The Silicon Review
“Our growing number of dedicated users are our biggest promoters. They benefit from the social capital they gain by discussing our new offerings and introducing our products to new customers,” Jesse L. Thé, Founder & CEO Lakes Environmental Software"
To say that humanities footprint has been rough on the environment is an understatement. Considering other uncontrollable factors, such as population growth, the rate at which we are changing our home planet is only going to get worse. However, it isn’t too late to turn things around. Even though the evidence of climate change exists, and we know that air pollution causes health effects, these factors are often ignored. There are many things that can be done to help save and restore the world we live in for future generations. Thankfully, our planet has some innovative environmental companies and technology offerings on its side.
In light of the above mentioned environmental challenges, we are thrilled to present Lakes Environmental Software, a world leader in providing air quality management software including emission inventory, air dispersion modeling and human health risk assessment solutions. These powerful software applications have direct benefit to the environment allowing regulatory agencies, consultants, and industry to decrease the amount of pollution they release to the environment.
The introduction of the firm’s graphical Microsoft Windows-based user interface in 1996 revolutionized the field of air dispersion modeling software. Lakes Environmental Software has been recognized internationally for its technologically advanced air dispersion modeling software and also for its exceptional expertise in the area of IT solutions for environmental sciences.
Interview Excerpt: Jesse L. Thé, Founder & CEO
Why was the company set up? How did you select the vertical and decide to be a part of the global platform?
The company founders have a passion for protecting the environment. Even understanding that the environmental IT market is much smaller than other IT fields, we decided to move forward and develop IT solutions to service this smaller market. We truly believe that we should dedicate our lives to something that we enjoy and that contributes to a better world.
Tell us about your first product that was launched.
Lakes Environmental Software developed the first commercial atmospheric pollution model for the Windows operating system, back in 1996. We are proud to report that this product, AERMOD View, is still in extensive use globally and is the top-selling software solution for this niche market.
How successful was your first product launch? Share the experience.
Our product had to displace existing solutions, which were based on the old DOS operating system. Changing people’s minds and entrenched practices is always an uphill battle. Due to our much more productive and user-friendly solution, our users quickly learned that they achieved significant competitive advantages by using our solution. Over time even the most obstinate atmospheric pollution modeler moved to our platform. As an unfortunate side effect, numerous competitors entered the market place only to be sold and resold multiple times. Even with the influx of funding from large investors, our competitors could not keep up with our product quality, ease of use and market dominance.
What challenges did you face in your initial years? What can others learn from it?
The initial years were very difficult due to the need to invest all the profits back into the company to continually create new products and update the old ones. Some new offerings required 2 to 3 years of development at a cost of over US$2 million. Since we did not have any investors, we had to contribute vast amounts of sweat equity into the company which required us to work inhumanly long hours. Looking back, the sacrifice was definitely worth the effort!
What are the biggest assets to your organization? What would they be and why?
Staff – Our dedicated staff which we painstakingly develop and our ongoing success in retaining these valuable resources. Most of our senior developers from the initial years are still working with us today.
Products – Our software products have followed the subscription model since the late 1990’s. The continual subscription renewal is a confirmation of customer satisfaction as well as a source of revenue for maintenance of existing products and future development efforts.
User Base – Our user base and successful long-term customer retention are important for the launch of new products and data services. To further build our customer base and increase exposure in the marketplace, we recently purchased ENN.com, an environmental news network, which receives 1 million unique visitors monthly.
Technical Expertise – Our internal technical business expertise and intellectual property have been developed over the past 20 years. Currently, we can accurately identify those opportunities that will succeed in the market. We can also then promptly code these solutions and successfully launch products and competitive data services.
What do you feel are the reasons behind:
Your product popularity: The quality of our products, the ease of use, and our outstanding technical support. For example, Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, operates a critical code developed by us. For 10 years, we never heard from them. They recently called to indicate that their Microsoft server is no longer supported by Microsoft and they want to upgrade. This is the biggest compliment an IT company can receive. Imagine, no support issues in 10 years!
Your consistent growth as an organization: Due to our dominance in the market, we retain a mindshare that would cost substantial resources to acquire. The positive reputation attributable to the high quality of our IT solutions and our unsurpassed customer support services propels all our new ventures. Our growing number of dedicated users are our biggest promoters. They benefit from the social capital they acquire by discussing our new offerings and introducing our products to new customers.
What drives/inspires you to excel in your field of business?
We have a team that wants to be number one in each of the areas we act on. Our final objectives never included return on investments. We always assumed that this was a side effect of a job well done. For this reason, we never borrowed money to grow the business. This way, instead of worrying about paying the debt, we could focus our whole energy in a positive way to create the highly regarded IT solutions we provide.
How does your company contribute to the global IT platform and society at large?
Lakes Environmental has contributed to the reduction in emission of air toxics to the atmosphere, reduction in cancer levels in the population, and a significant reduction of emissions at industrial sites, by helping our clients properly size control equipment. For example, one of the steel mills that employed our solution reduced investments from US$1 billion to a mere US$20 million. We have other installations saving over US$40 million per year by properly planning production to reduce air concentrations and avoid regulatory penalties.
Do you have any new products ready to be/getting ready to be rolled out into the market?
We always have new products under development. Recently our clients have expressed the need for our products to replace adjacent solutions, not at present covered by us. According to our clients: “since your products work flawlessly, could you please replace our IT solution for XYZ, which is a constant source of headaches”? We have already won various contracts to replace these solutions and we foresee a very profitable new environmental market for us.
Where do you see your company a couple of years from now?
Lakes Environmental has put aside substantial funds to propel it to the next phase. We can maintain operations and new development for at least the next 5 years. We are currently employing these resources in new Cloud and mobile applications that we believe will be extremely useful to our clients and provide us with good returns for even further investment in future offerings.
The Brains Behind It All
Jesse L. Thé, Founder & CEO: Jesse spearheads the overall business and operations and is responsible for the strategic and growth initiatives of the organization. He holds a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Waterloo, where he is also an adjunct professor.
Cristiane L. Thé, Founder: Cristiane is the Director of Software Quality.
Michael A. Johnson: Michael is the Director of Software Development.