STEP Software celebrates 18 years – and looks to the future
RESET THE CLOCK
If we’re being really nitpicky – we’re developers, so we pretty much are – STEP Software’s history actually goes back 20 years, to 2003. That’s when our co-founder, Jim Freeman, developed an RSS reader and registered the overcow.com domain.
Why Overcow? Because it was the era of snappy, memorable, unconventional tech products and company names. And Jim wanted to pay homage to legendary Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson, who loved speaking about cows almost as much as he did. If Larson saw his other characters as being the bosses of the cows, then Jim thought it made sense for us to follow suit.
According to Jim, by March 2005 we had looked around the business landscape, and we didn’t like what we saw.
“We were frustrated with how poorly technology companies made decisions that were short-term and strictly financial in nature,” Jim says. “They weren’t taking into account the technical ramifications of business decisions – or any of the long-term costs.
“So we set out to build a tech company that was going to be run by tech people,” he adds. “It was an entirely new mindset.”
So Overcow.com-the-placeholder-website became Overcow.com, the company, Our goal was to develop a product that we’d been noodling around in our heads for a while. Like all idealistic developers, we had come to the conclusion that it would solve a number of vexing problems that existing offerings at the time simply did not.
The problem? It takes years to develop a new product or platform. But as a new company we were not overly cash flush, and we couldn’t wait years to start bringing in revenue. Our offices – in a non-descript medical building just downwind from a fast food joint – may not have been fancy, but somehow the bills needed to be paid.
CUTTING COSTS – AND CAPABILITY
We turned to custom software development and started working on projects for a range of clients. By 2008, we outgrew our first office, found a new space a few blocks away, and started hiring our first employees. The office smelled vaguely of mold, but it gave us the space we needed to stretch our developer wings.
We rebranded as STEP Networks, but marketing admittedly wasn’t really our strong suit. One of our employees used web searches and an old-style phone book to cold-call prospective clients. Jim was involved in every new opportunity – and for good reason: he’s always had the supernatural ability to convince people what we were capable of, give them confidence that we could get the job done, and sound totally approachable in the process.
We designed sophisticated software that transformed businesses – including a vehicle configuration platform that a major OEM with 4,000 developers on-staff hadn’t been able to pull off. We delivered it sooner than they expected, and in doing so cemented our reputation as trusted experts who could develop elegant, fast, and secure software that solved the most complex business challenges.
Soon after we took over the new office, a major construction firm approached us for help with an aggressively timed project. Another development house was already working on it but was unable to hit the timelines mandated by the client. We jumped in with both feet and worked around the clock for three months to deliver a robust software solution that did what we promised it would and solved their business problem.
This early win set the stage for a relationship that continues to this day.
A separate project to manage geospatial data underscored our ability to solve previously unsolvable problems. A client with a requirement to process a massive amount of geospatial data asked us to help with reducing the processing time. Before approaching us, they had already begun processing the data. One month in, they realized it would take at least another three months to complete. Unfortunately for them, they needed the results sooner than that to secure a multi-million-dollar contract.
We spent approximately 30 hours to write the code, then processed the remaining data in 20 minutes. Needless to say, they got the contract.
Another early project illustrated our knack for solving challenges and creating code that mattered. It was a fairly small engagement, but it resulted in software that helped kids overcome their stutter. Nothing small about that.
A UNIQUE APPROACH TO DEVELOPMENT
Throughout our history, we’ve recognized that great software development skills are just the beginning. Co-founder Rob Nijkamp says culture is crucial to ensuring the right skills can be brought to bear no matter the project or the opportunity.
“We spend a lot of effort on hiring, coaching, and mentoring,” says Rob. “Knowledge transfer is critical, and we take the time to first select the best of the best, then work closely with them, constantly, to refine their skills and help them grow as developers. Our people have always been our power.”
From our earliest hires, we’ve built a strong competency around talent recruitment and retention and believe passionately that this is what has set us apart all along.
THE AWARDS PILE UP
By 2011, we were making inroads in a number of sectors, including financial services. A major insurance company needed a new platform to provide online broker support. We worked closely with their team to assess their needs and conduct a detailed code review and independent audit. The result: two solutions that managed insurance quotations and online binding and went on to capture the CSIO Annual Achievement Award and the IASA Technology Innovation Award.
This experience led us to develop our first two signature products for the insurance industry, STEP Insure and STEP Forms. Both were gamechangers, as they worked with existing rating engines and allowed brokers to quote and bind online – a significant improvement over previous manual workflows.
By 2012, we had outgrown our offices – and the mold – so it was time to move again. We stuck within the same general neighborhood, but this time we took our team above-ground.
Our project count continued to increase, as did the complexity and variety of our client base. By 2017, we had opened an office in India to leverage the region’s emerging development talent and allow us to scale both development and maintenance efforts. A year later, we formalized our sales and marketing capabilities by bringing on a marketing director. Soon afterward, we rebranded as STEP Software, launched our blog, and introduced Quinn, our code-savvy mascot, who embodies our mantra of being bold, clever, and creative.
When our headcount topped 20 in 2019, it was time to move, again, to our current offices. Not long after we settled in, the pandemic hit and forced us to shift to full-on remote work. Behind the scenes, we made three key hires to further strengthen our capabilities:
- 2020 – our new Director of Client Engagement joined us with a mission to formalize our sales and client operations.
- 2021 – we welcomed our Director of HR who formalized our human resources processes and established our structured mentoring program.
- 2022 – our Director of Communications came on-board to build out a structured communication strategy focused on defining our voice and expanding our reach.
As we move through 2023, we continue to provide industry-leading custom software development to our customers. At the same time, we’re returning to our roots somewhat with a renewed focus on developing our soon-to-be-launched patented middleware technology.
We’ll be sharing more details on this exciting new chapter in the near future, but suffice to say we’re thankful to our customers and employees for supporting us throughout our history and ensuring we were able to reach our 18th birthday. We’re just as thankfully looking forward to many important milestones, as well.
With files from Leanne Tillaart.