Collaboration

Interview with Grant Tegtmeier, CTO of eSociety

He's been on both sides of the fence, and he likes the fast-paced world of Internet start-ups more than large corporations. Will Grant Tegtmeier's experience provide inspiration for your own career path? Read on to find out!


Since graduating in 1972 with a degree in electrical engineering from the Michigan Technological University, Grant Tegtmeier has led software development teams in several companies, ranging from large corporations to early-stage start-ups. He worked for Sun Microsystems for close to nine years, where he proposed and led the technical effort in forming the SunPICs business unit. At Adobe Systems he directed four product teams and worked on the release of Aldus Persuasion. Today he is chief technology officer (CTO) of eSociety, which builds Web-based communities for trade associations.

Tegtmeier’s career path
TR: Can you describe your career path?
Tegtmeier: After college I worked for a start-up company and found myself in the modem business. We said we had a two-year window, and we did. I went from there to Sun Microsystems. I was with them for almost nine years. I brought up Sun’s first mainframe. Then I worked with the windowing system that Sun was working on and turned it into a printing system because it was Postscript-based. We then founded a division at Sun that was the printing and imaging division. I was the technical founder of that division. We turned Sun’s windowing system into an alternative for Adobe Postscript printing, [and we created] an array of scanning and printing products around that.

TR: How did you first become a CTO?
Tegtmeier: At Park Xerox, the Palo Alto Research Center for Xerox, I was doing direct contribution, programming work. IS wasn’t a well-identified separate skill. The programmers dragged the Internet cables through the roof when we were inventing Internet. Park Xerox is actually the place where the Internet was invented. Later, at a start-up company, I was doing a combination of direct contribution and some Silicon work actually. Then at Sun Microsystems it was obviously all system-level software with end products. By then, I was into forming the defining products for the company. So [I did] both program management and the assembling of teams to found a business unit.



TR: Where did you get your business sense?
Tegtmeier: On the job. Sun encouraged me multiple times to go back for a MBA, but they could never find a break for me to go do it. From Sun, I left Silicon Valley. I joined Aldus and ran the Aldus development office, which is where Persuasion, Photo Styler, and several of the major Aldus products were developed. That was in Dallas. I did that for a couple of years and then joined Adobe when Adobe bought Aldus. I ended up in Seattle as a director for Adobe with three direct line software products.

TR: What was your final position at Sun?
Tegtmeier: My final one was Manager of Advanced Development for SunLink. It was Sun initially, but when Sun broke up into satellites, we founded that unit. I was in town for about three years with Adobe doing some exciting things, but I was too hungry to get to the Internet, and Adobe was too big.

TR: Hungry for the Internet?
Tegtmeier: Yes. Big companies, in my experience, do not move very quickly in new arenas. So I found another start-up, FreeEDGAR.com, which is a start-up that reprocesses Internet filings. It’s now known as EDGAR Online. Then it was time for me to go find a fresher start-up, earlier in its cycle. I did not want to run the day-to-day business. I wanted to be in the growth side of the Internet business. So that was when I searched out this opportunity [at eSociety]. I was part of the founding group here in terms of locating the other members to create a company.

TR: What does eSociety do?
Tegtmeier: We’re doing verticals in the B2B space by assembling associations. What we expect to do is build Web sites, tighten them up as attractive, intense communities where people can locate others with direct similar interests. One of the focuses we have is not real huge communities, but people with specific interests who want to interact regularly. The vision of the company is to build up the verticals along with groups as associations that do trade on a regular basis here and to give tools to the communities to do e-commerce trade between them. The big aspect of this business is not the technology. It is the services. However, the technology needs to be leading edge. There is no time to develop any of the major pieces of the technology ourselves. We are integrating large pieces of third-party technology.

Technology and people challenges
TR: What would you consider your biggest technology challenge?
Tegtmeier: Our biggest technology challenge is the most recent technology challenge. That’s because it has the most unknowns. This month, we’re going to Solaris-based systems, Oracle databases, and Vignette as a core. I typify it from my experience as growing up into a large company. It is time, at only six months, for us to start putting formal procedures and large-scale critical systems in place just as large companies have had to do. We’re having to do it almost a year ahead of plan, and grow the staff at the same time.

TR: How will you do that?
Tegtmeier: We are not going to crash over to Solaris. We’re going to bring it up alongside (the NT systems currently in use). We’ve gotten very hard-core experience in the last six months about the process of developing sites, about how the layers of teams can work together, and how we need to package and install sites in a formal manner. That process has been in place. We will now apply that to the new technology. We expect this to take six to seven months to implement. We’ll run our current programs alongside this effort until we’re satisfied with its stability and scalability, and then we will start migrating sites over.

TR: What sort of people challenges have you had?
Tegtmeier: Finding staff is probably the biggest challenge. We’re having a real hard time. It helps to have 20 years of managing [experience] in the industry—and a thick phone book.

TR: Do you do a lot of outsourcing?
Tegtmeier: Not in the IT department. I would not outsource. This is core competence for where we are going long term. We need to build a very strong, very satisfied team here.

TR: Did you have a mentor along the way?
Tegtmeier: Yes, several. The people I would point out are Larry Garlic, who was the VP of the SunLink division when I joined Sun, and Eric Zocher, who was VP of software development at Adobe.

TR: What did they do for you?
Tegtmeier: Larry broke me out of being a pure technocrat manager who looked at the goals of the corporation as technology goals and solving problems for solving problems’ sake. He got me to understand that I could not build good teams and I could not retain people unless I was answering business needs that drove that. So he woke me up to the business side of the business. Eric Zocher was instrumental in working with me about understanding [the workings of] a large functional company.

TR: Would you recommend to CIOs that they look at Internet start-ups? If so, what kind of mind adjustment would they have to make?
Tegtmeier: I would recommend it for anybody who’s willing to deal with the entire business, but not for anybody who wants to be a technocrat, who wants to deal with the technology and not the business problems. There are no safe havens in a start-up. Everybody must understand everybody else’s role and work aggressively to grow the business. Overall experience and business experience, I believe, are the two things that make a difference in a start-up versus a large company.

TR: What are your plans for the next year?
Tegtmeier: I have to look out a whole year? I just got down to six months. [What we are looking at during that time] is a paradigm shift inside the company that will affect every technical area of the company—Solaris, Vignette, Oracle. In the third quarter, we’re going to be looking at more significant e-commerce platforms. We’re business to business, not a B2C environment, and we need industrial strength international e-commerce at a banking level, we believe, to get involved with the large scale manufacturing shipments, letters of intent, and other items that are involved in trade associations. We’re looking at technology for content acquisition through the Web. Again, these are major third party pieces. Once we get sites built, with communities that are active and have significant interaction, we want to enable that interaction.
ESociety is an Internet company that offers trade and professional associations an opportunity to become an online community, complete with Web site, e-commerce, marketing, and other back office services. ESociety has 57 employees, and is located in Bellevue, WA. The company started in July 1999 and received its first-round of venture capital funding of $3.4 million in September 1999.
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