GWI's staff assembled outside the company's headquarters in Vancouver, Wash., for a group picture. Founder and CEO Daren Nelson is in the front row, wearing sunglasses; development manager Mike Sabin is next to him, on the left; and sales manager Michael Schenker is in the back row, third from left.
By Liz Garone

GWI is one of the largest providers of IT help-desk and CRM solutions for Notes, Domino, and the Web.

Founded in 1992 with $1,200 by two friends, Vancouver, Wash.-based GWI Software had only $60,000 in revenue in its first year but has grown rapidly every since, ending 1999 with $7.6 million in sales and 37 employees.

Not bad for a company started by a 25-year-old former computer salesman and college dropout. When Daren Nelson founded the company eight years ago with partner Jeff McDonnell, the two intended it to be a network consultancy and value-added reseller of Notes solutions. But they eventually changed their focus. In 1996, after an amicable split with McDonnell, Nelson relaunched the company as software developer.

Called GWI Sofware, the revamped firm's first product was a help-desk application, Help! For Lotus Notes. Today GWI is probably the largest provider of IT help-desk and CRM solutions for Notes, Domino, and the Web, with more than 1,500 customers around the world, including Panasonic and the American Cancer Society.

In addition to Help!, GWI offers a suite of six integrated applications, called the Collaborative Front Office, which automates a wide range of tasks for sales, marketing, customer service, and IT help-desk departments. The suite, whose component applications can be purchased separately, is designed for small and medium-sized businesses (SMB), which GWI defines a s companies with less than $1 billion in annual sales.

While several of its customers are Fortune 1000 companies, GWI doesn't pursue large enterprises. "They call them the Fortune 1000 because there are only a thousand of them," Nelson explained. "Once you've sold to them, then where do you go? Even going long-term, we're really looking for the SMB customer. We're still a shrinkwrap software developer focused on that market." In a profile of GWI, the Aberdeen Group, a market research organization based in Boston, cited GWI's "commitment" to the mid-size market as one of the reasons for its success.

GWI's growth has not gone unrecognized. In October of 1999, it placed 156th on Inc. magazine's list of America's 500 fastest growing private companies. In addition, Deloitte & Touche and Hale and Dorr, the accounting firms, put GWI on their lists of the fastest growing companies, naming it the 11th fastest growing company in Washington state and the 197th in the country.

GWI Software

Headquarters: Vancouver, Wash.

Regional Offices: GWI Software Europe in Hoofdorp, the Netherlands

Number of Employees: 37

Product Lines: Help! For Lotus Notes, a help-desk application, and Collaborative Front Office, a suite of six integrated applications that automate various sales, marketing, and customer service processes.

1999 Revenue: $7.6 million

Projected 2000 Revenue: $7.78 million

Founder and CEO: Daren Nelson

Quote: "We're dedicated, for better or for worse, to the Notes platform. ThatĚs what makes us successful. We understand that, and we want to keep that as our core."

Contact Information:
GWI Software
9105 NE Highway 99, #200
Vancouver, WA 98665
Fax: 360-397-1007

But GWI's growth is slowing down. Expected revenues for 2000 are up less than $200,000 from 1999, a far cry from the leaps and bounds of past years. "It's nice to be included on those lists, but it's impossible to stay on," said Nelson. "I think we've got one more good year to be on those lists. Then our growth will have slowed, and that will be that."

Nelson attributed part of the slowdown to what he calls "the Y2K hangover." "Companies were just so busy last year installing new software that they are still taking a breather," he explained. He attributed another part to a slowing in GWI's core market, companies that use Notes and Domino. "Over the last four years we have picked the low-hanging fruit. Now we are having to work harder to find the companies that don't come to us. It is a typical process that all businesses go through as they mature."

But Nelson doesn't appear too concerned about the slowdown. "I am not so bent on growth as I am on profitability. Honestly, I don't care if we do $10 million or $2 million. I don't have an overwhelming desire to be the biggest, from a revenue standpoint. Rather, I just want to have the best products with the highest profit margins."

LIZ GARONE is a freelance technology writer based in Oakland, Calif.

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