Communication-and simplicity-can be a challenge when it comes to tech talk.
"It's like the old adage, if you ask a tech guy what time it is, he'll tell you how to build a watch," said Joel Russell, president of Indianapolis-based software developer eImagine Technology Group.
But Russell works around potential "lingo" problems when he's meeting with customers. No matter the industry, he looks for ways to automate inefficient processes using computer software. His goal is to save his clients time and money-something anyone can understand.
"We are planning to diversify our offerings in the next two or three months with an activity tracker," he said, describing software that would help supervisors gauge employee productivity. "We are putting together a product to help managers manage."
Indeed, eImagine's expertise runs the gamut. In one case, a mortgage banking company asked Russell to help it electronically register its loans, a change he said saved the customer $1 million.
In addition to programming software, Russell's firm offers so-called "software as a service," a delivery model that gives customers access to programs and any necessary support. Rather than investing in firewall and other security measures, for instance, clients let eImagine handle it all. Many don't even need an IT department of their own.
Russell didn't set out to be a tech translator when he graduated from Stanford University in 1994. First, he took a job as an investment banker near Wall Street, leaving within a year to work for a startup IT firm near Chicago.
There, he taught himself how to code programs and learned how to build a business.
"From an entrepreneurial side, I learned a lot in the year and a half that I was there about how to grow a business," he said. "... I got to see it from the ground up."
He moved to Indianapolis after a couple of years, working with a local consulting group before founding eImagine in his basement in 1998. He began with $20,000 of personal savings. Contract workers helped get him started, and eventually Russell hired an outside firm to help develop a marketing strategy and business plan. A line of credit with the bank followed, as did fulltime employees.
As in any business, cash flow was an early problem. So was qualifying his customers.
"I would get a call to come and put together a proposal for an Internet site and I hadn't dug in far enough to find out if they were good prospects for what we do," Russell recalled. "Now, we take a more cautious approach."
eImagine concentrates its services in three markets: mortgage banking, logistics and government financials. Russell said the focus allows him and his team to learn more about their clients' needs and as a result they are better prepared to develop the right technology. His client list includes Chase Bank, the federal government and Carmel-based banking software maker Baker Hill.
Jeff R. Dunn, product development manager at Baker Hill, said eImagine helped his company design mortgage software that now is used in banks all over the world.
"We were pleased at how seamlessly they were able to fit into our team," Dunn said. "It was great to have a local contracting company to work with. Joel is a very easy guy to work with and has excellent followup skills."
Tony Scelzo of Indianapolis-based Rainmakers Marketing Group is equally effusive. Russell and his staff developed the networking organization's Web site and provide ongoing online support.
"We need to communicate with our members via the Web as much as possible," Scelzo said, underscoring the importance of eImagine's contribution.
Russell advises other entrepreneurs to know their limitations and ask for outside help when they need it. He also thinks it's important to take calculated risks and to not shy away from challenges.
Above all else, find-and keep-good employees.
"We've really grown as a company because we have the right people on the bus," Russell said. "We sell our service and our service is our people and it's important that we invest in them."
Joel Russell started out as an investment banker, but was drawn to technology before long. He started his own firm in 1998.