Joni Newkirk – Founder and CEO, Integrated Insight, Inc.

Joni Newkirk is the founder and CEO of Integrated Insight, Inc., an analytics firm helping organizations strategically and operationally out-behave the competition. The company specializes in adding value through analytical support for new business development, business optimization, and research and consumer insights, and is a four-time recipient of the Inc. 5000 award for Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America.

Prior to founding Integrated Insight, Joni spent 20 years with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. As senior vice president of business insight and improvement, she was responsible for managing and driving over $8 billion in revenue for worldwide theme parks and resorts, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Club and Adventures by Disney. She oversaw industry-leading decision analytics within market research and consumer insights, forecasting, pricing, revenue and profit management, and industrial engineering. During her tenure at Disney, Joni led key initiatives that resulted in step-change growth including “Magic Your Way”, a sweeping change in revenue strategy built on consumer wants and needs, and “Back to the Basics”, a refocus on guest service as a key differentiator.

Prior to joining Disney, Joni held management positions in planning and development at both Lockheed Martin and Orlando Regional Healthcare System. She holds a BA in Statistics from the University of Florida and a MS in Industrial Engineering from the University of Central Florida.

Tell me about your early career.
My first five years were spent at Orlando Regional Medical Center focused on long-range planning. I had a great mentor, Ann Ashmore, who taught me how to write. The analytics came easy, but telling a convincing story to gain approval for future medical services was just as much art as science. After the hospital, I joined the network planning team at Lockheed Martin (then Martin Marietta) and stayed there for almost five years while I chipped away at graduate school classes and finally earned my MS in Industrial Engineering.

Living in Orlando, I knew all about Disney parks as a guest, but never thought about joining the company until I read an advertisement for a manager of operations research position. It fit both my educational background and work expertise so well, it was as if the ad was written for me. And so began my twenty years with the mouse. To take full advantage of those Disney benefits, I immediately had three children.

How did the concept for Integrated Insight come about?
I love to invert problems to look for viable solutions from a different angle. Literally diving into the work with my team and bringing new strategies to life is what excites me most. For a long time, I was certain I would retire from Disney doing just that. But continuous, increasing responsibility pulled me farther away from what I loved most, and with worldwide responsibility, I was frequently away from my family. The thought occurred to me that I could add significant value to other organizations through consulting, so I took the plunge and Integrated Insight was born.

How was the first year in business?
Liberating, enlightening, scary as hell – everything I thought it would be. I wanted to go back to “doing the work” and clearly, I was, including everything my superb assistant Linda and the IT department did for me previously. Having a great business partner helped. Scott Sanders and I left Disney together and it has been a remarkable nine year partnership. It also helped having a business plan prepared – something I worked on for a couple years prior to leaving Disney – and our first client lined up before we took the leap.

What was your marketing strategy?
Networking was our primary marketing tool. We spent a good six months developing our story – who we were, what services we provided, and why a company would want to hire us. This not only fed our website, but it helped as we began networking. Our non-Disney contacts were minimal given our 20 year history each, but other Disney colleagues who had ventured out before us quickly connected. Our analytical horsepower was a perfect fit with their design and/or operational expertise. Today, we enjoy a great deal of business from repeat clients and referrals in addition to continued networking.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
The first year we did a little over $200,000 in revenue, but by year three, realized over six times that much and have continued to grow at a great pace ever since. For the past four years, we’ve made the Inc. 5000 list of Fastest Growing Private Companies in America which is no small feat considering our product is intellectual capital and our growth is dependent on hiring even more, really smart people.

How do you define success?
Making a significant, positive difference. Whether it be for family, our clients, our team, or the communities to which I belong, I’m successful when I’m making a positive difference.

What is the key to success?
Do what you love and love what you do.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Take risks. Specifically, calculated risks. When I look back over my career, I can see where I’ve been willing to take risks that others have not. Fear will always be peering over your shoulder. How much you allow it to drive your decisions is really up to you.

What are some of the great quotes you live by?
“Make little decisions with your head, big decisions with your heart.”

“Time flies when you’re having fun.”

