In Rock Hill, Tech Firm Flies High

This article was originally published in the Rock Hill Herald on September 23, 2013 by Senior Business Editor Don Worthington.  To view the original article, you can Click Here

ROCK HILL — It’s a tossup over which is better: How Agie Sundaram, co-founder and CEO of Span Enterprises, decorated his downtown Rock Hill office or the story behind Sundaram and Span.

He has one of the coolest offices in Rock Hill.

Exterior aluminium panels from a Malaysia Airlines Airbus create a hallway of sorts on the second floor of the venerable Citizens building on Main Street.

Seats from a Boeing 737 form the employee lounge. Drinks are dispensed from galley containers from Japan Airlines. The parts came from an airplane boneyard in Tupelo, Miss., birthplace of Elvis.

The clocks for various time zones don’t have names on their faces, but instead have three-letter airport codes. One has RKH for Rock Hill/York County/Bryant Field airport.

The hallway is painted to resemble a runway with the numerals “16” closest to the front door. That means Sundaram’s “runway” points 160 degrees, running just east of south. He notes it is the same orientation as Runway 16R at Denver International, the longest public-use runway in the United States.

Sundaram selected the airplane motif for several reasons. He loves to fly, even proposing to his future wife Carrie while flying a Cessna 172.

“I didn’t have to get down on my knees,” he said.

The motif is also a metaphor for Sundaram’s business. He wants Span Enterprises to be a place where ideas come to soar. There are no limits. Even the company’s logo has two infinity symbols.

Before Sundaram formed Span he was a photographer on cruise ships. He started in the days when you snapped the passengers’ “memorable” moments all day and then spent all night developing the film, printing the negatives and trimming the prints with a cutter controlled by a foot trundle. The photos had to be ready for sale the next morning.

As much as he liked photography, he realized it was a business that would not fund the retirement he wanted.

He and friend Naga Palanisamy formed Span Enterprises. They got the company name from the initials of their last names and the initials from their first names.

It took more than some fancy linguistic combination to get Span off the ground.

Banks wouldn’t lend them money, so they maxed out credits and sold everything they had. Sundaram sold more than $30,000 in photography gear, even the gold his parents had given him. He kept an empty camera bag to remind him of previous times.  Palanisamy sold his home television while his children were watching it.

Through the assistance of the Warren Norman Co. they opened in a small office off India Hook Road. The office was so small that if more than two people were there, it was easier to meet outside. Sundaram’s first “desk” was a card table.

What they lacked in physical space, they more than made up for in ideas. Sundaram had sales experience. Palanisamy was an experienced programmer. They turned to what they knew to develop new software.

Palanisamy, from previous work, was familiar with the needs of long-distance truckers. They have to fill out lots of paperwork, including IRS forms. Span Enterprises developed a program that allows truckers to file the forms electronically with the IRS. Span also has a tech support staff that helps truckers understand the often-confusing IRS regulations.

Sundaram had a good feel for how software could help photographers and event planners. His wife sold Mary Kay products. Span Enterprises developed programs to help all three kinds of small businesses.

The result is Span Enterprises now has eight products in the market, four in development and is evaluating 10 ideas. While the cloud-based programs streamline operations, what they really are doing is creating more time for their clients to enjoy as they wish, Sundaram said.

Span Enterprises is an international company with three offices, the Rock Hill office with about 12 employees and two offices in India that employ 70 software developers and other technicians. Sundaram hopes to hire more people at both locations as his business grows.

He wants people with ideas to seek him out. His location in the same building as the Knowledge Park Technology Incubator and the Hive may help in that quest. Span Enterprises is certainly the kind of business the city says it wants to attract as part of its Knowledge Park economic development initiative.

Sundaram’s biggest challenge is finding the right people for the Rock Hill office. They need to be tech savvy, willing to work and above all, be happy. If they are not happy working at Span, they won’t be effective in helping clients, Sundaram said.

“The question is,” he said. “Can you handle the awesomeness. The awesomeness of the product and the awesomeness of the sales and support team?” 


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