VinSolutions sale in rearview, Watson hones in on Stackify, angel investing
Matt Watson presents Stackify June 18 during the Kauffman Foundation's Demo Day, part of One Week KC.
"I love to build things and I love to solve problems." Watson said. "I like to help users solve their problems and make their lives easier. For some reason it is just fun for me."
Watson, a long-time Kansas City, Mo. resident, launched Stackify in January to solve the frustrations developers have when dealing with application support issues. Limited access to support servers and the lack of integration and connectivity between support tools leads to a lot of wasted time and productivity; about 30 percent according to Watson's experience. Stackify is designed to solve that problem by providing developers the visibility to everything they need to support what they create.
"I wanted collaboration and better utilization of the tools." Watson said. "I started researching different tools to help my development team and realized that what I wanted didn't exist. It became clear to me that there was an opportunity to improve on what was currently available. As soon as I came up with the idea for Stackify, I couldn't stop thinking about it and my passion for it consumed me. I had to build it."
Building and selling VinSolutions
That passion for developing software that solves problems didn't begin with Stackify. In 2003, Watson co-founded what would become VinSolutions, and he eventually served as the company's CTO. VinSolutions grew out of Watson's basement and into a company with nearly $3 million in monthly revenues. It did so, Watson said, by offering car dealers the opportunity to "save money and improve their technology by replacing multiple products with our software suite."
After eight years, the company was fielding offers from private equity firms for a capital raise. But when AutoTrader.com made an offer last year to purchase the entire company for close to $150 million, VinSolutions accepted. Watson found himself living an entrepreneur's dream.
"In some ways it is like selling your baby," Watson said. "The process was actually a lot of fun. It was kind of crazy and unreal to get better and better offers every single week for the company."
Watson stayed on at AutoTrader.com for about six months to help with the transition. He moved on earlier this year to tackle new projects.
Experience in solving problems
Watson says his experiences with VinSolutions, which included scalability problems, software complexity and difficulties supporting the company's own applications, provided him with extensive experience in what it takes to support a mission critical application. "My background and specialty is in product development." he said. "So nothing is more fun for me than to create a product that solves a problem that I intimately understand.
"We (VinSolutions) were a very high-growth company that supported a very complicated software application. That combination taught me a lot about running a business and IT department. The entire basis of what our (Stackify) product does is based on that experience."
Application monitoring (above) is one of the capabilities offered by Stackify's suite of tools.
Stackify began beta testing in mid-May and plans to continue until late summer. The company is open to additional beta testers and is looking for software development teams of all sizes. With support for open source/Linux coming later this fall, Stackify is currently focusing on developers working with Microsoft .NET.
The company has eight full-time employees and plans to hire additional junior developers and salespeople later this year. Located in south Kansas City, the growing company even has time for a little fun; every Friday afternoon "Slackify" time over beers often brings out the best — and the worst — ideas from Stackify employees, Watson said.
With a unique offering aimed at solving a common problem in the software development world, Watson said Stackify has few competitors. "We haven't found any competitors focused on giving developers access to production servers and tools to do application support the way we do." he said. "We feel in order to deliver the capabilities of Stackify using existing vendor products you would need to purchase several point products and integrate them."
Investing in the region
Launched around the same time as Stackify, the Watson Technology Group was formed by Watson to support other entrepreneurs via angel investing. "We didn't get a lot of local or community support when we started VinSolutions," he said. "I want to be involved in the community to help others achieve what we achieved."
With investments so far in companies such as ABPathfinder and Zipsurance, the Watson Technology Group prefers to invest primarily in software as a service-based, B-to-B technology companies that have recurring revenue with the potential to earn more than $10 million a year in revenues. Watson used the group to invest in and launch Stackify, too.
"I have learned a lot about running and growing a business." Watson said. "I love to help other entrepreneurs as a mentor and advisor based on my experiences.
"I have been amazed at the quantity and quality of startups in the area. The Silicon Prairie is growing."