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Chris Antonius and Mike Zerkel are partial to a particular Peet’s Coffee on Portola Parkway in Irvine.
It’s where they launched one of Orange County’s fastest-growing software development firms, Verys Inc., in 2012. The company name is a play on word for systems and verdad, Spanish for truth.
The two would meet at Peet’s around 8:15 in the morning after dropping off their kids at Myford Elementary School.
Wi-Fi wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now—or free. The frugal pair would take turns buying coffee for an hour of Wi-Fi per transaction.
When lunch rolled around, they would purchase sandwiches, buying a few more hours of connectivity.
“We would literally buy six or seven things to get their Wi-Fi,” said Zerkel, Verys president.
“That was our office for the first three months.”
Though the startup didn’t have a physical address, it had clients lining up, including Walt Disney Co., Sony Pictures Entertainment and Ernst & Young.
“We were drawing revenue month one, and we were cash flow positive and profitable in month three,” said Zerkel, who like Antonius, previously worked at Aliso Viejo-based IT service and outsource provider UST Global Inc., with positions that gave them access to a number of potential clients for their new business.
The UST connections and others from previous jobs, and all that coffee, paid off.
Verys, which provides software, consulting services and staffing for companies, is on pace to hit nearly $20 million in revenue this year, up from $13.3 million last year.
“We’re looking at taking a $20 million company to a $50 million company,” Zerkel said.
Peet’s isn’t their home anymore, nor is Irvine.
Verys moved a year ago from a 5,600-square-foot office near John Wayne Airport to a 16,000-square-foot space in Santa Ana near the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway and Dyer Road where 100 of its 145 employees work.
The company continues to grow. Its website lists about a dozen job openings, including Linux systems engineers and for senior developers in fields like gaming, Python and Java programming.
Verys software is used by clients that need technology help in areas such as application development, web design and cloud services.
Employees at the company’s headquarters, heavy on software designers and engineers, are arranged in teams dedicated to distinct customers. The others are based at client sites, such as American Airlines Inc. in Dallas, Kia Motors America in Irvine, and Stearns Lending LLC in Santa Ana.
Clients also include Foothill Ranch-based Oakley Inc. and Irvine–based Edwards Lifesciences Inc. (NYSE: EW), OC’s largest public company by market cap.
It’s rebuilt the website for Irvine Co.’s apartments division and overseen it since last year.
Most of the company’s work revolves around customized web development. About 20% of its revenue comes from designing mobile apps, such as Bookajam, which help musicians find places to jam, and Love for Sports, a dating app that connects sports fanatics.
Competitors include St. Louis-based Perficient Inc. and Seattle-based Slalom Consulting, each of which employs thousands.
The impressive sales growth came without a formal sales team.
“All that came from personal relationships,” Zerkel said.
“People buy from people they like,” Antonius added. “Smaller development shops like Verys also offer a singular focus on custom, agile software work, which larger companies covet because we can react quickly to changing technology and requirements.”
Still, the co-founders plan to boost sales and marketing, hiring executives for those departments.
“We’re definitely making investments in 2019 around the sales organization,” Zerkel said, noting the company’s aggressive growth plans.
The founders have deep expertise in IT consulting from their UST work.
Zerkel climbed to president of global sales and marketing at UST, helping grow its business from an idea to $500 million in annual sales with customers that included blue chippers, such as Walmart and Costco Wholesale Corp.
Antonius, a former executive director of the Digital Media Group at Sony Pictures Entertainment, served as UST’s business head of media, entertainment and technology.
The two were friends first, sharing frustrations over long commutes and frequent flights in the early years of their family lives.
“It was about family and doing the right thing,” Zerkel said of the career change. “Secondly, there was a tremendous business opportunity.”
They both left UST in 2012 to start Verys, which hummed along the first few years by leveraging tech talent and agility rather than zeroing in on a specific vertical.
While UST is known for outsourcing work to India, Verys has gone the opposite route to provide local IT services and staffing.
“Using India as a back office is very, very difficult” to push out software updates every two to three weeks, Zerkel said. “Chris came up with idea of creating more of a boutique software delivery organization right here in Orange County.”
Verys isn’t the only firm that began by former UST executives. Saurabb Ranjan and Saurabb Suri in 2015 formed CerraCap Ventures LLC in Costa Mesa and now have almost $40 million in assets. Ranjan was the former chief operating officer at UST while Suri managed its investment unit.
Their focus shifted about four years ago when they saw an opportunity in the emerging esports sector.
They reached out to Rockville, Md.-based ZeniMax Media Inc., the gaming company behind franchise hits like “Elder Scroll,” “Fallout” and “Doom.” They landed the account, and today, ZeniMax is Verys’ largest customer.
A few months later, an executive at Irvine-based Blizzard Entertainment Inc. asked for a meeting. Shortly thereafter they had a service agreement with OC’s largest software maker and the company that built the “World of Warcraft” franchise and some of esports’ hottest titles, such as the collectible card games “Hearthstone” and “Overwatch.”
In 2016, the work led to a meeting with Paul Ward, co-founder of Santa Ana-based Esports Arena LLC, and within a couple of months, Verys was helping Esports Arena improve its proprietary software. “Verys created software for us from the ground up that made everyone’s life easier,” Ward said.
The word-of-mouth sales technique continued when a referral by a former ZeniMax executive who’d joined Riot Games Inc. led to Verys’ latest contract in the video game industry.
The Verys executives said they can’t discuss the deal due to a nondisclosure agreement; it has a team at Riot’s Santa Monica headquarters handling custom web and mobile work.
Riot Games is the developer of esports’ biggest title, “League of Legends,” which draws more than 80 million monthly players, according to recent estimates.
“There is always a temptation to grow outside of your skillset areas, but we’ve had to be very strategic about where to grow because there is a tremendous operational toll when you work outside of your expertise,” Antonius said.