Brad Burns – President & CEO, Wayne Contracting

Brad Burns is the president and CEO of Wayne Contracting, a commercial contracting company based in Saint Louis, MO. Born and raised in the rural Saint Louis metro area, he attended the University of Missouri – Columbia for his Bachelor’s degree in psychology and marketing. For his Master’s degree in International Business, he completed his coursework at Saint Louis University in the EMIB program. His background is in commercial real estate and commercial contracting, having spent close to 20 years in those endeavors in some capacity. Brad currently lives in Saint Louis, MO with his wife and five children and has been a lifelong Cardinals and Blues fan.

Tell us about the early days of Wayne Contracting.

Wayne Contracting came into existence in 2014. There was a hole in the market for small- and mid-sized deals that commercial organizations were looking to have facilitated. Wayne Contracting started with me traveling to various markets sourcing labor locally to help complete these projects. Growth in those days was slow and organic. I was unsure if the company would survive year one. It was challenging to gain new customers as most organizations did not want to deal with a new company with less than a year of existence. I kept pushing, working 24/7 to build Wayne Contracting from nothing. I was constantly traveling the country to complete installations and meet with potential clients. Wayne Contracting started small and was built from scratch using hard work, determination, and my own capital.

The early years were challenging, and we had simple goals the first couple of years. We were focused on surviving by providing best-in-class customer service which is something we still strive to provide today. Wayne Contracting did approximately $107,000 worth of business in 2014 and grew to $2.8 million in 2018. We complete everything from small fixture installations to décor roll-outs, up through large scale remodel and TI build-outs. We were always focused on long-term partnerships and always willing to step outside of our box to accommodate a partner’s needs. I have been and always will be directly available to the client partners we have. I would rather have a small group of client partners and cultivate those relationships long-term than have 100 different clients that equates to 500 individual projects. I believe the key to sustainable success is having integrity and standing behind that you do.

Our amazing team has grown from me beating the streets and completing small projects to a team of five people who collaborate to make sure projects run smooth and efficiently and have cultivated resources across the country of carpenters, installers, and general labor. In 2018, Wayne Contracting worked in all 50 states, 6 Canadian Provinces, as well as in Puerto Rico, and is always looking for continued growth and expansion. We look forward to continued explosive growth while building partnerships to help our clients achieve their goals.

Wayne Contracting grew from necessity and opportunity to become an Entrepreneur Magazine “Best Entrepreneurial Company in America” in 2018, ranking #337 out of the top 360 companies. In 2019, we were fortunate enough to be ranked #750 on the Inc. 5000 with a growth rate of 583% from 2014 to 2019. We were also notified that we (again) made the 2019 Entrepreneur list of “Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America”, ranking #176 out of the top 360 companies. Wayne Contracting was also named the #17 on the “50 Fastest Growing Companies in Saint Louis”, which looks at financials from 2016 to 2018.

We look forward to building Wayne Contracting into an organization that is known for quality, flexibility, and partnership. Those just aren’t words to us; they are an ideology.

Ross Hudgens – Founder & CEO, Siege Media

Ross Hudgens is the founder and CEO of Siege Media, a content marketing agency specializing in SEO. Siege Media is a 75-person company with offices in San Diego, Austin, and New York City. They made the Inc. 5000 in each of the past three years.

Tell us about the early days of Siege Media.

I started Siege Media because I had built a personal brand and was able to slowly attract more and more clients to the business while working in-house.

It actually wasn’t that hard because I had already attracted a few clients on the side and because of that, knew that if I announced I was consulting full-time, could attract more. That worked and I immediately had a few people reach out to start consulting with me.

We moved to San Diego because I had friends down there and it also seemed like a good city for an agency, then slowly grew the business through good work and continual inbound marketing. We now have offices in Austin and New York City.

As we’ve grown, I’ve been able to keep our inbound marketing up through use of our San Diego-based video production department which does a lot of great videos for us and helps get the word out. This has made for a time-efficient process so I can still focus on the business while also showing what we can do content creation, quality-wise.

What are some of your favorite books?

The Hard Thing About Hard Things is a great book. I particularly like the audiobook — it’s entertaining and inspiring given all Ben went through growing a large, public company and eventually selling it.