What are some of your favorite books?
As for books, I’m a Malcolm Gladwell fan, but Outliers is probably my favorite. I also like The Five Faces of Genius by Annette Moser-Wellman, and a couple of books by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton have resonated, particularly The Knowing-Doing Gap and Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur?
Are there easy ones? Pinch me. Seriously, the toughest days are the ones when it is next to impossible to see how you’ll get through the workload, meet your deadlines, and still produce exceptionally high quality results. That said, those days exist in corporate America as well. You just feel more of the burden personally, as an entrepreneur.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
First, faith. I truly believe God is with me in whatever I do. Second, confidence. It goes back to that calculated risk. If the plan is well thought out, it will work. That doesn’t mean ignoring new information or not addressing issues as they arise, but staying focused on the end goal is what makes it happen.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Have a rock-solid business plan. Test drive it with others who have expertise in your field. Know the risk and mitigate what you can without giving up on the vision. Be objective in your evaluation. Once you feel confident you have what it takes, tune out the naysayers and stay focused on your goal. Don’t let others chip away at your confidence. Work through the setbacks – not everything will work precisely as planned – but don’t give up. The risk is well worth the reward.

Douglas Kegler – Founder & CEO, CollaborateMD

Douglas Kegler, CEO, founded the company CollaborateMD (formerly XGear Technologies) in 1999 just before publicly launching the industry’s first Internet-based practice management and electronic medical billing software, ClaimGear.

In the mid-90s, Doug saw that the healthcare community was in dire need of an improved practice management and medical billing solution. With years of experience as a computer programmer and software engineer in the healthcare sector, he knew that a better solution existed.

Kegler had begun writing several DOS and Windows-based dental and medical billing programs in 1989, but found a common problem with system built by software companies: medical practices and billing companies had to install, maintain, and support their own servers, databases, and connections with the clearinghouse or insurance companies, which greatly increased costs. Moreover, software in the medical field was cluttered with hundreds of menus, making them difficult to navigate, impossible to maintain, and altogether too expensive for practices with less than 25 physicians.

As his interest in finding a better solution turned into a determination to design and develop the software himself, Kegler paid the bills with a “day job” that was still supporting a Windows medical billing application written in Pascal for a large billing service company in Syracuse, NY. Meanwhile, the rise of Web applications throughout the banking, trading, retail, and media industries in 1997 intrigued Kegler, and undoubtedly served as the catalyst that drove him to choose the speed and flexibility of the Internet as the foundation on which he would later build his software.

Still in the brainstorming phase, Kegler solicited feedback from both a well-known neurologist who had used a medical billing program Kegler wrote in 1993 called Quicfa, and his Syracuse-based billing service client. Both expressed interest in the idea but shared hesitations about transferring data over the Web due to concerns about security.

Kegler turned away from creating a browser-based application in early 1998, fearing it would be too slow, as most users were on dial-up modems at the time. Instead he chose a Java client/server application which enabled him to maintain the software, database, and clearinghouse connections from his company. Making these changes would enable his customers to focus solely on medical billing, practice management, and patient care. The system would be designed with intuitive screens and easy-to-navigate menus, making week-long training sessions a thing of the past.

Continuing into 1999, Kegler worked non-stop on weekends and nights to design and develop his Internet-based system. As he neared completion of his first beta version, he contacted his two previous clients from Syracuse, NY, who both agreed to test the system.

Kegler distributed a press release in May of 1999 informing the healthcare sector he would soon release the first Internet-based medical billing software. The official version publicly launched in January 2000. The Syracuse-based neurologist liked the system so much that he signed up as a client, and is still a client today. Once the system was built, Kegler realized he needed to make it affordable to billing services and practices of all sizes. He established a low set-up fee to cover implementation and a low monthly fee to cover the costs of system usage, software updates and maintenance, customer support, and clearinghouse fees. The end result was an easy to use, affordable, accessible, and online medical billing and practice management solution for the healthcare industry.

Tell me about your early career.
When I was still in college (1989), I wrote a billing program for a dentist in a small town next to mine. This work helped me get my first job after college working at a company that sold and supported a server-based practice management software system. This job laid my foundation of knowledge for the medical billing industry.

How did the concept for CollaborateMD come about?
My wife and I were on our flight to Ireland for our honeymoon, and this is when I came up with the idea for the company. In my original concept, the company would not only provide the revenue cycle management software but also perform the revenue cycle services too. But after further thinking, I realized it would take a lot more money to hire staff to perform the services side of the business, and decided only to do the software side.

