Transoft Heads to the Land Down Under
From the small offices in Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver, Transoft Solutions began stretching their wings. In the early days of Transoft, there were limited resources to pursue business ideas. Initially, the company placed ads in some of the influential engineering publications and as mentioned in an earlier blog, the orders began coming through the fax machine at a steady clip. Even when it came to growing the business and expanding into other countries, working smartly within limited resources was a given.
Where the company should expand was a logical question. Taking existing technologies to new geographical markets seemed like the best thing to do versus entering new vertical markets. So questions like ‘Where do they speak English?’, ‘Where are the low hanging fruit?’ and ‘Where does our competition have a strong presence?’ were some of the parameters that framed the expansion plans. Australia was one country where the answers to these questions returned a positive response. Through both coincidence and a professional connection, Milton turned a professional relationship into a successful business relationship that led to Transoft’s dominance of the vehicle swept path market in Australia.
Milton met John Gill in Calgary in 1977 after joining UMA Engineering, soon after moving from Toronto. John was an Australian who had completed his Master’s degree in transportation engineering at the University of Alberta. They worked together on a few engineering projects in Calgary and then went their separate ways. When Milton moved to Vancouver to join a small engineering firm, he reconnected with John and brought him to work with him. Unfortunately, engineering projects were drying up in British Columbia due to a change in government. Their paths would cross again soon enough though.
“I can only imagine that Australia was attractive because Milton had a ready-made contact in Australia, namely me,” recalled John. “Also the Australian engineering scene is structured very similarly to the engineering scene in Canada with large Federal, State and Local Governments and a myriad of various sized consulting engineering companies. Being English speaking also made it a relatively easy market to enter. Australian engineers have always been eager to take up new technology and software,” he continued.
John remembers Milton working long days at the engineering company and then working on his thesis at night. “I remember at the time Milton was frantically trying to finish his thesis but would not say too much about it,” said John. “I just know he was keen to complete it ASAP. Now we know why. It is probably one of the few thesis papers ever written that has been used as the basis for starting a successful business.”
Over 20 years later, Transoft is still a successful business due in large part to creating an elegant solution to a common problem for engineers. It was taking a formerly manual process and injecting technology to deliver accurate results that engineers could trust.
“When John returned to Australia, I asked John if he would like to do some marketing for us. I wanted to give John the opportunity to earn a living while he looked for a job. As it turned out John got a job relatively quickly with a government agency and worked for us after hours.” said Milton. “John worked long hours but enjoyed every minute of it. We got him a fax machine and a phone line and told him that we would do the marketing - all he had to do was take requests for orders for AutoTURN. To our amazement, similar to what was happening here, the orders started flowing in fairly easily. We connected over the phone often speaking to each other until the late at night.”
Milton made a few significant sales to VicRoads in Victoria and the NSW (New South Wales) Roads and Traffic Authority,” recalled John. “I had contacts into local government which were a catalyst for the consultants to purchase the software. I still remember the early days when I was selling maybe one or two copies a week and then one day I got an order from the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority for about 10+ licenses at a cost of over $25,000 – that convinced me Milton was on a winner.”
“The advantage of programs like AutoTURN was that you could check the turning paths directly within AutoCAD,” said John. “Before it was necessary to print the drawing in hard copy and then use the plastic turning templates to check the turning paths. It was like going from 7-figure log tables to a scientific calculator,” he remembers fondly.
AutoTURN was engineered to be easy to use from the very first version and the software automated a time-consuming process that all transportation engineers could relate to. The tipping point for AutoTURN’s success in Australia was Austroads using the software to develop the nation’s vehicle turning templates. This defacto endorsement set the stage for other states and territories to adopt the software because of the trust they placed in its accuracy.
We’ll hear more from John Gill and Peter McIntyre and the influence of Austroads for Transoft in Australia in the next installment below.