Fortunately for him, he's quite good at working for himself.
"I think it's about the only place I can survive," he says. "I belong alone."
Yesulaitis is far from alone, however, when it comes to the ranks of Philly's high-performance entrepreneurs. His current venture, Aavalar Consulting, a technology consulting firm that performs personnel searches for IT companies, recruitment consulting and human resources training, was named twice to the Philadelphia 100 Hall of Fame, a group of the fastest-growing companies in the Greater Philadelphia region. ALTA Technical Services Inc., a company he launched in the late 1980s and sold in 1996, made the list four years in a row.
Yesulaitis, 44, spent time in the corporate world during the 1980s as a hardware and software engineer, working on military satellite command and control systems and on the new generation of air traffic control systems. After a stint with an unsuccessful investment start-up, he launched ALTA Technical Services, returning to serving clients in the military and aerospace industries. The company later moved away from its original market, evolving to serve the growing need for businesses -- particularly those in the financial services industry -- to connect personal computers to their mainframes.
Yesulaitis later sold ALTA Technical Services to a $1.5 billion company and stayed on to manage the business as part of the deal. After fulfilling the contract with the new owner, he decided to return to running his own business and founded Aavalar Consulting.
With one successful start-up behind him and a second in the works, Yesulaitis suggests that would-be entrepreneurs seek out professionals who can render services the average business person can't quickly master. In the long run, he contends, it saves time and money.
"You can buy a couple of hours of an accountant's time to set up your chart of accounts and the structure of an accounting system rather than you doing it wrong and spending weeks screwing around," says Yesulaitis.
So, what's a better use of an entrepreneur's time?
Says Yesulaitis: "Go sell something."
Yesulaitis talked with Smart Business about the things that entrepreneurs can't compromise on, why even a small venture needs a good team of advisers and why working for big companies gives him a pain.
What encouraged you to become an entrepreneur?
It was 1988, and I had gone into a different business, actually an investment business, with a friend of mine. It didn't work out, and I decided to start my own consulting company. I figured I could make all the same mistakes that everybody else can make and make more money at it.
So I started my own shop, starting out as a free-lancer, and hired people to work with me, really kind of the classic organic growth story. I went back to the industries that I knew, which were military product contractors, the FAA, prime contractors and subcontractors, and went into these companies and started to get jobs, contracts, projects, working on subsystems within these really enormous systems that have many, many pieces, many subcontractors.
That was really just a natural for me, but really more in the hardcore engineering world than so much in the data processing world. Around that time -- this was in the late '80s -- people decided that they wanted these things called PCs to talk to their mainframe systems, and one of the places they wanted that to happen was in the financial companies. Now, it's a no-brainer; you plug it in and it all works. But it used to be a lot of real low-level development within those systems to make the big iron work talk to these little PCs.
So we took some of our core competencies there and we walked into these environments and started to grow. Some of our biggest accounts became companies like Vanguard and Independence Blue Cross, not in the traditional parts of the information systems departments but rather in sort of a middleware role, and that became bread and butter for us. We eventually drifted completely out of the military and government contracts world.
Why did you sell Alta Technical Services?
It was really a goal from the get-go to grow it for an acquisition. When I executed (the exit), the market was ramping up, pre-Internet bubble time, and it was a time to get a valuation that ... we may never see again. I've got to tell you, with the way the market crashed in 2000-2001, there's not a lot of regret there.
What does Aavalar Consulting do?
We are primarily a technical consulting and staffing company. We complement the staffing services we provide with organizational development and the HR soft skills training component so, hopefully, we differentiate ourselves from our competition by doing that. Not only do we provide the technical guns for hire and the full-time staffing for our clients ... we walk in and do team-building and diversity training and things that increase productivity and retention. It's really what the market seemed to be demanding in 1999 and years thereafter.
What did you learn as an employee of ALTA Technical Services after you sold it?
I think I learned -- I relearned, I should say -- that many, or at least the companies I observed of any size, tended to be very political atmospheres that I was not good at functioning in. There are some people that are natural politicians. I'm just not one of them, and so, in a world where you tell it like it is when the emperor doesn't have a new suit on, you can't function.
You either align yourself with the powers that be or you don't function well. So I realized that I wasn't a politician ... that you can't make hand-waving, unilateral decisions based on a bean counter mentality. For instance, in a company like the consolidator that bought my old company, it was very easy to say, 'Look at these salespeople who are working for this company we just acquired, look at how much money they're making. If we got rid of them, look at how much more money would go to the bottom line. We'll just put cheaper people in place of them', which actually happened after we left. They went in and went after the highest-earning people. It's very shortsighted.
How did you approach Aavalar differently from Alta Technical Services?
I'm less negotiable now on a lot of operational details than I was before. You know that certain things work and certain things don't work. If you're in a new in a business or an industry, you might allow other people around you, or even yourself, talk you into cutting corners, doing things that look like an easier route between point A and point B.
Inevitably, those things are traps. You have to have a nonnegotiable business process because you know when you cut corners or do things too differently without some justification, of course, in the end, while it might seem easier or simpler or quicker, it's really not.
Let's say we're hiring a consultant to do a project for us. We absolutely know that we have to get into that person's head to understand them by meeting with them on a face-to-face basis, by doing background checks, by checking their references, by maybe checking references they don't even know we're checking.
You can't talk yourself into thinking we're doing all this extra work and we can probably let this slide and get the project done. It will come back to bite you.
What are the critical skills an entrepreneur needs to be successful?
Tenacity, first. Attention to detail, ability to think strategically, ability to construct systems where you have instant financial statistics and feedback, and a personality where you believe, for better or worse, that you can do anything. You've got to think that failure is not an option.
What advice would you give to potential entrepreneurs?
It definitely happens on a day-to-day basis that your time is gobbled down by every available distraction, and it's really, really important to have good advisers who can step in and run with it and get it off your plate so you can focus on what your business is, what your job is.
And that means a good administrative assistant, somebody who's got a high bandwidth, someone who can understand a lot of things and doesn't need a lot of direction; a good lawyer, who, when you need a contract written or reviewed ... understands your business and doesn't have to come back to you and eat up your time to get that thing done. A good accountant who will probably be a small businessperson's CFO until they can hire one, understands the business, digs into the company's reports and gives you a quick thumbnail analysis of what's going on because unless you're running an accounting business, you don't want to be an accountant.
How to reach: Aavalar Consulting Inc., www.aavalar.com