Crane software sees lift in national business

SpectWare owners Eric and Tabitha Skinner were en route to the biggest construction expo in the country and their stomachs were in knots.

They were about to debut their new crane inspection management software, SpectWare Pro, to 120,000 experts in the crane and rigging industry at the March 2011 ConExpo in Las Vegas.

Everything they had risked for the past two years was about to be laid on the table. It was exciting and terrifying.

When the show was over, SpectWare had interest from some of the largest crane companies in the country and around the world and it attracted the eye of the crane industry trade magazine.

“SpectWare has the opportunity to be the breakout hit from Colorado Springs,” said Jan Horsfall, a SpectWare board member who owns Gelazzi gelato italiano cafes and has a long career in consumer branding and marketing.

This month, SpectWare signed its first customer, a Georgia-based crane company. Looking back over the past two years, the Skinners said they had no idea how difficult, frustrating and scary the road to their first customer would be.

Eric is self-proclaimed grease money, a crane mechanic for 24 years. For him, this SpectWare venture meant more than the launch of a small business. It was personal. In 2006, one of his coworkers was killed when a crane flipped on him on Interstate 25 and Nevada Avenue.

Eric started his own crane inspection company, Front Range Crane Safety.

“I wanted to make the industry better,” he said.

At the same time, the Skinners’ son was born with many health problems, which took a toll on them, emotionally and financially.

“And then, the economy hit bad in the fall of 2008,” Eric said. “And, we were not getting calls. No one was building.”

The slowdown in business gave Skinner time to think about how to make crane inspections more efficient — he often spent two to three hours on paperwork for one inspection. His idea was to make everything electronic — but it had to be more than just forms. He wanted a real-time electronic overview of the entire crane inspection process, including tracking crane inspections and operators’ certification and qualifications. Safety and compliance were the driving forces.

The Skinners formed a new company, SpectWare, and started working day and night.

“We had hit rock bottom, with everything that happened with our son,” Tabitha said. “It was hard for us financially. We didn’t really have much more to lose. Why not take a leap and get out there.”

Skinner collaborated with a technology expert to build a program that tracks cranes, crane inspections, keeps updated Occupational Safety Health Administration regulations and notifies crane companies when inspections are about to expire. The couple bootstrapped the development of the product with some financial help from friends and family. Everything seemed to take longer than planned, Tabitha said.

“It does get frustrating when you hit those speed bumps,” she said. “It was supposed to take three days, but now it has taken five days — but, when you hit those milestones, you feel OK. This is real.”

In 2010, SpectWare joined with the Colorado Springs Technology Incubator, which provides services and mentorship to technology startups. The incubator helped Skinner see how his company could grow nationally, not just locally.

“I’ve never been an executive in my life,” Eric said. “I had no clue what is a business. Now, I totally understand the difference between corporate thinking and small business minded.”

The timing for the SpectWare technology is right, Horsfall said. In 2010, OSHA passed new regulations for crane safety, which increased the required documentation for all cranes and crane operators. The result has been more interest in SpectWare’s product.

“When I looked at the industry from inside and out, there is typically a clip board and file cabinet problem,” Horsfall said. “There is too much labor and an elongated, poor process for keeping track of how cranes are maintained.”

SpectWare Pro, which is $499 for a year’s subscription, is designed for crane owners that track their own daily, monthly and annual inspections and it is designed for companies that perform inspections for customers. The average crane operator could save hundreds of hours a month, Horsfall said. When SpectWare rolled out its free trial program, 35 companies that own and operate cranes took them up on the offer.

The company expects to break even next year and projects that revenue could hit $18 million in five years. Horsfall said those numbers are conservative, based on smaller construction companies. After the Las Vegas show, the company picked up interest from some of the largest companies in the world, he said.

“I think the expansion of SpectWare will be bigger than they anticipated,” he said.

The Skinners have no doubt that their SpectWare story is just beginning and that they will be pulling all nighters until their company vision becomes reality.

“I recommend no one start a business unless they are willing to put in an effort,” Eric said, “unless they are really willing to risk it.”