Project Insight is an award-winning work management software company that helps businesses of all sizes manage their projects, teams, and resources. But how did Project Insight start and what is the story behind its success? In this blog post, we will hear from Steve West, the founder and CEO of Project Insight, who shared his story of entrepreneurship with the Argyros College.
The Early Days: Steve’s Interest in the World Wide Web
Steve West is a Huntington Beach High School graduate who went to the University of Michigan for his college education. Steve had an interest in web development since the early days of the web. Growing up, Steve’s father was essentially the CIO of the California State University(CSU) system, and he says, “I remember when he brought home the Mac and I got to play around with that before it was really released and was so new.” While Steve had computers his whole life, he did not study anything related to them in school. At Michigan, Steve was a dual major in Economics and Communications. He does, however, recall having access to the Internet through the university’s computing lab in a time when the Internet did not work as it does today.
After graduating from Michigan, Steve returned to Orange County and worked for a software company in San Juan Capistrano. Steve says that while he was at this company in the mid-90s, he did something that they really liked without even being asked: he built them a new website. “They were a relatively small software company at the time, and I was personally interested in web development, so one of the things I did without anyone asking is I redesigned their website. I made a prototype of the website, and the owner liked it way better than the one they had.”
At a certain point, Steve realized that he didn’t really like other people deciding how much he was worth. He and friends he met working at the software company had an idea to start their own software company instead.
The Birth of Project Insight
When Steve and his co-founders started their own venture, they decided to build a product that was ultimately unsuccessful. But at that point, Steve was continuing to work on his web development skills, so he pivoted, realizing that there was a demand for web development services. He said he had to learn everything from scratch and faced many challenges along the way. “We started Project Insight in 1996 and we were a web development company. We built websites for small and medium-sized businesses, and we had to learn everything. We had to learn how to do HTML, how to do graphics, how to do databases, how to do programming, how to do hosting, how to do security, how to do everything.” Steve says that this experience was a lot of fun, but it was also a lot of work. “It was also a lot of trial and error. And it was also a lot of frustration. Back then, there was no Google. There was no YouTube. There was no way to find out how to do things at your fingertips.” Steve and his employees had to figure it out for themselves or had to buy a book, go to a class, or find someone who knew how to do it and ask them.
Steve said he enjoyed the creative aspect of web development and was proud of the websites he built for his clients. He said he also learned a lot about different industries and businesses. “We built websites for all kinds of businesses. We built websites for restaurants, for hotels, for lawyers, for doctors, for dentists, for accountants, for real estate agents, for construction companies, for manufacturers, for distributors, for retailers, for nonprofits, for schools, for churches, for anybody who wanted a website. And it was really cool because we got to learn about all these different businesses and all these different industries and all these different people. And we got to create something that was unique and that was valuable and that was helpful for them.”
After building many and many websites repeatedly, Steve and his team wondered if there was a way that they could avoid having to start from scratch each time, how they could make the process repeatable, which is when they started to build what would become today’s Project Insight. They began selling in late 2001, early 2002, shortly after the dot com boom.
The Evolution of Project Insight
Steve noticed that many of his clients had problems with managing their projects and teams. He decided to create project management software that would help them plan, track, and collaborate on their projects. “They had issues with communication, with organization, with visibility, with accountability, productivity, efficiency, quality, with everything. And we thought, well, maybe we can create software that can help them with that,” says Steve. “Maybe we can create software that can help them plan their projects, track their progress, collaborate with their team members, share their documents, report their status, manage their resources, manage their budgets, manage their risks, issues, changes, etc. And so we did.”
That is when they created Project Insight, the project management software. They launched it in 2002 and it was a hit. “It was a hit because it was easy to use, it was flexible, powerful, it was affordable, scalable, it was secure and reliable…it was everything that our clients wanted and needed.”
Now, Project Insight has thousands of clients all around the world that use their tool. “It’s all cloud-based and it’s all software as a service,” says Steve, “and we help them manage their online projects.” Steve says that they’re constantly improving their software, too. Every day they’re working to make it better and almost every two weeks or so they’re releasing a new version, just like most software or products in tech.
The company decided to focus on Project Insight from the work and project management end, discontinuing the web development side. Steve says “We decided to make Project Insight a cloud-based Saas solution and decided to expand our target market from small and medium-sized businesses to large enterprises and government agencies.” They also decided to add more features and integrations for a competitive edge and a more comprehensive business tool. These features included things like portfolio management, resource management, document management, and more. They also integrate with tools like Microsoft Office, Google Drive, Jira, Salesforce, and Zoom, to name a few. “We made Project Insight a one-stop shop for all your project management needs,” he says.
Rooted & Evolving in Orange County
Though Project Insight’s clients are all over the world, and they do employ people anywhere in the world because of this virtual dynamic, the company has most of their employees based in Orange County. The Orange County roots run even deeper, too. Project Insight is also a sponsor of the Project Management Institute of Orange County (PMI-OC), as their goal is to empower project managers who are the superhero users of their tool. They aim to do this not solely in Orange County, however, since that is local to them, they want to make sure that they have boots on the ground to empower project managers in their community.
Steve expresses that he is proud of what Project Insight has achieved and how it has helped thousands of clients around the world and in his local community to manage their projects, teams, and resources. He is also excited about the future of the company and how it will continue to innovate and evolve. He says, “We are grateful for our team, our partners, our customers, and our mentors who have supported us along the way.”
Steve leaves those interested in entrepreneurship with an important and realistic analogy: “Entrepreneurship is kind of like going on a really big hike. You get into the hike a little bit, climb hill after hill, and you’re so far in that you’re like, well, I’m not turning around now! And then you’re thinking it’s just one more little hill but then there are like 6000 more hills in front of you, and the further you go down the path, the more you can’t turn around. You have no idea what it’s actually going to be like before you embark. You think you’re going on the easy hike but you’re really going on the quadruple black diamond hike, and you don’t know it. It feels like it’s too steep, but then you just do it because you’re there. That an entrepreneur’s life–it really is like that–but I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Steve and his team are happy to share more of their story and insights with the next generation of entrepreneurs, hoping that it can inspire and motivate others to pursue their dreams and passions and to create something that can make a difference in the world.
You can see a recording of Steve and Cynthia’s recent webinar on Project Management for Entrepreneurs and Start-Ups at: https://projectinsight.com/apps/project-management-webinars