Mike Thompson – CEO, Groupware Technology

Mike Thompson is the CEO of Groupware Technology, a Silicon Valley-based data center solution provider. He provides the leadership and strategy to propel company-wide success. He has over a decade of leadership experience at Groupware, where he has led the company to profitable growth, from $2 million to over $300 million in revenue, and has earned recognition from Inc. Magazine, CRN, Silicon Valley Business Journal, and many other business and industry publications.

Tell me about your early career.
Starting as an inside sales representative proved to be the perfect position for me as I quickly gained valuable experience in supporting the efforts of the sales team. I also had the good fortune, while in this position, to learn the mechanics of a strong operational system experiencing the entire business cycle, from the initial quote all the way through the collections process. As I continued to grow as an inside sales representative, the chance to move into a new role as an account manager presented itself and I jumped at the opportunity. Within a short period of rapid advancement as a top account manager, and after just four years on the job, the prospect of an even greater opportunity opened. During my time as an account manager, I began to understand how building strong relationships with business partners would be the foundation for continued success. Shortly thereafter, I found myself within the management circle as the Vice President of Sales and later as Executive Vice President of Sales and Operations. The company experienced excellent growth with revenues from around $18 million accelerating to $120 million at its peak.

During this period in the VAR world, many companies were building out their infrastructures and Sun Microsystems, a multi-billion dollar corporation, was the main provider of hardware for all these businesses. Realizing my business venture with this company may produce a highly lucrative outcome, I committed myself to increasing my business acumen and enrolled in an online MBA program. This investment would help propel my career by providing me with real life work experience and book knowledge simultaneously. And indeed this proved to be the case, though, what happened next is not what I had anticipated.

Though filled with good ideas, intentions, and cutting edge technologies, business operates on the simple premise of making more money than one spends. The company found itself vulnerable to the dramatic shift in the misfortunes of others and to my knowledge no one came out of this unscathed. I felt fortunate at this time because at my age I felt I could weather the storms ahead as long as I stayed focused on the task at hand. This meant having those hard conversations no one else wanted to manage, with our customers and, unfortunately, later with the employees.

All through this time I reflected on the simple, powerful things I had learned up to this point in my career and the one most relevant seemed to come from the opening of a Kipling poem, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…” It goes on, but the advice in the poem was clear: stay focused and avoid being distracted by those wanting to cast blame. I still had a career to build and considering the time invested and experienced gained I believed my future held great promise. In spite of having gone through the tortuous experience of seeing this company through its Chapter 11 and later Chapter 7 filings, I believed there were still tremendous opportunities in the technology industry. I also felt the experiences of managing an organization, through good times and bad, increased my value within the VAR community. My instincts were confirmed as other companies reached out offering me a position.

After much counsel and careful consideration I accepted a position with a smaller company with a business model similar to that of my previous employer. Having built strong relationships with industry manufacturers and distributors, the decision to remain in the VAR world came naturally.

Remaining in the technology space felt right, and at this stage of my career, I believed I had accumulated enough sweat equity and experience to, at the very least, explore new possibilities. Having now worked for two companies in various roles of responsibility and having experienced the positive and negative effects of leadership, I decided my next move had to carry more promise. If I can point to one strategic benefit garnered from my two previous employment experiences in the VAR world it’s understanding the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships with all touch points in the industry – manufacturers, distributors, and fellow employees.

How did the concept for Groupware Technology come about?
During this time period in the VAR business world, Sun Microsystems controlled much of the client-server market share; definitely the business relationship you needed if you wanted to experience any success. Rigid would best describe the reseller requirements for selling their product line. Chief among them – having a medallion (re-sell rights). If you wanted to sell Sun Microsystems products you had to have one, period. My resources (peers) informed me a company with a medallion might be going on the market and should I have an interest they recommended seizing the opportunity.

