Sramana Mitra: Let me see if I got this. You basically had a project within IBM that IBM didn’t want to pursue. You wanted to pursue it and, with IBM’s blessing, you spun it out as a separate company?
Frank Sheppard: Correct. IBM had no part in the founding of that company except to say yes. It was a very original project.
Sramana Mitra: You were doing that out of North Carolina?
Frank Sheppard: Correct.
Sramana Mitra: What happened to that project? You had a customer also that wanted you to build that solution for them, correct?
Frank Sheppard: Yes. Ateb was very fortunate. We ended up founding ourselves with a project already awarded. That was going to be our first year and a half.
Sramana Mitra: What was the size of the project?
Frank Sheppard: It was basically a million-dollar project.
Sramana Mitra: Wonderful. How many people did you hire to execute on that?
Frank Sheppard: We started with five people and then we started hiring people as the year progressed.
Sramana Mitra: We’re talking 1992?
Frank Sheppard: Yes. The company was founded June of 1992. We negotiated with the company in May of 1992.
Sramana Mitra: For the next year and a half, you worked for this client. You had a million-dollar contract. That was the beginning of Ateb. What happens in 1994 after the project was finished?
Frank Sheppard: We continued working with the original customer until they were acquired in 1998. We started working with other telephone companies. It’s ironic because all of them have gone away. They were companies like BellSouth and Ameritech.
Sramana Mitra: What kind of projects were you doing for them?
Frank Sheppard: We were primarily helping them with work management efficiencies. It could be how to better dispatch technicians to repair outside plants or optimizing trucks by focusing on where they should start their day and finish their day. For the company we did our first project with, their goal of developing software was to be able to go to developing countries and help them establish and build out a telephony infrastructure. Our team members went all over the world. We laughed because we didn’t know at that time but we did work in Matanuska, Alaska which was where Sarah Palin was mayor and she became the Vice President of Canada.
Sramana Mitra: This mode of doing contract services, how long did that last?
Frank Sheppard: I’m not sure how much we followed different industry segments but telecom industry was going through extreme pressure because the cost of infrastructure was dropping. In mid-1995, we started looking for other vertical segments that were suited for growth. We knew that the disbanded AT&T would have to go through a lot of reconsolidation just to make it work.