Rik and his team had to navigate a long journey, including a recession that disrupted one of their key customer segments dramatically. Read how they survived.
Sramana: Rik, let’s start with the beginning of your story. Where are you from? Where were you raised? What kind of circumstances? Give us some of the back story.
Rik Chomko: I was born in the Chicago land suburbs and grew up there. My dad introduced me to computers at a very early age, which was way back in the 70’s, mostly because that’s what he did for a living. He’s one of the first people, I think, that jumped on to the information technology bandwagon. He would bring home phone systems and couplers so that we were able to link into the VAC system or the mainframe system running at his company. I had a twin brother and we used to just get up there and play games. We thought it was the neatest thing in the world, and that kind of got me started. As I grew up, I did other things but computers have always been a core interest and one of those things that I would like to sit down and play with.
After some time, my dad started his own software company. It was during the early days of the Apple II PC and his goal was to create a database system for Apple II. He was successful with it but this was probably my first entrepreneurial lesson, which was that he may have picked the wrong platform. As you know, back in those days, the IBM PC ended up taking off in the business world and the Apple II was kind of relegated more to the education space and it seems he sort of missed that platform play. He had a hard time recovering and getting to the software that could be re-written for the Apple II or the IBM PC.
It certainly was tough because he ended up being a competitor at one point to dBASE and R:BASE, which were popular database platforms at the time. He, however, got out of that business and during that time, we actually helped him write part of his product.
So not only was I getting exposed to the entrepreneurial space, but I also got into programming at a very young age. My first program was pretty simple. I wrote the tutorial for the product, which was more of an automated tutorial and it got me excited about the potential and power of computing.
Then, I went on to finish high school and was about to study Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois. However, at some point I decided against it as the electrical engineering side of it wasn’t that interesting to me. I got a degree in English and that really opened up my mind to a lot of different concepts and thoughts. It’s almost like getting a philosophy degree.
After graduating, I got a job programming at BlueCross BlueShield in Illinois. I was a part of the Technical Architecture team and learned about IT. Then, I shifted to a consulting firm with my current business partner Loren Goodman. He had started this business and there were about six people in the company when I joined. He was on the verge of landing a large deal with a large healthcare service provider. So, he brought me in to help him with that. We grew the services company to about 40 people. We also realized that a lot of the applications we were building were very configurable and even non-technical people could change the behavior of the applications without any developer involvement. We felt like we’re on to something but then like a lot of people got caught in the 2002 dot-com crash. So when we were shutting down the services company, we decided it was time to start this real engine company.