How was the first year in business?
The first year of business was exciting and stressful at the same time. We had just bought a home, we had an 18-month-old, and had twins on the way. Throw in starting a business out of your house and needless to say, there wasn’t much time for sleep.

What was your marketing strategy?
Since the beginning, we have always utilized the Web for our marketing and growth. Back in the early 2000s, not many companies like mine was using the Web to advertise, which was both a blessing and a curse. Customers liked the SaaS pricing model, but were not sure about trusting their data in the “cloud.”

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
The company didn’t grow too fast, regarding dollars in the early years. My first-year revenue was in 2000 was $2,800, and it took five years to reach $1 million in 2005. It took another ten years to reach $10 million in revenue.

How do you define success?
I define success by satisfied and happy customers first, then satisfied employees, and last, growing revenue and profits.

What is the key to success?
The key to success is creating a product that doesn’t exist yet or improving a product that hasn’t been improved in a very long time. In my case, medical billing software had been around for 20+ years already, but I saw the challenges in the current products and realized I could overcome a majority of disadvantages by creating an online version of the same product.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Always tell the truth and trust your gut. I don’t mean I would lie to people previously. I mean that sometimes I wouldn’t provide them with my true feelings about a situation. For example, when a vendor or associate would say, “We should do this or that,” I would smile and say “We can look into doing that,” even though I really didn’t think it was something we should do. A better reply to the person would be, “I appreciate the input or idea, but I don’t think it’s the best fit for the company because of X.”

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Every cloud has a silver lining.”

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The toughest day I’ve had is when I found out the person trying to raise investment money for me in the early 2000’s was providing false revenue numbers to prospects. After I found out, I was worried I would lose my first round of investment money and have to lay off my three employees and move my office back into my house. Luckily, after I told the investors what he did and provided the actual financials, they decided to keep their investments with my company.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I have a very positive attitude and believe that everything will work out in the end. But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t had any stressful or high anxiety days!  Those happened many times over the past 17 years. I just took a breadth and told myself we will be okay and made a plan to get through the diversity.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Listen and always take input from others, whether in person or from reading articles. You don’t have to use the advice or input, but the more you are informed, the better decisions you can make. But most importantly, as the leader, you need to be able to make decisions! No one wants a leader that is wishy-washy and can’t make a decision.

Jim Richards – Co-Founder & President, Capstone Consulting

Jim is the co-founder and president of Capstone Consulting, and has helped companies develop and enhance their internal development processes and projects, advising them on all aspects of the software development process. Jim works with key customers on how best to implement technology to provide real business value.

Jim has over 20 years of experience in developing and leading software solutions. He is experienced in all phases of software development, and performed most roles on software development projects, including architect, software engineer, discipline lead, scrum master and project manager.

Jim enjoys working and spending time with his family, and has a heart for international missions and local mercy ministries.

Tell me about your early career.
I grew up on a farm where my parents raised crops and livestock. I enjoyed the farm life but felt a call to more analytical work. I studied computer science in both undergraduate and graduate school. I started as a software developer, then moved to a technical leader, and finally a project manager. As I was working in large corporations, I realized the job security bent with the winds of market, so I decided to try consulting.

How did the concept for Capstone Consulting come about?
As I was working as a consultant, two divergent themes played out that I couldn’t reconcile without starting something new. One is the consulting world has its own set of ethical and integrity challenges that often aren’t handled well. In addition, I wanted to work at a place that strove for integrity and had strong values, preferably based on a Christian ethos. The second theme I had the opportunity to help setup computer schools in Romanian orphanages. This required time off in the order of several weeks a year. Most firms would not allow either of these themes and none would allow both, so we launched Capstone Consulting.

How was the first year in business?
It was slow and tough, but rewarding. Running the business, invoicing, cash flow, ensuring clients were happy, getting new clients, and still working in the business made it an exciting but heavy year. We stayed true to the two themes and had a good time at it. I remember having an early invoice being paid at just over $20,000 and it was a great experience. We grew from just myself to adding a new team member.

What was your marketing strategy?
Word of mouth. Since we had a reputation, we continued to lean on past relationships and success. It allowed us to focus on our services delivery and not too much on marketing.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We grew from two people the first year to around ten the second year. The next two years we grew to about 25 people. Then, the dot com implosion happened (2001-2002). We had very difficult times, but grew immensely from a business process perspective.

