Up until about 18 months ago, iOffice Inc.'s 21 employees didn't have many internal meetings on their calendars. Now that they do, they couldn't be happier.
Since 2002, iOffice, which offers a technology platform with nine different modules to help businesses manage office and facility services, had been growing successfully by having each employee handle individual jobs that contributed to the big picture. The problem was, the big picture wasn't discussed very often. Employees came in, did their jobs well and went home.
iOffice co-owners Don Traweek and Elizabeth Dukes realized that although the company was thriving, things could be even better if they started focusing on human resources.
"Once we got to about 20 employees, we knew we needed to start thinking about an HR structure," Dukes said. "Until then, as long as everyone did their jobs, things were going well. But we got to a point where we were big enough that not everyone knew what was going on with other people and how they impacted the whole".
So Traweek and Dukes set up an employee review system, created departments and team leaders and implemented a schedule for regular depart mental and company wide meetings.
The employees loved it.
"We had heard HR grumblings, and we knew that we just needed to have everyone communicating better," Dukes Said. "It was important that we set up a review and recognition system and benchmarks for them."
While organizing iOffice into a more structured format has helped boost the company to the next level, Dukes and Traweek said they will retain the longtime perks they are able to offer as a small business - one of the favorites allows employees to bring their dogs to work every day.
All employee dogs are invited, and iOffice's loft-style office in Midtown can play host to as many as 12 canines on any given day, an option the company has offered since its inception in 2002.
"The idea was to create a space that people would like coming to visit," Traweek said. "A lot of our customers with offices downtown ask to come to meetings here - they like coming to us."
A big-company software offering from a small-company environment was exactly what Traweek and Dukes had in mind when they left their executive positions with Stamford, Conn.-based Pitney Bowers Inc. (NYSE: PBI) after experiencing corporate burnout.
They researched the software and the business model behind iOffice for nine months by reaching out to former customers and employers to assess the need for a facilities management software system.
With commitments from several customers before iOffice was even launched, Traweek and Dukes bootstrapped the company with their own savings and rolled out their technology. Its original three modules - online submittal of copy jobs, mail tracking software and asset management - now numbers nine and helped the company quickly add more clients to its roster.
The fast growth came mostly through relationships with channel partners that would sell iOffice's software to their own clients as part of their service offerings.
"We started out trying cold-calling, but recognized early on that direct sale was not going to be the avenue for rapid growth starting out," Dukes said. "We aligned ourselves with companies that had their own sales forces that rebranded our products and started selling them."
Channel partners include Tokyo-based Ricoh Global, High Touch Inc. of Wichita, Kan., and Boston-based Fox RPM Corp., among others.
And while that channel-partner model is still responsible for more than half of iOffice's business, the company began direct-marketing its software a couple of years ago.
In addition to hiring a sales and marketing team, iOffice brought on an outside marketing firm to help build a brand so the company could sell its software under its own name. That effort included website content, graphics, public relations, search engine optimization and even social media components.
At the time, iOffice made the decision to offer consulting services in addition to its software, but Dukes said the partners learned quickly that it was not the right time to start expanding away from the core business.
"Part of our strategy was to offer consulting services as an avenue to complement our software, but after venturing down that road we realized it wasn't accomplishing our objective of selling software," she said. "We got off track."
With its aim now firmly focused on software sales both internally and through channel partners, iOffice is on a fast growth clip.
That growth helped the company achieve a No. 44 ranking on the Houston Business Journal's 2011 Houston Fast 100 list of the fastest-growing private companies in the Houston area and No. 40 on the Fast Tech 50 list, as well as rankings on both the Software Development Companies and Information Technology Consultants lists.
And with several big-name clients that include Atlanta's Home Depot Inc. (NYSE: HD) and Mercer University, as well as Englewood, Colo.-based The Western Union Co., the company is poised to continue its upward trend. iOffice currently has more than 1,000 clients using its software.
"We are in the constant state of continually improving our product and rolling out upgrades," Dukes said. "We knew from the beginning that we had a very viable product and we really built everything around that."