by Mike Vogel
Updated 5 yearss ago
Notable investors: Retired Harvard Graduate School of Business professor James Cash, a member of the board of directors of GE and Microsoft, and Bruce Johnstone, chief investment officer of Fidelity Investments.
Harvard MBA Harold Mills came to Florida in 2000 to lead a startup staffing outfit that had little more than a concept and one customer. Six years later, his ZeroChaos -- he took control in a 2004 management buyout -- has $360 million in gross revenue, a spot on Inc.'s fastest-growing company list and is one of Florida's largest black-owned businesses.
ZeroChaos focuses on the high end for staffing companies -- the contract-worker market for knowledge workers, primarily information technology. Its 5,000 employees (1,100 are in Florida) work for IBM, Bank of America and others. ZeroChaos opened in Denmark, Canada and the United Kingdom last year, and Mills expects to open in three or four other countries this year.
Mills began his career with big companies such as GE and AT&T, but "I was always trying to find my way to those new, exciting projects they had going on." As a general manager, he worked with staffing companies, and that led him into executive posts at staffing and human resource outsourcing companies.
At ZeroChaos, he sees plenty of competitive strengths. Never having worked in the lower-margin, blue-collar market, ZeroChaos doesn't have the expense of multiple-branch overhead and blue-collar headaches such as lower fees and high turnover. He can bid lower without his margins suffering because his overhead is lower. And ZeroChaos, through technology, builds private talent pools for particular employer customers to tap as needed.
He says he has a list of 300,000 people willing to work for EDS. He taps corporate alumni to fill contract labor work. With IT unemployment under 4%, "the talent wars are back," Mills, 37, says. "It becomes about who has the relationship with the talent before the job becomes open."
Deterring Computer Abuse
It's easy to see when Doug Fowler's startup software company launched toward the big time. Fowler was working in obscurity making software that allowed companies to monitor their employees' internet use and parents to track their children's online activities. Then in 2000, Fowler's new PR hire, Kasey Sellati, the company's fifth employee, landed the company in an article in the New York Times about people using software to nab adulterous spouses. "It essentially doubled our sales overnight," Fowler says. That led to other newspaper and magazine articles and network news. Since then, SpectorSoft twice has made the Inc. 500.
A New Englander and programmer, Fowler got the idea for SpectorSoft after following friends to Vero Beach in 1993 to work in software. He noticed how easily people were distracted by the internet. Convinced site-blocking filters were too crude to be the answer, he founded SpectorSoft in 1998 as a sort of "VCR for the PC." SpectorSoft software can allow a company or parent to take snapshots at designated intervals of what a computer-user is viewing and can record chat, e-mail and MySpace activity. Its presence serves as a deterrent to abuse, he says. Sales last year hit $13 million, a 33.34% increase.
Though it brought fame, Fowler no longer touts SpectorSoft's utility for wronged spouses. He had testimonials about that use stripped from the website. He believes in employers' rights to monitor company computers and in parents' rights to watch over their children. Spying on spouses is far murkier. He asks customers to inform employees or children of the monitoring. Suspicious spouses probably don't. "We abandoned that market a couple years ago," Fowler says. "It's messy. It's not the reason we created the product, and it's not the reason we founded the company."
When not yet 10, young sailor Baird Lobree would set out upon the waters alone -- a challenging thing for a youngster to do, knowing that getting back depended on his ability to work the wind and boat. Making it back, he says, built confidence.
Lobree, 44, sees similarities in business and sailing. Formerly with Arthur Andersen/Accenture and Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, Lobree in 1997 co-founded Auxis, a project-oriented management and IT consulting firm. Middle-market companies are focusing on boosting margins by managing costs better, using outside advisers to run IT and improving the supply chain, Lobree says. Companies are "definitely being much more conscious of returns and going into the details of exactly what they're going to get out of a certain investment," Lobree says.
President, Fort Lauderdale
Bachelor's: Finance and marketing, NYU, 1983
Maurice Heiblum, a grad of Beach High on Miami Beach, started in computers by selling PCs at an IBM retail store while at New York University. He came back to Florida in marketing for IBM in Boca Raton. After founding a dot-com era company and building a software division at another company, he joined Elluminate in 2001 to run its Fort Lauderdale-based global marketing and distribution. Founded by Canadians Nashir Samanani and Mike Mabey, Elluminate makes web conferencing software used by schools and universities in distance learning. This isn't just a video-cam and broadband. Teachers and students separated by thousands of miles can together write on the same digital whiteboard. Students can take turns presenting projects to their scattered classmates, visit with the teacher for virtual office hours and so on. Duke University is among its 500 customers. Clients from higher education comprise 65% of its customer base. The private, 80-employee company says it is profitable and enjoying double-digit annual revenue growth. "Education turned out to be a fantastic niche for us," says Heiblum, 45.
CEO and co-founder Gary Langton and his Quadrant Software, Tampa, plan to hire 26 people in the next three years in Florida to add to the 14 here and 60 it has elsewhere. Quadrant specializes in document management software for its 3,500 customers worldwide. Langton, 47, has an MBA in management information systems from SUNY at Albany and advises several tech startups on raising funds, marketing on a limited budget and other nuances of building a company. Langton relocated from Massachusetts in 2005.