Sramana Mitra: We have to capture the story of how you put one foot before the other. You said you started the company right out of school. How did you get it off the ground? What was the premise of the company? What were you going to do and how did you get started?
Pierre Guelen: I started mostly out of technical interest. It was not my plan to build the company. I was a Building Engineer. I liked to consult people on buildings. It was a very technical-driven approach that I chose in the first 10 years. I had around 20 people, and we were doing all kinds of interesting technical projects. That drove me in those years. I really love designing maintenance programs for large plants. One of the biggest semiconductor factories in Netherlands was one of my customers. I worked with them to optimize the maintenance of that plant. I also did maintenance plans for the biggest Heineken brewery in Netherlands.
Sramana Mitra: Was it primarily a consulting company?
Pierre Guelen: In those days, it was.
Sramana Mitra: How long did you go in this mode of running a consulting firm?
Pierre Guelen: Around 10 years.
Sramana Mitra: What kind of revenue level did you get to with the consulting practice?
Pierre Guelen: $5 million.
Sramana Mitra: How many people did you have?
Pierre Guelen: Around 30.
Sramana Mitra: So you had 30 people doing engineering.
Pierre Guelen: Yes.
Sramana Mitra: So that brings us to 2010?
Pierre Guelen: That brings us to 1995.
Sramana Mitra: What happens next?
Pierre Guelen: We had built some software for ourselves and our customers liked it very much. They asked, “Can we have this software and can you build something more? Can you do real estate management?” I hired a number of IT people to make this software better. Suddenly everyone in the Netherlands wanted this software. It became very successful—much more successful than our engineering firm. It was not planned. It just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Sramana Mitra: What was the software?
Pierre Guelen: It was a software for facility and real estate management.
Sramana Mitra: How did you come up with the idea of the software?
Pierre Guelen: Customers asked for it, more or less. It was one of the best decisions I took in those days not to do custom build, but I immediately built a standard software so I could sell this to more than just one customer who asked for it.
Sramana Mitra: How long did it take you to develop the first version of the software?
Pierre Guelen: Half a year.
Sramana Mitra: How much investment from your earning did you put in to that software?
Pierre Guelen: I think about $500,000 total.
Sramana Mitra: This $500,000, was this money that you were putting in from your profits, or were you charging the customer who was asking for this?
Pierre Guelen: I put in my own money out of the engineering firm.
Sramana Mitra: The engineering firm financed it.
Pierre Guelen: Yes, the engineering firm was my cash cow for starting up the software company.
Sramana Mitra: Perfect. When you first delivered the software, you knew that there was a client who was asking for this product. That was going to be your first customer. How much did you charge them?
Pierre Guelen: Around $100,000.