Recently, my nephew Billy Thibodeaux was taking a college course and he was asked to interview an entrepreneur. The purpose of the assignment was for the students to gain an understanding of entrepreneurship and what it means to be entrepreneur and to run a business. The teacher gave them 10 questions to ask and my nephew came up with 10 additional questions on his own. I thought the exercise contained good information so I decided I would share it with you in my blog.
1. How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
Louis J. Erickson co-founded the company with me in 2000. We each own 50% of the company. I am the Chief Executive Officer and he is the Chief Operations Officer. Louis and I have been best friends for over 30 years. Our primary experience was building software while working for major defense contractors that provided software engineering services for the Department of Defense. We were not happy with the bureaucracy and inefficiencies in the department of defense.
We were both good at what we did. However, working in that environment with a bunch of B & C team players was frustrating. We would attend meetings just to discuss what we would do in the next meeting! We were both very creative and wanted to solve real world business problems and create innovative software solutions, but the bureaucracy and apathy in building software for the government was stifling. It was easy to soar like an eagle though, and we were both rock stars as employees, but we both wanted much more and I felt we could do it better.
We started talking about forming the company in 1998. We sketched out a business plan on a napkin at a Chucky Cheese during my niece's birthday party, but we did not start the company until 2000. The catalyst for this was finding a good long term contract with a company in Austin, Texas. Louis was already in Austin, so I moved there and we formed a Texas Corporation.
2. What was your mission at the outset?
Survive...just kidding, no seriously. We believed that we could create a services based company where software engineers could grow and flourish. We wanted to work with leading technology and build real-world enterprise software solutions. I have always been a leader and I am creative and take great satisfaction out of building things, both software and our company. I appreciate the opportunity to sink or swim based on my own effort and hard work.
Louis and I are Software Engineers who had to learn how to run a business and be business owners. We knew what we did not know and sought out and valued the people that could help us.
3. When did you "charter" the business?
In 2000 we formed a Texas Corporation and applied for and IRS S-Corp Status. In 2001 we moved the company to Fort Walton Beach, Florida and on the advice of our attorney, we re-incorporated in the State of Florida, applied for an IRS S-Corp Status and dissolved the Texas based Corporation.
4. How many employees?
- 24 Employees
- 14 Software Engineers (Louis and I are counted in the Software Engineers)
- 4 Graphic Designers / Web Developers
- 1 Director of Marketing
- 1 Director of Sales
- 1 Director of Business Operations (HR, Finances)
- 1 Director of Morale (Admin, Employee Relations)
5. What service(s) or product(s) do you offer/manufacture?
- Software Development (Application Development)
- Software Systems Integration
- Graphic Design (Web & Print Design & Development)
- IT Consulting
6. How do you advertise your business?
Branding and Identity are Key. But the biggest single action we can take to advertise our business is do solid work and give Tiffany service. Word-of-mouth is a powerful thing.
However, today with all of the changes in marketing, we have changed from the old "push" marketing to "pull" marketing. People get so many messages daily. You have to give them a compelling reason to tune in and listen to your message. You have to provide useful and interesting content that is relevant so people want to listen. You have to be willing to give away some advice and information for free. You have to establish your company as The Experts and you have to be able to back it up in word and deed.
- Web Site
- Events & Seminars
- Cold Calling
- Warm Calling
7. How do you advertise your product/service?
- Web Site
- Events & Seminars
- Cold Calling
- Warm Calling
8. To what do you attribute your success?
- Ruthless Persistence and Razor Focus
- Hiring really outstanding people who are self-motivated and do not need to be managed.
9. Do you use the services of a professional accountant or attorney?
Absolutely! The key in running a business is knowing what you do not know and getting the right people to do it for you. You also have to value their services and be willing to pay for their expertise. We use O’Sullivan Creel as our CPA (Accounting Firm) and Pleat & Perry PA as our Attorney’s.
10. What do you look for in an employee? The most important thing to us is that they fit into our corporate culture!
- We look people who are self-motivated and who do not need to be managed.
- We need them to be what we call triple threats:They have to be able to do the work.
- They have to be able to work and communicate with their peers.
- They have to be able to work and communicate with customers.
11. What made you choose your current location?
Family and Cost of Living.
12. What kind of Corporation is your business?
C Corporation with and IRS S-Corp Designation.
13. What’s your company’s goals?
Our BHAG or Big Hairy Audacious Goal is be the premier #1 Software & Design Services company in the nation.
14. Do you work locally or nationally?
Both, but most of our work comes from around the country.
15. What is unique about your business?
We do project based software engineering and graphic design. We are well rounded and know all aspects of development to include the graphics, marketing, business, as well as the technology. All of our engineers and designers have college degrees, are Microsoft Certified, and on staff at our location. We are light and nimble and provide tip of the spear technology services with a personal and Tiffany touch, the national consulting firms do not provide this kind of service.
16. What are your responsibilities as the business owner?
Everything! Owning a business that employs 24 people means that I also have the responsibility for 24 families that depend on me to make good decisions. I also have a responsibility to my customers and vendors. So for every decision I make I have to think about the consequences and weigh a lot of factors. In the end I am ultimately responsible.
17. What made you choose this type of business?
It is what I am good at and what I enjoy. But more importantly there is an endless market for computer, networking, and software IT services. You can love something, but if there is little or no market for people to buy your product or service, you are dead in the water. There is one exception to this rule and that is for people who can create a whole new market for a product and service. Often times people do not know what they want until a company gives it to them and creates a market, but those situations are few and far between. It does not happen that often.
18. Does your company help the community where it is located?
Absolutely, we support the community and a number of charities. We usually give about 10% of our earnings in money, time, and support each year. Some of the people we support: Emerald Coast Autism Center, Northwest Florida Ballet Academy, Best Robotics Program, IT Gulf Coast, Gulf Coast .NET Users Group, American Cancer Society, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Taylor Haugen Foundation, Choctawhatchee High School, Fort Walton Beach High School, and the Boy Scouts.
19. Have you ever turned down a client?
Yes, we have turned down clients and we have fired clients after we started working with them. The customer is not always right. The key is finding balance and knowing when you need to let them go. The biggest factor is if they value our services and what we provide. There needs to be a mutual respect. If that respect is not there you do not have a good business relationship. Also when you let them go it is important to frame it the right way. You always have to be professional.
20. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Make your own future! Create and be part of something that is bigger than yourself. Nobody is going to give it to you; you have to work for your dreams. There are no guarantees on success. In order to win big you have to take calculated risks. You will find that nothing great just happens on its own, you can't sit on the sidelines and wait for it. Be ruthlessly persistent and have razor focus!