COLUMBIA — In the year and a half since splitting with its parent company, Columbia technology firm Cognito Forms has more than doubled its staff and has been adding to its customer rolls at a rate of 2,000 per week.
The software company has become something of a darling among Columbia’s upstart tech community as it competes against much larger brands to carve out its own piece of a crowded market. And now CEO Jamie Thomas is branching into a new sector to serve companies’ desires to automate more.
“This is the direction the industry is going,” CEO Jamie Thomas said.
When you fill out an online survey, there's a fair chance it was built using Cognito Forms. The company has made its name by building a tool simple enough that non-software developers can use and allows for more complex functions, like an IRS tax form or a billing form.
“This is becoming increasingly important as the demand for IT resources continues to outpace the supply,” Thomas said.
When a company’s employees can use Cognito Forms to create their own, they don’t have to turn to software developers at the company for more minor tasks. It fixes the problem faster and frees up the developers to handle larger projects.
In the latest iteration, it won't just be a single form collecting data. Forms will be able to work together for a series of processes making the data it collects more usable.
Thomas emphasized while this is a new phase for the company, it’s been part of his plans since the beginning.
Cognito Forms started in 2015 as an arm of VC3, a Columbia-based IT services company. Thomas and his team had been customizing software for VC3 clients and found they were often building some of the same tools again and again. The end products did different things but the fundamentals for building them were the same. They saw an opportunity to make a single product that’s adaptable and more affordable.
There are other larger companies doing similar work, said University of South Carolina computer science and engineering professor Jose Vidal. Zapier is a software capable of building workflows, as is Google Script and Microsoft Azure.
But he said the market for workflow builders is large, leaving room for companies to find a niche.
Thomas said the popularity of Cognito’s products can be measured by more than 13,000 free users who upgraded to paid subscriptions.
The demand for these products, Vidal said, is driven by companies trying to automate as much as possible, particularly those collecting large amounts of data. He said without these tools the work is labor intensive, requiring employees to manually copy and paste or move information from one file to another.
In order to get their latest product functions to market more quickly, Thomas said Cognito Forms is rolling out its new services in phases.
For example, there's a function that could be used by companies with a job openings list. After filling out the application form, it can be reviewed by a manager and comments entered before being passed to the next person in the hiring chain of command.
“The Cognito team has worked very hard to reach the milestone where the company’s revenue and customer base are at critical mass, enabling them to operate comfortably on their own,” VC3 CEO David Dunn said when Cognito split off from his company.
Cognito has 22 employees, up from nine in 2018. Thomas said he plans to continue hiring at that rate, seeking front software developers, marketing personnel and other supporting roles in the coming year.
In order to achieve its current growth, Cognito turned to WestView Capital Partners, a Boston firm that invests in mid-sized companies, with profits between $3 million and $20 million.
“Our investment ensures that the company will have the financial resources necessary to continue its rapid growth,” WestView partner Matt Carroll said at the time.
WestView has $1.7 billion in investment capital it oversees. Investments it makes include business software and IT service companies and healthcare technology.
WestView did not disclose the size of its Cognito investment. The firm’s past investment sizes have ranged from $10 million to $60 million.