Setting the Table by Danny Meyer is another one of my favorites. Danny’s a restaurateur and a famous one. It’s mostly about customer service and has some clear parables to agencies/service businesses, which I think is definitely worth a listen.

Magdiel Rodriguez – Chairman & CEO, Alivi

Alivi has found a niche in one of the most complex and talked about sectors in the United States – healthcare. After gaining a foothold from its HQ in Miami, Florida, it is now one of the fastest-growing companies in America.

And with Magdiel Rodriguez at the helm, alongside his top rate management team, the company continues to go from strength to strength via acquisition and new business.

Offering and delivering a range of technology services, running office administration, and coordinating the transporting of people to health treatment appointments, Alivi is beginning to hit the “tremendous runway for growth,” predicted by Magdiel.

It’s a success story made all the more remarkable because of two incidents that took place decades apart.

Magdiel’s LinkedIn profile typically lists his University of Maryland Executive MBA, three languages, and details, skill by skill, experience by experience, his 22 years as a senior business leader with VISA, and another three with MasterCard. Experience around the world that throws up phrases like network engineering, enterprise governance, and enterprise risk management, which in layman’s terms means identifying what might go wrong with a new business venture.

It’s a phrase that probably didn’t resonate with his dad when he fled Cuba in a small, un-seaworthy boat with his wife, son Magdiel, and 15-month-old brother in 1980. The small boat, with 40 people on board, capsized in rough seas.

“Every time I have an apple, it does something to my brain,” said Magdiel. “It just takes me back to that place, to that moment. I was hauled out of the sea by a United States coastguard, and the first thing they gave me to eat was an apple. I had no idea what it was! I was eight years old. It was the first time I had an apple. It wasn’t because I didn’t like them. It was because in Cuba…there were no apples.”

Magdiel’s dad was fleeing Communist Cuba after serving years in prison for having a Bible in his house. The family were taken in as political asylum seekers and began a new and prosperous life, from adversity to success.

Fast-forward nearly four decades and Magdiel reflects on how he manages adversity and success in today’s world: “If life has been easy to you, I don’t think that you really appreciate things enough. And that’s where three elements of success in my life come into play: 1) you’ve got to be humble, 2) you’ve got to be hungry, and 3) you’ve got to have emotional intelligence.

You need to know how to ‘read’ people. How to make people feel something. How to get people to understand what you’re about. There’s a saying that people like doing business with people they like…and I believe that’s how we got our big break into the health sector.”

Alivi was recommended to a health insurer by a small client.

“We asked them very early on what problems and challenges they faced – we call them ‘pain points.’ They said it was NEMT (Non Emergency Medical Transportation) – basically getting people to hospitals and clinics for their treatment. They asked if we could do anything from a technology perspective.

This was a competitive pitch, so we went away, put some ideas together, bits and pieces from different areas of the business, not a full-blown solution. In fact, our response was not ‘fully baked’ for production. It was really a cut and paste collage of things, but they really liked it, and then they asked us if we could manage the whole transportation business. Basically, outsourcing the whole package to Alivi. We thought wow, we’ve never done this before, but Alivi likes a challenge, thrives on problems, and so we said we would do it.

We went away and started building new technology, recruiting, and credentialing transport providers and getting to a stage where we could take on the pilot they had prepared.”

Alivi exceeded all of the metrics lined up in the pilot.

“I think the reason they gave us the pilot was because they realized we didn’t know what we were doing,” said Magdiel. “They really took a leap of faith in us. I believe that they saw a humbleness, a hunger, and emotional intelligence in my management team. They thought ‘I trust these guys, they can do this.’ The deal became relationship-based, rather than transactional. And that is a brilliant way to do business.”

Today, award-winning Alivi is responsible for one million lives and manages 1,200 network providers (clinicians, doctors, consultants, etc.) and services nine health insurers, with a healthy pipeline of new business.

How did the concept of Alivi come about?