Conversations with colleagues and friends seemed to generate the momentum needed to complete the transaction while simultaneously attracting a team of dedicated individuals. I believe the word best describing the moment is serendipitous. Fortunately, during this time in the VAR business world, companies were heavily committed to building their infrastructures to maintain a competitive advantage. We were in the right place at the right time with the right attitude. But there still remained one vital factor needed in order for our business venture to thrive and not merely survive – support.

How was the first year in business?
I remember the first day I walked into the office located in a strip mall behind a Mexican restaurant – exhilarating, scary and challenging best describes the emotions I felt. But then the team (six of us) rolled up their sleeves, jumped in on the tasks at hand and I knew we were on to something special. When our distribution partner came by to visit, their eyes lit up as they looked at the team and said, “It’s about time you did this. Let’s get to work.” I confess, this felt really good, not just for me but for the team as well. Because of the limited office space, we had to work on some tables outside the office. With business beginning to show signs of growth, we knew we had to move not just for more work space but also because there had been a seriously bad odor in the office, which we discovered were dead rats in the walls. Apparently their presence had some connection with the restaurant. The move to our new office coincided with a shift in the technology business, chiefly in the area of data center management. The days of being the “middle-man” and pushing boxes out to customers were rapidly coming to an end. At this early stage of the company, we decided to take the team to an off-site we called “The Contender” where we gave out boxing gloves, which, of course, we would use to knock out the competition. We had essentially served notice that we were here to win. We grew the business from under $2 million to $30 million in revenue our first year.

What was your marketing strategy?
We developed a two-tiered marketing strategy: first to add value and establish our relevance with our customers and vendors by improving the value-added reseller experience and second, by establishing Mike Thompson (me) as the face of the company and how in doing so it can influence the company’s success. To achieve our set marketing goals, we first rebranded the company by changing the name from Groupware Technology & Computing to a more easily-stated Groupware Technology. Then, we held an off-site strategy planning session to determine what kind of company we wanted to be, and how we were going to get there. Since many of us (all six of us) had already developed close relationships from past experiences, we knew the basics of the industry and were mostly looking for differentiators. Considering how small we were in numbers, this hurdle would not be easily overcome. During a particularly engaging exchange, one of the team members phone rang, and rather than ignore the call and let it go to voicemail, he answered the phone and headed toward the door. Looking at him with perplexed expressions, we asked why he was taking the call in the midst of this important strategy session. His response, while seemingly in passing, resonated with everyone in the room,”We answer the call.” Needless to say, during his absence, the discussion in the room quickly turned to those four words, and we soon realized the power behind his statement. Right then and there, we knew we had a serious differentiator. From this statement, we decided whenever anyone called our company a living, breathing person would answer the phone and manage the caller’s inquiry. No voicemail, “Dial 1 for sales, or 2 for finance”; ad nauseam. The conversation for the rest of the strategy session revolved around this statement. Now, “We answer the call” had a much more significant meaning. It gave us a better understanding of how we were going to operate as a company and we knew then this would be the differentiator in both adding value to our customers and establishing relevance with vendors.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We quickly grew the company from under $2 million in revenue at acquisition to $30 million in our first year of new leadership, and the community began to take notice. Especially when in 2007 Inc. Magazine listed us as the #1 fastest-growing IT services company. We grew the business to $100 million in our fourth year and now we are $300+ million in revenue on our way to $500 million.

How do you define success?
Every time I come into the office, I see careers being built, families growing, and a culture of caring for each other. While having financial success is critical to the success of a company, the positive impact our success has on our employees makes one appreciate and understand the true meaning of success.

What is the key to success?
Creating a culture centered around core values. At Groupware, our core values of excellence, customer service, fun, and giving back, along with building and maintaining strong relationships, have been the driving force behind our successes. People like to do business with people they like.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
“Seek to understand before asking to be understood.” The power of listening is the lesson learned from the experience of our first off-site strategy session, which led to establishing our tagline, “We answer the call.”

