By Craig Saunders, 23 February 2016
In February 1996 I took the plunge and left a perfectly good salaried job to go and ‘do my own thing’. To be honest it was pretty scary — I remember the day I told my boss I was leaving, then having to go round to a friend's place to have a few drinks to settle the nerves.
Well, there was no looking back and 20 years on I have to say it’s been a very exciting, very challenging, very rewarding… very silly idea.
So I figure we’ve still got a lot to achieve but at 20 years now it’s probably a good point to take a moment to reflect on what happened and how we got to where we are.
In 1995 I reckoned that the internet, and in particular the “World Wide Web”, looked like a fairly promising development that might become popular. So I set out to create a company that brought technology together - that melded Content (in those days, “multimedia”), Software, and People… thus was born the name “Digital Fusion” and our stylish logo:
While I set out to do web development, there actually wasn’t a huge demand for it at that moment, so when presented with an opportunity to create a business database in FileMaker I figured “Why not?” I had seen FileMaker a couple years earlier so I knew the basics, and as a programmer full of confidence, not knowing the language was no barrier whatsoever.
I took on that job and built a document management system in a couple of days. Deployed it, and to my astonishment the solution was pretty much bug free… Happy Client. This is good I thought.
I’d been programming in much more powerful languages and I’d never taken FileMaker seriously: but it had just become a proper relational database, and it was beautifully consistent cross platform – so I could develop on a Mac and deploy to the masses of Windows 95 heathen.
More importantly I had a bit of an epiphany: in FileMaker I suddenly had a platform that did less, but was better: faster to develop with, more robust and predictable… basically something you could count on and bet your business on.
So on Day One, I had set up as a web developer and on Day Two I added FileMaker Development to the menu. We’ve had a few sidelines along the way, but to this day that’s what we do…
But before I go too far let me reflect for a moment on the state of play in 1996:
We did however have:
For a start it was just me… I’ve always believed in a fair bit of reading to both help with self development and for inspiration. After studying the history of Apple and watching what happened when Steve Jobs came back to Apple, it became clear that you need to have a Steve onboard: in August 1998 I hired my first employee, Stephen Baker, fresh out of university after a career change from making showers to IT… and two weeks later I headed off for a holiday and left him in charge.
Steve, quietly spoken, resourceful and smart, held the fort with aplomb and was pivotal to those early days of growth. The first employee is essentially the doubling of your workforce, and as a startup with no capital to speak of, there isn’t time for a lot of training or any room for error. Steve’s a legend and a guru among clients and colleagues to this day; he’s even earned a certain reputation in the global FileMaker community…
From there we grew steadily with my wife Raewyn joining the fun (now we had no external income!) and other staff gradually adding to the mix. Paul and Cath joined in 2002, and Julie came on as an administrator in 2004 when I finally realised developers make useless organisers and hate doing important things like sending invoices for the hard work we’ve done. Again we landed on our feet with good keen people who stayed the distance through the highs and lows, and who picked up the pieces I couldn’t get right. Eh Julie?
I won’t bore you with the entire history of this little company but suffice to say over the years we’ve achieved some very fun things and built up some awesome friendships with the team (including the few who’ve managed to slip away from DF), the development community and with many of our clients—the loyalty of both clients and staff is pivotal for the long game and everyone benefits because we’re not having to pick up the pieces. The depth of those longer relationships and the knowledge is so very valuable. To you all a big Thank You!
Team DF, circa 2008:
Perhaps the most disruptive thing we’ve done in this business is split it into two—kind of ironic for a business with “Fusion” in it’s name—but it’s been another challenging exciting change.
Basically we became known for our FileMaker prowess and it stands out as a point of distinction, yet we’d also built up an incredibly capable web development team that was proving much harder to showcase and find recognition for. So… I decided that it was at a point where it needed to be a separate company, something far more than the web development arm of a FileMaker consultancy.
This would enable the team on that side of the business to become a powerful web app design and development company in their own right, helping businesses transform the way they work through online tools and services, realizing the full opportunity of the web where form AND function changes the way we do business. Enter Custom D.
So what now? Well… onward and upward. I’ve got high hopes for the web team at Custom D — it’s a challenging market to differentiate ourselves in but the opportunities are huge and as was the case in 1996 it’s where the most disruption and change is coming from, albeit on a totally different level now.
Meanwhile at Digital Fusion the focus on FileMaker now gives us an unprecedented sense of purity and purpose. And with FileMaker Inc doing a most excellent job of evolving the product from “desktop database” to a powerful “Business App Development Platform”, the opportunities to help more businesses operate more effectively have expanded hugely. It still astounds me 20 years on, just how many businesses run on spreadsheets and paper with a fair bit of smoke and a few mirrors to make it all “work”!
Anyway… I’ll update you on progress in another 20 years. At that point I fully expect we will have:
and of course:
See ya there.