We started as a technology company, and our first customers were banks. That seemed to be a pretty natural direction after more than 25 years with Visa and MasterCard, but the catalyst that led to our current, strong position in the health sector came about when a client recommended us to a health plan. That story, along with its impact on Alivi, is told above in my introductory text. Two things I must add though. First, coming from a finance and credit card world, I understood all of the complexities of highly-regulated industries, so I naturally gravitated towards healthcare. And secondly, I was aware that the health sector lagged behind from a technology and process perspective. I could see a tremendous runway for growth…and by the way, the banks are still with us.

What was your marketing strategy?

Initially, we didn’t have one! We grew by word of mouth, and organically. We were fortunate to have some excellent customers who became partners and stakeholders in what we were building. It’s a very closed group of people in Florida. A lot of people know each other, and the word just got around.

How fast did the company grow in the first few years?

We are one of the fastest-growing companies in America. In fact, Inc. Magazine placed us at #300 on its annual Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies. To get on this list, we had to illustrate being hugely competitive in our market, and show exceptional growth. We did. Growth was a staggering 1,496%.

How do you define success?

For me, it’s having the freedom to influence and make decisions that really help to change someone’s life. I don’t attribute success to financial targets or metrics. It’s about being able to help people – clients, the public, employees, and friends.

What is the key to success?

I think there are three things: 1) you have to be humble, 2) you have to be hungry, and 3) you have to have some type of emotional intelligence…be emotionally smart. It’s no more complicated than that.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned?

In a nutshell, don’t treat somebody in a way you wouldn’t want to be treated. My dad used to say to me, “You never know” and I’d say “What do you mean?” His answer was “You never know when you’re going to need someone’s help. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. You never know if that janitor you see everyday is going to end up in a position where he will be your biggest ally in the future, and help you succeed in life.” It’s about relationships and taking care of everybody.

What are some quotes that you live by?

There are an awful lot of quotes that resonate in the world. Winston Churchill was never at a loss for words. But my mentor, my guiding light, my hero, and dad delivered the one that I like best: “Hey, you never know” as mentioned in the question above. Another that strikes a chord is, “Nobody will remember what you said to them, but they will remember how you made them feel.” It’s a great quote and links nicely with my dad’s.

Do you have any favorite books?

Outside of The Bible, I really don’t have a favorite book – certainly nothing with business links. There is a key theme throughout The Bible about being humble, and about humility. I genuinely believe those simplistic thoughts and themes work in business. I don’t like to make things more complicated than they should be.

Tell me about one of your toughest days as an entrepreneur.

There are a lot of them, but the toughest was when I had to fire a dear childhood friend. That was tough. The second toughest was actually when I got fired after 22 years with an organization. Those are the two toughest days.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?

I think that maintaining a clearly-defined and positive outlook is key. Everybody goes through adversity. I’ve gone through quite a bit. Actually, my wife of 20 years died, and at the same time, my company was asking me to relocate to another part of the country. I had made a lot of compromises and sacrifices in 22 years, and I couldn’t make any more…and they fired me. I think that period was one of my darkest moments in time. How did I get through that? I surrounded myself with people who had a very positive outlook. Positivity was so important and I got it from friends and family. It had a tremendous affect on me and I was able to share that and show my son, Max, the power of being positive.

What advice would give to a young entrepreneur?

Find a mentor. Find someone who you trust. That you respect. That you can learn from. Find someone who is going to make you better at what you do, and then surround yourself with good people.

Kevin Roche – Co-Founder & CTO, Wellthy

Kevin Roche is the co-founder and CTO of Wellthy, Inc. based in New York City. Wellthy is a modern care coordination service, helping the 66 million Americans who care for sick and aging loved ones.

Prior to founding Wellthy, Kevin was a VP at Goldman Sachs and led a team of developers building strategic platforms for the bank.

Kevin received a BS in Computer Science and Mathematics from Northeastern University and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Tell us about the early days of Wellthy.

From the beginning, my co-founder Lindsay Jurist-Rosner and I were committed to building what we call a family-first business. That was the foundation upon which Lindsay had approached me to co-found the company so it has always been important to us. Neither of us had professional backgrounds in healthcare but we were both passionate about providing a modern solution for the growing caregiving crisis in the US.

