Future of IT hardware firm Neat Company is software: CTO Rick Bunker - Technical.ly Philly

Software Development

Future of IT hardware firm Neat Company is software: CTO Rick Bunker

The company will still produce "beautiful" digital scanners for the foreseeable future but its document recognition software and cloud users represent the company's growth, said Rick Bunker, Neat CTO and longtime Philly IT business veteran.

Rick Bunker, CTO of the Neat Company, interviewed during the March 2014 Tech in Motion event by Technical.ly Philly cofounder Christopher Wink at the City CoHo coworking space. Photo courtesy of Christine Cavalier @PurpleCar Purplecar.net

Full Disclosure: This reporter interviewed Bunker as part of the event.
Updated: The specific number of active cloud customers has been removed due to questions of its accuracy.
The Neat Company is a $120 million Center City-based digital scanning hardware business. But the company’s CTO says its future is all about the software.

Nearly half of the company’s 120-person staff is on the technical side, including those who improve the scanners that its core customer base uses. Some of their most loyal, longtime users are the plumbers and other contractors who want to scan their receipts from hardware stores to keep better records for their taxes.

But, says Rick Bunker, the bearded, Philadelphia IT veteran and now Neat CTO, some of their most interesting work is happening on the software team that powers those scanners.

Its SPI (Scanning, Parsing and Imaging) team is continuing to develop their process to take your scanned image clearly and identify whether it is of a business card or a recipe or a legal document or, yes, a receipt from Lowes, which happens to be the most commonly scanned vendor in its system, he said.

The company will still produce “beautiful” scanners, which account for most of the company’s revenue, Bunker said, but its impressive software work and growing customer base cloud users who keep their scanned document in the Neat universe, show its real future.

Bunker’s comments came Wednesday night at the latest Tech in Motion event, a monthly convening from the paired IT recruiting companies Jobspring and Workbridge Associates. This reporter, full disclosure, interviewed Bunker for the better part of an hour as part of a fireside chat in the City CoHo sustainably-minded coworking space at 2401 Walnut Street in front of more than 50 technologists, many full on beer and gourmet sandwiches.

Bunker, who studied Russian and also speaks German, is a big man — self-described as over 6’6″ and more than 300 pounds — but not imposing. He’ll tell you he tilts widely to the left on the political spectrum but respects thoughtful opinions of dissent and said he has a playful time in a volunteer role as a councilman in Jenkintown, where he lives.

This background lets him speak effortlessly about deeply technical topics with a flair for wanting to address  how he thinks what he does is changing. That process of preparing for the next trend is one way to keep a technology company profitable 12 years after launching.

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  • Founded in 2002 by father Les Spero and son Rafi Spero, Neat began as a company that manufactured devices to scan business cards.
  • In October 2008, the company rebranded from NeatReceipts, which had become its focus, to the Neat Company, which widened its work to involve scanning technology and later added cloud offerings to secure scanned documents. NeatReceipts remains a product its offers.
  • in April 2011, the then-50-person company moved from 3401 Market Street, which now houses the Drexel University Innovation Hub, to 1601 Market Street with the help of state and city grants and financing.
  • In fall 2012, the company crossed the 100 employee mark and added another office at 1801 Market.

Bunker said he remained focused on the technology his team builds and not where the company’s future may be. Currently, Edison Ventures, the Central Jersey-based venture capital firm, is the largest shareholder of the privately-held company, after more than $15 million in investment.

There has been an executive leadership shake up in recent years. Just shy of his one-year anniversary with Neat, Bunker is the longest tenured of the company’s management team, now led by CEO Ron Kaiser, who is an Edison Ventures adviser.

Whether Neat would be acquired, continue to grow or go public, which would be years away if it did, Bunker said, isn’t what a CTO’s job is to do, he said.

It is clear the space Neat is in continues to evolve. Here are other items from the conversation worth mentioning:

  • Native mobile apps, which Neat does have and offer to customers, will continue to have a place for uses that require heavy device usage but clearly the trend is for more mobile-friendly browser work, Bunker said. Mobile apps will be more specialized, not universal, he said.
  • Putting data in the cloud is no less secure than keeping information on an Internet-enabled home desktop with “a firewall you bought at Home Depot,” Bunker said, but there is still fear of it.
  • “Don’t hire assholes,” he said. Even if they’re brilliant, it’s not worth the headache they will cause, quibbling for every inch.
  • He came to Philadelphia more than 20 years ago because his wife grew up in the region and wanted to relocate here.
  • Bunker has worked for some of the region’s surburban tech giants, including Internet Capital Group, Procurian and GSI Commerce (pre eBay exit) but much prefers “being among the weirdos” and culture you find in a city.
  • Would hiring be more of a challenge if they were based in Wayne rather than Center City? “Definitely,” he said. All of his new talent live in Fishtown, Northern Liberties or in the inner-ring suburbs that have easy Regional Rail commutes, he said.
Companies: Neat Company
People: Rick Bunker
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