Droege Software facts; www.localtechwire.com/article.cfm?u=3289&k=14&l=04 In a tough economic climate when custom software developers are disappearing at a rapid rate, Droege Computing of Durham keeps on growing.

Droege, which is owned by Tom Droege and employs 10 people, reported more than $1 million in revenues for 2002 and recently reported it is profitable.

How has he managed that? By focusing on customer service and operating conservatively, he says.

Droege founded the company and has been its president since 1985. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois with a BS in engineering, and he has a strong background in network and Internet applications development. Droege also sponsored an international software competition from 1991 to 1999, and he helped launch the North Carolina Electronics and Information Technology Association (NCEITA).

His primary focus now is the company. His motives for going into business for himself were quite simple, he says. To be his own boss and to increase his earning potential.

Here is the first of a two-part Q&A with Droege:

A recent Forrester survey said 50 percent of custom software developers are going to go out of business. How do you plan to buck the trend?

We intend to continue to meet our clients’ needs in a timely and cost effective manner, to maintain our focus on providing excellent customer service, and to continue to operate conservatively, avoiding expansion unless the opportunities available warrant it.

To what factors do you attribute your company’s ability to grow revenues by 24 percent in a difficult year?

Customer support: We continue to focus on providing excellent customer service and constantly strive to exceed our clients’ expectations by providing cost effective development solutions in a timely manner. Any number of software companies can develop good software, but we feel it is the support of those systems after the fact that differentiates us from those other companies. Our commitment to solving a client’s problems has been rewarded by loyal clients who have remained with us for many years and others who have hired us again even when they have gone on to jobs with other firms.

Experience: We have always hired only senior developers who have the experience to quickly become productive members of our team. More than half of our developers have owned their own businesses prior to joining Droege, so they understand not only the development side of their projects, but also the business aspects of the applications they are developing and the need for cost effective solutions as well.

Streamlined management: In recent years, we have given our developers full project management responsibility for their own projects. In this way, no developer is managing a project on which he is not also working. We find this a more efficient approach to development.

Integrity: Early on we determined that we would run our business “by the book”, that book being the Bible. Consequently, “Services” is part of our name not only because we provide services, but also because we serve. To us, “by the book” means staying out of debt, being honest, treating customers and employees fairly, keeping work’s priorities behind those of God and family, and much more. We feel our success today and through the years has been due, in large part, to our belief in this credo.

Your revenues are up 64 percent from two years ago, again despite a tough economic climate. How have you positioned the company to capitalize on opportunities as they appear?

We have continued to expand and further develop the internal development tools we use to meet our clients’ requirements. Using a mature, stable tool set allows us to tackle larger projects more efficiently and cost effectively.

We have also continued to focus our marketing efforts on industries (healthcare, auction, staffing, and more) whose growth has been either unaffected or less affected by the recent difficult economic climate.

What are the specific areas of expertise for your company and software developers?

We focus on custom business database applications using primarily Microsoft development tools and Cold Fusion.

Additionally, we have staff with a number of highly sought after network administration certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, Novell and others.

What trend(s) do you see in companies needing custom software applications? Please explain.

While this may or may not be viewed as a trend, anecdotally, we do see companies like Sotheby’s, the world-renowned auction house, making the decision to shut down its mainframe computing operations in favor of having their individual departments go to desktop applications. This has turned out to be a tremendous boon for us in that we have secured a large contract with Sotheby’s Wine Department because we had already developed the only desktop wine auction application on the market. We will be customizing that application to meet Sotheby’s unique requirements.

You recently expanded to offer additional network administration services and added additional staff. What led to your decision to offer and then expand this service?

In part, we were already doing network consulting with some of our clients as the need presented itself. We are also now using this avenue to establish a presence within companies who might not have a current need for software development, but who might later. When adding staff we looked for more formalized skills in this area, along with development skills, and found them. We now offer help in designing, building and troubleshooting PC networks, setting up Web servers and VPNs, upgrading network operating systems, and can bring in resources to help do cabling if needed. We can do remote diagnostics in many instances, but do not operate an independent data center.

Coming Wednesday: Droege talks about sales and offers advice to other entrepreneurs.