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How to start your own requirements company – Part I

In 2000, I worked for a .com during the .com boom. I left my safe, secure job with Schlumberger, the biggest oil services company at the time, to try to make my fortune in the wild wild west of internet companies. After my new company went public, the stock price kept climbing and I was a paper millionaire… for about a month. At its peak, our stock price hit $92/share. I remember suggesting to my dad that he should invest in the company. He read the 10-k and said, “No way, not based on those financials!” I loved working at the company, and the network of great people I was able to develop there. I often said that I would do the work for free and, based on the hours that I worked, I would have made more as a McDonalds employee (we actually got purchased at $6/share).

In December of 2000 (our last month of operation), I was contacted by my former employers at Schlumberger saying they wanted me to help on a cool security software project. I suggested, instead, that I form a team and start a company. I cashed out what was left of my “fortune” in stock options and started Seilevel with one of my coworkers at the .com, Neil Golding.

At that time, we wanted to be focused on developing complex custom software. Our first project was hacking into the Microsoft security layer in Windows and integrating it with some proprietary security hardware. The job was great and the team swelled to about 10 people.

Unfortunately, the recession of 2001 hit the market really hard and we didn’t have the track record or sales savvy to bring in more deals. As we chased after deals, we kept running into companies that were offering development resources at 1/5th the cost with offshore developers. Offshoring was in its infancy at the time; so we had a choice: get into offshoring or do something else.

I’m all for the free market that offshoring represents, but I didn’t want to participate in shipping American jobs offshore. So instead we looked at the entire development cycle to find a niche that most people didn’t do well, that would be hard to offshore, and that most people didn’t want to do. We looked at project management, software testing and software requirements. In the end we chose software requirements 1) because it is the most creative part of the software development process 2) no one was doing it well and 3) we felt that it would be very difficult to offshore because the business users were mostly located in the US.

In 2003 we made the switch to doing software requirements exclusively and have never looked back.

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