20 Years, 20 Stories: 1999 – Going Mobile

Author Bio

Author Bio

Like my colleague Paul Quinn, I was not actually there for the early days of Confirmit, but I was for another company based in Vancouver, Canada - Techneos Systems. Techneos was acquired by Confirmit in the summer of 2011. I can still vividly remember the moment when then Techneos CEO Dave King asked Sean Conry and I to "go grab a coffee" up the street to share the news about a possible merger with a company based in, of all places – Oslo, Norway!  

So, what is the first thing that happens to a Canadian after you get acquired by a Norwegian company? Well, they invite you to Russia of course! As luck would have it, Confirmit was having an R&D gathering outside of Moscow where we got a chance to get to know everyone right away. We quickly discovered that this was a talented group of people with a desire to build great products and now we could do it together! I am happy to say that Dave, Sean, myself and many others are still with Confirmit today, a reflection of the quality of this great company.

Back in the pre-smartphone dark ages, Techneos started with a goal to convert the Market Research world from pen and paper to mobile devices for data collection. But it wasn’t until Palm came on scene in 1997 where the dream could become a reality, as until then devices then were huge, clunky and expensive. I joined Techneos in 1999 and we went about building our first platform, an authoring application for Microsoft Windows and the Mobile Interviewer software for Palm OS. Side note, the name didn't last as "Interviewer" was copyright in Canada and we were issued a cease and desist letter (big leagues, baby!) so one of the founders came up with a great name - Entryware.

Building survey software in 1999 even with an amazing device like the Palm Pilot had a lot of challenges. For one, devices back then did not have much storage and even less memory to use by the application – something like 100kb of addressable memory. The other thing was that paper surveys could actually be very long and complex. So, we had to design our own scripting language and run-time engine that would be capable of running very large and complex surveys. It was fun and challenging work and we felt like pioneers in the industry. Fun side note for those who remember, back then, devices all had volatile memory meaning that if you took more than 1 minute to change the batteries, you lost everything! Ahh, those were the days…

By 2005 it became obvious that Palm was struggling. We decided a new platform was needed so we went about designing and building a new mobile and server solution - Survey On-Demand Application - or SODA. This new application would run on Blackberry and Nokia devices. But what seemed like overnight, they were left in the dust by Apple and Google. We responded to this shift and SODA was migrated to Google Android and soon after for Apple iOS. We had been building “apps” for years, and they were finally cool!

I wore many hats in those early days - Developer, QA, IT, Operations, Technical Writer, Sales. I even spent many hours behind a booth at trade shows, shaking hands and surprisingly arranged our first sale over $10k. One day, we arranged to have all the employees do face-to-face field work for an entire day. As you may imagine, most were very uncomfortable with this, but it gave everyone an insight into the day-to-day challenges of our end users - we actually walked a mile in their shoes.  Even though today my role is primarily in R&D, I still get an opportunity to talk and meet with clients, mostly around our mobile initiatives, something that I enjoy very much.

SODA quickly became an industry-leading software for mobile Market Research and self-complete offline feedback. Our solution could run on nearly every device available in the world at that time and more importantly could capture photos, video, audio, GPS and was powerful enough to conduct a 3 hour, 50,000 variable survey.

It's amazing how much has changed in mobile over the years but we have been with it every step of the way. Not only will we continue to go where the market takes us, we’ll carry on driving the market into new areas ourselves. I recently found the old PalmPilot Professional device, being the geek I am, I found a couple of AAA batteries and the 17 year old device came to life!