How do you define success?
Providing value while enjoying what you are doing. If you don’t provide value, eventually, you won’t enjoy what you are doing.

What is the key to success?
Focus on the thing or few things you are good at while adapting to what the market needs. It’s very tempting to expand into areas you don’t know anything about, but more times than not, you will fail. The balancing act is to adapt into things where you will succeed.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Personally, that I am a sinner who is in need of a Savior, and that Savior is Jesus Christ. From a business perspective, that at best, I’m a steward and need to act responsible. I don’t have control over that much, but with what I do, I strive to do well.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Surely goodness and mercy, will follow [pursue] me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” – Psalm 23:6

“Do to others what you would have them do to you.” – Matt 7:12

“Think in terms of the art of the possible.” – Glen Tindal

What are some of your favorite books?
The Bible, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, and Through the Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliott.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
We lost a large contract and had two invoices rejected by the same client in a single meeting. Overnight, we went from positive to struggling to survive. We had layoffs. The blessing was that all of our people found great jobs, which meant they were great people. It made me realize, I am steward, and I don’t have control over much.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
That I get to work in a Christian-based business that values people and integrity.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
If you want to make a lot of money, go get a job in corporate America and make as much as you can and save most of it. If you want to do what you love, be an entrepreneur, but don’t tie success to money.

Vivek Sharma – Co-Founder & CEO, Movable Ink

Vivek is leading the charge to make email a more dynamic and relevant communication channel for marketers and consumers. With a background in both sales and product development, Vivek brings a potent combination of engineering talent and business savvy to his role as Movable Ink’s CEO.

Prior to co-founding Movable Ink, Vivek headed Eastern North American and EMEA sales for Engine Yard. Earlier in his career, he held senior roles at Blue Martini and Cisco Systems. Vivek graduated with a BS in Computer Science from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Tell me about your early career.
I never grew up thinking I’d be an entrepreneur. I just wanted to build cool things. I had a childhood dream of being an astronaut and liked to tinker with things like electronic kits and computers. After the Challenge disaster in 1986, I even wrote Ronald Reagan a letter volunteering to be the first kid in space. President Reagan wrote me back, but sadly it wasn’t an invitation to the next lunar mission. He encouraged me to continue studying math and science to serve this nation.

I entered college thinking I was going to be an aerospace engineer. That desire only lasted about a year when I realized that I’d be up to my eyes in differential equations and physics and that engineering was bound by physical laws. A new boundless frontier was opening up: the web. In 1993, during my freshman year at college, I came across NCSA Mosaic, one of the first web browsers. I later switched over to become a computer science major. Over the next few years, all the exciting things seemed to be happening on the web in mythic, faraway lands like Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and Palo Alto. I graduated in 1997 and a consulting firm placed me at a little company called Cisco Systems to work on network monitoring applications.

Cisco was different, but an enormous company and made me feel like a drop in a bucket. I quit my job, much to my manager’s surprise, and landed at a little 20-person startup called Blue Martini Software. BMS was home to the engineers who built Netscape Commerce Server and the top sales reps from Oracle and Siebel. The atmosphere was electric. I jumped aboard the pre-revenue company and helped build and release the first six versions of its enterprise commerce suite. Three years later, the company was over 700 people, worth $5 billion, and had been the fastest-growing application software company, to date. Sadly, the company came to a slow demise after the dot-com bust and enterprise software washout in the early 2000s. It was one of the most rewarding, taxing, brain-expanding periods of my life and I have taken many of those lessons to heart.

How did the concept for Movable Ink come about?
Way back in 2010, Michael (my co-founder & CTO) and I were intrigued by the potential of email. It’s a ubiquitous communications platform, it is open and decentralized, and your inbox knows a lot about who you are. When we looked about the landscape, we noticed that all the ESPs (email service providers) seem to be focused on more of the infrastructure side of email marketing. They would manage lists, allow basic segmentation, and help you get your emails delivered to the inbox. Content was often an afterthought.

Content is at the heart of marketing experience, so we decided to focus squarely on it. We added a unique twist when we found a way to detect recipient context at the moment an email is opened. This meant that emails were no longer frozen when sent, but could adapt to the individual’s device, weather, location, time, and much, much more. We thought we were on to something and Michael immediately began working on a duct-taped prototype while I went out to market test the idea.

