It was January of 1988 and John DeCell was out of a job. He’d worked as a loan officer for the First American Bank in his hometown of Baytown, Texas for five-and-a-half years, but the banking industry had fallen under hard times and DeCell suddenly found himself without a job. Factor into this the added pressure of knowing your first son is only months away from being born, and you’ve an idea of the headspace DeCell was in on this particularly tumultuous New Year.
He had to step it up. So what did DeCell do? He entered the irrigation business. “I had a baby on the way, no job and I owned a truck,” says DeCell. “So like a lot of other people, I became an irrigator almost overnight. From the time the bank closed to the time I had my irrigation license was just over one month.”
For a guy whose experience in the irrigation business totaled all of one overnight system installation, this was an unusually risky move. Years later, as DeCell fondly recalls the steps he’s taken to put him where he is today—in the presidential office of his own irrigation software design company, Software Republic—it’s not hard to sense how pleased he is that it all paid off. As a child, DeCell had no idea what a word like “irrigation” meant. His mother worked in Baytown’s school district as an administrator in the school he attended. (“So if I got sent to the principal’s office, she was the first person I saw. I became a good kid real quick.”). His father was a manufacturer’s representative, constantly travelling around Texas and the surrounding states.
In 1982, DeCell graduated from the University of Houston with a business degree in marketing. From there came the aforementioned career as a loan officer. In 1988, when the time came to take the irrigation license test, he passed on the first try.
“Back then, when you were trying to get into the business, there was no training,” says DeCell. “You basically taught yourself and you went to a distributor and asked questions. So I did just that, and when I thought I was ready, I went out and got my license.
“I realized from the beginning that the proper way to create an irrigation system is to start with a quality design,” says DeCell. “I learned the most about design from Alex Garza, who at the time owned GPM Distributors, Kevin Gordon, our Weathermatic sales representative who now is with Hunter Industries and sits on the board of directors of the Irrigation Association, and Mark Swafford, who was our Buckner representative.”
DeCell, along with his partner, John Elliott, started Irrigation Technologies, Inc., and in late 1989 they left the contracting business and relocated to Temecula, California, to further their careers. While in California, they were privileged to learn more about irrigation from some of the most respected people in the industry such as Bob Cloud, Dave Pagano and Sam Tobey.
As designers, DeCell and his company looked for existing software that catered towards the kinds of designs they produced, but was unsuccessful in finding anything that fit the bill. It was then decided that Irrigation Technologies would design its own software.
“One of the benefits of creating plans for irrigation systems on computer is the symbols are already built, everything’s already in the software,” says DeCell. “Plus there are tools to assist you in sprinkler placement, distribution analysis, pipe sizing and hydraulic calculations. At a click of a button you can calculate a complete list of materials of everything on the design. And if you have changes, you can easily pick up a sprinkler or a pipe and move it to a new location, whereas if you’re doing this on paper you have to erase everything, which is a more difficult task.”
Riding the wave of computer technology, Irrigation Technologies thrived. After all, if those within the company found the software to be efficient, then those on the outside would, too. With this logic in mind, DeCell approached the Rain Bird Corporation. Under the Rain Bird moniker, Irrigation Technologies began selling its software to a wide range of customers within the irrigation and landscape industry. Business started taking off, and soon enough, the company’s focus was centered entirely on the software itself.
DeCell bought Elliott out in 1994, and in 1998, Irrigation Technologies amicably parted ways with Rain Bird and changed its name to Software Republic. DeCell relocated his company and himself back to his more familiar pastures in Houston, Texas, and has continued selling irrigation design software ever since. Currently, Software Republic is in the process of building a new program based on RainCAD technology. With this new software, users won’t have to make any hefty one-time investments; instead, they can pay a small monthly subscription.
This month, DeCell celebrates his 25th anniversary with his wife, Lisa. Their son, Thomas—the very same son that spurred DeCell into the career he’s made a living at for the past 20 years—attends college, while his daughter, Danielle, starts her final year of high school this fall. Earlier this year, DeCell and his family settled into a bucolic new home among the familiar Texas woodlands he knew growing up, and—ironically—he finds himself getting back into the hands-on approach of maintaining a pleasant landscape. “I didn’t realize how much five acres will put you to work,” says DeCell. “And believe me, it will!”
Not far from their home is a golf resort where DeCell will occasionally test his swing, though he spends the majority of his time keeping Software Republic ahead of the software curve. It’s not where he would have guessed himself ending up 25 years ago, but he harbors no regrets.
“I never dreamed I would be doing this,” says DeCell. “It wasn’t on my to-do list, but I’m glad I ended up where I am.”