What are some quotes that you live by?
“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one who gets the people to do the greatest things.” – Ronald Reagan

“In times of change those who are prepared to learn will inherit the land…While those who think they know will find themselves wonderfully equipped to face a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer

“I never wake up in the morning and tell myself, ‘Today, I think I’ll be mediocre.’” – Mike Thompson

What are some of your favorite books?
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Leading Change by John P. Kotter
The One Minute Manager by Kenneth H. Blanchard

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The “Great Recession” served as a reality check. After many conversations with our customers, we realized our customers were on the verge of a major shift in their data centers. So, instead of dialing back the business, we saw an opportunity to take marketshare and doubled down on expanding our integration, proof-of-concept, and testing labs. Our motto at the time was, “We refuse to participate in the recession!” This offered our customers who were looking to update their data centers an opportunity to essentially “try before you buy.” Of course, this also meant creating a new model centered around engineering prowess. Fortunately, the recession availed us with an excellent engineering team and we were able to support the investment. Lots of sweat equity during this time.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Belief in what you’re doing and trust in your team to execute the plan. Support from business partners, but more importantly, from family and friends. I also reflect on those who faced adversity much more dire than I.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
1) Lead by example but know where you’re leading your team.
2) Business is truly about people – surround yourself with good people and empower them. When you let your people do what they do best, they will both amaze and surprise you.
3) Stay curious – every day is an opportunity to learn and share something new.
4) Establish your company’s core values and stay true to them. They will determine your company’s culture and provide you with direction during difficult times.

David Lanxner – Founder & CEO, Maison Drake

David Lanxner is the founder and CEO of Maison Drake, a Florida-based retail company. David is a graduate of the University of Michigan (GO BLUE!) and has propelled the company from a small startup in 2007 to a leader in the retail industry. His dedication and unique blend of transparency and accountability sets the tone for Maison Drake. David is a proud husband to his beautiful wife, Ashley, and proud father to their three kids – Ari, Levi, and Nava.

Tell me about your early career.
I’ve always been drawn to entrepreneurship from my days in college. During the summers, I operated and managed M&L Sealcoating, an asphalt seal coating business, along with a dear childhood friend of mine. It was a very dirty line of work but one that taught me valuable life and business lessons that I still value today. We sold the business after our senior year as we both felt we needed to concentrate more on continuing our education. From there, I obtained my real estate license and quickly became a top selling agent my first year in the business. I was fortunate to learn from the best in the business and was hungry for success. In 2005, I came into a great opportunity to manage a financial analysis company based in Orlando, FL. Along with my business partner, we grew the company exponentially and sold it two years later. After some research and analyzing different markets and opportunities, I then founded Maison Drake. I do have to give a tremendous amount of credit to my beautiful wife as she was, and still is, instrumental in growing and developing the business from a one-man show operating out of our house and garage to where we are now.

How did the concept for Maison Drake come about?
After we had our first child, we noticed that there was a lack of resources locally for guidance and direction on baby products. There were the big box stores around and the ability to purchase online. However, we could not find a place that provided the personalized customer service new parents need when purchasing baby gear or products. Maison Drake was created to fulfill that need locally and then expanded online.

What was your marketing strategy?
Our first year in business was great, overall. Not very lucrative, although we learned a tremendous amount and kept moving forward. Our marketing strategy in our first year relied on word-of-mouth and referrals. As we expanded online, our philosophy was to provide a personalized customer experience through excellent customer service and communication, while investing in fulfillment services to deliver orders quickly.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
The company grew steadily the first two years and then we invested heavily in some new technologies that helped us continue to grow from one level to the next over the years.

How do you define success?
I think of success as feeling good about what you are doing and getting a sense of fulfillment with what you are working towards. The one thing I love the most about the position I am in is that my company provides jobs and supports not only my family but all of my employees and their families as well. To me, that is what’s most important. It gives me a great sense of accomplishment, but at the same time, provides with the motivation to keep improving and growing. I don’t think there is a single key to success. For me, surrounding myself with a great team has been instrumental to the company’s success.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The greatest lesson I’ve learned is to stay true to your values. There have been many times where opportunities have presented themselves, that would have required us to veer off on a somewhat different path. However, I have learned that in the long run, staying true to yourself, business relationships, and commitments will always prevail.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“The team, the team, the team.”
“99% right is 100% wrong.”

