The HP 3000 market draws its roots from mom and pop
software companies but in the last year its welcomed its
first mom-and-pop-and-mom-and-pop firm. ROC Software raised its
profile in the 3000 community last year with its acquisition of all
MPE products in the Tivoli Software portfolio, products created by
long-time 3000 suppliers Unison Software and Tymlabs. ROC took on
thousands of customers in its acquisition, creating another MPE
supplier seemingly overnight from the ashes of Unison and Tymlabs.
The revival was all the more interesting because ROC was created by
combining the talents of two married couples, Becky and Jerry Rankin
and Wendy and Danny Compton. While more than a few HP 3000 software
firms have been launched by couples, wed never heard of any run
by more than one couple. The Rankins and the Comptons are also across
the street neighbors in Austin, making the company one of the most
closely-held vendors in the 3000 community literally.
In growing from three employees 18 months ago to 43
today, ROC might have seemingly appeared overnight, but the firm was
really growing from MPE roots that go back well into the beginning of
the 1990s. Starting from the RS Tech support and enhancement business
that covered Unisons Formation forms package for the 3000, the
two couples took on the rest of the Unison and Tymlabs products built
for MPE last year. Gathering up 12 former Tymlabs staffers to make a
go of selling and supporting MPE/iX software may seem like a daunting
task, but its on a par with making the intelligence, passion
and ego of two married couples work as the cornerstone of a software
company. Having run a marriage-based business in the 3000 community
ourselves for five years, my partner Abby and I wanted to know how it
works for others, and what ROC might bring to customers from such
unique, family-style roots. We sat down with the Rankins and Comptons
ROCs head of marketing, the president, the operations
manager and its director of development to learn what kind of
vows ROC has exchanged with the MPE community, and among
My wife and I talk about business all the time in our
relationship. We even have to put a moratorium on it at times. Is
that how it works for you guys?
long pause, and then laughter]
Jerry: They all laugh and say yes, but Im telling
you it never stops. Because of the nature of how rapidly weve
grown, we dont take much time away. Theres always some
tidbit in the conversation, so even if youre talking about the
kids, boom, somehow work jumps in there.
Danny: For us its gotten better, because Wendy had
multiple offices in the house by the time we moved out of the house
and into offices.
Wendy: There was only one FULL office...
Danny: We had an office called the Downstairs Office, if
that helps any.
Jerry: We had two rooms in our house that were offices,
one that was the guest bedroom that the guests
couldnt even get in. It was the same way. As we started working
together and accumulating more things, we realized we either needed
to get a new place to live, or an office.
Danny: We had a Series 925 and a Mighty Mouse [Series 37]
in the house, and a LaserJet 2000.
Jerry: We would have had a 2680, but doggone it, Danny and
I couldnt lift it.
Danny: Getting the stuff out of the house has been good,
because now when we go home we dont work, and thats a
nice change of pace.
Becky: Yes, I actually have a formal dining room now.
Jerry: It has a formal dining table, with a whiteboard
along the wall.
On top of all the familiarity of marriage, you folks
live close to each other as well?
Jerry: Thats how we met. We live right across the
street. Our kids started going to school together, theyre of
very close age. Danny was the weirdest guy I ever met.
Wendy: Thats what Danny said about you.
Danny: I met Becky on Halloween. She had blue hair and was
dressed as a clown, so the next time I met her I didnt
Jerry: I was working on some rent-to-own [PC] software and
was doing support, and I wasnt making enough money on that, so
I was doing tons of data conversions. Id be up all night
working, and Id look across the street and see lights on.
Id see Danny walking and talking.
Danny: I was working on a project that was being half
developed in India, so when it was coming together I was doing
all-night and all-day work.
So when did you know that you had the makings of a
Jerry: We laughed at it before it ever happened, that it
Danny: Wendy and I decided we wanted them as partners. We
bought into their company to get one of their partners to become
non-active with them. The idea was to cement that so we could be
working together. We talked about buying Formation as an idea:
Boy, they dont want it. Wendy does a lot of work for the
customers. Wouldnt this be keen? We stood in the front
yard and kind of laughed about it. We decided if we wanted to do it
we were going to have to put a real business plan together and go get
it. That was a little slice of hell.
Jerry: That was a big slice of hell.
Becky: We all got to know each other really well.
Jerry: In one month, we worked on it every minute of every
day, and get together in the evenings and just pored over it.
