When Allan Stern founded software company Adaptive Engineering five years ago, his goal was to make work fun - almost like a video game.

When Allan Stern founded software company Adaptive Engineering five years ago, his goal was to make work fun – almost like a video game.


He ended up taking the company in a different direction, but the software he creates still has an element of playfulness. Adaptive’s flagship product, Concourse 3, recently won a Red Herring award – an honor also bestowed by the online tech magazine on 100 other companies.


Concourse 3 is a tool that helps employees at large companies to communicate better with each other, and to more easily find information they need. It gathers e-mails, instant messages and other communications on a desktop – each visually represented by a marble – and allows users to organize them in a simple way.


Stern, 52, has worked in computing and telecommunications for more than 30 years. The Sharon resident has worked for major corporations and started several of his own companies. Adaptive Engineering is based in Canton and has about 200 employees worldwide, mostly in India, and another 100 independent contractors.


How is Concourse different from a typical instant messaging service?


What we do is, we allow you to have a whole bunch of attributes on the system – you’re a distribution expert, you’re an expert on business law. Whatever it is that makes you special, who you are, and everybody in the enterprise logs in who they are, or the enterprise logs in who they are. So if you go to work as a handset specialist, a BlackBerry specialist – T Mobile is one of our customers, so they use this product – if you’re a BlackBerry specialist that’s been certified for using certain products, and I’m in a store in Michigan and I need somebody who’s really an expert, it allows me to instantly communicate with somebody that has the expertise I need. As opposed to just the person’s name – in fact, I don’t even know the person’s name, I just know you’re a specialist. You could type it in and say, “I am Bill, I’m here to help you.” But you can instantaneously reach out to any resource.


How did you make Concourse visually appealing?


One of the main reasons that we’ve been successful in the marketplace as a company is we use artists to do all our visual work, we don’t use engineers. We basically force our engineers to complete the work of the artist so that it looks like the artist wanted it to look, but scales like it would scale in a large-scale enterprise, where you might have 50,000 or 100,000 users all banging against it at one time. It’s a very interesting dynamic bringing engineers to work with artists. Those aren’t the people that hung out on campus together.


How has Concourse changed since you created it?


It’s an evolving piece of technology. One of the benefits of having released it about a year and a half ago is, we’re starting to get customer feedback. Now it’s no longer our ideas, it’s real-life ideas coming from the marketplace, and it’s a very dynamic and interesting world out there. Business is changing, costs are key drivers now. … Companies have to respond in a meaningful way from a cost management perspective. So anything that has people working more efficiently with each other is getting high marks, which is essentially why I think we’ve been winning these awards. It’s unique visually, that’s one thing, but it’s also zoned in on helping people become more efficient in the way they do their work.


Where do you want to take the company in the future?


We started out as a professional services company, so we sold services while we were developing products. Essentially, half the company is services and half the company is product.


We go into large-scale enterprises and redo their front end to an old legacy system ... and that has helped fund the product development side of our business. I didn’t want to raise capital; that’s a very difficult thing to do, and it takes a lot of energy and time, and there’s all sorts of bad things associated with raising capital. And using this model, we’ve always been profitable – we’ve never had a day of not being profitable. So that enables us to not worry about the kind of cash flow needed to bring a product to market like Concourse, which takes years and millions of dollars and lots of smart people. In the future, what we’d like to do is jettison the services side of our business and strictly focus in on product, which I think is really where the company’s DNA is.


Reach Julie Onufrak at jonufrak@ledger.com.