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Firm started by students takes balanced approach

From its inception, the software firm JLM has viewed itself as a team. Programmers manage their own time. They take time off when they need it. They are not second-guessed.

"People know we care," says Justin Lindsey, who left MIT to found the company in 1994 with his wife LeAnn (SB '94) and another friend, who has since left the firm. Mr. Lindsey is now back in school at MIT and expects to receive his degree in electrical engineering and computer science next year.

"Everyone in this company is either my friend or a friend of a friend that's here," Mr. Lindsey says. "We do a lot of stuff outside work together."

These activities include a daily table hockey tournament and a corporate hockey team (three of the original JLM team members met at MIT playing intramural hockey). One old friend living in California came east to work at JLM and brought another close friend with him.

Jeremy Warren, who has been working at JLM for two years and is also a former MIT student, loves his job. "It's a good atmosphere," he says. "It's great to work with people I know and get along with, and we have a lot of leeway. It's a challenge to design and implement our own projects, and it's a lot of fun."

Ras Nukovic (SB '96) agrees. "Everyone is really nice here, and understanding," he says. "The atmosphere is not high-pressure, and everyone is trying to do their best."

Mr. Lindsey knew from previous work experience about the punishing working hours often logged by programmers. When JLM was founded in 1994, Mr. Lindsey and his wife vowed not to overwork or make unreasonable demands on employees.

JLM hires MIT students to work part-time and tries to get a feel for their personalities and how they interact with colleagues. In a system such as theirs, "one bad egg can sour things for the whole team," Mr. Lindsey says. Some of them are hired when they graduate, in effect creating a farm system arrangement with MIT for the JLM team.

"That way, we have already worked with everyone we hire full-time," he says. "MIT grads have incredible skills and learning curves; they are faster and better than anyone else. Though an MIT education may be a painful method of teaching, people learn."

Maintaining JLM's low-key environment isn't easy. With growth come client demands and deadlines that don't easily reconcile with the company's philosophy. As the pressures increase, Mr. Lindsey finds himself getting overprotective of his employees' time.

"We guard against [overwork] almost like a religion," he says. At MIT or some other companies, "It's a pride thing to say, `Why not work 110 hours a week?' Everyone here could do that, but we choose not to."

Ms. Lindsey, who handles accounting, taxes, payroll and some legal issues, loves the flexibility. "I can work from home and be with my kids," she says. "Jobs in chemistry wouldn't offer me that option." The Lindseys' three-year-old daughter Rachael is a regular at the office, and one-month old Taylor will most likely become one as he gets older. They expect to hire an accountant in the future, at which point she would like to be more involved in the software development process.

Located in the American Twine buil-ding in East Cambridge, JLM has expanded workspace and positions as cash flow allowed. The company has never taken out a loan or received outside investment, but as they are now poised to expand further, he acknowledges that the firm now needs to raise capital.

The biggest project they have undertaken to date was the development of Realtime Delivery of EDGAR Documents (Electronic Data Gathering Analysis Retrieval). It was one of the earliest products to allow users to send and receive documents over the Internet in minutes. Though other packages have since become available, Mr. Lindsey says that JLM's is still the fastest software of its type.

Because technology will continue to grow in importance, the Lindseys see a niche for JLM as a partner to help companies develop and execute a technology strategy. The firm has 10 employees (six full-time and four part-time). Mr. Lindsey says he could imagine expanding to 200-300 employees, but beyond that, growth will be contingent on maintaining their corporate values.

"Our employees are our most valuable asset," Ms. Lindsey says.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 26, 1997.

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