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Every day as a business owner is tough. Ultimately, everything that happens or doesn’t happen is on you. I learn from it and better myself and my team from whatever challenges the day brings along.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My family and my employees push me every day to keep moving forward, and to push harder.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Accept the fact that you don’t know everything and there is always someone that can offer a different perspective on things. Also, learn from other leaders and surround yourself with quality people.

Derek Koss – Founder & President, Time After Time

Derek Koss is the founder and president of Time After Time, a Philadelphia-based watch retail and repair company and franchise concept. Koss launched Time After Time in 1992 at age 19 and has since overseen the growth of the brand to 20 company-owned outlets that operate in shopping malls across Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Tell me about your early career.
There wasn’t one. I started Time After Time when I was 19 years old. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit working on my own throughout my high school years, so most people weren’t surprised when I went into business for myself.

How did the concept for Time After Time come about?
We were college kids looking to make a few quick bucks during the holiday season so we started selling $10 watches on a mall cart. It was a temporary business, just to get through the holidays, but we learned there was this huge need for watch repair services. Nearly every one of our customers asked if we did repairs (which at the time we didn’t offer), so we started thinking about expanding.

Not long after, we secured the rights to sell some of the most popular watch brands, which put a little more money in our pockets and allowed us to add more carts and eventually, a permanent kiosk. As soon as the kiosk was up and running, we started working on the highly successful repair business. About a year after, I opened my first in-line store, and we’ve never looked back. We’re now operating 20 corporate locations and recently launched a franchise program for qualified investors.

How was the first year in business?
The business went through a few stages during that first year, in part because of how young I was. Back then, there was much less pressure. If things didn’t work out, oh well, I had plenty to look forward to. Toward the end of that first year when we started adding more carts, adding a kiosk and eventually expanding into an in-line store, that’s when I really started to believe that this was my future. At that point, the pressure kicked in and we did what was necessary to make it successful. It’s turned out pretty well for us.

What was your marketing strategy?
In the beginning, when we had no marketing budget, the strategy was simple: Provide great service to every single customer and make yourself available, no matter what. Being that we are a mall-based operation, my motto back then was “Be the mayor of your mall,” basically make yourself known by everyone in the mall, employees, and customers alike.

Now that we have a significant marketing budget we’ve implemented all the traditional marketing routes from television to billboards to in-mall marketing and I’ve realized the “Be the mayor of your mall” is an irreplaceable strategy. I can spend $10 million in marketing to get people into the mall, but if you’re not a known entity it makes no difference. People need to know where to find you and know that you will provide the best service possible.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
The first couple of years went pretty quickly with not much growth, in part because we were young and weren’t really seeking that big growth. Over the next 18-month period, in about year three of business, we went from the watchcart, to multiple carts, to a kiosk, to an in-line store, to eventually expanding to another outside location. We doubled in size. That growth strategy of perfecting our product line and our services, getting to know our customers, becoming the true experts that we are, then opening a few locations at a time has really worked for us.

How do you define success?
There are a variety of ways to define success, and a lot of different successes a person can experience in life. For instance, I have three kids and a beautiful family, that is a success to me. But, when it comes to my business, our ability to stay relevant and have longevity for 25-plus years makes me feel more successful than any amount of money could. That’s especially the case when I think about how we started this business and where it is today.

What is the key to success?
I don’t think it’s much different than how I define success, staying relevant and holding a place in your particular industry. But, I think another key to being and feeling successful is maintaining your passion for what you do. I’ve made money in business through real estate development and other business partnerships, but I feel the most successful to still be passionate about where I’ve taken Time After Time the last 25 years. That’s the key.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
There’s been 1,000s of them. I feel like I learn something new every day. The ones that stick are the lessons I learn about people. Between working in customer service and being the boss of hundreds of employees, there are really important lessons to learn about how people react to different scenarios. The key in understanding is listening. You can learn everything you need to know about a person by opening both ears and closing your mouth.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“If it’s important to you, you will find a way. If it’s not, you will find an excuse.”

