A conversation with Ted Thien; VP and General Manager of Tyler Technologies

Feb 12th, 2019

Describe what it was like when Versatrans was acquired by Tyler? What was your role in the acquisition? 

When you look at other technology acquisitions in the Capital District in the last decade, you won't find a better success story. It has been more than 10 years since Versatrans became part of Tyler. Since then, our client base has more than doubled, revenues have tripled, and the staff size has grown from 60 to 130 with employee attrition rates remaining in the single digits. And, nearly all of the staffing growth has occurred in our Latham office. We recently acquired, and are almost done renovating, a 43,000-square-foot building in Latham to accommodate our current and future growth. The success of Tyler’s Versatrans acquisition can be attributed to two things: Tyler's acquisition model and the cultural fit between the two companies. Tyler strategically acquires companies who are leaders in their space. Versatrans was the leader in K-12 transportation software in 2008 and we are still the leaders today. We still have the best technology, largest client base with a 95 percent client retention rate, and the highest client satisfaction ratings. The cultural fit between Tyler and Versatrans was excellent from the start and continues to this day. Both organizations have always been focused on caring for our employees and our clients. When Versatrans became part of Tyler, I was vice president of Sales and Marketing. In 2013, I became vice president and general manager of the product group within Tyler. I was part of the due diligence team which helped determine how Versatrans would integrate within Tyler.


Describe the culture at Tyler? Do you have any fond memories?

Everyone at Tyler is pretty humble and great to work with. A few years ago, I spent a few weeks working on a project in our Plano, Texas, office. That office has experienced explosive growth and has a parking issue as a result. One of the senior executives was late to a meeting because he couldn't find anywhere to park. Another consultant who was also working on the project suggested that the Tyler executives have their own parking spaces to which the Tyler executive responded, "Why would we do that? That’s not who we are." 

 

Are there any new software developments?

There are two products that we are very excited about. A few years ago, Tyler released a web-based version of our routing software called Traversa, which is leading the market in school routing software. Most software takes three to five years to mature to the point where it is truly valuable. This year, 70 percent of the school districts implementing Traversa are switching from a competing software product. We released a tablet specifically designed for school bus drivers called Tyler Drive. It is a combination of purpose-built hardware and Tyler's own app which includes modules for navigation, messaging, ridership, time keeping, and compliance. As part of our commitment to the Capital District, we have partnered with Saratoga Springs School District for the last year to help us refine the product and field test updates. The Saratoga team has been great to work with and very dedicated to helping make Tyler Drive a vital part of getting our most important resource -- your children -- safely to and from school each day.


What is the software scene today versus a decade ago?

It is hard to say, as I haven't been as plugged into the local startup scene for a few years. In 2011-2012, I did some work with a few groups who were getting their start at the Center of Gravity in Troy, New York, but my general manager duties took me away from that and have kept me traveling around the country for the last six years. One of the things that I have noticed is that it is still difficult to raise money for software startups in the Capital District compared to other parts of the country. Last year, I attended an event at the 1871 (Chicago's Technology & Entrepreneurship Center) and was impressed with the level of activity and buzz. When I was talking with startups at 1871, access to seed money was not the common issue. At the Tech Loop launch, I was pleased to see lots of new companies and even talked to a few new "founders" who were pitching their companies to me after the launch.


What was your motivations to become a first supporter of Tech Loop?

There is a growing gap between open software positions and qualified candidates, with open jobs outpacing qualified candidates. This gap is not just in the Capital District but all across the nation. As I have traveled around the country, I have often thought that it might be easier to set up operations in other parts of the country, but the negatives for doing that -- insanely expensive housing and heavy traffic, for example -- far outpace the benefits of trying to attract people to the area. I moved to the Capital District 30 years ago for a job and for the quality of life, so why can't others do the same? Solving that problem isn't something that Tyler can do alone. Software companies in the area must begin to work together to market the region to the rest of the northeast and the rest of the country. We can do that by combining our resources to show what a vibrant and active community of software companies we have to complement the fantastic quality of life we enjoy the in the Capital District.

 

What is your advice to future entrepreneurs?

It’s simple: solve a problem that needs solving for which people or businesses are willing to pay for the solution. And, do that better than anyone else. Lots of software has been developed which doesn't solve a problem or which is only marginally better than the competition. You also need to have great team. You can't start a successful business and grow it by yourself. You don't necessarily need a lot of people, but you do at least need a small dedicated and diverse team to have any significant amount of success.

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