Jeet Kumar has lived the American Dream, launching a successful software company, In Time Tec, and raising a family in the Treasure Valley. But for him, the focus has always been giving back, whether that’s in Idaho or his home country, India.
The Idaho Business Review recently sat down with Kumar to talk more about his philosophy of “creating abundance,” the local tech ecosystem and advice for budding entrepreneurs.
Tell us a little bit about you, your story and the story of In Time Tec.
We are a 10-year-old company. You guys have had a showcase for our 10-year anniversary in one of the articles and also a few other articles you have written.
Our company is a result of a simple thing called “how do we create abundance in our employee’s life, for our client’s life, for their businesses and the community we live in?” And we just happened to build software. So, we say In Time Tec is a platform to create abundance — we just happen to build software. And we do, well, I build software. This company got started with nothing, pretty much — no customers, no employees, and we started from home offices because some of our founders came together, and we thought, “We can do this.”
I used to work for HP, and I came from India to here in ’99. After 10 years of my work at HP, I thought a company like this can be possible, and the genesis of this company started from my childhood. When I grew up in India, my childhood was a difficult upbringing, and when I say difficult, I can give a bit of background about that. I lost my father. My father passed away when I was two years old. Single-mom-raised, four sisters, and I’m the only male, the breadwinner bringing food to the table.
So, it was not easy while growing up, and I always thought that life could be better for me and life could be better for others, and that was always on the backdrop of my life. Everything that I did was coming from that context, that life could be better for me and life could be better for others. So, I did my engineering over there; I went to school in India. If you are one of the top students and if you do good on your education, you pretty much get a free education over there. Education was my gateway to coming out from poverty. So, I ended here in ’99 and worked for HP. So my life was good. My kids were born here, and everything was going great.
And then I thought, “OK, Jeet, what about others?” So the genesis of the company started from there, and in ’99 I got in touch with a few other folks, likeminded people, and started this company from scratch.
So, you guys are one of the older startups (if you can even call it a startup at this point) in Idaho. How have you seen things change in the technology ecosystem here?
In our initial days, we were figuring out who we should work with, who should work for us and what kinds of things we can do for other people. And so in 2009, it was after the 2008 crisis. It was very difficult for businesses to come along. Pretty much no one wanted to do the work, but we thought there’s an opportunity for us. So that is how it evolved: we were looking for projects.
We started as a services business, and we hardly used to get companies to develop software for. There were large companies like HP and Micron in the valley, but there were not very many smaller companies. From those times to today, we have grown to more than 50 employees, because there are many, many university students coming from BSU, University of Idaho and U of I, along with that, BoiseCodeWorks Institute. There’s an apprentice program, and we are hiring quite a few people from there.[In the beginning] there were not very many resources available in the software industry. Now there are quite a few resources coming out. To the companies, there were not very many opportunities. Nowadays, we are so full and people are looking for so many software development positions and coming and talking with us that we have a hard time to fulfill those needs.
So, over the last 10 years, I have seen a transformation on both sides: the number of people who are coming into the workforce from the colleges and the kind of need that has been growing here.
I know one of the things that’s being talked about in a variety of industries is the possibility of an upcoming recession. You guys have weathered that before. How should Idaho tech companies prepare for that if it were to happen again?
My suggestion to the tech community is to find a way to differentiate yourself and how you are going to provide your services. If you can understand your own USP, which is Unique Selling Proposition, and if you can articulate that in an effective way to the people who are needing those services, you will always be in business, whether it’s a recession or no recession.
You need to be lean, mean. You need to have a pretty good story to tell, you need to have values to live by, you need to have a commitment to make a difference and you need to have employees who are vibrant and committed. And if you have the combination of all of that, I think you can definitely make a difference. We started this company in the recession time, and we made a difference by using the same principle and values.
There’s definitely a strong, unique culture here, as well as in your brand. Do you feel like that’s been a big factor in your success over the years?
Absolutely. I focus a lot on company culture, because if you have the right kind of culture inside the company, employees will create the brand. They will take care of the customer.
People talk about, “Oh, let’s focus on customer service” or “Create your brand value.” I say that if you take care of your culture, employees will take care of the rest. Our employee culture is all about open-door policy. We have attentive, caring, loving, authentic conversations. We do not shove anything under the rug. We have it so people can have an open voice. Definitely we have a structure and a management ladder, but we don’t believe in hierarchy.
I’m always a believer that your employees make the company. And if you take care of them, and if you create the right kind of platform and create the right kind of culture, the rest will follow.
What challenges do you see the Idaho tech community facing and also what opportunities?
