caused some challenges.
“As you can imagine, for a company with a whopping two people, the accounting was rather easy and not overly demanding,” says Kurtz. “The business couldn’t really support keeping an accountant paid, which is what my job was in that business. In order to eat and feed my family, I had to figure out how I could bring in some money.”
His solution? Software development for companies. Specifically, he began writing custom software for different business processes.
One of his first clients was Fluor Corp. Kurtz and an associate wrote the first Material Requirements Planning (MRP) solution for Fluor. Kurtz started doing more and more software development as the new side gig took off. Eventually, he folded the software development piece into the original company and came back as a full-time employee.
But as the company continued to grow with the addition of BMW as a client, the software side of the business took off.
“I wanted to grow that side of the business, and my partner wanted to grow the automation side,” Kurtz says. “We disagreed on which direction to grow, so I sold my part of that business back to the company and was able, as part of the sale, to leave and go start what is now Kopis.”
As part of his buyout, Kurtz was allowed to take with him two employees who only did software development and two customers – Fluor and BMW. With a foundation of cash, employees, and customers, Proactive Technology was born.
The company was rebranded to Kopis in 2015 to better align with the company’s offerings.
“Kopis is a professional services company, much like an accounting firm or a legal firm,” Kurtz says. “But what we provide to our customers is expertise around software development.”
The company has three main divisions: a custom software department, for companies who are looking for a product that doesn’t yet exist; a business intelligence and data warehousing division to help centralize business information and provide an agreed-upon “truth”; and a division that sells, supports, and implements Microsoft Dynamics ERP, a high-level accounting system to help run a business.
This third area of expertise is a recent addition, thanks to the May acquisition of a division of Acumen IT. Despite the firm’s extensive custom software abilities, Kurtz says that having an off-the-shelf product will make Kopis more competitive.
“We wanted to be a more strategic partner for our customers than custom software allowed us to do,” says Kurtz. “For customers, we feel like we can provide a really holistic set of capabilities.”
While his firm offers a wide array of services, Kurtz emphasizes that budding business owners should be careful not to try to take on too much responsibility themselves. He admits it’s a challenge – in the beginning, entrepreneurs have to do everything, from making sales calls to sweeping the floors. But as the company grows, the best CEOs are able to relinquish control.
“Letting go of things I had traditionally done and handing over responsibility and accountability to other members of the team was one major challenge,” he says. “I learned that they might do things differently than I did, but it doesn’t mean they don’t do them as well as, if not better than, me.”
He also encourages small companies who are trying to grow organically to engage with key employees who understand the objectives of the business and can build a team responsible for growing the company. Having that accountability is key, he says.
“If you’re the only one focused on the accountability side, then it’s easier to accept less than the results you wanted. If everyone has their eye on what the objective is and what the definition of success is, you’re held accountable better than if it’s just you.”
As for Kurtz, his definition of success involves continuing to grow both businesses. For Kopis, particularly, he says there is a growth opportunity around the recent acquisition, as well as on its tradition custom-software side. Kopis has launched an office in Charleston, and Kurtz doesn’t plan to stop there.
“Our goal is to be seen as a South Carolina company, not an Upstate company,” he says. “We want to bring the services we provide to the whole state.”