Jeffrey Blum, owner of ProCare Software, works with Kacilia Fries during a technical support call in Medford Thursday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Home Grown: ProCare Software

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.

What do you do and how long have you been doing it? (Jeff Blum) ProCare offers software, hardware and services designed to automate the administrative and management needs of early education organizations, including child-care centers, before- and after-school programs, summer camps, preschools, private schools, Montessori schools, enrichment programs and Y programs. I started the company in Houston in the 1980s, moved it to Ashland in 1989 and to Medford in 2000.

How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley? I moved to the Rogue Valley in 1989, went to high school at Thurston High School in Springfield and went to Oregon State University in Corvallis.

What inspired you to go into this line of work? In the early 1980s I was working for a worldwide chemical company in Texas. The owner of the child-care center my children attended knew I programmed computers as a hobby and asked if I could develop a program to assist them with a family and child-tracking database, as well as accounts receivable. A week after delivery I received a call from the owner saying the program was absolutely remarkable and he knew other center owners who could also benefit from my program. That was in 1985.

Over the course of about six months, my hobby developed into a full-time job from which this company bloomed. To this day, almost half of our new business is generated by referral.

It didn't take long for me to figure out that I could do this someplace besides Texas, and we moved to Ashland in 1989. We built a 4,000-square-foot building in 2000 behind Mellelo's and then built a 6,000-square-foot building next to that one. We rented the older building to A.G. Edwards, which recently moved to another location. We're moving our technical support and development engineers in there. That will give us 10,000 square feet, which should keep us good for another five years.

What decision or action would you change if you could do it again? I've done a lot of things myself. It's a double-edged sword. You try to hire a marketing firm or an accountant, basically giving them a shoebox with receipts. So you can have a lot of people doing things for you that don't help your bottom line. I think some companies try to get too much outside help and it destroys the business because they can't afford it. For me, I try to do things too long. I just started hiring developers in the last five years, before that I was doing everything. The "I've got to do everything myself" attitude can hurt you, too. The lesson to learn is when to do it yourself and when to get help.

What's the toughest business decision you've made? Growing the company to the point where I have other people doing programming. The benefit is exponential. The amount of development is not just linear, you don't just get twice as much work done. When you are doing programming yourself, there's no one to bounce things off. I have four programmers and I'm hiring a fifth, and they are able to use each other as a sounding board. Nobody gets stymied, because they have help.

Who are your competitors? We are in an advantageous position of being No. 1 in our market; we have more than 20,000 child-care centers using ProCare, the majority here in the U.S., but also in the United Kingdom and Canada. There are other companies in our market, but our largest competitor is pencil and paper, those child-care centers that have not begun using software to automate their administrative and management needs.

What are your goals? My desire is sustainable growth. I don't hire people to lay them off next year at the end of a project. When I bring somebody on board, I have a long-term plan for that person. That's reflected in the people I have working with me; quite a few of them have worked here for more than 15 years. My goal is to keep the company at a size that is manageable. I worry about getting too many people. Once you get over 50 people, the state and federal rules change on you and I want to be careful that we don't implode. By listening to the needs of early childhood professionals, we continue to create innovative tools that enable users to accomplish in seconds what used to take hours. Less time spent on office management frees up more time for child-care administrators to spend with parents, staff and children.

What training or education did you need? I'm a chemical engineer by education. I graduated from Oregon State University, but I am a self-taught programmer/developer.

What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs? Why work eight hours a day for someone else when you can work 12 hours a day for yourself? Do what you enjoy. I enjoy programming. These guys that don't enjoy what they do, I don't see how they can do it every day. Find the need and fill it and do one thing really good. Your chances of success are higher if you're the best at it.

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