Access to talent is a challenge here. I talked about the number of people who are coming out from colleges. The workforce has gone up, but in my mind it’s still not good enough. Right now there are about 2,000+ open positions in the technical workforce here in Idaho. BSU is only pumping out probably 150 to 200 graduates, maybe around that range, if you take into account all computer science graduates and a few others.
I think there’s definitely a gap, which is somewhere we need to bridge.
That’s number one. Second is access to capital. There are companies who need to find money, and there are not very many formal investors and venture capitalists out here. You need to go to Seattle or San Francisco and the Bay Area. I know ITC (Idaho Technology Council) is working on some of those initiatives. So, access to talent, access to capital are the two major.
For me, there is one more item. I would say that we need more mentors and entrepreneurs who are coaching other entrepreneurs. I think our startup community needs those coaches, and there aren’t many that are available here.
Those are the challenges. But when you talk about opportunities, there are tons here. Meridian is one of the top 10 places to live in the U.S. right now. Boise is one of the preferred tech hubs. Look at how many people are coming in from different states. Look at the crazy traffic right now in Idaho and in particular in Boise.
Idaho is growing in many ways, so that provides quite a few opportunities for everyone, and particularly for the entrepreneurs who are in the tech community.
If you ask me about access to capital, one of the ways we have taken care of ourselves is not to look for capital. Can entrepreneurs find a way to grow in a meaningful way rather than a crazy growth where they need a lot of money? That’s one of my suggestions to entrepreneurs. Look at why you need money. Can you do it without taking someone’s money? And if you do need money to grow, make sure you have a proper story to tell. Do you want to maintain your culture? Do you want to have a growth that you can sustain?
Those are some of my ideas to fellow entrepreneurs. Look for ideas that you can differentiate with. Build the culture in your company, find a way where your employees are empowered and happy, find a market where you can serve and then minimize your dependence, your need to acquire capital from someone. That’s how I grew this company along with other co-founders.
You talked a little bit earlier about transitioning your focus from services to products. What changes do you see happening at In Time Tec in the future? Are there any other transitions and different focuses that you’re considering?
Yeah, that’s the major one that we are shifting our gears on. Right now we have five priorities in our company. We want to double our services revenue, because services allow us to not only have meaningful growth in our company’s revenue, but also allow us to learn from other companies, other organizations where we provide our services.
Then we want to grow and transform our company from only services to products and services. The advantage of products and services companies is that there is a scale you can achieve by having a product portfolio. If you have an iPhone or Android or Samsung, you build it one time and you sell it multiple times. In services, it’s quite manpower-intensive.
Products are a strategy. Right now of our total revenue, 5% comes from products, 95% comes from services. I want to see a healthy mix of 60/40, where 60 comes from the product side and 40 comes from the services side.
So, we have a long way to go. But that’s the future I can see for our company.
And we are building quite a lot of leaders, because you need that as growth is happening. We have about 50+ employees. You need managers, you need technical architects, you need technical leads. We have local-focused learning platforms. We call them “learn and grow,” “learn and contribute,” “learn and design” and “learn and architect.” There are multiple initiatives we have taken where our leaders are helping other leaders come up to speed.
And then we have a face in the community. We want to make sure our name is getting out in the community because we believe, truly, software in this company is not just a tool; it’s a vehicle. Our purpose is creating abundance for people. And what better way to make a difference than being part of the community?
And lastly, we are building infrastructure. We are trying to grow our office more and we are creating that infrastructure for the next phase of our company’s growth. So those are the five top priorities we are working on in our company.
I’m sure many other people can relate to it. Have a unique offering, grow it, diversify yourself, be leaders, make sure you are making contributions in the community and have the right kind of a platform and infrastructure for you to grow your company.
What sort of specific initiatives and programs has In Time Tec been involved in in the community? Are there any that you’d recommend other companies look into?
The Idaho Technology Council is one. I think Jay Larsen at ITC has done a great job, so we are a member of ITC.
I’m personally a member of Women Innovators. Alecia Hoobing is one of the founding members. I’m on the advisory board.
WiCON is another one, and we always sponsor that. And we have another initiatives in the valley. For example, we have a DevOps Days conference in Boise. Paul Remeis, our senior VP, leads the DevOps. He’s one of the chairs in that, along with Julie [Gunderson]. That’s one of the go-to conferences for our tech community in the valley.
So we are finding ways to make a contribution, whether it’s ITC, whether it’s Women Innovators, DevOps Days Boise Conference or any other conference where we can make a meaningful contribution, and then you guys, IBR.
Idaho Business Review staff writer Sharon Fisher contributed to this article.