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Infragistics on the Fast Track

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Infragistics, a 16-year old company located in East Windsor, is growing just as fast as it can find the talent it needs to serve customers like Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and IBM.

The company creates reusable presentation-level development tools that enable other developers (who mostly work in large, or enterprise, organizations) to customize and enhance off-the-shelf programs (such as Microsoft Windows Forms and Microsoft ASP.NET DataGrid), used worldwide in nearly every Fortune 2000 company.

In other words, Infragistics is a developer for developers, and its presentation layer toolsets make it easier for its corporate developers to create appealing, easy-to-use software interfaces for both the web and the desktop.

Infragistics employees do the leg work that makes it possible for developers inside client companies such as Morgan Stanley, Intel, and Fidelity, to accelerate their development cycles and improve usability. This diverse customer base also includes such global service providers as IBM and KPMG, and large Indian outsourcing firms like TATA and Infosys.

Dean Guida, (pronounced guy-dah) 41, president and CEO of Infragistics, explains his world in terms that even reporters can understand. “Carpenters build houses, but they don’t install the plumbing. They buy and install components that other experts build. In our case, we build tools, called controls, that help developers create visually appealing and usable applications, faster and easier.”

From 30 to 50 percent of a developer’s time is spent building the interface between what the application does and how the user makes that happen, says Guida. “But that’s not what they do best. Using our frameworks and toolkits, developers save time, increase their productivity, shorten the quality assurance cycle, and get into production sooner.”

“We help them customize off-the-shelf applications to creatively display data that’s critical to their business. Customers use us because we provide business value.”

While companies like Microsoft provide tools to make changes to the original program, they don’t make it easy. Infragistics allows developers to create complex functions such as the ability to populate a chart and display the data sorted by date, subject, or department — in 3D — without extensively rewriting the code.

The company resulted from a merger in November 2000 of ProtoView Development Corporation, a multi-million dollar software developer and manufacturer, which Guida founded in 1989, and Sheridan Software Systems Inc.

Prior to co-founding ProtoView, Guida served as a consultant for IBM, where he developed a global executive information management system to report all PC hardware and software sales.

Because large companies make huge investments in their software applications, acceptance of any new technology is critical. No matter how great it’s going on the back-end, it’s how the user feels about using it that determines its success. The most technically-advanced application is useless if no one uses it. Great applications reduce training costs and improve production, and that’s where the interface presentation can make a big difference.

“We take extra time on our end,” says Guida, “to perform quality testing because the user’s acceptance is so critical to any application’s success.”

Guida was born in Elizabeth but grew up in Miami. His father, Nick, is a restaurateur, while his mother, Syral, is a legal secretary. After graduating from the University of Miami in 1987 with a BS in computer science and business, he landed in New Jersey as a freelance consultant on 18-month assignment with IBM. Today Guida and his wife Karen live in Dayton with their three school-aged children.

Guida says revenue is on track for $20 million this year, and that there are no plans to go public at this point. “First, the public markets are not good. Second, it takes about $75 million top-line to go public in this market. Even though we’re privately held, we run like a public company. We have a strong balance sheet and control systems, and we’re financially disciplined. We’re good at forecasting.” Guida claims 35 percent top line growth year-over-year, returning 29 percent net growth.

“We’ve boot-strapped this company for 17 years, running it all on product sales,” he says. “We’re courted all the time by venture capitalists. And though we haven’t acquired an entire company yet, we do acquire intellectual property or software that complements our strategy.”

As for the rapid growth that Infragistics is experiencing, Guida says, “It’s all about the people — when you’re winning and have great people, it feeds on itself. We have a coaching philosophy that attracts smart, passionate, and intellectual people. We teach everyone how to work successfully in teams. These are the strong advantages that help us continue to grow.”

Guida says that keeping the customer happy doesn’t hurt either. “We give out ‘delighting the customer’ awards, and twice a year we do a status survey of our customers. Because technology changes very rapidly, our product management staff continually seeks feedback from the customer on what they want so that we can improve on it — or create it.”

