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After Accenture: Pillar Technology vets form software consultancy to solve ‘gnarly’ business problems | Augustwenty

November 10th, 2022

Of 31 employees at Augustwenty LLC, 29 had worked together at Pillar Technology, one of Central Ohio’s most lauded and fastest-growing software firms until its surprise acquisition.

The other two? A son and a brother of former Pillar employees.

“Something great came out of something great,” said D.J. Daugherty, co-founder and CTO of Augustwenty. “We were great fans of Pillar while we were Pillar – it was our phoenix rising.”

Founded just over two years ago in Hilliard, the boutique software consulting and development firm is headed for $7 million revenue this year and aiming for $25 million three years from now, said co-founder and CEO Angela McManaway.

Although not trying to pigeonhole itself early, it has followed Pillar’s path of autonomous navigation technology – whether cars, forklifts or welding robots – without any former Pillar clients.

“We don’t have an intent of being known for a specific technology or specific industry,” Daugherty said. “I don’t really care what the problem is – as long as the problem is big, exciting and gnarly.”

Daugherty and McManaway have worked together for more than half of their 20-year marriage. To them, Pillar itself was a family.

pillar 4

In a file photo, Pillar Technology’s offices on North Fourth Street bear the moniker The Forge.

The 22-year-old Pillar, which had shifted its headquarters to Columbus from Ann Arbor, had grown to $52 million revenue in 2017 and was on pace for $75 million when it was acquired in 2018 by global IT consulting firm Accenture Plc.

Terms were not disclosed, but Accenture also acquired a San Francisco firm that year, and all 2018 acquisitions totaled $596 million, according to its annual report.

Accenture already had named a 750-person Arena District office one of its 10 U.S. technology hubs. It added Pillar’s Short North Forge and autonomous vehicle capabilities.

Many of Pillar’s 320 employees gained new advancement paths through a diverse global company. But it was a massive culture shift to be absorbed into a 500,000-person company.

“You can’t really even compare the style of working,” Daugherty said.

Accenture innovation center Buggyworks

Accenture Buggyworks - innovation center entrance

Accenture has named its Columbus office in the Arena District’s Buggyworks as one of an eventual 14 “innovation hubs” for technology development and client collaboration.

Carrie Ghose

McManaway, who had risen to Pillar’s top finance officer, had her job eliminated after a few months, but worked as a self-employed consultant on Accenture’s Columbus transition for almost a year.

A year and a half after the acquisition, Daugherty was among 60 engineers terminated. “Your role is no longer required,” he said.

Already thinking about a consultancy, the couple immediately hired three developers cut at the same time who were so good they’d get snapped up otherwise. Then they got a client.

They bounced around some 50 names over dinner, and Augustwenty stuck – the company was founded in peak pandemic in August 2020, two years after the day the Pillar deal closed on Aug. 20, 2018.

That first project – automotive navigation for Here Technologies, the company behind digital package-tracking – required five developers, and they hired four afterward. The company hit 24 people after one year.

The two credit a “reasonable non-compete” clause from Accenture for being able to form the team so quickly.

“We had no intentions … to attack or steal people,” Daugherty said.

Instead the couple were overwhelmed with the volume of interest from Pillar veterans who had been let go or were looking to move on – which is common after a small tech company is acquired.

With hybrid remote work, the company has an office in the Junction incubator in Hilliard, which allows the startup to reserve larger common space for client or staff meetings.

Augustwenty has worked for several companies in the Drive Capital portfolio, including Path Robotics, Finite State and Olive AI. For an RV manufacturer, it recently helped the mobile app interface with camper control systems.

“We can solve really hard problems,” Daugherty said. “Our real forte: We want to know what the business problem is. We look at software as being a side effect of solving the problem.”

Daugherty started his career at the famed but doomed Enron before coming to Columbus’ CheckFree, which pioneered online bill-paying. What he loved about Pillar was being able to employ both his degrees: computer science and business.

“You have all these things you know how to do – go use them,” he said. “I really loved it.”

Augustwenty’s developers include electrical engineers, a physicist, people who have designed radar and prosthetics – and a chef who went through a coding bootcamp after getting disillusioned with restaurants.

JobsOhio last month awarded the company a $100,000 workforce development grant to train 20 junior developers over the next three years.

The couple’s lessons learned from Pillar are to be completely transparent with employees, so they don’t fear a sudden disruption such as an acquisition, and not to grow too quickly.

“It’s more important that we have our culture stay the same than we add a whole bunch of people,” McManaway said. “I don’t have any intention of it being a 200-person company. I want to be the best – I don’t want to be the biggest.”