Chief Technology Officer

Kunal Johar @ ASI Innovations
ASI Innovations 2022

Chief Technology Officer @ OpenWater

OpenWater has been my life’s work and my life’s journey. Over the years, the names have changed, however the mission has remained the same. I wake up everyday thinking about how people rely on me, and my teams, to do their work. The current version of OpenWater is a cloud based platform where one code base gets deployed across various data centers to serve 1000+ organizations. These organizations each have between 100 and 50,000 daily visitors to the platform.

Of all of my job’s I take this one the most seriously.

Today, the platform runs with virtually zero bugs and virtually zero downtime.

This is a remarkable feat, as we do updates nearly everyday and have built state of the art processes and procedures to roll these updates out without any disruption.

I remain the BDFL, however as I enter the next phase of my career, I intend to share all of my knowledge to ensure the platform lives on a long life.

2022 – Present
ASI acquires OpenWater on January 7, 2022.

For all OpenWater staff, partners, and users, I have made the promise SAME OR BETTER. Acquisitions are generally a net positive for the founders and a net negative for everyone else. As larger companies usually pursue synergy, they end up translating that into cost cutting and getting away with doing less for the same price.

I hope to provide a refreshing flavor to this world of M&A. I have spent the first year of the acquisition working to integrate OpenWater with ASI. In order to provide SAME OR BETTER service to our customers, serious effort in integration needs to be applied to our staff.

HR, Finance, IT systems all needed to be integrated, while everyone’s day to day jobs remained mostly the same. I led all efforts related to messaging, and I took the approach where if something is not the same or better, but it is in fact worse, to let me know directly. In these cases it was usually oversight by myself as an executive, rather than a slight.

My lesson learned from the first year was that no amount of communication is enough, and that executives need to talk to all staff members, and offer 1-1 time. It has been over 5 years since I made any hiring decision, but I found myself often on the front lines talking to staff, finding out what their concerns are. I would be direct about things I could not solve.

All functions were successfully integrated by 2022, besides integrating the companies, I was able to find job’s at all levels (Support, Software Development, Marketing), across areas in the parent company that needed support.

In 2022 we also completed the move of a 1.5 year re-write of our software from .NET 4.8 Framework to .NET 6 (formerly .NET Core; as of this writing, .NET 7,). This was a monumental update that slashed our daily azure bill from $1,200 per day to $400 per day; while giving us page load times of around 600ms (down from 1100ms).

We are now going through a 2 year UI/UX cycle. The current UI/UX is over 10 years old; so for sure the next one will need to last 10+ years. In making this change we will fully support the old UI/UX.

As that is a long project without demonstratable project, in the short term I will have 2 missions:

Evangelize the Software: Providing awareness and exposure to as many people as possible with how the software works and how it can help them (either at work or to make a living)

Work on Small Features That Burden Staff: I call this the “Everyday Struggles,” these are things like connecting a custom SMTP server to OpenWater. Something a non-IT professional, but tech savvy support rep may be asked to do. These kinds of tasks aren’t hard, however often the credentials provided by the customer are incorrect, and the customer relies on their own IT person. Instead of having this big game of telephone, we can invest in test harnesses that provide good error messages and validation. For each everyday struggle we solve, we can make both our staff and our customer’s lives a bit better.

We sold off our consulting business NonprofitCMS to Gray Digital Group. We were now all-in on our software company. Because we had so many brands (MemberCMS, ConferenceCMS, AwardsCMS), we rebranded / renamed to OpenWater. A generic, positive name that would allow us to continue to pivot.

The name was inspired after Tim Spell had lunch with Rob Wenger, the CEO/Founder of Higher Logic. “You want a generic name that is positive, and you want to be Switzerland” – in other words you want to integrate with all of the other players in the association space.

With this roadmap, a focused mission on only providing software, OpenWater has grown from awards and abstract management into a multi-purpose application and review platform.

During this era I ran the product roadmap, oversaw development, and managed devops. I created a reverse-proxy deploy system to allow for zero downtime deploys. I also saw the transition from VM + DB, to Azure SQL; back to SQL on VMs (because of how bad Azure SQL was), to what we use today: Azure SQL Elastic Pools + Azure Kubernetes Deploy.

During the 2020 pandemic, I quickly realized our software had everyone’s conference data, and I built an integration with Zoom. I became the first virtual conference provider to the association space, and I gave away the guide for free. Within 9 months, we sold $5 million dollars worth of virtual conferences. The platform starting taking on over 1 million daily active users, and at our peak month we streamed to 12 million people. During this entire era, when human to human interaction was strained, and both customer and staff sentiment and morale was low, the software remained reliable.

2011 – 2014

Starting around 2009, we rebranded partially to NonprofitCMS, this is because besides writing custom software we kept making websites over and over for nonprofits. By 2011 we redirected to point to, and we went all in on a repeatable process of building WordPress, Joomla, and Sitefinity websites.

We built well over 200 websites in this era for nonprofit’s ranging in size of a $30/month budget, to $50,000 per year.

This was a slog, in that customer’s always needed last minute changes and updates, then would go dark, but still expect the work done on time. We know now, this is the nature of consulting, but back then it felt like an unfair constant barrage. I would often work over major holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Starting 2011 as well, we were tired of being a consulting company, so we took the $500,000 bank balance we had at the time, and decided to build a conference management system. In working on the conference management system, I felt the first part of collecting speaker proposals was similar to an award nomination system I built for the American Society of Military Comptrollers back in 2009. In short, speakers would submit proposals to be considered to present at a conference; conference organizer’s would review these proposals, and accepted proposals would be accepted to be presented at a conference.

By 2012 we had this conference system called ConferenceCMS, we also had the review component called AwardsCMS, and a mediocre membership system called MemberCMS. We sold around 10 copies between all of these products, for around $100,000 in total revenue.

We could not continue to invest in all products, so we decided to go all in on AwardsCMS.

2007 – 2011
I graduated college in 2006, and in 2007 I started vOfficeware, Inc with Tim Spell. Today we call this a “side hustle” – back then it was just a small business. By 2009 the work became so voluminous that both of us quit our jobs and started writing software for other company’s fulltime.

We worked on some really interesting projects including a school management system for B2R Music, a course registration system for Sotheby’s School of Art, a shirt builder / designer with 3D models, similar to what you see on custom fabric websites these days. The list of projects was endless, and much of what we learned in that era (how to generate PDFs, how to talk to payment gateways, how to build websites, how to manage customer expectations), all continue to provide lessons today.


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