Ron Borta and Leslie Davis truly have a roller coaster marriage.
Together, they own Ronbotics, a Sterling company that manufactures a roller coaster simulation ride for game arcades. The company also markets the motion platforms it uses in the coaster game to other video game makers and to the military, which uses the platforms for flight simulators.
Ronbotics is the couple's second venture. They sold their first company, Borta Inc., a software game company, for $10 million in cash and stock and used the proceeds to start Ronbotics in 1996.
After the company's slow and steady climb, during which the founders sought to perfect their product's design and their manufacturing capabilities, Ronbotics is ready to ship its first products this week, launching the couple on another entrepreneurial ride.
Borta and Davis met 13 years ago while working at an interactive television company in Chicago. Borta, 46, is a software designer whose claim to fame is holding the first software patent for a programming tool he created in 1985, with the help of Bill Gates. He spent the early 1980s working on more than 450 home video games, including the home version of Pac Man.
Davis, 36, who majored in business at the University of Delaware, joined the Chicago company when she was 23 and was given a tour of the company's computer room, courtesy of Borta.
"It was an amazing tour," she said, adding that she immediately thought Borta was a "genius." Indeed, she still blushes and lowers her voice when she talks about her husband -- it's close quarters in the company's offices -- whom she married almost six years after the tour.
But it wasn't Borta's mastery of technical data or his geeky charm that turned Davis's head. For her, his sense of business proved most alluring. "[He] was building technology, not for the sake of technology, but for the business [value]," she said, noting that Borta focuses as much on creating wealth for his employees and investors as he does on creating the next Big Thing.
Borta and Davis moved to Loudoun County in 1993 after one too many Chicago winters. They worked at another interactive television company in Reston before going off to use Borta's video game background to form Borta Inc.
Davis acknowledges that although she and Borta share an entrepreneurial drive, their styles are decidedly different. "Sometimes I walk out of a meeting and . . ." Davis throws up her hands in mock frustration.
Borta is very big-picture oriented, she explained, while she prefers hammering out details.
Soon, Borta will be removed from the day-to-day operations of the company so he can focus on dreaming up new applications for the motion platforms and on the manufacturing side of the business. Earlier this month, Borta and Davis hired a chief executive, Peter Linzmeyer, to work with Davis.
Linzmeyer will be the first Ronbotics chief executive, as Borta and Davis have kept the slot open awaiting someone with the right combination of experience to complement them.
Linzmeyer, a Leesburg resident, worked at the Washington law firm that helped Borta and Davis file for the patent on the motion simulation platform. A year ago, he approached the couple about coming to work for them.
Davis's immediate response was, "You want to work here? With no windows?"
But once she got over the shock of a big-time Washington lawyer wanting to work for a tiny game company, she and Borta spent the next several months thinking about how Linzmeyer might fit in. After a while, they decided that his international experience, coupled with his previous work at manufacturing companies, would make him a good candidate to help them work on strategy.
Linzmeyer said that, for him, the fit was apparent immediately. "It clicked I think at the first meeting with Ron and Leslie," he said, noting that he loved the idea of working at a company where the job entails thinking of fun things to do. He also liked the manufacturing component of the business. "We're not a dot com," he said.
In addition to hiring Linzmeyer to relieve Borta of some of his daily duties, "we physically moved [Borta's] office from here to out there," said Davis, pointing to the manufacturing floor.
Out there is where Borta has spent as many as 14 hours a day working on the motion platforms he developed by using, Davis proudly points out, such off-the-shelf components as the U joints commonly used in the auto industry, which allow the company to manufacture the platforms less expensively. Borta is also furiously trying to improve the mass-production manufacturing process.
Although Borta may not focus on details of such things as balance sheets, he is a perfectionist when it comes to his products. The roller coaster ride consists of six videos -- two people sit in a minicar and watch the video through the eyes of a camera mounted on the front of an actual coaster from the Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio. To make the trip more interesting, Borta and Davis talked singer Peter Frampton into writing music to accompany the video. They looked up the '70s pop legend in Nashville during a trade show and persuaded him to write six pieces (named after rides at Cedar Point, including Mean Streak and Iron Dragon).
The guitar god did not come cheap. "Boy, did we pay him," Borta said. Frampton will receive a percentage of every coaster unit the company sells.
As Borta and his engineers test and retest the motion of the platforms, which employee Dave Brain operates from a computer, Davis laughs at Borta's almost obsessive nature. A couple of weeks ago, she accompanied him to Sports Authority, where the sales staff greeted them with perplexed looks when they asked for 2,000 pounds of barbells. Borta wanted to do a stress test.
"I don't think anyone will put more than 850 pounds on [the platforms]," Davis said, "but Ron wanted to be able to sleep at night."
After the first products are shipped and Borta turns his attention to working on new products (one idea is to develop a pinball version of the coaster ride in which the players become the ball bouncing through the game), Davis and Linzmeyer will focus on ramping up the company, adding to their 16 employees, securing a location for a larger manufacturing facility and marketing internationally.
By next year, Linzmeyer and Davis say, they hope to be doing about 35 percent of their business overseas.
Davis and Borta say they have no plans to sell Ronbotics, even though the two did not plan on selling their software company until they got an offer. Still, Davis said she thinks they will stay interested in Ronbotics for a long time.
"This has got a lot more dimension," she said.
CAPTION: Leslie Davis and Ron Borta test out the simulated roller coaster ride they manufacture at their Sterling company, Ronbotics.