Big Apps, Small Package
From the Newton to the Palm Pilot to the iPhone, this company oils the wheels
by Phyl Newbeck
Lou Krieg and Ann Pettyjohn launched Green Mountain Software in 1993, the same year they were married. The Burlington company develops mobile, Web, and big data apps for iOS, Android, and related server software.
For Lou Krieg and Ann Pettyjohn, 1993 was a pretty good year: They were married at the Inn at Shelburne Farms and launched their joint business venture, Green Mountain Software. Both unions have been thriving.
For Pettyjohn, the journey to software was a somewhat circuitous route. Born in Oregon where she was raised by two teachers, she says she made up for having attended the same school district for 12 years by going to three colleges. After earning her degree in communications from the University of Portland, she first worked for her local newspaper and then joined the communications department at Boise Cascade.
Recognizing that the avenues for promotion were limited, and disturbed by the paucity of female professionals in the area, Pettyjohn moved to Massachusetts, where she found work first with Prime Computer and then Codex, a division of Motorola. She loved the company, jokingly referring to it as “the most sincere pumpkin patch on the planet.” It was there that she met Krieg.
Krieg’s journey to software was a bit more direct. Born in Troy, New York, to a stay-at-home mother and machine designer father who moved their family to Vermont when he was 4, Krieg grew up in Malletts Bay.
After graduating from high school, he joined Bill Schubart at Earth Audio in Ferrisburgh. “He gave me a leg up as a high school kid with a flair for dials and knobs,” Krieg says. “It was an unbelievable opportunity, but after four years, he sent me off to college.”
When Krieg started his studies at The University of Vermont, there was no such thing as a computer science major, so he chose electrical engineering as his field while taking as many computer classes as possible. By the time he was ready to graduate the major had been established, so he stayed on for an additional year of coursework and graduated with a double major.
“After college, as most of my cohort did, I left for greener pastures,” he recalls. In his case, that pasture was the iconic Route 128 in Boston, then known as America’s Technology Highway. He found a position at Motorola, where he worked for nine years before deciding to return to Vermont, despite being recruited by a number of firms from as far afield as California. “I weighed my options,” he says “and I took a 40 percent pay cut to come home.”
He began working at BioTek in 1989, and Pettyjohn followed him to Vermont two years later, taking a position at Long Distance North, which was later acquired by Rochester Telecom.
Krieg very much enjoyed his time at BioTek, but he wanted to go out on his own and do something that focused more on software. In 1993, he and Pettyjohn founded Green Mountain Software.
It was around that time that Apple introduced the Newton MessagePad, often described as the first personal digital assistant device. Krieg purchased his at Mac World in Boston; the only time, he says, that he has ever stood in line for an Apple product. Deciding that this was the future of computing, he made it his goal to build software for the portable devices.
“One of the things that attracted me to computers,” Krieg says “is that they were big and impressive and behind glass walls in a raised-floor computer room.” Ironically, the office now occupied by Green Mountain Software used to be the computer room for General Dynamics.
Despite his love for the large contraptions, Krieg based his business plan around the constantly shrinking personal computing devices. Krieg and Pettyjohn initially solicited customers by spending time in AOL chat rooms. When others expressed interest in software applications for use on the Newton, they would offer assistance. They did projects in fields as diverse as home health care and energy.
Krieg and Pettyjohn have five full-time employees and several who are called in on an as-needed basis. Along the way, they had to alter their business as the devices they worked on changed over time. “The Newton was the first device you could hold in your hand,” says Krieg “and since then, devices have shrunk and engorged.”
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple he decided to shut down production of the Newton, causing the first crisis for Pettyjohn and Krieg’s fledgling company. “That was really bad for some of our clients,” Krieg recalls.
Fortunately, the company was also working with Microsoft’s Windows Mobile platform. “We were one of the first companies in the country to get a contract to do the device, back around 1997,” says Pettyjohn.
With the Newton off the market, Green Mountain Software picked up the Palm Pilot, which had just been developed. “They were very primitive,” Krieg says. “They were kind of toys compared to the Newton but we jumped to that platform and ultimately had some interesting project work for it.”
Their work really took off after Apple released the iPhone in 2007. “Initially when Apple introduced the iPhone they thought they would use Web apps because they didn’t have a problem with cell connections in Silicon Valley,” Krieg says. “However, the market dictated a need for native apps that could be installed and run on the device without an Internet connection.”
One project the couple is particularly proud of is their invention of a product called Shot Logger, which was used by Antiques Roadshow and the Nagano Olympics for video shoots. While Green Mountain Software generally serves as a consultant shop, Shot Logger was one instance in which the business created and sold the product itself.
A recent project involves a southern Vermont business called Pool Shark H2O. The company already had Web-based software that allowed pool maintainers to do their government-mandated inspections, but not all pools are in places where there is access to the Internet. The company created a mechanism whereby workers can log the data on their phones and then download the information.
Scott Trafton of Pool Shark H2O was thrilled to be able to keep his business in-state. “They’ve been great,” he says. “It was a six-week process and they were very easy to work with.” Trafton hopes to expand his company’s work and expects that the app prepared by Green Mountain Software will be the first of many more.
Pettyjohn recalls that many fledgling software companies did not survive the loss of the Newton. “That was when we consciously decided to adopt other platforms,” she says, crediting that decision with the company’s longevity. “You always have to look for what will be the next platform.”
That forward thinking is one of the reasons the company has managed to thrive after more than two decades. “If you’re going to do something for 20 years, it’s hard if it stays the same,” says Krieg. “This keeps things fresh and alive. This is a field for people who enjoy learning new things.”
Pettyjohn is the only member of the team without a software background but she serves as the liaison with clients as well as all other areas of business development and operations. The couple lives in Colchester, one bay over from where Krieg grew up.
Their hobbies are also somewhat high-tech in nature. Krieg has a pilot’s license and they belong to the Green Mountain region of the Porsche Club of America. In the low-tech field, Pettyjohn loves to cook and Krieg has a strong interest in naval military history.
While success is obviously measured in part by profit, Krieg has another definition to go by: “Success is having interesting projects to work on.” Both he and Pettyjohn revel in the variety of their work, and Pettyjohn points to a recent project with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) as an example of a new and interesting assignment.
Norm McCollough of EPRI has been working with Green Mountain Software since its Palm Pilot days. “I was with another company working on a project in New Hampshire in the electric power industry,” he says “and we were collecting data wirelessly. I was the hardware guy, but they helped us use the Palm to get data from devices hanging from the power lines.”
Years later, at EPRI, McCollough reconnected with the couple for several projects, including one where EPRI purchased 70 electric vehicles and used iPhones to collect data, and another where it bought 400 large electrical utility bucket trucks and converted them to plug-in hybrids for a similar data collection project.
“Ann and Lou are very indulgent when I come up with ideas,” McCollough says. “I have some ideas that are a little further out there than many and they understand me.”
Krieg and Pettyjohn consider themselves lucky to work in a field where face-to-face interaction is no longer needed, and that allows them to live in Vermont. “If you have a good portfolio you can do this kind of work remotely,” Krieg says.
They are also happy to be able to bring in interns from The University of Vermont and Vermont Technical College, some of whom have stayed on to become full-time employees. “It’s still enjoyable,” Krieg says. “We wouldn’t be doing this so long if we didn’t enjoy it.” •