A conversation with Jim Wieland, JW Software
Started on January 2, 1989 in the basement of President’s Jim Wieland basement, JW Software has grown into a nationally recognized Claims Administration and RMIS Software Partner that continues to grow both in sales and staff. Jim, who had been working in the software industry for several years until starting JW Software, took time recently to speak with Software Business Growth about what it takes to be in business more than 30 years, challenges facing the industry today, and more.
Q: What is the key to running a software business for 30 years?
Wieland: You have to keep up with the fast pace changes in technology and have a complete understanding of all aspects of the product life cycle. Additionally, you have to understand that every one of your employees is what makes you successful and treat them as such.
Q: What advice do you have for other software companies who are serving a niche market such as independent insurance agencies?
Wieland: Having a robust product is very important, but solving your customers issues quickly and effectively is number one.
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing JW software today and how are you addressing those challenges?
Wieland: Recruiting talented people is the number one challenge for us. I'm sure each and every vertical software company would say the same — there just aren’t enough qualified people to fill all the jobs in the technology industry. America needs more concentrated, fast-track tech schools for those looking for a career change or individuals right out of high school who want to get into the IT field without having to go to a four-year university. If you have talent, you will not be on the sidelines very long.
Q: What advice do you have for custom application development companies thinking of transitioning to a stand-alone software company?
Wieland: You need to create a product in a niche where you have a strong working knowledge of the industry. Evaluate the market needs of one or more of the custom applications you develop. See if there is a niche market you can create a standard product from and replicate it. Before starting a custom application, make sure to negotiate ownership where you maintain all right, title and interest in the developed product.
Q: How has JW Software been able to finance its continued growth over 30 years?
Wieland: JW Software has never raised any outside capital. Of course, in doing so, our growth has been limited and steady. It is very important not to expand too quickly in a Vertical Market. To survive for 30 years, you must provide superior customer support. Both product knowledge and a strong working knowledge of the industry you serve is critical. You must be patient and take the time necessary to provide thorough detailed training to your support staff. The farther you move away (hierarchically) from the “Brain Trust” the less effective your staff is. It takes about 12 months for a JW Software support person to have the skills we feel is necessary to handle accounts without assistance. The average tenure at JW Software is more than 10 years.
Q: Two of your first developer hires are still with the company today. What's the secret to retaining developers in such a competitive marketplace for software engineers?
Wieland: It is important to understand what people are looking for. Certainly, money and health benefits are at the top. We try to pay people above market value. Of course, money is not everything. A fun work environment, casual dress code, freedom to come and go when necessary to take care of your family. The company is loyal to its employees. If you have a problem or need help, the company is there for its employees to assist them where possible. As stated above, there is a huge investment in getting people up to speed. Turnover is not an option.
Q: What do you wish you had known when you founded (or early on in your time at) JW Software?
Wieland: I wish I had known more about the Industry I was writing software for. We have a very comprehensive product derived from our clients, but it would have made it easier in the beginning had I had more experience in the Insurance field.