We translated this passion into obsessing over the quality of customer experience from day one. Thankfully, it paid off as our earliest customers became our champions in sharing amazing testimonials, which led to word-of-mouth growth. The overwhelmingly-positive feedback continues today and is an important source of ongoing motivation for the whole company. Reminding ourselves of these daily stories of the lives we change is a big factor in helping us work together to overcome challenges.

Wellthy started as a direct-to-consumer business since we wanted to focus on building the perfect experience for families, without worrying about other stakeholders. While we still offer this, we weren’t able to grow that business as quickly as we had hoped, so we began rigorously testing various growth channels. This willingness to experiment and quickly iterate allowed us to make the most of our runway. It turned out that providing care coordination to caregivers as an employer benefit was a very promising opportunity and is now the core of our business.

A few years ago, employers weren’t necessarily aware of the caregiving challenges their businesses face but through persistence and education, companies across the country and across different industries are realizing they have this silent crisis that they need to address. Incentives are well-aligned since both the employer and the families want what’s best for the caregiver and their families. Employers get increased productivity, presenteeism, retention, and loyalty, while the employees receive invaluable assistance in one of the most important and stressful areas of their lives. That said, we continue to look at other ways we can provide this critical solution to as many caregivers as possible, while never sacrificing the family-first and mission-driven model we have built from the beginning.

Carol Gee – Owner, A Feast of Words, LLC

Carol Gee, M.A, a retired military veteran and university administrator, is owner of A Feast of Words, LLC, VenusChronicles.net (her one-woman writing service), and is also an author and freelance writer. Her work has appeared in a number of venues, including the Chicken Soup series and Woman’s World. She lives in Stone Mountain, an Atlanta, Georgia suburb.

Tell us about one of the toughest periods of your life.

The toughest period in my life began just before starting my senior year of high school. My mother retired after 20 years working at the Library of Congress and announced we were moving back to her small hometown in Virginia. As you can imagine, being the ‘new’ girl in the twelfth grade was tough. While the other students weren’t necessarily mean, they weren’t overly welcoming either. After all, many had gone to school together forever and had their friends.

Graduating high school, and with no money to go to college (I had taken many college prep classes and had good grades), and with few job opportunities, I took a job with the local shoe factory. There were a total of three factories in that small town. Not only was the work dirty, it was hard and we were paid by the piece so we had to work fast to make quota, and it was frequently dangerous.

Doing this day in and day out made my life seem desolate. Then, one day on break and flipping through a magazine, I came across an ad for the United States Air Force. In the ad, a young African American female sat alongside a young Caucasian female and a Caucasian male in front of board with some kind of knobs. Suddenly, this seemed like my answer.

Filling out the postage-paid postcard, I dropped it in the mailbox on the way home, and completely forgot about it…until a recruiter called. Before I knew it, I had taken the entrance exam, a physical that checked me from head to toe (where I fainted twice) from the long day and stress, and was on my way to military basic training.

For as long as I could remember, I wanted to write. I remember jotting down little short stories to entertain my younger sister as early as age ten. On the other hand, the women in my ‘village’ (folks who came to my mother’s beauty shop, members from our church, etc.) thought I would make a great teacher. “Because you speak so well,” many said, and because few knew many African American women writers making a living through writing. Without a college degree, I knew that both were impossible.

The AF changed my whole life’s trajectory. Not only did I travel the world and learned to embrace other cultures, I also earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees courtesy of the GI Bill (no student loans), as well as met and married my life partner – a union that has spanned over 46 years.

Suddenly, opportunities abounded. Twenty-one years in the military, a short stint as a mental health counselor, and over twenty-eight years in higher education at the college/university level – yes, this did include teaching. Then, nineteen years ago, I finally did it. I wrote and published my first book. The Venus Chronicles was a spoof on the book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Today, I am author of four books, three of which are part of a series that women fondly coin ‘girlfriend’ books. These books chronicle a day in the life of the modern woman, me. With such essays as Now That I Got My Mind Together, The Rest Of Me Is Falling Apart, I May Not Be Able To Find My Way Out Of A Paper Bag (what my husband says), and I Can Make A Mean Pound Cake – these are laugh-out-loud fun books. Today, I also enjoy a vibrant freelance career; proof that what does not kill you, indeed, makes you stronger.