How was the first year in business?
Tough. We were enamored with our idea, but email marketers didn’t really understand the point of our “live content” innovation. This may have been compounded by us mostly talking to small- and mid-market businesses because they were easier to get meetings with. We spent a long year trying to close customers and had mixed success with customers sticking around. Twelve months after we had started, we had about $200 in monthly recurring revenue to show. My wife was pregnant and our first baby was due in just two months. If I didn’t figure something out soon, I’d have to go out and get a “real job.”

And right then, we struck gold. A few of the companies we had been talking to were larger enterprises and had taken to our product. We closed a $6,000 pilot with a cable company, quickly followed by a $12,000 deal with an electronic game maker out of Silicon Valley. Then, we were able to turn that pilot into a $72,000 deal. The mother load! Most important, it proved to us that there was a real market and that it was enterprise marketers who we should be going after. We immediately switched gears and spent all of our efforts chasing enterprise brands and that’s when the business started to take off like a rocket.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Once we had product-market fit, things started happening very quickly. We went from $12,000 in revenue that first year to $860,000 our second year to $4,800,000 our third year. That entire time is a bit of a blur as I had a newborn baby and we were just trying to keep up with the rapid pace of the business. Sales pushed the entire business forward and forced us to hire client services people to support those new accounts, engineers to build new features and handle scale, a controller to ensure we were tracking income and expenses, legal support, recruiting, and a whole lot more. It was a stressful time but energizing as well. We had built a product that really meant something to marketers and everyone had the feeling that Movable Ink was on an amazing trajectory.

What was your marketing strategy?
In B2B, early stage marketing is simply sales. You could track ten people on your website using Google Analytics and still not know what’s going on in the minds of those visitors. Sales conversations, on the other hand, are high on signal, especially when your pitch is still evolving. Who agreed to meet with you? Did she bring other people to the meeting? How much time have you been given? Where do they seem to be leaning forward and where are you losing them? Did you get the follow-up? What worked? What didn’t work? We’d take our learnings from a single meeting and refine the conversation with the following prospect. This was evolution at lightning speed.

What this allowed us to do was hone and battle test our messaging, and at the same time, build the right products. We were ultra-responsive to customer feedback even when we were pushing them to do more sophisticated things with their marketing. Eventually, the learnings from these meetings worked their way into collateral, articles we wrote, keynotes we gave, and the content on our website. However, all of this started by having a conversation, and most importantly, listening. Even today, we believe marketing content should adapt as fluidly as a real conversation. In fact, we use Movable Ink’s intelligent content in our own client email newsletters to adapt to our customers context.

How do you define success?
Success is four things to me:

1) Delivering to our customers – We exist to help deliver marketing experiences our customers love. It’s a thrill for me to get emails we powered get shared, tweeted, and talked about. People are supposed to hate marketing emails! It’s also rewarding to see our customers at our events elevate their profile and get recognized and promoted for their hard work and for taking a bet on us. We go to the ends of the earth for our customers.

2) Developing our employees – I still remember what I disliked about working at large corporations and the things I loved about being in a startup. I want to make sure every one of our employees feels like they can have a big impact and knows what part they play in the company’s success. I also want to enable every employee to 10x their skills at Movable Ink. We have former junior reps running sales in half of the US. We have people who came aboard as individual contributors running large client success teams. It’s a thrill to see early employees grow and realize their full potential over the years.

3) Rewarding our investors – I still remember the first two investors who took a leap and wrote $25,000 checks to two young founders with just an idea and no real traction to show. No one needs to feel sorry for investors but let’s admit that investors put their own hard-earned money at risk when they don’t have to. Venture investors provide fuel for innovators and rule-breakers and getting them a great return on their trust will be a true satisfaction.

4) Growing as a person – I’ve always wanted to have a big impact on the world. I feel fortunate that I’ve gotten to learn so much about my own ability to grow and understand things that I never could imagine. Maturity and wisdom only come from living outside one’s comfort zone. I find that each day I’m growing as a person.

What is the key to success?
I have an easy one here: follow your curiosity. Don’t plan a career. That’s it.

