Nineteen years ago we started this company during the snowiest winter in Boston history. Getting to work reliably was difficult. Talking to customers or emailing them was intermittent on the snowiest days. The pace was definitely slower. With this most recent winter, we have now beaten that record with even more trauma and inconvenience than the previous time, but business went on, almost as usual.
It is interesting to consider, in one of the most technically advanced areas in the entire world (I’m not a big fan of humbleness), how things have changed. When we started Snowbound with two computers, a rudimentary website, email, and an MFP with fax, we had to challenge our bigger competitors through creativity and nimbleness.
The World Wide Web was in its infancy, but already in play for the technically astute. Even in 1996 we couldn’t register the domain “snowbound.com” because it had previously been registered by a programmer in Colorado. So we started with “snowbnd.com” and “snowboundsoftware.com.” There was no Wi-Fi (until 1999), no cable internet, and no DSL – we just had dial-up. But it was enough to create websites and we were able to communicate with customers through e-mail, as well as phone and fax. There were already hosting companies for websites, though they weren’t overly reliable.
We had AOL and Compuserve for email and Earthlink and AOL for Internet service.
We were running Windows 3.1 (16 and 32 bit) and then Windows 95. Initially we had no servers or file-sharing capabilities except floppy disks. The website was programmed through HTML and Microsoft FrontPage with very basic formatting and graphics. We went back and forth with our competitors in bragging rights over the infamous visitor counter and by how many image and documents formats we supported.
If there were snowstorms where we couldn’t get to the office, a laptop or a desktop at home paired with a dial-up modem allowed for emails to be read and responded to. Even on a vacation to Hawaii, I could already get emails via dial-up, though it was painfully slow.
Back then, the bulk of our business was with banks that needed to convert massive numbers of checks and documents to formats that were easier to print, transmit, disseminate or archive. Other customers were companies like HP, Kodak and Xerox who were creating business or personal document scanners that needed to package viewers for their customers to view and print those scanned documents. Many were using Windows 3.1 or Windows 95, but the OS had no tools for handling TIFF-based (and proprietary variations of TIFF) documents, which were the primary choice for businesses. Targa, AFP, PCL, IMNET and others also needed our support because no OS or commonly used application would open them.
Even though the bulk of our business is still with banks and document/content management systems, our customers have graduated to higher functioning Windows operating systems and Java. Basic TIFF viewers became commodities so the need arose for web-based viewers that could accommodate all flavors of TIFF as well as PDF, AFP, Word and PCL. Important workflow functions such as annotation and redaction capabilities were required. High speed throughput, particularly as digital documents grew to thousands of pages, also needed to be satisfied.
We’ve come a long way since then. Even with a comparably snowy winter, Snowbound as a company pushed through the challenges and continued to produce at a high level–even if there were more days when we worked from home. As long as we had power and cable-based Internet access (which we generally did), we were fine. People could stay at home (and avoid 3 hour commutes each way) and through VPN access our servers at their hardened hosting facility. Ultimately, work could go on at almost the same pace as being at the office. Customers could access their builds, our support system, our documentation, and more through our always available website. Business went on as usual. Snowy winters might be the norm, but Snowbound continues to grow and improve.