Founders Murray Brack, Ed Chow, and Ed VanWieren reflect on SeisWare’s evolution from an idea to today’s company. From technology to company culture, a lot has changed but SeisWare’s core focus on user-friendly software and customer support has been a constant.
25 years is a long time to be in business. Thankfully, SeisWare is still going strong after all these years. The business has seen cultural shifts, endured economic crises, and a global pandemic. Through all this, SeisWare has remained committed to its vision of great software and great support, and more recently great culture.
SeisWare got its start in 1996 with the formation of Zokero Inc, a software company with a mission to create user-friendly windows-based software. “Having written [seismic software] before, we knew what to do differently than the first time in terms of software design and the minimal requirements,” explains Ed VanWieren, Founder and Project Manager at SeisWare. “PCs were up and coming and, having a strong Unix background, I felt it would behoove us to become PC programmers at that time. So, we wanted to learn the system – and that was sort of the original reason for writing SeisWare (the software).”
Blue Castle, a company intent on providing quality tech support, was formed the following year. “We all worked together at Photon. They were purchased by a US-based company. I think that was the start of some major changes and cultural shifts,” explains Murray Brack, Founder and CEO.
“I just really felt like it was not an environment where people really cared about whether someone grew or got better. It was just all about the bottom line. So that was my big driver for wanting to start something,” adds Ed Chow, Founder and VP Business Development.
In 1998, Zokero’s software (SeisWare v1.0) was released and supported by Blue Castle. It wasn’t until 2009 that the companies officially merged to form SeisWare, the company.
Like many tech companies, the early days of development took place in Ed V’s basement.
“The home I was in at the time had a basement with two windows. My actual working space wasn’t by those windows. I got to see a concrete wall. Ants down there as well,” Ed V describes.
“He’s making it sound a lot worse than it was,” jokes Murray, “it was a terrible place. But the positive was that you never knew the time of day so we could keep him down there.”
The first people to see a demo of SeisWare came to visit that basement. Ed V explains, “I had them demo. I did not do it myself. I said, ‘you know, I think the software is easy enough to use. You do it’.” That was the first step in producing collaborative, user-friendly software.
Having a product is one thing, but getting people to use it is quite another. As an incentive to get clients involved in the development to improve the product, SeisWare began charging an annual fee. The first year, sales were limited to 10 seats. “We didn’t do that until we had what we thought was Version One. Version Two was the one that we thought was the sellable product,” explains Ed V.
“Chuck Curtis was our first paying customer. Darren Kondrat came on after that through a giveaway at our booth at the GeoConvention (so he won a license). And then Amer Haque… He dogged us for years because I just wouldn’t give him a plaque that said he was our first multi-license client. So, I finally gave him a plaque about three years ago,” says Murray, smiling.
As sales of Zokero’s software grew, Blue Castle’s role in supporting it became increasingly important. The two companies were a natural fit. As Ed C explains, “[I wanted] to work with a software company that I thought was committed to the product because we were committed to support.”
Murray agrees. “If you’ve ever had mediocre or poor support, it’s never a pleasant experience. It doesn’t ingrain you to a company. We wanted Geoscientists helping Geoscientists. And so, we just wanted to build something where the support people felt valued, and our users felt valued. They mattered. Their problems mattered.”
“And we wanted existing users to be just as valuable as new sales,” adds Ed.
Learning from their experience in software support, Murray and Ed C’s goal was to have the support team integrated with the entire company, so that they could leverage developers and emerging roles, like product owners. Problem solving was approached from a team perspective.
If there is one thing Murray credits to the success of SeisWare, it is the people. “It’s the group here that drives success. There’s no way the three of us could, you know, keep anything going without the fantastic group that we have.”
SeisWare’s culture focuses on positive experiences – for its employees and its customers. “That’s allowed us to build the processes internally for personal growth, where we can make things the most positive for employees. I think it drives their interactions with our clients,” explains Ed C.
“And the second reason for me is our client base is phenomenal. They stuck with us through lots of ups and downs and they’re extremely supportive. And I really appreciate that,” adds Murray.