Danny: We went through the detail of how much wed
spend, and really tried to make a real business plan that made sure
we knew what we were getting into because it would really
change the way our [current] company looked. When we decided it was
something we could make a go of, we talked to Tivoli about it.
was in on the meetings at Tivoli, because they were trying to decide
what to do about the MPE stuff. Id say, I think we should
do what we said we were going to do when Tivoli bought Unison, which
was invest in MPE. Tivoli had made a commitment to the owners
of Unison to extend the Tivoli framework, so MPE could become one of
their platforms. They werent doing that. I was pushing to do
the right thing and support the platform, because we had all this
revenue. And they finally kicked me out of the meetings, because they
didnt want to hear it. Thats when I said we have to put a
plan together, because theyre not going to keep Formation.
Wendy: Because of all the [Unison/Tymlabs] products,
Formation was the most different, and since I was so attached to the
So the first business plan was to work together on
taking over the Formation business. How did you proceed to the rest
of the Unison MPE products?
Jerry: We originally thought that Formation was the only
thing [Tivoli] were pushing out the door at that time. We were
comfortable with what we could do with that, and we all could
personally benefit from that one product, do some enhancements and
some work on it. Its a great product. Wendy had a passion for
it, and Danny had a passion for it. It had a very faithful customer
Danny: Before we could do another hell week, or business
plan, Tivoli said they were going to divest themselves of the rest of
the MPE products. We were floored.
Jerry: We had really put everything wed had into the
Formation deal. Now we were looking at the timing of it. We committed
to having a new release of Formation by mid-summer of last year, but
we didnt know wed be taking over all the rest of the
products by June 1. The negotiation took up all the time.
Danny: We did a minor enhancement to Formation, and
weve got two more enhancements coming up now. Were
catching up hard.
Jerry: The funny thing was, when we took over Formation we
started selling the product. People were buying it. We werent
planning on selling it, we just wanted to support it.
Wendy: Selling wasnt our focus. We felt like it
needed some time and attention before we could go out and sell.
Danny: Our original plan for Formation had support and
development. No sales people. The point was to build up support
ROC seemed to come out of nowhere. Did anybody tell you
while you were developing those business plans you were crazy to get
into the MPE market?
Danny: Everybody did.
Jerry: Its like the working with your spouse
thing. Everybody thought we were idiots, that [MPE] was such a
Danny: The company that I was at before BSI was a 3000
shop. Wendys company was involved in the credit card processing
industry in California, and that was a 3000 shop. We had a lot of
industry experience, and didnt stumble into the MPE space.
Jerry: We were PC only.
Becky: I remember the early conversations with Danny, and
Id say Whats MPE? and hed say,
Its a market where the rumor has been that it may go away
but the operating system is so stable and so reliable and
people like it. And I believe its going to be around.
Jerry: As everybody said, for the last five years
its been dying, but the numbers keep growing. It made a big
difference about how much we could pay, what our debt structure was.
Since weve taken the products on, the same excitement still
pops back up that took place with Formation. We made a commitment to
ourselves that this company isnt going public, not intended to
be fattened up to be sold to the next guy. ROC Software was formed so
we could take the products and do right with them, and put some value
back in. We believe the customer base will reward us for that.
What are the advantages of being able to plan at the
level of intimacy where youre married to your partner?
Wendy: In working in large companies, theres always
a question of what somebody elses motives truly are. I
dont think we have those issues, because our motives are so
Danny: You trust that you know each others heart,
that you know what youre doing. Its the best part of
being in business like this: I know what hes thinking, and what
Becky: Its scary sometimes.
Wendy: It allows the company to move more cohesively. You
dont have the power struggles. But it also benefits us in our
personal lives. I wouldnt want to not be involved with
Dannys work. Weve always been involved in each
others work, even before we worked in the same company. This
adds an extra level to that, and I think its a really good and
healthy thing for us.
Becky: I feel the same way. When I left the profession
that I was in and started working with Jerry, we got so connected.
Its a wonderful way to be connected. He got so busy he needed
extra help, and it was a big decision to change my career and start
working together. I had a bit of a risk. A lot of our friends said,
Well, I couldnt work with my spouse.
Jerry and Danny [together]: Wed look at them and
say, We couldnt work with your spouse either.
