As a freshman at Oregon State University, Chris Vlessis did not initially consider computer science as his major, but now a junior, he has already co-founded a software company called SteadyBudget. As the chief technology officer, he is the architect for a suite of software solutions to help digital marketers track expenses and make informed marketing decisions.
Impatience is what initially got Chris Vlessis interested in computer science. As a high school student in Bend, Oregon, he was working for a digital marketing company, G5, which builds websites. His job was to tediously click through every page of a website to check for spelling errors and broken pages. He sped up the process by writing a script to automatically open up all the pages he needed to check. Then he got more sophisticated and had the script pull the text from the website so he could run spell check on it. Pretty soon he had developed a comprehensive suite to scan all the pages and find the bugs simply by submitting the site’s domain.
“That was my first software engineering project,” Vlessis says. “I’ve always seen computer science, not so much a profession in and of itself, but a really good tool for solving problems.”
At G5, he met the director of advertising, Jon Davis, who had the initial idea for SteadyBudget. He could see that companies were losing millions of dollars by simply not having a good way to track when they would go over their spending limits for pay-per-click social media marketing. Davis started working full time on developing the idea as a business and Vlessis continued helping out as a side project through high school and into college.
At Oregon State, Vlessis began considering the possibilities for computer science. “Computer science appealed to me partly because I was already working in it, so I was familiar with the concepts, but also because the professions that you can pick are so broad. I could work in a digital marketing company or a physics lab,” Vlessis says.
It’s been a prototype and a side project for so long that having it become a real business has been surreal.
A pivotal point for him was meeting Chris Scaffidi, associate professor of computer science in the College of Engineering. Scaffidi taught the web development course Vlessis was taking, but it was the interactions outside of class that helped shape his future with SteadyBudget.
“I remember he took an hour outside of class to explain security protocols for transferring web packets. It was those kinds of conversations that really made a difference to me,” Vlessis says. “A lot of the course material has to be generic, but I found if you ask a question, the professors have an incredible depth of knowledge and are very enthusiastic when students take the initiative to learn more.”
Scaffidi has been a great source for technical advice as Vlessis developed the SteadyBudget software. On the business side, he has worked closely with Dale McCauley in the Austin Entrepreneurship Program at Oregon State. Together Scaffidi and McCauley helped SteadyBudget find the resources to attend a conference in Las Vegas that they had been invited to. McCauley even came along in an Oregon State van with five of the team members.
“These kinds of opportunities we would never have had access to otherwise. It’s been huge a blessing and a fantastic opportunity,” Vlessis says.
SteadyBudget, located in Bend, has eight employees, half of whom are Oregon State affiliated. Dominique Catabay and Katie Beltramini are alumni, and Vlessis and David Teofilovic are current students. Vlessis recently took six months off of school to focus on building the business which now has 20 paying clients and about 600 users on their free version.
“It’s been a prototype and a side project for so long that having it become a real business has been surreal,” Vlessis says.