Circle Tech rolls out a new line

System touted as game-changer, raising efficiency and confidentiality

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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A hotel meeting room in downtown Vancouver isn't the place you'd expect to host the release of a product billed as a game-changer for the insurance, legal, banking, advertising, and accounting industries. But Wednesday afternoon at the Hilton Vancouver Washington, Vancouver-based Circle Technology rolled out software and hardware products that the company believes will change the way those industries interact with their customers.

In distinctive black shirts with embroidered name patches, Circle employees eagerly invited visitors to observe and test a product line in which a host computer anchors a circle of tablets to allow Internet-free, paper-free conferences and sales pitches.

With Circle's system, documents can be modified in real time, saving time and reducing errors. No paper documents means no worry that confidential material gets into the wrong hands.

Circle is hoping for $1 million in sales in its first year, through its wholesale distribution sales and direct sales, says director of sales Chris Boyd. But the nine-employee company has big ambitions grounded in earlier successes of the company's founder and president, serial entrepreneur Steve Hix of Camas.

Hix was a founder in 1986 of Oregon-based InFocus, a company that made its first mark with a viewer that displayed a computer screen on a wall with an overhead projector. Hix left that company in 1994 when the company had $100 million in annual sales. Eventually, lower-cost imports undercut its market.

He is joined in his new venture by Ron Khormaei, as Circle's CEO. The two men worked together at Planar in Oregon, and Khormaei moved on to Hewlett-Packard in Corvallis and other jobs before rejoining Hix at Circle.

Hix believes Circle Technology is his best idea to date, once people grasp its potential. He compares the company's current phase to the early days of InFocus, when its now-commonplace technology was not understood.

"The big thing is that we've got to change peoples' habits," Hix said.

Circle has been selling its products for about four months, and this week's public event was both a marketing kick-off and an introduction to a couple of new offerings: a 13.3-inch Android tablet, which is an upgrade from the current 10-inch monitor, and Android-based apps that allow customers to use their own devices in the "circle." Boyd said the company will soon release Apple-based software and apps.

Circle's primary product is a package that includes software for an owner's own computer, four 10-inch tablets with software, display stands and a carrying case for recharging the devices, offered for about $3,000. A two-display package sells for about $1,800, Boyd said.

Experience with use

One early adopter of the technology is Vancouver-based Horenstein Law Group, which has Circle as a client.

Mellissa Middleton, a paralegal at the firm, says she's used the product for about two months and has quickly recognized its value in improving efficiency and cutting waste.

Instead of printing lengthy documents for clients, then taking notes for revisions and another round of print-outs, she makes real time changes in the electronic document. "One of the best things it's done for us is eliminate a lot of paper," Middleton said.

Using Circle does require an adjustment, she added. "The biggest challenge is changing your frame of mind on how you prepare for a meeting," she said. As for clients: "They love it," she said.

While it's easy to imagine Circle Technology's product line quickly gaining traction if it were marketed by a major online or store-based retailer, Hix seems content to start out slowly, even with a product release in a Vancouver hotel meeting room.

"Right now our commitment is to the marketplace," Hix said. "We are offering a quality product, at a good price, that is useful."

Gordon Oliver: 360-735-4699, http://twitter.com/col_goliver, or gordon.oliver@columbian.com