By taking risks and being willing to adapt, an English major carves out a new future as a software entrepreneur.
If Angus MacGyver of TV fame ran a computer engineering business, it might bear more than a passing resemblance to The Mad Botter Inc.
The Plant City-based company turns run-of-the-mill consumer electronics into devices capable of being deployed for use in advanced military applications, such as fighter jets.
“I realized the path forward for me was going to have to be technology, and the English degree was not going to be used directly.” Michael Dominick, founder and CEO of The Mad Botter Inc.
Founded two years ago by Michael Dominick, 30, The Mad Botter made a name for itself with a deal to supply a radar system called Gryphon, powered by an ordinary Microsoft Surface computer, to a large aerospace company that contracts to the federal government. (Dominick says the terms of the arrangement prevent him from disclosing specific details, including the name of the client. But he says a job like that can bring in $100,000-$150,000 in revenue.)
More MacGyver-like stiff? Dominick and his five employees have also created a military-grade rear-warning radar system that runs on an iPhone.
“If you think about it in terms of a military jet, they call it painting, but it’s really being hit with a radar beam,” he says. “Basically, you have a rear-warning radar that tells you, ‘Hey, someone is painting me.’ You definitely want to know if that’s happening.”
The Mad Botter’s products have proven to be a solution for older-model aircraft the military uses in training.
“One of our customers had a contract with the military to modernize decommissioned fighter jets for training missions,” he says. “But one of the challenges is that every couple of years, radar display standards change, and to be certified, you have to hit the new standard. They had this problem where they bought these jets and the built-in system couldn’t hit the current standard at the time. So we programmed it to display on an iPhone 6 that you could go buy at an Apple store. We wired it into the plane and that's what the cadets use to train on.”
Dominick, a graduate of Rider University in Lawrenceville Township, New Jersey, isn’t the likeliest of candidates to make a living writing code and tinkering with gadgets. At Rider, he majored in medieval literature and aspired to be an English teacher. But because he "needed money," he also worked as a computer programmer in college, writing Java applets.
That's when the soft spoken yet highly articulate Dominick honed his app development skills, eventually reaching a point where “I realized the path forward for me was going to have to be technology, and the English degree was not going to be used directly.”
The Mad Botter has thrived since Dominick fully embraced adaptation as the business model. He says the company generated about $500,000 in revenue in 2018, and he projects that number to rise to $700,000-$1 million in 2019. He also seeks to add two more full time staff members. Dominick is the sole owner, and the venture is entirely is self-funded, with no outside investors.
Despite the complex nature of the company’s products and services, “our model is pretty simple,” Dominick says. “We are a straight revenue-funded business. We charge for time and materials for the jobs we do.”
That’s not to say there aren’t significant challenges. Because of the highly sensitive nature of The Mad Botter’s products, security can be a sticking point in negotiations.
“Because we’re writing custom software for what are, effectively, consumer devices, there’s always a conversation that has to happen around security,” Dominick says. “I mean, we’re working with an iPhone right from Apple, a Surface right from Microsoft. You could drive to the mall and buy the same devices.”
Luckily, many of the devices made by the big tech hardware companies are pre-approved by the federal government, “assuming you lock them down,” Dominick says. Microsoft, for example, he says, “has already taken the time to go through and hit whatever standards are appropriate, but the software and programming is on us, and we have to get it reviewed. That’s just part of the process.”
Another obstacle is marketing. Dominick is diligent about flying The Mad Botter flag at aerospace industry trade shows, but he knows there's more to do. “We are very small," he says, "so getting the word out is tough.”
Much like the unflappable MacGyver, though, Dominick seems to have a knack for being well equipped to adapt on the fly.