washingtonpost.com
Making It
A penchant for small details leads to big plans

By Anita Huslin
Sunday, December 21, 2008

Early on, Kenneth C. Kelly would drive his wife to distraction with his insistence on making things just so. Countertops had to be wiped down, dishes washed and put away before they went to bed. Today, he keeps lists of one-year goals for the family, even 3-year-old Sasha: Speak in full sentences, look people in the eye and say "Yes, ma'am" and "Yes, sir." He sends them to the PDAs he and his wife, Carmen, carry. They update the lists every year.

He's always been that way -- big on detail. It has, in a way, led him to the business he founded and runs: Strativia, based in Mitchellville, creates and sells software systems that help banks, credit unions and other companies keep their finances in order.

During college, Kenneth worked in various hospitality and hotel jobs. After graduating with a degree in business management from Potomac College, he worked as an assistant general manager at a D.C. hotel, and in the course of his days often tinkered with its computerized financial accounting systems. The company that made and sold the programs noticed and eventually offered him a job.

Kenneth never went back to the front desk. Over the next several years, he worked for companies that sold financial services software. He installed the programs, and he got to travel the world. On one of those trips, he met Angelo Mozilo, the founder of mortgage giant Countrywide Financial, who was being honored at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. While Kenneth doesn't remember much of their conversation, he was struck by the sense of power Mozilo exuded. Kenneth decided that's what he wanted.

He began mapping out a plan to launch his own company. He developed a budget that he presented to his wife. Initially, she was not happy about the idea because it required her to be the breadwinner for a time, but eventually she agreed. In 2003, Kenneth launched Strativia, putting $100,000 in retirement and other savings into the business. He also brought in a friend, corporate lawyer Noel H. Gordon, who contributed start-up costs, as well. Carmen, a doctor of pharmacy, got a second job and then a third to support the family while Kenneth worked to get the business off the ground. At first, he worked from their home in Largo. Eventually, as the company grew to 17 employees, he found space in an office park in Mitchellville.

A year and a half into it, Kenneth had not sold a thing. He dusted off his résumé and looked at it. But he wasn't ready to give up. Then he made his first sale: 100 copies of a budget forecasting program to a national insurance company. At $9.99 a copy, it wasn't exactly a windfall, but it was a start. Within a year, he had recouped the initial $100,000 investment. In 2005, he paid himself his first real salary. Today, at 34, he earns a $100,000 annual salary, plus a potential bonus equal to that amount.

Strativia sells its systems to such companies as Tyco International, Jackson Hewitt and GlaxoSmithKline. With $4.2 million in revenue, the firm is doing well, clearing about $400,000 after salaries and expenses. Kenneth figures he could pay himself and his partner more if he wanted to. But for now he is plunging the additional profits back into the business. He plans to expand Strativia in the next year or so.

And so far, Kenneth's penchant for planning has paid off.

"Even if we haven't hit all our goals already, being organized and having structure helps make your future," he says.

Are you succeeding with a new or unusual career, invention, business or creative endeavor? E-mail huslina@washpost.com.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company