Turning accidents into success: SherWare’s unlikely start

It started quite by accident, the way many things do when a person stumbles upon something greater than they realize. SherWare was a fleeting idea; a project intended to pay bills, the name ill-conceived at the time.

Phil Sherwood was a computer consultant who was new to the area and just starting to build a client base through direct mailings and word-of-mouth. With no oil and gas experience, it was through chance, and through his office suite mate, Butch Rogers, an oil and gas CPA, that he was introduced to a pair of clients needing consulting work for their oil and gas businesses.

As a teenager, Phil wanted to be a neurosurgeon, an interest largely influenced by his father’s tragic fall from the roof of their home when he was 15, and subsequent brain injury and death. He volunteered at the local hospital as an aide in high school and began the first several years of college taking courses in pre-med and psychology, staying on track with his dream to help others the way doctors couldn’t with his dad.

Changing courses

One credit hour of a computer class was required for those with a psychology major, so as a sophomore, Phil begrudgingly trekked into the first class wondering why on earth a psychology major would need to take a computer course. That’s all it took though, for by the end of the semester Phil had fallen in love and found himself switching majors to computer science.

Surprisingly, the switch from wanting to be a neurosurgeon to a computer programmer wasn’t as hard as he thought.

“Computers grabbed me and I didn’t look back,” he said. “The classes were fun and challenging and it fit my personality.”

Phil started working as a computer programmer for Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, before he and his family moved north to Ohio where Phil began his own computer consulting business.

He had been consulting for various clients in the Wooster, Ohio, area for about a year, when he met the two oil and gas clients of his suite mate Rogers who would change the course of his business in a few short months.

“They had originally hired me to do consulting work for them to help find a way to get their oil and gas operations data into QuickBooks for accounting purposes,” Phil said. “When they found out that I could write software, they asked if I could please write something simple for them to use.”

That was in the early 1990s before the Internet changed the way the world works and sites like Wikipedia and Amazon.com changed the way the word learns. So unlike today, with no easy way to learn about the oil and gas business he was getting into, Phil began to ask a lot of questions, and take notes of how the industry worked.

“They described how they wanted it to work,” he said. “They described the oil and gas business and described how wells are drilled and how they produce and then how they have to pay royalty owner and investors based on production and also keep track of severance taxes and provide 1099s at the end of the year. They gave me an oil and gas 101 crash course to help me see exactly what their needs were in terms of oil and gas accounting software that was easy to use. At the time, everything was too hard to use, too expensive or didn’t have the features they really wanted to use.”

He met with the clients several times per week and with Rogers, the oil and gas CPA to get input into exactly how the accounting and revenue distribution features should work within the new program, still unnamed at this point.

It took about four or five months to get the first workable copy ready for the clients to be able to use, as he was still doing consulting in the area to pay the bills, as he didn’t know quite where this job would end up.

SherWare’s turning point

“When I first started on the SherWare program, I just envisioned getting paid for writing the software for them,” Phil said. “As I got in the middle of it though, I thought that maybe this could be something others would need too, so I would just give it to these two clients who helped build it and see about selling it to others like them.”

The year is 1994 and what’s now known as the Disbursement and JIB Manager software has just been created. Now the problem was what to call it.

“I was walking around the block one day thinking of what to call the company and I couldn’t think of anything,” he said. “I had thought of something generic like Cornerstone Software, but everything I thought of was already incorporated and someone else’s business name, so I took the first part of my last name and the last part of software and made SherWare.”

Looking back at the name choice, at the time it was an ill conceived name because it was so close to the word shareware which was very popular at the time, he said. Shareware is a term that means distributing software that you try it first and then pay if you want too, so SherWare got confused with it initially, making it harder to take off.

Looking forward

Today SherWare has grown exponentially and now has more than 600 clients across 28 states between the three oil and gas accounting software products the company now sells and supports. In the 17 years that have passed, not much has changed from the spirit of the company and how it first began. SherWare’s software is still a product that is created and continuously improved upon primarily based on client input and requests.

New products that will be released in the future include an Investment Manager software for investors to use to track their revenue and expenses incurred from the wells they’ve invested in, a Disbursement and JIB Manager Integrated Edition that works with QuickBooks Online software and online versions of SherWare’s oil and gas accounting software.

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