Rock Solid Technologies
Puerto Rico’s software specialists
Business View Caribbean interviews Angel Perez, VP Puerto Rico & Caribbean IT sector of Rock Solid Technologies, for our focus on Tech Growth in the Caribbean.
Founded in 1994, Rock Solid Technologies is a software engineering company based in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Austin, Texas with a sales office in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The company is recognized as one of the leading information technology development companies in the Caribbean for developing high-quality software solutions for public and private sector clients in the Caribbean, North America, and Latin America.
Business View Caribbean spoke with Angel L. Perez, Rock Solid Technologies’ VP of the Puerto Rico & Caribbean IT sector, about the evolution of this innovative company, its solutions for today’s tech challenges, and his insights into the future of the industry. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
BVC: How did Rock Solid Technologies begin in Puerto Rico?
Perez: “My partners, Rick, Ray, and Lon were three engineers from the mainland who met in college and got together to work in a start-up; building software for the auto parts aftermarket. The company they were working for became very successful, but after 15 years they decided to go on their own. Their first customer was an auto parts manufacturer out of Michigan called Federal Mogul. Their first big project was building a business intelligence engine (back then called a data warehouse) for Federal Mogul, worldwide, to analyze margins. Conceptually simple but, technologically, very challenging – then and now.
“Rock Solid’s first location outside of the mainland was Puerto Rico, which was kind of international. Different market, different language, different pricing, different makes of cars. In Puerto Rico we have a lot more Toyotas than other brands. When they came down here, I was the IT Manager for Federal Mogul Puerto Rico. Fast forward to January 2000. I was still in my 20s and my current partner, Rick, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. So, I joined Rock Solid Technologies here in Puerto Rico – we were six people at that point, selling about $1 million. We’re 200 people today and selling over $20 million.”
BVC: How has the business evolved?
Perez: “A lot has changed in 20 years for this small start-up and I’m very excited for the results we have achieved. We have implemented software for customers in about 30 countries, especially our Caribbean neighbors, and the U.S. mainland and Canada. Out of our 200 employees about 170 are based in Puerto Rico – that makes me happy that we can provide super technical skilled jobs and good products to our customers, no matter where they are. The cloud has made that so much easier. We can compete in places like Mississauga, Ontario and have never been there. But we have great products, great references, and we get on Zoom or Microsoft Teams and talk to customers and they can see what we offer without having to meet in person. That is especially important now during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our main focus is GovTech; a lot of software for public sector institutions such as cities, counties, state agencies, national governments. We also build software for distribution companies because that’s a lot of what happens in the Caribbean. One of our largest customers is Sol Petroleum in Barbados. They buy petroleum-based products and they sell gasoline, lubricants, jet fuel. We look after all their issues with software. We also have gasoline distributors, car distributors, and pharmaceutical product distributors as customers. Distribution is a nice portion of our business but our main focus is heavily into GovTech.”
BVC: Is it difficult to find and retain skilled workers?
Perez: “Over 85 percent of our people are hired right out of college and we’ve done that for over 20 years. When I joined the company, I was the sixth person. Three months later, I hired five engineers from the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez. That school was founded in 1911 and is the best producer of engineering talent by far on the island. Out of those original hires, we still have four. A lot of the training we do is on the buddy system. You work with someone, almost like an apprenticeship where you learn by doing with a mentor. Someone coaching and pointing you in the right direction to look for information, not telling you how to do it or fixing it for you. But for that to work, you have to hire really smart, talented people.
“We hire the best engineers on the island from the best engineering school, we pay them well, make sure that they feel taken care of, and we give them challenging tasks from day one. We have probably the best talented team in Puerto Rico. One reason is that we offer really good benefits. All our people have 401K contributions and we match 50 percent of what they put in. Mass Mutual is our 401K manager They are a long-time provider for us – a trusted advisor on administering benefits, and we are happy to promote them and serve as a reference because they get things done.”
BVC: Have clients’ concerns about technology changed significantly in the last decade?
Perez: “In the last few years, even before Covid-19, we were seeing the adoption of the cloud more and more. Now, there is less hesitation. From talking to customers, I believe that is number one because they feel the cloud is just as safe as your server room at the office. It could actually be more secure. The other thing is price. There were things that some prospects just couldn’t afford 10 years ago. Now they pay a fee every month and it’s so much more accessible to our customers. They are open to hearing solutions that they wanted before but were prohibited, price-wise.
“Today, technology is definitely more accessible – for instance in GovTech, the processing of citizen services online such as tax payment, information requests, form completion. Not rocket science but very useful and important to have for the public sector. Particularly now with the size of budgets being challenged all the time, they can do more with less. That has been a big change in the past few years and every day there is more adoption. Some are still clinging to server rooms, but they will disappear. It’s just not economically feasible to be doing that anymore.
“Our OneView platform is a 311-like solution. It’s what one of our big customers, the City of Burlington, Ontario in Canada, has. What the National Government of Panama has. What 50 municipalities in Puerto Rico have. Basically, it’s a solution where you call your City Hall for non-emergency services. You could even call in and request PPE materials, gloves, masks if your local government is offering that. Prior to Covid-19, we had a lot of customers taking payments in their office, now they are opting to take tax payments, etc. online – which made sense before, but now it’s critical. Fairly simple things, but the pandemic changed the urgency. We have seen that happen and the demand rise, so even under a crisis there are some opportunities, if your products serve the need at that moment.”
BVC: How do you market Rock Solid Technologies?
Perez: “For the Caribbean, we use our Microsoft Partner Network to help us promote our products and services. We are a Microsoft Gold Partner and they take our information and products and present them in all the 39 countries in this region. That promotion is very helpful at lead generation and once we get a lead we’ll fly out there, or have our teams call to go through the actual sales process at that point. But we find the best way is always word of mouth from customer referrals. Our customers are our best ambassadors, they like to brag about the great job we’re doing. And we love that. Because you go in with that first barrier of distance broken down and can have an honest conversation with a prospective client.”
BVC: Looking ahead, what are the company’s goals for the next five years?
Perez: “At the moment, our plan for the future is two-fold. We want to continue organic growth in the region but that geography becomes too small for our aspirations, so we are going to pursue North America very hard. We have a separate team pursuing the U.S. and Canada to increase our size; to get more customers and more market share. We are also looking into acquiring additional companies. We will not only grow organically, we will definitely look into the all the opportunities for acquisitions that complement our offering. People that play in the same market that we do with complementary products. That’s where we’re going and we’re confident that we’ll execute that plan.”
BVC: What are the most important points people should know about Rock Solid Technologies?
Perez: “We have five values that define us, they are leadership, integrity, collaboration, empathy, and dedication. Everything goes back to those. For example in our hiring: we look for leadership, integrity, nice people who are hard workers. We hire for the long term, so even if they’re super smart, we won’t hire them if they don’t fit in. That goes the same for our customers. Our values are directly linked to everything we do. And our people, our team, are the best. We have a retention rate of over 98 percent, which is unheard of.
“We believe that we’re making a big difference in our employees’ lives, in our community, and the lives of our customers. Even being a small company, our commitment is long-term. Of course, nothing is perfect with software, but the customers know we will deliver and not let them down. If you build that into your values and everyone buys in, it’s ingrained, it becomes normal. That’s the way it should be and in our case we’ve been able to grow the company, while we keep doing that.”
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AT A GLANCE
Rock Solid Technologies
What: A leading software engineering company
Where: Based in San Juan, Puerto Rico