Wademan, the Spaniard and the Inspiring Story of a Startup Gone Right
It sounds funny to say that it all started with a long bike ride, but that’s the honest truth.
Back in 2000, Wade Hatler took what he thought would be a six-month sabbatical from his job as a developer at Impac (later acquired by Elekta) to do some soul-searching distance rides on his bike. But as the days went on, Wade slowly shifted gears. Six months stretched into twelve—and before he knew it, his “distance ride” became a three-year trip around the world. (You can read Wademan’s exciting story here.)
Along the way, during a stay in Madrid, Wade had the pleasure of meeting Amalia Sancha. The native Spaniard with a background in music, journalism and communications, instantly connected with the adventurous software developer. As the two enjoyed walks together through her neighborhood streets, she listened to his daydreams about starting a new company. They idly pondered what to call it.
“The name Palabra came up,” recalls Amalia. Palabra means “word” in Spanish, and with Amalia’s writing background and the concept of speech recognition, it sounded perfect. “We liked it, and we left it at that, as so many other things you talk about but consider just dreams.”
Fast forward 10 years. After many trips together, with and without their bicycles, Wade and Amalia were now married with two girls and a mortgage. Though he was still with Elekta, Wade instinctively felt it was the right time to set out on his own. Excited, and very scared, they took the leap—and PalabraApps was born.
Anyone who has worked for or with a startup knows how understandably lonely those first few months can be. “A week might go by without either of us receiving a single email from anyone,” says Amalia. “We had no idea whether our product would work, and no idea whether anybody would buy it. But Wade had a vision and he developed the heck out of it, and he made it work.”
The initial goal was simply to start making sales. “We thought that if we could sell Palabra to one doctor, we could sell it to many,” Wade says. And so, after a lot of perseverance, the company finally caught its first break with Dr. Meera Patel, of Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers.
“She was sick and tired of transcription, and she said she would give us a try. We were so excited!” Amalia laughs, remembering how that initial opportunity made them giddy. “Wade traveled there to install for and train her, and it was so great—if only the product weren’t glitching every few minutes.” She rolls her eyes. “Oh man, the anguish of those days.”
Dr. Patel was (is) a huge Denver Broncos fan, and that year the Super Bowl was between the Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. PalabraApps, of course, is based in Seattle. “When the Seahawks won, we were convinced she was going to dump us,” Wade says. “But she didn’t, because she loved Palabra even more than she loved the Broncos (or so we like to think)!”
“That was when we knew we would be okay,” Amalia states.
Over the next few months, PalabraApps began to take off—slowly but surely. Wade and Amalia doggedly headed out to conduct demos for prospective customers and showcase what Palabra could do.
There was always that moment, though, when people would ask them how big their company was. “We would sweat, trying to find the right words to say that it was just the two of us,” recounts Amalia. “Thankfully, the legend of Wademan, the extraordinary Impac/Elekta developer, was alive and well. And some great sites trusted us. For that, we will always be grateful.”
Before long, PalabraApps took on its first “real” employees. Product glitches were expertly engineered out of existence. The company soon doubled its user base, and the numbers grew exponentially.
Today, Wade and Amalia still marvel at how the journey unfolded. “We are literally changing the lives of oncologists around the world,” Wade says. “And with Elekta’s investment in our company, things are only going to get better. We have access to great resources and reach now. We’re humbled, but we’re also exceptionally proud of what our team has accomplished.”
PalabraApps now develops several software solutions, including its flagship product Palabra, the newly enhanced version PalabraPlus and the MOSAIQ importing tool Palabra Teleport, and the team is busily working on developing an exciting set of mobility tools. According to Wade, “We have had a highly productive relationship with Elekta over the past several years and expect that the company’s investment in PalabraApps will accelerate the development of cutting-edge tools that further transform the oncology information management landscape.”
For the moment, Wade and Amalia’s thirst for bicycle adventure is sated. The two remain incredibly busy engineering, meeting with customers, sharing Palabra’s capabilities and creating and strengthening an outstanding team. But if you’re wondering whether Wade plans to take his bike out for another spin any time soon, the answer is… maybe. After all, says Amalia, “You never know what can happen until you put your wheels in motion.”
For more information on the agreement between PalabraApps and Elekta, click here.