By Bob Castello
Andrew Kurtz prefers to keep moving forward, which is a big reason he and his software company, Kopis, have been highly successful.
However, with the 20th anniversary of the company approaching, Kurtz has taken a little time to look back and appreciate the growth: from 2,500 square feet, eight employees, and $1.5 million in revenue just a decade ago to five times those figures.
“It’s a little mind-blowing,” he said.
Especially when Kurtz, sitting in his office in the NEXT Innovation Center, thinks back on both the humble beginnings and the hurdles he and his team have cleared over the years.
A Furman University graduate, Kurtz tried public accounting for two years and then spent a year as a controller before he and another man started a company that did industrial automation.
In order to help make ends meet, Kurtz began doing software development on a contract basis. By 1999, with software having become his passion and with his partner wanting to grow the industrial automation side, Kurtz sold his portion of the business to his colleague.
Kurtz and two other men started a company then named Proactive Technology. They had only two customers at the time, although the two were BMW and Fluor Daniel.
The company, then in a second-floor office in the Piazza Bergamo downtown, grew quickly. By the middle of 2000, it had 15 employees.
“It was a lot fast, and I thought I was brilliant,” Kurtz said. “The valuable lesson that I look back on and realize I learned was the convergence of Y2K and the emergence of the Internet doesn’t happen very often.”
Throw in the NASDAQ bubble burst, and there was a rough patch.
“Then a year later, 9/11 happened,” he said. “After starting this business, that was my first experience with, ‘Wow, we just hit a brick wall.'”
The company dropped down to five employees and began gradually climbing back, taking a “much more stairstep approach to growth,” Kurtz said.
With the recession in 2008 came a rallying point for the company. Kurtz gathered everyone around a table and discussed the possibility of having to make some difficult choices.
“Every single person in the company came to me with some sort of give, a way that they could help lower the costs,” he said. “We ended up surviving without letting anybody go, which was amazing.”
Meanwhile, the company had moved from the Piazza Bergamo to Ivey Square to a West End office, and eventually, in 2009, to the NEXT Innovation Center.
Kurtz was on the ground floor with the NEXT economic initiative in Greenville, and he said the organization has been pivotal for numerous companies.
“We need spaces like this building where these companies can co-locate,” Kurtz said. “You can talk to other business owners, the employees can talk to each other, and you’re not solving problems in isolation all the time. It kind of creates a community.”
Kurtz and his team actually have two companies in the NEXT building. Since 2003, Kurtz also has been CEO of Vigilix, which operates on a subscription model.
“The more they use, the more they pay,” Kurtz said. “It’s used by businesses who support point-of-sale systems.”
With Vigilix, the combined revenues of the two companies are now nearly $10 million.
In 2015, the company rebranded as Kopis, and Kurtz promoted Kevin Wentzel to chief operating officer and Adam Drewes to chief marketing officer.
Kopis, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary April 29, has continued to grow but not with the intent of becoming a bigger company.
“The intentional part of our growth has been because we wanted to build a business that was a long-term, self-sustaining organization, not something that required supermen,” Kurtz said.
In recent years, Kurtz made a couple of acquisitions — Acumen IT’s Enterprise Resource Planner Division and NWN’s SmartGov Division — with which the company was “trying to get to a point where our revenue is right-sized for the organization that is self-sustaining.”
That the company has gotten to this point organically provides a sense of accomplishment for Kurtz, as does the idea that the core values of the business are the same as those he’s always maintained. And the employees haven’t adopted those values; instead, he said, the company attracts those with such values.
Along those lines, Kurtz said he has managed to keep a balance between work and family.
“I have a wife and two daughters, and during the process of building this, I was still able to get to every soccer match and every swim meet and, for the most part, every school event,” he said.
“That falls into our core values, and I want that for every employee: ‘You’ve got to work really hard, but at the same time, I don’t want you to miss the really precious things in life.'”