Your curiosity leads you to growth opportunities. Many years ago, I moved to Tokyo to help Blue Martini’s sales team. Only problem, I was an engineer who knew nothing about sales and didn’t speak any Japanese. This was really not a good career move. This eventually led me to learn how sales really functions and also to get a sense for how a company expands internationally. Most engineers never take leaps like this, out of their comfort zone. The combination of these experiences was unique and gave me a bigger picture on how a global business works, from code to customer.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Empathy. When I look back, I realize how self-centered my life really was. In retrospect, the world really didn’t owe me anything. Something flipped, when my boys were born. Maybe, it was that they needed us constantly, but around that moment, I started to really feel the needs of other people. Achievement is great, but empathy is what binds us all.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“When you draw or paint a tree, you do not imitate the tree; you do not copy it exactly as it is, which would be mere photography. To be free to paint a tree or a flower or a sunset, you have to feel what it conveys to you: the significance, the meaning of it.” – Jiddu Krishanamurti

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” – Bill Gates

Responding to why PayPal produced so many great founders:

“Most people’s experiences with startups fall into one of two categories. Many work for startups that fail and learn that startups are impossible so they never try. Others work for startups like Google or Facebook and learn that startups are easy so they quit when it gets hard. Paypal was ‘just hard enough.’ Early PayPal employees learned that startups are really hard, but it is still possible to succeed.” – Peter Thiel

What are some of your favorite books?
The Age of Spiritual Machines – Ray Kurzweil has a prescient view of the future and the accelerating pace of technological change. Ray had his critics saying that he’s a techno-utopian and that he is too optimistic about the pace of change. However, I read this book in 1998 and looking back now, 19 years later, it’s striking to me how much he got right and if he has been off, it has been more about the timing of these events. It’s a great read to provoke and inspire one’s own ideas about the future.

Guns, Germs, and Steel – A fascinating book by Jared Diamond about the rise of civilization and how different cultures rose and fell due to random circumstances, such as climate and geography. It’s interesting to understand the non-intuitive factors that drove the development of agrarian culture, religion, and written language. For someone running a business today, it does provoke thoughts about what geographic and cultural factors they operate within.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I can’t forget the holiday season at the end of 2014. Gmail started proxying images through their servers before they were rendered in the inbox. The change was made with good intentions, but effectively broke intelligent content from any provider. Our team was already reeling when our ESP partners told us that ISPs like Gmail never make requested code changes, but Inkers don’t quit. After months of hunting, Alison from our client experience team, tracked down the product manager for Gmail and arranged a short call. Michael, our CTO, presented an elegant technical solution rather than a pitch. Over a month had passed, and I hopped on a plane to a technical conference where I knew the product manager would be attending. Five minutes in, the product manager told me Gmail’s engineering team agreed with us and they would be making the suggested code change. Victory! We learned a valuable lesson that day. Grit is the antidote to being told something is impossible.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Thinking about the alternate life. No matter how tough things get or what giant problem has to be tackled, think about the alternate life. I could be in a large corporation, doing mind-numbing work, and clocking off at a reasonable hour. The highs and the lows would be gone and that is utterly depressing.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
The best learning opportunity, right after college, is jumping into a startup that appears to be taking off. Make sure it has intimidatingly-smart people.

Why a fast-growing startup?

1) Your first lessons won’t be failure. There are a million ways to fail. It’s okay to fail, but you also need to experience what success looks like (even if its hard-won).

2) Working with brilliant people will hone you to an edge. There will be moments when you feel you don’t belong. Years later, you’ll look back and recognize that you were forged in a crucible.

3) Smart, motivated people are always hard to come by. Experience takes a back seat. Put yourself in a fast-growing startup and you’ll be in pole position to take on more responsibility when the opportunity arises.

4) Change will happen quickly in a high-growth startup, and if you’re the slightest bit curious, you’ll understand all the bits that come together to make successful companies happen. This is a lesson even senior people at large corporations don’t have access to. At larger companies, interesting inflection points and major decisions were made years in the past.

Bruce Ballengee – Founder & CEO, Pariveda Solutions

Bruce has an unwavering dedication to the vision of a firm built on growing people to their fullest potential. Despite industry skeptics suggesting such a firm could never succeed being so different, Bruce pushed forward building an organization that provided something different and unique to its employees and clients.