Infragistics supplies its products and services on a subscription, rather than licensing, basis and delivers three updated releases a year. Subscription service not only provides added value to the customers by allowing them to budget and plan annual costs more effectively, it also makes Infragistics’ development cycle predictable. Plus, it delivers scheduled opportunities to touch the customer and gain vital feedback. In addition, those planned updates drive the public relations strategy; three times a year there is a hook to get media coverage through the print, online, and channel marketing media.

Anyone with a home computer knows it’s difficult to keep up with the newest software version or operating system. So how does a corporate enterprise with thousands of users manage to do it when adoption, or adaptation, can take months or even a year?

Says Guida: “Not every customer immediately implements the latest release of our products. However, we find that about 70 percent keep up with us. And customers who request new features may not be able to implement them immediately, but they’re still happy to get them.”

Next up — delivering tools that enable the visual design staff and development teams to work together to build more visually and engaging interfaces. “Professional artists understand colors, and spacing, and usability,” says Guida. “Our toolsets allow for the smooth integration of their styling process with the work of the development team.”

“We’re also building the next generation rich-medium interfaces for Microsoft’s Vista operating system,” he says. (While Vista’s release date has been extended several times, Microsoft now predicts it availability in 2007.)

Long-time Infragistics customer Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at 26NY, a Manhattan-based information technology service provider specializing in Microsoft technologies, has used the companies’ components since 1992. “Here at 26NY, we do custom software development for all sorts of clients, including the financial and healthcare industries. We build all different kinds of applications, and Infragistics’ controls make it into many, if not all, of them.”

“Since the beginning, they’ve worked very hard to help developers benefit from new Microsoft applications as they were released. Anything you see in Microsoft Office and other programs is eventually made available by third-party developers — usually by Infragistics first.”

Adds Brust: “I’ve been in this industry a long time. I’m involved in recruiting and I run a user group. One thing I see, and not infrequently, is employers requesting candidates with experience using Infragistics’ tools. That’s fairly unique.”

“They’ve worked hard, to keep parity between what their controls for Windows and web environments do. That’s a big thing because it cuts down on learning curves, and creates a common experience. If you’re a developer creating a complex data entry interface on the web — that’s hard to do.”

Infragistics has leveraged the technology to allow the creation of the same type of interfaces users are familiar with, and have come to expect from their desktop — only on the web.

As an example, most applications, like Microsoft Outlook, come with standard push buttons that allow you to send, reply, or delete an E-mail. But if your organization needs buttons providing additional or quirky functionality, you have to do it yourself.

“When you get into things that are complicated like tabs, or grids that have drop-downs,” says Brust, “that’s where third-party controls come in handy. Controls allow developers to make those things happen without writing extensive code and recreating the wheel.

“In the past,” Brust says, “when developers lived in Visual Basic world, it wasn’t easy to create your own controls. Developers had to know a language called C++ — which is not for the faint of heart. Now, if they want, they can use Infragistics controls and do it themselves.

“Infragistics has concentrated on putting so much in its suite of tools, layer upon layer of functionality, that when the customer compares the cost of Infragistics’ subscription with the cost of building it in-house — it’s a no brainer.”

Guida expects to reach 135 employees by mid-year; half of those positions are in engineering and the rest in marketing. “We have evangelists who go out and spread the word about the value of our products, and a large R&D group. In addition, we’re growing the visual design team by recruiting at art schools like the Philadelphia Art Institute and Parsons School of Design in New York. Our engineers come from Rutgers as well as other universities. We have expert developers here who are known throughout the software development community. Many have risen through their particular fields and have written books on their topics.”

Guida emphasizes that there are 20 open positions at Infragistics right now. “We’re hiring in all disciplines. Even though there’s a career path and lots of money to be made, we constantly have trouble finding employees, because the good people are already working. It takes a long time to find qualified people in any discipline.

“This is something I’m passionate about. This country needs more engineers. It’s critical that younger students study engineering. It pains me to see China with 400,000 engineering graduates a year, India with 200,000, and the United States with 40,000,” he says.

“Don’t believe all of the outsourcing hype. I continue to believe there’s a great opportunity for engineers in America. American creativity is of huge value in enabling us to compete around the world.”

Infragistics Inc., 50 Millstone Road, Building 200, Windsor Corporate Park, Suite 150, East Windsor 08520; 609-448-2000; fax, 609-448-2017. www.infragistics.com

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