You can make an excuse for anything and everything, and I really don’t like living that way. If something doesn’t get done, it’s easy to make an excuse and justify it to yourself, but if it’s important to you then you find a way to get it done.

What are some of your favorite books?
I’ve never really been a big reader. My inspiration doesn’t come from fictional people or self-help gurus. I’m inspired by the single mother who works two jobs to support her family; by the immigrant business owner who sweeps his stoop every morning, no matter what. Those are the things that inspire me.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
There’s not one day that sticks out because every day presents its own challenges. But the beauty of it all is that every day is a fresh start. The problem yesterday isn’t the problem today. Business is very much like life. Sometimes, you have good days and other times you face some challenges. It’s how you respond that determines your future success.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I’m driven forward by the motivation and passion that I have for this business. Just like anything in life, when you have a bad day, you find inspiration within yourself to keep moving forward. As long as you still have that drive, you’ll always find a way.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
While it’s not mine specifically, I think Nike’s slogan “Just Do It!” is a great piece of advice. Back when I was 30 and my employees were 20 and younger, I’d always say to them ‘now is the time for you to take chances.’ The same should be applied to young entrepreneurs.

Don’t be irresponsible and just dive into something, but don’t set limitations for yourself, either. When you’re young, you have the opportunity to try, fail, but still find a way out of it. Once you’re older and more established, it’s harder to make those mistakes. That’s what I love about the franchise system: I’ve already made the mistakes in my business so that you don’t have to.

Jeff Hargroves – Founder & CEO, ProPharma Group

Jeff Hargroves founded ProPharma Group in 2001. His vision was to create a company that would serve clients long-term, creating a partnership to provide compliance-related solutions in an innovative manner.

Over his career, Jeff has held positions in operations, quality assurance, and engineering for manufacturing and consulting companies in the pharmaceutical industry. As an industry consultant, he has conducted numerous audits, developed quality programs, and managed projects for bulk and finished pharmaceuticals for the human and animal health industries. He is experienced in the conceptual and detailed design of facilities and equipment and the validation of facilities, utilities, process equipment, and cleaning and manufacturing processes for sterile and non-sterile products and APIs.

Jeff earned both his BS in Computer Engineering and BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Missouri.

Tell me about your early career.
I came out of school, University of Missouri, with degrees in computer engineering and electrical engineering. My first jobs was as a project engineer, managing design and construction projects, first at a hospital complex and then at a drug company. This is how I entered the drug industry, which I now realize was one of many great things that happened to me without even realizing it (the drug industry is generally regarded as one of the top 3 most robust and continuously changing/growing industries).

How did the concept for ProPharma Group come about?
I worked in various roles, for drug companies and consulting firms, serving the drug industry. I observed that most of the service companies I worked for or used seemed to be focused on short-term results, including financial results. I have a view that if I focus on the long-term relationship, with the client and with my employees, the short-term things (like financial performance) will take care of themselves. I saw plenty of work in the compliance space – helping drug companies satisfy FDA requirements – and decided to start a company that would focus on great results, with the long-term in mind.

How was the first year in business?
At the time I decided to start my own consulting business, I was working for a small drug company that manufactured animal health products. When I informed my employer that I was stepping away to start my own business, they asked me if I wanted to manage a large, upcoming expansion project that included relocating manufacturing equipment from Mexico. Along with assembling clients with whom I had provided services previously, I was quickly in need of more employees and the business was off to the races.

What was your marketing strategy?
I did not have a marketing strategy to start. I initially named the company JH Services because I thought I would also be doing real-estate work on the side. After the first year, I realized the consulting business was a real and substantial business, so I hired a marketing firm to help develop a brand and related materials to communicate our message. My strategy at this time was clarified to address the compliance needs of human and animal health manufacturing companies in the Midwest region.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We grew over 100% annually for the first several years and have continued to grow at over 20% annually ever since.

