[00:00] Podcast begins - The Entrepreneurial Rollercoaster: Insights from a 30-Year Tech Founder
[04:16] Discovering computers & getting engaged early with programming
[06:24] Moving to Houston for a U of H education & an IBM internship
[12:46] Leaving IBM for computer consulting & entrepreneurship
[21:31] Pivoting from video games to software & the birth of Softeq
[25:16] First big Softeq projects with Compaq, HP, & Disney
How did you get to Houston?
Originally born in Minnesota, Chris moved around frequently as a child and ended up graduating high school in Florida. For college, Chris’ aunt suggested Chris attend school at Rice, wanting him to move to Houston, but after a denial on his application, U of H was Chris’ school of choice. As a young man starting a family, University of Houston offered Chris the opportunity to get involved in their co-op program, which led to an internship with IBM, supporting the NASA Space Shuttle Program and getting to work on the only computer in the department.
“As the other IBM engineers started to get computers, they'd come to ask me questions, because I was the expert. I was the guy that had actually read the manual, right? That made me an expert and it was just a fantastic learning experience.”
If you were a young engineer today, how would you set yourself up for success?
While the technology for today’s engineering students differs greatly, Chris is confident that his drive for knowledge and his willingness to volunteer for new projects is a tried and true formula for success. At IBM, Chris knew he had the privilege of being treated like a real employee, not just an intern, and maximized that opportunity. Chris’ family motivated him to succeed in his role, but his desire for knowledge and passion for computers inspired his entrepreneurial drive.
“Being open to ideas, putting yourself out there, volunteering. At IBM, they treated me like any other engineer. So, I had an office with the guy that had been there for 40 years, right? I was being assigned things like anybody else would be, and I was willing to learn and work.”
How did you go from working at IBM to becoming an entrepreneur to starting Softeq?
After receiving an opportunity to work in a few consulting projects, Chris decided to leave his role at IBM and strike out on his own, eventually founding a graphics toolkit company called Genus Micro Programming. However, when graphics toolkits became unnecessary with Windows 95, Chris attempted to pivot, looking into the gaming industry and working with Hasbro and Atari. Unfortunately, pivoting had to continue for Chris when video games proved to be a failed endeavor, but this led to the start of Softeq and a return to his software roots.
“I was running a business out of my house. Back then, there was a stigma attached with that because if you didn't have a real office, you weren't a real business. I was always worried about that, you know, I had multimillion dollar deals on the table with companies like Disney.”
What were some major milestones for Softeq?
Softeq began in Chris’ house, running out of two rooms in his home, homeschooling his children while he worked with Compaq and other corporate tech companies. Initially, Chris feared being judged for working out of his home, but he realizes now that this was an innovative step that showed how successful remote work can be. Securing contracts with companies like Disney put Softeq on the map, leading to its 27 year anniversary this February.
“I wasn't Chris Howard, Consultant, for Compaq. I understood that I needed to create a business that businesses knew. I have a website, I have a company name, I've got email addresses, like Sales@Softeq.com. If I was just Chris Howard, they wouldn't have given me more work. Chris has enough to do, he's not gonna do any more than that.”