It’s 1985. There is no Internet and no websites. There’s no social media outlet on which to post pictures of your lunch. PCs are on the brink of popularity. University of Missouri computer science grads Tom Smith and Bruce Barkelew have just quit their jobs at an engineering firm on the West Coast. They are returning to Columbia to turn their side project, a software program called ProComm, into a full-time endeavor.
“We were two guys holed up in our apartment cranking out code — then product — like crazy,” Smith says. The pair was building what could be considered an early equivalent to today’s Web browsers. “It’s what you used to connect to other computers around the world.”
Columbia provided them a cheaper place to live than the Bay area while they turned ProComm, a product of Datastorm, into a success. Datastorm hit number 376 on the Inc. 500 list in 1992, and in 1993, the program hit the No. 1 spot on PC Magazine’s list of top retail software.
In 1996, Smith and Barkelew sold Datastorm to Quarterdeck (later purchased by Symantec). Although Smith is “just a humble publican now” (his words), as part of one of the first tech companies in town, he and Barkelew helped pave the way for a new generation of techies, along with others such as Bill Fairman of Faircom, Ewin Barnett of Carfax, Brant and Brock Bukowsky of Veterans United and more (our words).
“We showed it didn’t matter where you were located as long as you could attract talented people and connect to your customers,” Smith says.
The biggest thing Datastorm did, Smith says, was build a large talented staff. “I still, after all these years, have employers come up to me and tell me what great employees the old Datastormers are. They’re in high demand, and it appears to be a very valuable line on their resumes, at least in Columbia.”