How do you define success?
We redefine the specific metrics for success at a company, department, and individual level each year. They always center around increasing repeat business with our clients while minimizing turnover of our employees.

If we do this, then we will have financial success that we can then share with our employees, who are happier and therefore take even better care of our clients who reward us with more work, which keeps the cycle going (picture a wheel, where happy colleagues -> happy clients -> more repeat business / financial rewards -> happy colleagues -> happy clients -> …………. )

What is the key to success?
Keeping a long-term perspective has been the primary key to success. Also, keeping a long-term perspective often leads to different decisions than a short-term focus. For example, if I run into a problem with a client – let’s say we spend more hours than budgeted on a project, I can take one of two paths:

A) I can belligerently demand that they compensate for each of the extra hours so that I maximize my short term profits.

B) I can look at the long-term relationship and probably not demand that I get paid for all the extra hours and increase the amount of trust that I develop with the client, which will usually result in more work being awarded in the future.

Further, I can share the profits of this project with the employees that helped create them – reducing my personal short-term profit, but enhancing my long-term relationship with my employee, who will stay longer, be happy, and create even more happy clients.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
A business with recurring revenue is a wonderful thing.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Follow the Golden Rule.”
“Don’t sweat the small stuff – and it’s all small stuff.”

What are some of your favorite books?
General books that have provided a continuous and positive influence are:
1) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
2) Blueprint to a Billion by David G. Thomson
3) The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes

Biographies I learned a great deal from are:
1) The Real Deal by Sandy Weill
2) Titan by Ron Chernow
3) The Snowball by Alice Schroeder

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Some of the toughest are when I have had to be away from my kids for an extended period of time. I tell myself it is an investment in their future, so it is worth it. I have had to manage this, though. There are some opportunities that I have passed on because they would have cost too much in terms of time away, and time with children at a young age is important.

I have also recently decided to step out of my role as president for just this reason. I’ve built a great business over the past fifteen years. I now have just a few years of middle/high school left with my kids under my roof. I have decided to spend as much time with them as possible while we’re still living in the same house. This was a particularly difficult decision, because I am having some of the best times of my career as I spend more time pursuing acquisitions to expand the services we offer and the regions we provide them in.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
As long as I know I am making the best decision possible for all the constituents in a situation (client, employee, shareholders) with the information I have available at the time, I sleep well. When it was a financial adversity (i.e. cash crunch), I persevere because I had to, for my family.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Develop a group of entrepreneurial friends. There are just certain things that you run into as an entrepreneurial business owner that are difficult to discuss with people who don’t have their house mortgaged (twice) in order to make payroll.

Coleman Sisson – Founder, Chairman & CEO, BubbleUp

After receiving his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Arkansas in 1979, Coleman Sisson embarked upon a career as a computer programmer at United Gas Pipeline. Over the next 30 years, he occupied managerial and executive roles at a variety of computer and technology companies, including Compaq Computer Corporation, Powersoft, and Liberate Technologies.

Always fascinated with the latest trends in technology, a chance encounter with Jimmy Buffett in 1989 led to serving as Buffett’s unofficial technical advisor on new media projects, including the creation of Jimmy’s online radio station, Radio Margaritaville. In 2004, he made his role official with the founding of his company BubbleUp, Ltd., an award-winning brand development and digital marketing company that has grown to include offices in Texas, New England, and Tennessee. In addition to managing digital media and the online presence for Buffett’s Margaritaville brand, BubbleUp works with a full roster of internationally-recognized musicians and Fortune 500 companies.

Additionally, Sisson holds US Patent 8,046,792 – Multi-channel audio enhancement for television and was awarded the 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year by the Sam M. Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas.

