Firmology’s How I Power My Business series profiles the technology business owners use to run and grow their business.
Firmology Note: Alex Bratton likes to say that his Chicago-based software company, Lextech, builds ‘serious apps’ for mobile and web platforms. How serious? When Lextech first launched in the basement of his home in 2001, they engineered critical systems for the military including the Coast Guard, Navy, and the Army.
Later, Bratton noticed that mobile developers were focused on making games and pointless software for their customers, so he decided to focus on building valuable mobile solutions for enterprise clients such as CDW, Cobra Electronics, Stanley Security Systems, Fortune 500 “big bank” financial institutions and major broadcasting companies. Our favorite part of their sales pitch to prospective clients? “Missile launcher? Check. Grain silo? Check. Radar detector? Check… We dare you to find a piece of technology we can’t connect to mobile.”
Name: Alex Bratton
Title: CEO & Chief Geek
Business: Lextech Global Services
Location: Lisle, Chicago, and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
Smartphone: iPhone 5
Tablets: iPad 3, iPad Mini
Computer: MacBook Pro & Mac Pro with Apple Cinema Displays (once you use one of these screens you’ll never go back)
Other Gadgets: Synology NAS (massive storage for backups at home office), USB battery packs from Monoprice (keeping the iGadgets going), CallPod multi-gadget charger
What is the story behind your business?
I started Lextech out of the basement of my family home in 2001, where my team and I worked on a lot of control systems as a subcontractor for a local military contractor. These systems were mission-critical and often used in life or death situations. Because of this, the mantra “it just has to work” became part of our organizational DNA from a very early stage.
As Lextech grew, we transitioned to focus primarily on the enterprise. I noticed many businesses were just getting by, or, worse, being hindered by blinky lights technology that looked cool but lacked practical applications and business value. I wanted to create technology that helped businesses thrive. Today, we are doing that by helping businesses identify broken processes and creating suites of custom mobile apps to fix them, generating huge returns.
What apps or services are essential to the operations of your business?
Apps are our business, so we incorporate them into our own workflows whenever possible.
Our website is built on WordPress, and we use MailChimp for our email marketing campaigns. Our business development team relies heavily on our CRM app, Daylite, for tracking client and prospect interactions and new opportunities.
Development team members use OnTrack, a customized version of open-source project-management software. They also use Jira to track user stories and bugs as part of our agile development process. We also use Basecamp for tracking all non-development projects.
We live on Skype for group video discussions and traditional phone calls. I love having nearly all of my calls via the computer. Join.me and GoToMeeting work great for sharing screens with the team or clients. We often need to share an iPad screen with remote users so sending that screen to a Mac running AirServer and then sharing that Mac’s screen with GotoMeeting for remote users works great.
Amazon Web Services are the core of many systems we create. Bringing up systems on the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud and the Amazon S3 storage system allows quick activation and near infinite scalability when done right. For monitoring systems and knowing about any issues we have found Pingdom to be a great all-rounder (including an iOS app).
What apps, services or gadgets do you recommend to other business owners?
Animoto is a great tool for quickly creating good looking marketing or promo videos from photos and video snippets. The web interface is much more compelling than the mobile apps.
If you’re an iPad user then you need to get a Brydge keyboard (thebrydge.com) — with its awesome design it turns an iPad into a Macbook air—great for quick note taking or cutting away from the laptop.
Uber is a great tool for arranging a ride around town via taxi or private car (in the locations it is available). It’s very affordable and seeing the exact location of the car coming to pick you up is very cool (and takes the mystery of your pickup time).
AwayFind (iPhone app) alerts me to emails from specific senders or subjects that are key to address quickly. This lets me step back from the general flow of email and be more productive.
Our Daylite CRM is my go-to spot for all of my task management (using a modified version of the GTD “Getting Things Done” method). It’s sync’d across all my computers and mobile devices and lets me focus on being productive.
Favorite mobile app(s)?
Evernote is my key app for capturing everything from meeting notes to images of whiteboards (having whiteboards searchable through its OCR is pretty awesome). On the iPhone, I use FastEver and FE Snap to more quickly get data into Evernote (they launch faster and are simpler for quick notes or pictures).
1Password is another staple, securely storing all of my passwords for quick access and syncing across devices. You need something like this to switch to long, unguessable passwords (which everyone should be doing).
Favorite personal app(s)?
LexRay (created by one of my other companies, Lextech Labs) brings up real time video surveillance of important facilities (so I have both the office and home covered). Usually used by federal agencies, public safety, or enterprises.
Word Lens shows the future of mobile doing a live language translation of whatever is on camera and changing the words in real time.
AppAdvice gives a great daily snapshot of interesting iOS apps.
How can others reach you?
If you have a suggestion for someone we should feature, additional questions we should be asking, or would like to be featured on Firmology’s How I Power My Business series, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: How I Power My Business