How did you reinvent the business to achieve growth in difficult times?
The whole tech industry really hit the skids (around 2000), and the ensuing recession had a major impact on our business. So we reoriented our business model and went aggressively at the public sector. In hindsight, it was a tremendous thing for a business to do.
You’ve got to be thinking just a little bit different. We could have kept swinging and missing at the commercial market and hoping it would come back, and we would probably be out of business by now.
So you sit down and you think and leverage the people in the company and the thoughts and experiences they have, and come up with a good idea to go after a different kind of business than you had before. It’s just how you survive as an entrepreneur.
What characteristics does a CEO need to have?
You’ve got to have an energy level that is by far above and beyond everyone else in the organization. And you’ve really got to want to drive the business forward every day.
You have to constantly be on, because whether you’re starting and you have two people, or you’re growing and you have 50 or 100 people, [they’re] depending on you to create that energy and that optimistic view of the world every minute of every day. Drive is a kind of combination of energy and really wanting to get after the business that you’re in on a daily basis.
That element of drive and energy is critical if you expect the company to grow, in particular when you’re starting something from nothing. The other side of it is, if you don’t have that type of attitude, if you don’t have that intense drive, you’ll have no business.
How do you manage growth?
We’re not shooting for world-beating numbers. We’ve grossed pretty steadily between 20 and 30 percent per year. That’s a pretty aggressive growth path by a lot of companies’ standards but in the technology business, you see companies regularly talk about 50 to 100 percent growth.
As a private company, we don’t need to grow that fast. We’ve experienced some pretty big growth years in this company, and you see what that can do to people. It just kind of burns them out.
The goal (is) to not fry people but try to celebrate the successes year in and year out instead of just driving them into the ground and hoping they come back to work.
How important is delegation?
You have to have good people around you, and you have to give them room to exercise their minds and ideas, and teach other people their ideas, as long as it is in the framework of what we’ve set for the company. When you start a company, you have to know everything about it from top to bottom, and it’s a little bit hard to relinquish that as you first start to grow, because you presumably enjoy every aspect of the business if you’re an entrepreneur.
As it starts to take off, you absolutely have to work to get out of the way. So we encourage all key management people to run their piece of the business, report it back to us on a weekly basis, and discuss it and get started with it. It occurs under their direction. I’ve been out the last two months for some personal issues, and our business has grown more dramatically in the last two months than in the last two months I was there.
We’ve built a model that is very sustainable and is capable of growing with or without my day-to-day involvement, and it’s because we’ve given people a lot of freedom to help us implement new ideas which are ultimately their ideas which tends to propel the company that much faster because everybody feels strong buy-in to the direction we’ve set.
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