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A $14M Bootstrapped Family Business in Eugene, Oregon: Palo Alto Software Founder Tim Berry and CEO Sabrina Parsons (Part 7)

Posted on Wednesday, Jul 25th 2012

Sramana: What are your thoughts on the family ties with the business?

Sabrina Parsons: My husband works at the business, and I agree that you have to keep business and personal relationships as separate as possible. One of the things I love about the family business is that I feel it allows me flexibility in how I run the company without compromising how much time I put into the company or my vision for growth and success. That is important to me as parent. The family involved with the business gives me a lot of flexibility at a point when it is a tough world for women. There are a lot of articles written on this topic, but I think being involved in a family business has given me tremendous flexibility so that I don’t feel like an absent mom.

Sramana: What is the future of this company? Is this something that goes on from generation to generation, or is there interest in selling the company?

Sabrina Parsons: I would answer that question with a yes to both sides of the question. Right now, the growth we are experiencing and what we are doing with our online planning and management application is showing us what opportunity lies ahead. If we continue growing like we are, there will be interest from other people. Whether we do anything with that interest or if we hold the company private will be determined. I could see us doing either scenario.

The goal is to take the company to the next level. Tim took the company from zero to $10 million when he gave it to me. I certainly don’t want to sit here and not progress the company. I don’t want to let him do the hard part and then be content to just sit here and run the company. The vision is to make it big. We definitely want the company to expand and be successful.

Sramana: You made a conscious decision to move from Palo Alto, California, to Eugene, Oregon. I would like to understand that decision process.

Tim Berry: In 1989 my wife and I had a conversation. She pointed out that we put up with all the risk and downsides of owning our own business and recommended that we look at the upside of owning our own business, which means we can move the business to wherever we want. We both liked Eugene as a lifestyle place and felt it was a good place to raise a family. At that point we had no employees to move, so I took her words to heart. We moved to Eugene and the growth of the company has all occurred here. The lower costs here helped. In our SWAT analysis we have always seen the Eugene location in both the strengths and weaknesses. There are both.

Sramana: What are the strengths and weaknesses of being in Eugene?

Sabrina Parsons: There are very clear strengths. People are here because they love the lifestyle and they want to be in Eugene. People you hire are not getting poached like they are in the Valley, and they are generally happy to be involved with a high-tech company. There are not a lot of those in Eugene. I think that there is a whole list of pros as to why people want to live here. To get from one extreme end of the city to the other might take 25 minutes. It is easy to let our employees be flexible because it is a small town.

The cons are around the talent. We are a university town, but the University of Oregon is probably not the strongest university to go to for an engineering degree. Sometimes finding talent is hard. Once we get the talent here, they stay. Our CFO moved from Salt Lake City, Utah, and his family loves it here. Right now it is hard to hire developers anywhere, so that is particularly hard in Eugene.

Sramana: Have you considered complimenting your Eugene talent with Eastern European or Indian talent? I would imagine that you can get good sales and marketing in Eugene.

Sabrina Parsons: It took us a while to hire a good VP of marketing because we really wanted the right person. We have hired someone now and she is great, but that kind of talent can take a while to find. We do things with offshore developers. It is definitely the future for us, we are not going to be able to hire people fast enough. Four of our developers are in the Portland area now and they telecommute. They come down to our office once a month.

Sramana: This is a great story. I love the story and unlike most Silicon Valley folks, I have no bias against a family business.

This segment is part 7 in the series : A $14M Bootstrapped Family Business in Eugene, Oregon: Palo Alto Software Founder Tim Berry and CEO Sabrina Parsons
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