Company: UltraBac.com Year founded: 1983 Quiet period: 13 years Turning point: Reorienting products to Windows NT
Right from the start, BEI Corp. piggybacked its software on computers offered by Wang Laboratories, which emerged in the 1970s and 1980s as a leading maker of word processing hardware. That was the technology that BEI cofounder Morgan Edwards knew best. After all, he had worked for Wang as a sales rep in Honolulu before starting his own company in 1983.
BEI, based in Bellevue, Wash., owed much of its early success to a spell check program that the company developed for use in Wang minicomputers. Although BEI never reached $1 million in revenues, it did just fine by confining its payroll to four employees and diversifying its product line into data backup software.
At Wang, however, sales began to plummet from a high of $3 billion in 1989 to less than $1 billion five years later. "The installed user base dropped from over 60,000 to under 10,000, and we started losing customers left and right," Edwards recalls. Mirroring Wang's misfortunes, BEI saw its revenues wither to $400,000 by 1995. As Edwards says dryly, he knew that the company had to "reinvent" itself.
It did so by casting in its lot with Microsoft (#80 on the 1984 Inc. 500; #163, 1985). BEI started to produce a spell check program for Microsoft Word -- an $80,000 false start, as it turned out, because the program already contained a free spell check utility. Edwards then developed a Microsoft-based application to back up files and recover lost data. When he introduced the product, in 1995, BEI was still deriving 90% of its meager revenues from selling software to die-hard Wang users. The company's numbers flip-flopped the following year, when Windows NT customers accounted for 90% of BEI's sales. The company also revamped its name, becoming UltraBac.com (#417 on the 2000 Inc. 500) two years ago. Now Edwards, 53, is predicting that his company will post 2001 revenues of $10 million.