Jerry: Theres times with the closeness of the
relationship and the nerve endings at work, that its nice that
she knows what my work is about. I dont have the patience to
describe what Im doing.
The one thing that we want this company to stand for is
the integrity that each of us stand for. We hold each other
accountable to do whats right. I can trust that [Danny] will
slap me if my integrity starts dropping. Weve spent a lot of
time together and so we know each other, and it makes for a strong
Danny: Sometimes youre in a meeting together, and
somebody has to go pick up one of the kids. Thats the downside.
But then theres the times when I think of a cool idea when
Im in the shower, and I jump out and use a dry-erase marker to
write on the bathroom mirrors. At any moment we can talk about stuff
and brainstorm. For me, its part of being creative. It
doesnt always happen between nine and five.
One of the other interesting things is that ROC seems
to be building itself on the remains of Tymlabs. Does it seem
that way to you?
Danny: Well, weve got about a dozen of the people.
We are really trying to create a place where we all wanted to work.
One of the main topics at our retreat last week was, Are we
still maintaining the charter of a place where we all want to
Do things like the financial planning class youre
offering to your staff make up part of that experience?
Wendy: Weve got a whole lot of young people who are
having their first experience with a full time job. We dont
just let them sit out there and flounder. We want to add to more than
their job skill sets. We want to add to their life skill sets.
Jerry: Because we did go out and get a lot of college
graduates, we still want to do whats right, and help them be
better when they leave if they choose to move on.
Whats it been like to introduce the legacy and
legend of the HP 3000 to that younger generation?
Danny: Were training them about operating systems
and spoolers and job schedulers and backup. Thats real stuff
that happens in the real world.
Jerry: We didnt tell them this is an old dying. We
said this is the coolest thing since sliced bread. They go out and
talk to their friends and say, Yeah, what do you know about
MPE? Were like training the Marines here: Theres
only a few good ones who know this stuff.
Danny: The truth is that MPE has all the things a real
operating system has. A lot of would-be operating systems dont
have the fundamentals that are required to run a business. We
interact with Maestro, so were training people on GUI and NT
Wendy: Because our customer base is out there in the real
world, and has nothing to do with computers except using them, [our
staff] gets to have the experience of talking to people in other
industries. Being in this business, you get to see into everybody
What are the surprises youve encountered in
running an HP 3000 business as two couples?
Danny: Im amazed at the people weve brought
together. We have such a great group of personalities. Im
amazed at the strength of the players weve been able to bring
together in a phenomenally small amount of time. I never thought
Id get 12 people I worked with before together again, because
they wanted to be here.
Becky: Im surprised how much I enjoy what Im
doing. Were so like minded and all working toward the same
goals. I enjoy that very much. Im pleasantly surprised that
its going so well.
How has working together as two couples changed your
relationship as friends?
Jerry: Ive learned a lot from being married to my
wife for 15 years, and the same thing is true in being
married to Danny and Wendy in this. Theyre totally
different people than Ive ever been around. Theyre
creative people, people I can chase after instead of always getting
to lead. We can be thinking about the same thing, but I dont
look at it the same way as Danny does. I always found it
complementary. He forced me to grow a lot. If you look at my
bookshelves, Ive got Learn Everything in 24 Hours
books stacked up.
Wendy: When you lead completely separate business lives,
you always feel like theres some part of your spouses
business life that you are an alien to.
Becky: When Jerry still officed in the formal dining room
and Id be in the kitchen making dinner, Id hear him take
support calls. Id hear him so much I could repeat. I remember
thinking I wish I could understand more about what he was
doing. It is wonderful to be that connected now. To be able to
talk shop is great.
Do you think your structure gives you a business
advantage that your HP 3000 customers would want to know
Danny: We were talking about being a mom and pop shop, and
the 3000 industry came from that kind of startup. Were truly a
version of that. Its almost one of the back-to-basics kind of
things. I think only time will tell if we are capable of executing
better than the average guy.
Wendy: When we first started this, somebody gave us a
business magazine that said Partnering with somebody is harder
than marrying somebody. The article said that being in a
corporate environment with other executives is like having a
marriage, and how much you have to work at it. Some partners went to
a marriage counselor in the article. [Our friends] immediately looked
at the article and said, This is you guys. Because
were more intimately involved with each other, I think that
gives us some advantage in that we have more at stake to make
this work. Its not an easily dissolvable thing, like some