For Ed C and Murray, the wonderful company culture that has evolved over time has been most satisfying. This is a direct result of leadership training. Courses like Crucial Conversations, coaching, and Giving Great Feedback were put in place and are still in place today. SeisWare quickly adopted a coaching mentality with a foundation of communication skills. “I think it’s very difficult for people to actually change and it just feels like… the people who’ve been here have undergone change. It feels like we have an environment where we can encourage people to change if they really want to,” reflects Ed C.
Ed V admits that he was skeptical at first, but these programs ‘have had a big impact… for the positive’.
The company has built on these foundational skills and has adopted a growth mindset when it comes to its employees. “It’s mutually set that if you’re going to come to work at SeisWare, you’re going tell us where you want your career to go, whether it’s inside or outside the company. We’ll find training opportunities for you. We’re going to give you a base of communication, coaching, and other skills you can use throughout your whole life. And what we ask in return is that you put in the effort to drive the company forward and leave it a little better than where you found it,” says Murray.
Get a flavor of SeisWare’s culture it our 2022 year-in-review video
The most obvious external factor that has changed is technology and as a technology company it is important to keep up to date with developments and trends.
Ed V explains, “technology itself keeps changing and it does surprise me at times but not necessarily all of it’s relevant, right? It’s just how do you apply those technologies to this industry? And when is it at a tipping point that people see the value in it?… I think just intuitively, it’s about listening to the clients… It’s about really having a conversation with them about, you know, what is the problem they’re trying to solve? And then at the end of the day we’re a business, are there enough people talking about it?”
One way the development team has kept pace with technology is by always looking at other industries – like the gaming industry and medical industry – for ideas and concepts to adopt. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing. When asked what surprised him along his journey, Ed V replies “We’re still here? There are very few companies that make it past five years let alone to 20. It’s one thing growing a company, it’s another managing it during the challenges of change, the economy, and then COVID and stuff. I think that speaks loudly to how the company is managed and retention of the staff with the culture.”
The shift to remote work challenged every business. Murray explains that he wasn’t a fan of remote work in the beginning, but he has come around. “One thing that has helped is there’s a bit of a go-with-the-flow in attitude (to an extent) around SeisWare; we don’t take ourselves overly seriously.” The team has worked hard to ensure that its culture of fun and connection persists, even if working arrangements have evolved.
“I think that there’s still negative impacts that are happening because of COVID within companies. And part of it is not being able to see people face-to-face. I think you lose opportunities to really check in on somebody’s wellbeing because it’s hard. But as far as trusting people to get work done, yes, I 100 percent trust everybody in this company.”
“I think we did a good job of moving forward with a challenge, trying to be as inclusive as we could”, adds Ed Chow, “and we’re still moving forward that way.”
Despite the competition, SeisWare is one of the few small independent geoscience interpretation products on the market. The Founders approach this with a realistic mindset and a side of optimism. They agree that the most important thing is people and culture. “I do think it’s important that the key values live on even if the software doesn’t,” muses Ed V.
Ed C agrees “it feels like the last three or four years, for me anyways, have driven home how much of a unicorn this company culture is. So, I’d really love this culture to continue regardless of what product we produce.”
“I don’t know if SeisWare itself has to be the holder of that culture. We are training the group that we have here and when they leave and go to other companies, I think it’s an opportunity for them to, I’ll say, ‘infect’ the other companies with a positive culture,” says Murray.
As for technology, the future is bright. Seismic and geology are becoming increasingly important. “As things like the need for special minerals increase, people’s jobs will change, and exploration will change a bit. We’re there to continue to grow with that,” anticipates Ed V.
What the founders feel looking back on 25+ years can be summed up in one word. Gratitude.
“I still like that I can get up in the morning and I have no hesitation going to work,” begins Ed C. “I still really enjoy coming in, enjoy all the interactions. I enjoy this environment as much as I did when I started. Probably more, actually, now. After 25 years, it doesn’t feel stale at all.”
For Ed V., it’s freedom. “I very much appreciate that freedom that I get, and that freedom doesn’t come from owning a company. That freedom comes from the culture we have and the team and the support.”
While Murray wasn’t initially inspired to create or run a company or even be a part of a start-up, he does look back with gratitude. “I prefer to look forward than backward,” says Murray. “I think keeping an eye on how we got here [is important] but …what’s next, what’s the next challenge?”
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