Todd Mueller - Co-founder - My Story
I remember the first time I was in the dark room developing my first roll of film that I just shot. The room was dark, lit brightly enough by the red, safe light. The air was thick with the smell of film chemicals wafting around. I carefully opened the film container inside the changing bag and put the film inside the container used to develop the film. Once the container was safely out of the bag, I poured in the developer, gave it a gentle shake to cover all the film that was rolled up on the real. I hit the large timer on the table and carefully watched 20-minutes go by so I wouldn’t let the film 'cook' too long. I then went through next steps of developing the film that included the stop bath and the fix. I carefully opened the canister and delicately uncoiled the film from the reel to hang by a clip to dry. I could see the negatives fully developed in all their glory. Amazing I thought. Not only did I develop the film, I created these images.
I was hooked. I loved using the camera to create images and everything about the process. Going out into the world with the camera around my neck, carefully, or sometimes not so carefully composing the image and firing that glorious mechanical shutter to capture that moment in time. This is the first time I really owned the creative process of something that fascinated me as a kid. Creating something out of nothing.
Many years later, after graduating from college (SDSU) around 1997ish, I was helping my dad out with his mirror company and the internet was starting to really grab hold. I decided that he should have an online website showing off his beautiful mirrors. After work during the week and every weekend, I played around with HTML and Photoshop. I made the prerequisite homepage with the glowing fonts, scanned Polaroid's and hit counters. I finished the website for my dad, and it was…well, 'nice'. The web was fascinating to me just as was photography. I could build something from nothing and then share it with people.
Hours and hours would pass while working on my new passion and I wouldn't even know it. I soon realized that burning the candle at both ends started to take its toll. At the time, I held a job as a financial securities compliance officer for a large bank. At this point, I had no interest in compliance as all I did was push paper around after scribbling my name for an approved investment trade. I had to figure a way out so I the only option was to accelerate my learning.
I found a very pricey, one week, in person programming course I could take to boost my knowledge. Since it was one weeklong, I had to use my vacation time from work to be able to attend. Easy decision. While a few days into the course, I chatted with several people on our break time and I learned all had come from some company that payed them to be there. A few didn't even want to be in the class. When I explained that I took vacation time and payed for it myself, they had this look on their faces that we have all seen before. The look of, are you nuts? To me it seemed normal because this is what I really wanted to do. To create.
After this course I knew I had to do this for a living because I was spending so much time at night, I thought I should be doing this during the day! So, I kept studying, kept learning and sending out resumes to land that dream job of creating things online.
I sent out so many resumes I could not even tell you. The routine was the same. Came home from my day job, then immediately went online sent out resumes and continued to create things with code and photography. With being online some often, I found a cool chat program called ICQ and this little program led me to my wife, but that crazy story is for a different day.
It was a Wednesday afternoon and it was HOT. For some reason I still remember the weather on that day. I received a voicemail while I was at work and went outside my office to listen to it. It was a message from the HR department at Proflowers.com and they wanted to set up an interview with me for a software developer position. ProFlowers.com was one of the leading, if not the top, online florist and the thought of them calling me just blew my mind. I finally got what I wanted, but I was so scared I had to convince myself that this was just going to be a practice interview. One where I just use it as an experience, so I'll be better at the next interview. I set the interview around lunch time so I could leave work and go park in a quiet secluded area for the call.
The day came for the interview and I was in my parking spot ready to go. I had a notebook on my lap, programming book on my side and my phone ready to go. The call came in and we exchanged pleasantries. The interviewer, a senior developer, started asking me some basic programming questions. Thankfully, the questions were not too difficult, and any questions I didn’t know, I was able to look up quickly in my book. The sense of how I came off during the interview or whether my answers were correct or not, I just couldn’t tell. I was so relieved to get the call over with and the feeling of being an imposter was now over. I could safely go back to my job that I hated.
A day later I got a call from the software manager and she wanted to me come down for an interview with her in San Diego. Incredible! We set up a day and time and I took the day off from work as San Diego is over an hour away without traffic. On the day of the interview, I got down to San Diego extra early, and spent the next two hours in my car studying my books, my notes and everything I could in order to cram as much information as I could before my interview. It was show time. I sat down with the manager and she started off the interview by saying, 'excuse me, but I'm a little bit under the weather today so please forgive me'. Her misfortune that day turned into my good fortune as they made me an offer that I immediately accepted. I was officially a software developer and I couldn’t have been happier.
Along the way I worked at numerous companies such as Wells Fargo, UT Southwestern, Susan G. Komen, Lynda.com, Amgen and the County of Ventura. All places had interesting projects that I was able to work on, and one project I really enjoyed working on was called NRS. NRS stands for Nurse Referral System and this project was for the public health nurses at the County of Ventura. NRS is a web-based case management system that is still in production today handling thousands upon thousands of referrals and cases. I enjoyed working with the nurses and supervisors understanding what they did day in and day out. It was satisfying to see how the software could make their lives easier while improving their client’s lives. It gave me a sense of pride knowing what I created benefited the end users and the public for the greater good.
Seeing how this software made such an impact and the fact I was able to create everything myself, really got me excited about creating a similar SaaS (software as a service) product I could offer other public health agencies in the US. That initial desire was many years ago, and we know what happens far too often. Those dreams get put on hold because life happens in between. Changing diapers, working long hours, changing more diapers, you know the drill. The desire to create this product was always there, flickering, sometimes flaring up telling me to get myself going.
Along the way, I had the opportunity to open my own digital agency and I jumped at it. The light bulb went off one day while I was at my desk, so I walked out to my car and I called up a long time client and asked them if I started my own agency would they come along. They said yes, so my next call was to the city of Ventura to obtain a business license. The business development person on the other end of the phone asked me what my desired business name was, and I said, "Buena Digital". They put me on hold, checked their system, came back and said no one had taken it and I was in business. My heart sank. This was really happening!!
As I serviced clients and got exposed to new technologies and interesting projects, my desire to bring a product to life started to burn again. Badly. I wanted to create something. Something that was mine. I decided to create a SaaS product called eReferralPro. This product was based on my experience creating a referral system used by the County of Ventura. This was a much smaller project in size, and I thought this would be much easier to tackle than something like a case management system. I mapped out the vision, architecture and the branding. I started plugging away at it, in between client work, after hours, weekends, whenever I could spare the time. As time became more and more scarce, I brought on some developers to help with the project. We were able to push through and get it completed. Completing It was much harder than I thought, and awfully expensive. What I didn’t factor in at all, and the downfall of the project, was the cost of marketing and the very slow sales cycle. I didn’t want to admit failure to myself, so I let it sit for a good couple of years while it slowly bleed money.
After licking my wounds, and learning a lot what not to do, I decided that my next venture I would bring on a partner to help offset the financial liability and to bring on a set of skills that I didn’t have. Through a client, I was introduced to a woman named Nancy Leidelmeijer. Nancy is a seasoned and respected TCM (Targeted Case Management) consultant and she had deep experience with case management. Hmm, this could be interesting I thought, as the flicker of desire for the SaaS product burned a bit brighter. We met and I explained my experience in building case management software, and my excitement that we could create something exciting (yes, I know what you’re thinking, case management is exciting ;-) ) and people would enjoy using it. Luckily, Nancy agreed, and we set up a partnership and got straight to work.
My passion and love of creating brings me to where I am today. With that, I want to introduce you to Olive.