Jack Damm is a caring dad. He's always been supportive of whatever his children decide to do. So when his daughters took up volleyball in junior high school, he naturally volunteered to compile the stats for their teams.
The girls are lucky in more ways than one. Their dad is a software pioneer who wrote his first spreadsheet package in 1972 when electronic spreadsheets were in their infancy. Ten years later Canadian business intelligence company Cognos (now owned by IBM) bought his company, and he continued to work there designing PowerPlay and other business intelligence products. In 1990 he was able to retire to spend more time with his family and tinker with software when the mood struck.
The mood struck during a volleyball game when he was carefully writing down the game's stats by hand. "Volleyball is almost as statistics intensive as baseball," Damm explains. There are a lot of records to keep. "Hitters, the players who spike the ball, have hitting percentages equivalent to a batting average. If you hit 300 or more over the course of a season you are hitting well." Among the actions coaches need to track are attacks, passes, digs, serves, aces, assists, blocks and errors.
Software for Coaches
"The programmer in me said 'this really ought to be a computer application,'" Damm says, so he wrote a program for his Palm Pilot. At a tournament a coach saw him tapping the screen with a stylus rather than keeping notes on paper. "Where did you buy it?" he asked. "I didn't buy it, I wrote it," Damm replied. When the coach asked to try it, Damm beamed the program between their Palms. The next week another coach asked to try it. Before long about a half dozen coaches were using the program.
Then a software company launched a similar product, so Damm encouraged his friends to try the new program for comparison. "They said to me, 'Yours is much better. You owe it to volleyball to promote your product to all volleyball coaches,'" Damm recalls. "That's when we made the decision to take this prototype and turn it into a product."
Jack Damm, part-time volleyball statistician, came out of retirement to form Dimensional Software, "home court of the volleyball Ace."
It was clear from the start that the Palm application wasn't enough. "You have to print reports of stats in addition to collecting them," Damm says. "What you really want to be able to do is explore them on your desktop."
Xojo Makes Portability Possible
A Visual Basic aficionado, Damm wrote the desktop piece in Visual Basic version 6, and began to build a sizeable user base among Windows users. Then Mac users started asking for their own version, "and I was curious to see how the Mac worked." Braving Silicon Valley traffic, he drove the seven miles between his Los Altos, Calif. office and Apple headquarters in Cupertino.
The Xojo development environment product in the company store caught his eye. Damm knew about Xojo's cross-platform capability and thought it would save time creating a Mac version of Volleyball Ace. He bought the software on the spot. Then he walked across the street to buy a Mac at a big-box electronics store.
Damm used Xojo's conversion utility to convert his VB code to Xojo quickly and easily. He was very happy with the new code. "I found the interactive screen design with Xojo a better tool. When you build code with Xojo it is portable across platforms. It allows me to maintain a single code base and publish an application for Windows and Mac."
Damm is planning to release a Linux version of Volleyball Ace as well. His customers - high school, college and club coaches - work in the type of cost-sensitive fields where open-source implementations make sense, he says.
Cross-Platform Makes All the Difference
Since Damm wrote his original Visual Basic code, Microsoft has replaced the language with VB.NET. Damm thinks that it lacks the power of Xojo where "you get more done with fewer instructions," he says. "Errors and effort are directly tied to the number of lines of code you need to generate. Furthermore, it's not portable between platforms. I wanted to be fully portable across Windows, Mac and Linux platforms and work in a visual environment. Xojo was the answer."
Damm's children are grown now; his youngest daughter, a college sophomore, plays club volleyball, and the older one plays in an adult league. His children are grateful to him for having the time to support them and their teams when they were growing up. He's grateful to them for inspiring him to launch a niche software company whose customers now number in the several thousands. "I am able to keep current with the technology and I get to support a sport I love."