Seeding the Transportation Market
As a practicing civil engineer, Milton knew the challenges he faced and used them as the basis for his software solution.
As Milton explains, “Having intimate knowledge of your market/industry makes it extremely easy to identify needs and hence build solutions. Even more importantly, you are fully aware of the marketing channels and what approaches work best. To everyone outside of this space, it tends to be a longer learning curve and overall a less effective process. My familiarity with the transportation engineering profession made it easy to find solutions that might succeed within this primary target market. Everything else was connected to this market or was secondary in both size and revenue volume. In addition, from a marketing perspective, my knowledge gave us a head start in this department!”
The Internet was still relatively new, however the use of computers in engineering was growing rapidly and many applications had been developed by the early to mid-1990s. So the market was fertile for Transoft’s new products.
“Three major organizations allowed us to gain early and quick entry into the markets,” recalls Milton. “The monthly journal of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) was key, along with McTrans, and PcTrans – the latter two were setup as technology transfer facilities by the US federal government. All three channels, at the time, were the most sourced by transportation engineers for their technology needs. So having researched this ahead of time, I decided to advertise and, in the latter two, utilize their sales services. This trilogy of marketing powerhouses gave us huge penetration – you would have had to be blind to miss our ad presence!”
The results were mind blowing. Demo requests came pouring in and one out every three demo downloads (actually in those days the software was shipped by post on a 5.25” and later 3.5” diskettes) turned into a sale.
While things were going well during his first few years in Vancouver, Milton kept his job with the small engineering company and worked on Transoft ideas in his spare time. However, by 1994 with some serious momentum behind him, he took the plunge with Transoft.
“Three factors led to me quitting my engineering job,” says Milton. “The first was the fact that by 1994 (our third year of operation) we had developed two other products – GuidSIGN, and AutoTURN Aircraft for airports – both of which were showing promising signs. I was already earning two to three times my engineering salary and finally, I was convinced that if I focused myself 100% in the business I could double revenues and income in a few years.”
Like any venture with minimal resources, the most important short term objective is to go for low hanging fruit. In the case of Transoft, the transportation departments for state and provincial governments were the logical stepping stone. “If you can find low hanging influencers that are also acquirers, you have the perfect business start – quick market penetration, good cash flow and referral marketing,” says Milton. “So it made sense for us to focus on the American Departments of Transportation (DOTs) early. DOT CAD managers tend to build relationships with each other at conferences such as IHEEP and freely share technology information. Product quality and service are king and word of mouth is the best form of marketing, so landing a few influential DOTs was a high priority. DOTs have no competitive axes to grind, so they are quick to recommend products to their consultants as well – it works like magic every time,” he added.
Within 5 years of launch, Transoft had just over 70 % of the DOTs and Canadian provincial ministries of transportation as AutoTURN customers. By 2000, Transoft’s products, namely AutoTURN and GuidSIGN, were adopted by 85% of this important customer segment.
One of Milton’s strengths as an entrepreneur was his networking skills. From the very beginning, he and his wife Val were actively involved in talking to customers and building relationships.
“A strength at Transoft, which is still a major foundation of its success, is relationship-building and customer services,” says Milton. “Despite the fact that we already had several thousand users within a few short years, between Val and I, we knew many of our customers well. We engaged them in general discussion and developed a professional and quality relationship. To this day, I can remember or recognize many of the key decision-makers by name, and many have remained friends that I can bounce ideas off or call on them to assist at any time!”
In the next installment of “Our Story”, we’ll talk about a vision for the company. What did Milton have in mind when Transoft was in its infancy?