• Stephanie Rzonca

Imagine Time is a Software Company Imagining a Better Rutherfordton

This small firm you’ve never heard of could be the next catalyst for opportunity and growth in downtown Rutherfordton.

The software company is unassuming, with a small office and only eight employees. There isn’t a sign on the door. The website is minimal. They don’t advertise or do any marketing. The firm has grown slowly, but sustainably. Carl Coe, the new owner of the business, absolutely beams with pride when he talks about the quality of the software – the reason for its success without the need for marketing.

Imagine Time is a practice management software company built specifically for accounting firms. The system was developed by Fred Lindsley, a CPA who created the software tool to run his own firm. Today the small Rutherfordton-based software company has around 1,500 clients all over the United States.

When Carl Coe stumbled upon Imagine Time, he was very impressed with the quality of the business that Fred Lindsley had built. “I’m good at evaluating the financials and understanding the potential of a company, technology in particular,” Coe said. He had been involved with other small business investment projects before, where he would advise, invest, and help the businesses grow and succeed. His 25-year experience in the corporate software world had given him an appreciation for a quality program, and he spent a lot of time looking for a business he could buy and develop. Imagine Time, with its impressive software built by accountants for accountants, and its aptitude for growth, seemed like a good fit for his goals.

Carl Coe got to know Fred Lindsley and over time they went back and forth on a negotiation of sale. It seemed as though the timing and the deal would never work out. Eventually, they decided that a sale was just not going to happen. Coe reached out to Lindsley and asked to get together and play golf one more time, just as friends. “I was doing it out of courtesy, because we had spent so much time working on buying the business that I didn’t want to leave it in a bad way.” It was during that final round of golf, with no expectation or pressure to close a deal, that Lindsley offered to sell Coe the company. “By the end of that eighteen holes, we had a full agreement, and I was buying the company.” Sometimes, good relationships make great business sense.

One cannot understate the significance of community relationships and investment in a town as a driver of local economic success. For Imagine Time, and for Carl Coe, staying in Rutherfordton, maintaining the same employees, and using their company’s growth as a catalyst for the town’s growth was the right choice. It may have been easier for Coe to buy the business and move all operations and employment to Raleigh, where he lives. The bigger city would have afforded him more opportunities for a larger office space, a bigger talent pool, and it certainly would have been a shorter commute. Most other investors and entrepreneurs would have done that. But Coe insists on keeping the business in Rutherfordton, where it has been since 2005, and where the investment will make a greater community impact.

The savvy entrepreneur is very familiar with the ways in which economic prospects can change a community. Coe grew up in rural Ohio, in a small town that he has seen transform over the years. An automobile manufacturer moved to the town and brought with it an influx of people, money, and jobs that weren’t there before. He described the small town feel, but now with a vibrancy that wasn’t there when he was a child. “It’s just got the right shops, the right architecture, and the right restaurants that it didn’t have before. I see the same thing absolutely possible with Rutherfordton. Everything about it is really cool, and it’s in a great spot.” He sees Imagine Time’s growth as a piece of the greater puzzle of building momentum in the Rutherfordton’s business and investment landscape. His plans for growing the business include hiring of local talent, the eventual purchase and improvement of a building, and drawing people in to the community through opportunities with his growing company. There is also going to be a complete re-brand and marketing effort. “We have 1,500 clients, and only one is from this county,” Coe told me. “Most don’t know we exist. We’re going to change all that.”

When we think about what “supporting the local economy” means, we often think about shopping at small businesses, or eating at independently owned restaurants. But for Carl Coe, it’s bigger than that. “Why not start local?” He asks. “If I can hire someone here, it means a mortgage is being paid here, it means a child’s college tuition can be paid. It means so much to a community to have those opportunities.”