Going into software development was a no-brainer for Ryan Comingdeer. “I took my first programming class in seventh grade,” he says. “I was kind of a geek from day one.”
But when he started technology firm Five Talent in 2004, he discovered he had a knack for something in addition to writing code. Many clients came to him with problems that could be helped by technology, but they weren’t always considering the right solution. “They would contact us about an off-the-shelf e-commerce approach when they really needed a custom software solution,” Comingdeer says. “Or they would seek out more visitor traffic when they needed a better website to improve sales.”
Stewardship and excellent customer service have always been Five Talent’s raison d’être. Comingdeer became both a business consultant and software developer so he could provide his clients what they truly needed — not just what they thought they needed.
Offering technology solutions such as mobile app and custom software development, website design, hardware integration, digital marketing and branding allows Comingdeer and CEO Preston Callicott to provide a much higher level of customer service. “If a client says, ‘I want you to build this product,’ we can come back and say, ‘Have you ever thought about this? There are other approaches that might work better,’” Comingdeer says. “We can advise clients that what they’re contemplating might not be the best solution.”
It’s not easy to merge skills as varied as software development and business consulting. Callicott says it works because he and his partner have complementary skill sets. Callicott spent decades working as a “techno-vangelist” at large firms and software startups. He has a solid business background but enough knowledge about technology to keep up with the best software developers.
“We’re the perfect complement to each other,” he says. “I’m the one going out and working the business side of things. Ryan is in the top 1% of developers out there. He has great attention to detail. What makes him unique is that he is just as sharp when it comes to understanding business. He’s great at listening to the client and ferreting out what’s behind the words.”
To ensure they can offer a full suite of technology solutions, Comingdeer and Callicott’s employees have a range of skills including programming, design, UI/UX, digital marketing and more. The variety of services they can offer in-house sets them apart from other similar firms. Because projects can quickly get large and complex, every client is assigned a project manager. This individual interfaces with the client and design team so all products are delivered on time, on budget and to the customer’s specifications.
Their strong sense of commitment to realizing client goals through technology means Callicott and Comingdeer are very involved in product development too. The company has about 35 employees and regular freelancers, Callicott says. “We’ll probably stop growing at about 50 people. It’s part of that desire to stay boutique. Ryan and I know all the clients and all the projects on the docket.”
All of this was very attractive to Ron Petti, CEO of Verdant Web Technologies. The startup provides software to help private-and public-sector entities manage environmental compliance. The product was originally developed at PBS Engineering + Environmental, a Portland-based consulting firm that Petti ran for nearly 20 years. While it provided a good service to several dozen clients, PBS wanted to find a way to scale it and make it more widely available.
PBS spun off the software component of their business, and the newly formed Verdant issued an RFP describing their needs. They selected Five Talent based on the quality of their response. “They showed us via mockups how the software was going to look and feel from a user-interface perspective,” Petti says. “They told us how they would account for every hour and gave us a nice budget range we could work within. The project management side is incredibly well documented and easy to track.”
Petti appreciates that Comingdeer and Callicott are thinking beyond what the software can do right now. “They’re causing us to think out of the box a little more than what we anticipated,” he says. “They’ve given us multiple ways of attacking performance issues. They’re also looking down the road at the next version and how we might integrate things like machine learning into our program. Those are things we were sort of thinking about, but they have the expertise to guide the process.”
He also likes the personal attention he receives from the two men leading the company. “With Preston and Ryan, you really get the sense they kind of live the product with you and see its applicability,” he says.