Frank and his co-founders have built a sizeable bootstrapped business in North Carolina. Read on to learn what has worked for Ateb and what you can learn from them.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s go to the very beginning of your story. Where do you come from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of circumstances?
Frank Sheppard: I was born in Florida but I was raised in Atlanta in a typical middle-class suburban environment.
Sramana Mitra: Where did you do your schooling?
Frank Sheppard: I went to Georgia Tech for college. I just went through the public school system in all of my education prior to Georgia Tech.
Sramana Mitra: What year did you finish college?
Frank Sheppard: 1982. It’s a long time since I answered that question.
Sramana Mitra: The reason I asked is I’m trying to understand what was happening in the industry when you were coming out of college. It gives me the context. What happens after coming out of college?
Frank Sheppard: During college, I worked extensively at Georgia Tech. They have a research facility there. After I left Georgia Tech, I was hired by IBM and worked at many locations for them. I started in Austin, Texas working with, what was at that time, one of the first word processing solutions. Then, I moved up to Rochester, Minnesota where I worked on some of their entry-level business systems. Then, I moved to Maryland where I worked in, what was called, integration of complex systems. It was really taking on projects on behalf of IBM and working for customers – usually Fortune 500 customers.
Then I moved down to Florida to work on the network design – IBM’s contribution to what is today the mobile network and the infrastructure for supporting mobile phones. Then I went to work for their Global Services division.
Sramana Mitra: So what year does this bring us up to?
Frank Sheppard: That brings us up to 1989. I had a 10-year career with IBM. Starting in 1989, I would literally go around the country helping IBM take on projects where they were meeting challenges. My job was to try and sort them out.
Sramana Mitra: At what point does the IBM career finish and what’s the next move?
Frank Sheppard: In 1992, I had an opportunity with one of the projects I was working on. As it turned out, the project wasn’t going to be successful for IBM but in the course of that, I built a relationship with the company that IBM and I were working with. IBM discontinued the project, but they were willing to let me take on the project outside of IBM. We negotiated an agreement on that.
I started with four other gentlemen that I had worked with in my IBM career. We founded the roots of Ateb to work with a company out of North Carolina to help them develop the software infrastructure to support their telephone network testing equipment.