GRAND RAPIDS – Atomic Object co-founder and CEO Carl Erickson, a former professor of Computer Science at Grand Valley State University, was walking his dog in January 2015 when he spotted an old building in the Wealthy historic district for sale. Atomic Object’s headquarters just wasn’t large enough anymore to handle his rapidly growing staff.
So an hour later he put in a bid and with the help of Chemical Bank bought the 11,000 square foot 1914 era warehouse for $800,000 and then spent another $2 million transforming into an open floor plan, with cafe and expansive windows to give his employees more work and meeting space – and to attract new talent.
“It was the first time we’ve ever had any debt,” Erickson said. “The new building is an acknowledgement of our success and us looking forward to the future. Sometimes, I feel like I need to pinch myself to see where we are now, considering how much we’ve grown.”
His new location is just down the street from the former headquarters at 941 Wealthy, out of which Atomic Object operated since 2003. The company opened a second location in downtown Ann Arbor a few years ago.
Erickson said he wanted to stay in the historic Wealthy district – about two miles from downtown Grand Rapids – because it is a cool neighborhood with good restaurants, fun bars and a very walkable environment – an apt description of downtown Ann Arbor as well. Some 40 people work in Grand Rapids and another dozen in Ann Arbor.
Cool locations are key to helping Atomic Object attract the right talent, Erickson said. The key word here is “right.” He said he’s always looking for tech talent, but that talent has to fit into his employee-owned company’s culture to make it work for everyone.
“We form really tight teams and relationships with our clients,” Erickson said. “We build custom software products. Web apps, mobile apps, embedded device software. Our clients use software we build for innovation to make their product offerings competitive. We don’t specialize in one industry, instead we have a diverse client base. We’re looking for people who love software development.”
His business model works. This year Atomic Object is celebrating its 15th anniversary and he projects 2016 revenues will approach $10 million.
Erickson has come a long ways since he co-founded Atomic Object in the summer of 2001 with Bill Bereza, one of his former students at GVSU. He raised Atomic Object from the ashes of a dot-com startup where he had been VP of Engineering. When that company was unable to get a second round of funding, it burst and left him with some office furniture, three interns, the remainder of a lease, and a missing final month’s payroll.
He said Atomic Object still uses the office furniture, one of those three intern runs its Grand Rapids office, and he long since stopped missing the $10,000 final paychecks.
The school of hard knocks taught Erickson two very valuable lessons that drives him today:
- It’s easy to build software but much harder to build the right software.
- Agile practices will change the software development world.
By the way, Erickson said his company is hiring. If you want to work in Grand Rapids or Ann Arbor, click on https://atomicobject.com/careers
Mike Brennan is Editor and Publisher of www.mitechnews.com. If you have a technology story to tell email him at [email protected]