Ternion’s Early Days

Ternion’s Early Days

The Huntsville Times featured Ternion® Corporation in the weekly Business section of their newspaper. Here is an excerpt of the article printed on Thursday, April 29, 1999. Reprinted with permission.

Computer simulation is real thing for business

Times Business Writer

Brad Spearing can laugh now about the early days of his business when canned tuna fish was a delicacy.

But at a time, living off the family’s savings while launching Ternion Corp. was a scary venture. His wife, Gena was pregnant with the couple’s fourth child, and the wife of another founder, Mike Cash, was pregnant with twins.

“We went for around seven months without a penny of revenue,” Spearing recalls. “Some of the people said we were less than prudent in our decision to start the business.”

“It was definitely difficult.”

Spearing, Cash and a third founder, whom Spearing and Cash bought out about five years ago, had worked together for more than two years on numerous military computer-simulation projects.

“We believed we could develop something that could dramatically improve the quality of military simulation,” Spearing said.

Most government computer simulation is developed from scratch under contract, Spearing said. “We felt the simulation market needed to rely more heavily on commercial products from companies who specialize in that instead of building them from scratch.”

The motivation for starting the business went beyond “building a better mousetrap,” Spearing said.

“We saw this as an natural extension of our Christian faith,” Spearing said. “Two things drew us to do this – the desire to work in an environment where (customers and employees) were treated the way we want to be treated. We also wanted an environment where we felt we were unfettered and could be the best we could be,” both professionally and personally.

The three founders didn’t want the pressure of working 70 or 80 hours a week – or of asking employees to do the same – so no one would have to sacrifice their family and home lives.

“We’re husbands and fathers first,” Spearing said. “We work to take care of our families.”

When the three men left their jobs, they were not 100 percent sure they really wanted to start the business, Spearing said. “We met every day and, within a few days, we had worked out the details of the business.” Spearing said. “By the end of the month, we had incorporated.”

Though no clients had been lined up, some of their business connections eventually led to contracts, Spearing said.

“As soon as we got our first computer we started developing our product,” called FLAMES (FLexible Analysis and Mission Effectiveness System), actually a family of individual simulation products. “Our first proposal was written on a computer in (Cash’s) living room.”

After starting in the spring of 1989, the founders didn’t have their first sale until the fall of 1991. In the meantime, they helped with software verification and validation work and other projects to pay the bills and feed their growing families.

Now, the company, which marks its 10th anniversary this week, is focused on its software products, and any contract work is related to its own products. Customers include government and commercial clients worldwide.

The company is privately owned, and all stockholders are full-time Ternion employees.

That’s just the way Spearing wants to keep it.

“Usually outside investors are involved for a different reason than why we’re in business,” he said.

Of the company’s four goals, being profitable is last on the list. “My view of success is not making a lot of money,” he said as he points out his wife’s framed cross-stitching on the wall that reads: “A good name is more desired than great riches.”

“Going public or relying on venture capital is something we’ve never been interested in,” Spearing said. “We’ve had outside offers, but we’ve refused them.”

Still, Spearing looks for his company to grow.

“Our theory is that our government and governments around the world would, for purely economic reasons, be forced to rely more heavily on commercial software for simulations than they do now. It’s tremendously expensive to maintain and develop computer simulations used by the military.”

“Our thought is that, as they turn to the increased use of commercially available software, they’ll be looking for a product like ours.”