Sramana Mitra: What year was that?
Dave Copps: That must have been 1997 or 1998. I founded my first company in 1999. I literally found a scientist, and we started writing algorithms. We were using Matlab. It didn’t scale. We went down a few paths. We failed and start over, failed and start over, and failed and start over. Then we found an algorithm that started to do some learning. We were able to ingest, at that point, a couple of hundred or a few hundred documents and have the system learn from them and build it into a search engine. We built a semantic search engine basically. That company grew from about 1999 till about 2006 when we sold it to Marx McLennan.
Sramana Mitra: Did you bootstrap that company?
Dave Copps: We did in the early days. I bootstrapped it with the money that I had made from consulting. Before I had the idea for the company, I was consulting with companies like KPMG. We brought about $100,000 into the business to start it. A year later or so, we did a friends and family round of about $1.5 million. That’s what got the company serious. We were able to bring in more and more clients.
Sramana Mitra: What you were providing in that company was consulting, or was there a product involved?
Dave Copps: We were all products at that point. We used the consulting money to start the software company, but we were all software.
Sramana Mitra: What was the product?
Dave Copps: It’s called Engenium. It’s a semantic search company. We built a semantic search engine basically that had the ability to read documents and build a brain. We were out there competing against big companies. We had great success. We ended up getting into the government. CIA and FBI were using our software. We became the default search engine for the US government. That was our big break. That was our first million plus deal.
That’s when 9/11 hit. I was actually up in DC at a trade show on stage when 9/11 hit. I’m in front of 400 people talking and this guy walks out on stage and says, “You totally want to go to the booth.” We all went to our booth in shock. My wife went into labor that day. I grabbed one of my employees and we drove 26 hours straight back to Dallas, Texas. That was a strange time.
Sramana Mita: You were selling the semantic search engine to large enterprises and government clients. Did you raise money for this company or was it all organically developed?
Dave Copps: Initially, it was organically developed. We bootstrapped for the first couple of years. After that, we did get investor money. I raised a total of about $3 million. It was largely bootstrapped. We never took more money than we needed. I think that’s something that’s been part of who I am.
Sramana Mitra: That’s a very good idea.