Ojo leverages IT legacy

Post bubble, networking pros enter physical security market
Sunday, June 1, 2008

FREMONT, Calif.--Here in the heart of Silicon Valley, it once seemed like the good times would never end for an IT firm.

“We had a great run in the late 1990s,” said Angie Wong, founder of IT house Network Designs Integration. “Our revenue grew from $5 million to $14 million in two years ... Then, in 2001, we did $3 million. It was like the lights got turned off.”

Luckily, NDI didn’t have a lot of debt, but “70 percent of our revenue came from dot-com start-ups,” said Wong, “and they all went away, just gone.”

With business lagging, Wong decided she needed to reinvent the company, to go from being a jack-of-all-IT-trades to being the best at something very specific. For a year, she and her staff did almost nothing but due diligence, looking for a market primed for growth where they could leverage their existing skills, but still had a barrier to entry so every IT firm wouldn’t quickly follow them.

“And it had to be something we loved to do,” said Wong. “One of my business development reps suggested that we specialize in providing business services to law firms. I said, ‘No, I can’t deal with lawyers all day.’”

Following 9/11, “we could get compassionate about providing more security,” though, she said, “it could really make us feel good, and that’s how we got into video surveillance.” Well, that and a little help from Verint, an IT-friendly manufacturer that helped Ojo enter the industry.

“They went out and recreated a whole new portion of their business,” said Mariann McDonagh, Verint’s vice president of global marketing. “We haven’t found many companies with such a good blend of both sides of their company.”

“It wasn’t easy,” said Wong. “We’re IT people. We’re very good in front of a computer, but then we had to go out in the field.” She remembers the company’s first prospective project was a surveillance system on a concrete block in the middle of the ocean, as part of the Bay Bridge renovation. “We went out there and my engineers almost quit on me,” Wong laughed. “The physical aspect of our job became overwhelming.”

But Ojo hired 10 people, with a construction background and an electrician, “and now we’re comfortable with that.”

There were other things they needed to get comfortable with, too. “Our installation team wanted to use a clipboard and forms, and just write things down,” said Wong. “The rest of the company wants everything electronic. On the IT side, they can work all night, but they’re late starters. The installation team wants to start work at 6 a.m. and be done work at three ... We have to talk about those cultural differences.”