Transfinder passes 100-employee mark, continues to grow
From The Daily Gazette
By John Cropley
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Transfinder marked the fourth anniversary of the opening of its downtown headquarters Tuesday with more than twice as many employees as when it moved in.
The company also goes into its fifth year here with several job openings and a host of product updates and roll-outs in progress.
The mission remains the same for the route-mapping software company, but as it approaches its 30th birthday, it seeks to launch evolutionary updates to existing products and develop entirely new ones, President and CEO Antonio Civitella said.
“In the early days, all we focused on was creating the best route,” he said. “We realized there’s a peripheral market.”
In the short term, that includes tourism-centered apps for public transit and fleet management tools. Longer term, the company could move toward biomonitoring of drivers through smartwatches or feedback on driver habits, such as warnings about hard braking in snow for drivers who have a history of hard braking during warmer months.
“It’s gone beyond: ‘Let’s build a great route,’” Civitella said.
On Tuesday, the company held its annual “Transfinder Day.” That was the designation from Schenectady’s mayor on Oct. 10, 2013, when the company cut the ribbon on its newly constructed headquarters at 440 State St. Civitella has kept the moniker alive on each successive Oct. 10.
The company organized a celebration/appreciation event for employees at lunchtime before hosting a party for scores of invited guests Tuesday evening on its rooftop patio.
The company has come a long way since its birth in 1988.
Civitella, now 48, started as a 19-year-old part-timer at what was then Forth & Associates, while he was working toward his computer science degree at Siena College.
He later acquired a minority ownership and then, in December 2000, purchased the company outright. It had six employees at the time, but within a year, it had grown to 15. A key strategy in those early days, Civitella recalled, was cutting out travel for client meetings.
“I invested early in technology to do online meetings, online trainings,” he said.
Online training now seems like a no-brainer for a tech company, but at the time, his competitors were doing things in person and tried to make a selling point of doing so while Transfinder was not.
“The early adopters were a little intimidated. Now it’s mainstream; everybody does it.”
Civitella’s training was in computer science, rather than business. He credited his entrepreneurial success to his late father, Raffaele, who moved his wife and two children to Schenectady from the economically depressed Campania region of Italy when Antonio was 9, looking for a better life in a place where his family didn’t even speak the language.
“My father always felt, ‘How can I improve?’” Civitella said.
He now quotes his father’s proverbs often and finds one about leadership particularly applicable to the running of his company: “There always has to be an odd number of people — and three is too many.”
Accountability and responsibility rested with him alone.
“In a leadership role, someone has to take charge. I’m a true believer in that," Civitella said.
The company’s success, he said, depends on the people working for him and the technology they develop.
Asked which is more important, he said: “I’m going to say the people are No. 1. Technology for sure, but people are the most important asset for any company — the right people.”
Finding enough of the right people has proved to be a sticking point at times.
Transfinder had six employees when Civitella bought it and 45 when he moved into 440 State St. It has about 85 now in Schenectady, six in Austin, Texas, and 14 in Shanghai, China.
It has 14 open positions in the United States and five in Shanghai. Transfinder doesn’t sell its products in China — it opened an office there because it couldn’t find enough software engineers in the United States.
“Software engineers are still very hard areas to fill,” Civitella said.
Transfinder is addressing this by sponsoring foreign engineers, when it can secure H-1B visas for them. It also tries to groom interns to take permanent jobs with Transfinder upon graduation from college; the firm will triple the number of interns it takes in next year.
Transfinder has recently shifted its product development process a bit, having the development team self-manage in an attempt to improve the accuracy of projected timelines for new products.
“Every software company has this problem,” Civitella said. “We are looking for a slight edge to forecasting. Now you let the development team work at it.”
As part of the solution, Transfinder added the position of scrum master, whose job it is to break big problems into multiple smaller problems and keep the development process moving and agile.
“Even the word ‘done’ had to be redone,” Civitella said. “‘Done done’ means ‘in the client’s hands.’”
Transfinder’s niche has been school bus routing, and it has done very well in that space: Its software is used by more than 1,800 clients in 48 states. But it’s looking beyond school buses for growth.
Earlier this year, it introduced Cityfinder, a tourism app for public transit that is in use locally with CDTA.
One of the six products Transfinder will introduce or update this quarter is Servicefinder 4.0, an update three years in the making that was released last week. It is designed for fleet management rather than fleet routing.
Fleetfinder 1.1, coming later this year, is designed for users other than school bus companies, potentially including snow plowing, food service and waste management fleets.
“It’s a big step for us,” Civitella said.
A couple of blocks down State Street, another Civitella venture, the New York BizLab, is growing as well. He plans to expand the business incubator/accelerator into the building next door when the Schenectady County Department of Motor Vehicles vacates that space.
The current BizLab space has five occupied offices, as well as two that are ready for immediate occupancy and one that will be finished to an occupant’s specifications. It also is home to the newest branch of Saratoga National Bank.