If you haven’t read my Bootstrapping Using Services book, you must. Here’s yet another case study following the same methodology.
Sramana: Tommy, let’s start with your backstory. Where are you from?
Tommy Petrogiannis: I was born and raised in Montreal, Canada and I still live there. Both of my parents are first generation immigrants. Watching them as I grew up, I learned to value the work that goes into earning a buck. The difficulty of earning cash for your business really made an impression on me. I learned that you need to watch cash very carefully when you are building a business. I am an electrical engineer by education. I was always excited by how technology changes every day.
Sramana: When did you graduate college?
Tommy Petrogiannis: I graduated in 1988.
Sramana: This was before the Internet came to be.
Tommy Petrogiannis: For sure. My first job was working for a high-end graphics and imaging company who would OEM technology to companies like Silicon Graphics. While I felt that field was very exciting, I really wanted to move high up in the ecosystem, so I joined Compaq Computers. They were working to get people off of the mainframe. The Internet was in its infancy and networking was emerging.
Sramana: What year was that?
Tommy Petrogiannis: That brings us up to 1992. By that time, I knew that I wanted to start my own business. I had two friends that I had worked with and we all got excited by the pen-based computer wave that was coming up. The vision and promise of tablets today was almost achieved two decades ago. The idea was to take a tablet into the field and interact with electronic smart documents.
We started a consulting business that tied computer graphics and computer-aided design into the computing age of pen-based computing. We still had our day jobs in that space. We luckily stumbled across an opportunity at a nuclear power plant out in Canada. Their division had a challenge with their schematics. It would take them two days to produce a changed drawing and 12 weeks to get it through the approval process. It was a regulated process and required printing of large format documents, which then had to be shipped or couriered to the government and back again.
Their desire was to eliminate the challenges and resistance of paper. They wanted to conduct that process electronically in order to speed things up. As consultants, we told them we could build something for them and we did just that. That was the genesis behind the company and how we got into the electronic signature market.