Tell me about your early career.
My first job was working for my dad as a mechanic in the small town I grew up in. The skills I learned there, combined with the work ethic both of my parents gave me, set the stage for everything else. I graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1979 with a degree in computer programming and statistics and my first job was in Houston as a computer programmer. In 1981, I spent all the money I had saved on a Heathkit Personal Computer, which I built from scratch. The IBM PC came out the next year and I had an advantage over my fellow mainframe programmers because many of them resisted the wave that was upon them. From there, I took every opportunity I was presented with and wasn’t afraid to move laterally, rather than up, for a chance to grow my career or learn something new. I worked for great companies including Compaq, Powersoft, and Liberate and I worked for some not so great ones as well and learned valuable lessons at all of them. Plus, I was lucky to work for some incredible leaders along the way. Mitchell Kertzman, Ross Cooley, and Dave Roux are ones who come to mind. And, of course, Jimmy Buffett. I was very lucky to have them mentor me in my career.

How did the concept for BubbleUp come about?
My passions are music and technology, and in 2004, I decided to combine them and build a company that helped musicians monetize their career. Specifically, to have a website where fans could buy a tee shirt, CD, download, ticket, and fan club membership in one transaction direct from the artist. A friend recommended I read Don Passman’s book All You Need to Know About the Music Business, and from that book I drew a chart that had a 99-cent download at the bottom and the artist at the top, with managers, record labels, and distributors in between. I described it by saying “I want more money to bubble up to the artist.” And that’s where the name originated.

How was the first year in business?
We were lucky. We had a customer to begin with and leveraged the work we did with them to help us get more customers. Plus, it didn’t hurt that I was in my late 40’s and had a lot of experience managing people and running large operations in big corporations.

What was your marketing strategy?
Our strategy was to take advantage of our advantages, which were that I knew Jimmy Buffett and I had experience managing technology businesses. We targeted artist management companies because they were interested in the artist’s brand image and long-term career growth. We also were willing to start with anything they’d give us. So, instead of requiring the website, store, and fan club we’d be willing to just do the store and prove ourselves.

We focus on 3 key areas – technology, marketing, and customer service – and we try to be the best that we can at those three. All other areas, we find partners and work with them. We can’t be great at everything, so we picked the things we knew we could be great at. We still operate this way.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We grew steadily, but not too fast. We were more interested in building a great company rather than trying to march toward an exit strategy. After about three years, we started doubling revenue each year and continued to do that for several years.

How do you define success?
If your grown kids still talk to you (and to each other), you love what you do for a living and it makes you enough money to be comfortable, then you’re successful.

What is the key to success?
I created an acronym for that. It’s called DABL, and stands for Drive, Ambition, Brains, and Luck. I’ve seen ambitious people with no drive and I’ve known lucky idiots. Some can find success with just a couple of these but if you have all four, you’ll be successful.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Treat everyone with respect and don’t be afraid of hard work.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“A wise man changes his mind and a fool never will.” – Proverb

“Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.” – George Bernard Shaw

“Keep it simple, stupid.” – Kelly Johnson

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” – Roy Amara

“Learn to listen. Opportunity sometimes knocks very softly.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

What are some of your favorite books?
I love anything Thomas Friedman writes and, of course, I’m a big fan of Don Passman’s book about the music business. Other books that had a big impact on me were Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Wayne Dyer’s You’ll See It When You Believe It, Ferdinand Fournies’s Coaching for Improved Work Performance, and Jimmy Buffett’s Where Is Joe Merchant? That book changed my life.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
If you’re worried about money, then you don’t have time to focus on customers or products. The toughest days are when you have a shortage of any of those.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I don’t want to let my family or my employees down.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
1) Get the right people in the boat and the wrong people out of the boat. Then, make sure everyone is rowing in the same direction.
2) The product doesn’t matter. If you get the right people together, you’ll figure out what to do.
3) Listen to your employees AND your customers.
4) Foster an open and honest work environment. You never know who may have the best advice you ever heard.
5) Overnight success doesn’t happen overnight.
6) Be prepared to pivot.
7) It’s good to take your job seriously, but don’t take yourself so.