With more than $200,000 in debt, Clyde Wafford nearly shut down his tech company in 2007, six years after launching it from a spare bedroom and four years after he and his wife quit their corporate jobs to focus full time on providing practice management software to counseling organizations statewide.
Wafford had two sons to support, and he knew he could find a corporate job as a senior developer, earning $80,000 to $100,000 per year.
But his wife wouldn't let him quit. Instead, they tapped their retirement accounts from their former employers to pay their bills.
It was a leap of faith not too dissimilar from the one they took years earlier when — after eight months of correspondence and only six days together — they became engaged to marry.
The couple celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary Wednesday, and their business, which started making money in mid-2009, is on track to increase sales by 15 percent this year. OrionNet Systems LLC, which employs 20, had annual revenues of $1.5 million in 2012.
From his offices at 510 E. Memorial, Wafford, 48, sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about his professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Tell us about your roots.
A: I grew up in Luther. My parents split up when I was about 3. My mom worked as a nurse assistant at a retirement home in northwest Oklahoma City, and my dad worked as a mechanic in Wellston. He's now retired and lives in Oklahoma City, and my mom passed away from diabetes several years ago. I've also lost my oldest brother, who was mentally handicapped and lived in a group home, to cancer. My three other siblings — an older sister, and older and younger brothers — live in the area. I got my driven work ethic from our mom, who often was heading to work when we kids got home from school. We cooked, cleaned, did homework and what we needed to do.
Q: What were the highlights of your school days?
A: At 6-foot-5 ½ inches, I played basketball and set the then-school record in the 440-yard-dash in track, but I was always more of a nerd. From the time I was 4 and watched Neil Armstrong step on the moon, I've been fascinated with space, science and technology. When I was 7 or 8, I broke my mom's bedroom TV, taking it apart to try to learn how it worked. Forgoing a basketball scholarship to OSU, I went on academic scholarships and grants. A friend's father employed me for the summer after high school so I could pay in advance for my room and board, and during school, I worked nights and weekends at McDonald's on The Strip. It took me five years to earn my electrical engineering degree, because I dropped out a year and lived at home to make some money. Then, because the job market had dried up with the Persian Gulf War, I stayed on at OSU another year to earn a second bachelor's in computer science.
Q: What do you like about software development?
A: It's like a giant puzzle and designing applications your way, to solve problems or help people.
Q: Where did you work before starting your own business?
A: I worked three years for Amoco in Houston, then as a contracted programmer in Dallas, for American Airlines and others, and in Oklahoma City where I also worked full time for the state.
Q: How did you meet your wife?
A: Twenty years ago, on my way to visit a friend teaching English in Japan. I'd decided I wanted to stop first in Hong Kong, and had posted to dial-up bulletin boards, which were the precursors to the Internet. Friends connected me to Herminia, a Philippines native who lived in Hong Kong and with whom I corresponded eight months. From her letters and pictures, I knew I liked her, and the six days we spent touring Hong Kong and the surrounding area solidified my feelings. I bought a ring there, proposed to her and she came to the states a year later, after her visa was approved.
Q: What are the empty corked green bottles lined up atop your bookcase?
A: They're Belgium beers — Pomme Lambic — which have a green apple taste. I drink one after a tough product release. It's my version of popping a bottle of Champagne.
Q: Do you still have a fascination with space travel?
A: Yes. I keep encouraging my sons to become astronauts. Or maybe I'll make enough money some day to buy my own way into space.