~by Paul Harris, Marketing Coordinator
Sean Myers openly admits he has never viewed his company as a startup. However, as Sean approaches his 10th year in business with co-founder Will Mitchell, their company, NBT Solutions, portrays everything you would expect from a typical startup. The NBT team is small, agile, on the cutting edge of technology and really smart. His developers are doing things differently and Sean likes it that way!
In this exclusive interview, Sean spoke with me to discuss the past, present, and future of the GIS mapping world. We talked fiber and broadband access and he offers his insight on how his VETRO FiberMap product will help solve some of the internet service provider industry’s top priorities and challenges. Enjoy!
Why do you call Buffalo, NY home?
Sean: I grew up in Rochester, NY, but my Father and Mother’s family are all from Buffalo. It was never my intention to live in Buffalo when I graduated with my Masters degree from the University of New Hampshire.
I was offered a job in Buffalo with a company called Ecology Environment and I took it. I worked with them for about seven years. I started their GIS department, During my time there I met a woman who is now my wife.
After that position, I had a desire to get back to New England so we moved to Portland, ME in 1999. This is when I met Will Mitchell (Co-Founder of VETRO FiberMap).
What were your first impressions of Will?
Sean: Will had just moved back to Portland, ME himself. We met through different GIS organizations in Maine. We formed a bond quickly, both personally and professionally.
Then Buffalo called your name again?
Sean: Yes, home started calling so I went back to Buffalo in 2007. I remember being startled by how much Buffalo had changed.
Sean: In 2007, Buffalo was in a renaissance period. More young people wanted to live here and it had a growing business startup culture. At the time, I was still working remotely for another company. That’s when I started having conversations with Will about going off on our own together.
How did Will react to that idea?
Sean: I think Will was looking to expand his own business. He knew he needed to be more than just a one-person shop. We brought in a couple more people and we just got going from there. NBT Solutions got off on a slow start, but we hooked a couple of clients and kept on pushing forward from there. Over the period of four to five years, we grew into a million dollar business. It was really successful, in my opinion.
Is it hard co-owning a company with a New England Patriots fan?
Sean: (laughs) The Patriots were terrible for years! I used to feel sorry for Patriots fans when the Bills were making 4 Super Bowl appearances in a row. Of course things have changed. I can’t begin to explain to you the anxiety I feel when the Patriots are in town. It’s no coincidence that the Brady/Belicheck tenure corresponds with the Bill’s 17 year playoff drought.
If I worked with anyone other than Will, I couldn’t deal with it. We find a way to co-exist.
(Haha) Let’s get back on track. I’m sure the first years were hard.
Sean: In the beginning, I wasn’t getting any work out of Buffalo. So I began hanging out with its growing startup community. I made friends with some great folks, many of which are very successful today. But at that time, they were just a bunch of people not too far removed from school. They all had great ideas and ambitions.
The startup culture in Buffalo really influenced my thinking about building a product-based company as opposed to a professional services one. That’s when the idea of VETRO FiberMap became a reality. I knew we needed a product, not just one-off client work. Buffalo’s startup culture was one of the reasons we sell a platform today.
You’ve had a long term career in GIS mapping. What do you like so much about maps?
Sean: My background is in environmental science. By virtue of that background, GIS was the natural tool fit. I had this professor, who originally introduced me to GIS. He got me into it. Using maps and computers to solve environmental problems was very interesting to me.
Google Maps launched in 2005, since then the mapping industry has really blown up.
Sean: Google really enabled a consumer side of GIS that never really existed. The idea that you can type an address into Google Earth and Google Maps and have it pinpoint that location on a map was very exciting. It opened up a ton of possibilities. APIs were also available, so suddenly you’re seeing random and ad-hoc maps. It made everything easier to do.
What’s been the most exciting growth period of the company for you?
Sean: For years we were a professional services company. I always wanted to be something more. Building VETRO FiberMap is when things got really exciting for me. Taking risks are scary and exciting at the same time. If you’re going to start a company, you have to take some real risks to see rewards. I think we are doing that.
Let’s talk VETRO Fibermap. It’s available but still in a really active development stage. Do you see a day where VETRO FiberMap will ever be fully-complete?
Sean: Two weeks ago we had this conversation with a customer. They said “We love the platform, we understand you have roadmap and have more to do. You’re at a strategic advantage because the industry is in a large change period.” So the short answers is no, I don’t think development will plateau. The velocity will decrease but we’ll always be developing more features to reflect the needs of our clients.
Will VETRO increase competition in the market?
Sean: Well, I hope so. I’ve met a lot of people who own small ISPs and I’m always amazed by their enthusiasm for what they are doing. They are all commitment to providing broadband at a reasonable speed. It’s like they are on a mission. These folks are competing with big companies so they have to be very smart and efficient. VETRO helps them do that.
If an ISP adopts VETRO can you give specific examples of how things will trickle down to the actual customer and the service they receive?
Sean: It’s the classic joke about ISP customer service. “We’ll send somebody to your home between 8am-4pm.” Ugh..come on!
Imagine a world where you just call an ISP to order internet and (in 30 mins or less) you have it. Bam, that simple!
How does that happen?
Sean: VETRO has a critical role here because it provides the map-based considerations for an ISP. How far is the customer from a major node that has capacity? What Point of Presence (PoP) is the closest one that can provide the service they are requesting? In a world where this is being automated, the ISP is more efficient and the customer is happier. That’s on-demand services. The industry is moving towards that.
What do you spend most of your time doing at the office these days?
Sean: One of our board members said it well. He said, “focus on sales and product. You should spend 50% of your time on product and 50% of your time on sales.” To me, that makes total sense. It’s what I strive to do.
What are you most proud of in your professional career?
Sean: I understand GIS and the way it’s alway been done. By creating this company, a GIS company that focuses on open source, we’ve tapped into a desire to do things differently. We hired a team of eager people who are excited to do things differently. We give them an opportunity to take raw programming and cartography skills and apply them in a open source environment. That’s what I’m proud of.