Bruce founded Pariveda in October 2003 during the worst IT recession in history. An idea drove Bruce to believe that in any professional practice, talent represents the best sustainable hope for long-term success. Bruce financed the company with his own assets, crafting a unique and sustainable business model based on talent development. The business model is built on concepts counter to conventional industry wisdom: a) recruit for passion, character, and potential versus skills and experience, b) focus on small, short duration projects, not large, long projects c) seek long‐term client relationships instead of transactions, d) develop people as solution architects, not specialists, e) teach everyone sales and relationship skills, f) focus on geographies and communities, not industries or technologies, g) bring new ideas to clients to consider as you look holistically at their business, and h) build a firm to last forever (ESOP), not a company to be sold.

Bruce’s vision was to create a different kind of consultancy which is the driving force of our success today. Pariveda has grown to over 525 people based in 9 offices in major U.S. cities with 2016 revenue of $97 million. Our consultants seek to be more than just problem solvers. They aspire to become trusted advisors and partners to our clients with novel solutions to enduring problems, seeking knowledge to benefit our clients while building their careers. Bruce created a company based on the idea that talent can be differentiating. This differentiation through talent is essential to Pariveda in developing a highly adaptable, sustainable enterprise on the premise that the only constants in business are complexity and change, especially in IT consulting.

Bruce champions Pariveda’s commitment to giving back to the communities we serve. We’ve given nearly 165,000 hours of community service since inception. We consider this an essential part of our culture and is a pillar of each employee’s career development pathway. It also allows us to join freely in with our communities, and provide opportunities for improvement and service to the people around us. Achieving one’s fullest potential has everything to do with our cultural commitment to philanthropy.

Bruce serves in many organizations. He is a member of the Baylor University Angel Network and the Stewardship Board Chairman of the Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center. He is also a member of the Native Plant Society of Texas, the Native Prairie Association of Texas, and he is certified as a Master Naturalist in the North Texas chapter (NTMN).

Tell me about your early career.
I went straight through undergrad and an MBA in Finance and Economics to being a banker, but wound up starting in consulting with now-Accenture. I spent almost my entire career in the consulting industry – IT and management consulting – with stints leading an IT department at Sprint, and as CTO of a software company.

How did the concept for Pariveda Solutions come about?
When I was planning to leave consulting to go back to school for a PhD in MIS, people around me had asked for me to start a new company so we could work together. So, I was called to start Pariveda. My conditions for starting it were the fundamental principles and architectural design of our business model that I laid out for people. You can call them conditions of agreeing to start up a new consulting firm. These non‐negotiables came from decades of experience and much thought about how a superior consulting business model could be invented to replace what we traditionally see in firms of all sizes in our industry.

How was the first year in business?
We managed to sell and deliver about $1 million in net revenue within our first four to five quarters (10/2003 inception date).

What was your marketing strategy?
We reached out to our existing relationships and asked how we could help. That garnered us some small, starter projects. Today, we’re seen over 90% repeat and referral.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
In the multiple thousands of percent, which is not all that hard when you are starting with $1. Through this year, we’ve made the Inc. 5000 ten years in a row (every year we’ve been eligible). According to Inc. Magazine, that puts us in the 99.5% of companies in terms of growth rate, and over 99% of it has been organic.

How do you define success?
Sustainable growth. Growth that builds strong foundations for future growth through lifetime relationships with clients and employees while we all grow together as individuals. Collective and individual growth integrated in systematic, synergistic ways.

What is the key to success?
Genuine team work. People proactively asking, “How can I help you?”

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The fulfillment that comes from giving our time and talents. It is an neverending source of joy for me.

What are some quotes that you live by?
Not necessarily “live by” quotes, but mighty handy. These are paraphrases:

“All models are wrong, some are useful.” – George Box
“The stock market has predicted 9 of the last 5 recessions.” – Paul Samuelson
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African proverb

I appreciate wisdom wrapped in dry humor.

What are some of your favorite books?
In fiction, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead, In nonfiction, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and James Brian Quinn’s Intelligent Enterprise.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneur or corporate executive, the hardest days are the ones when I’ve been tasked with laying ­off employees. This happen to me three times at other companies, and twice at Pariveda.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The underlying assumption that there will be a tomorrow, and at some point in the future, that tomorrow can be better and may turn out to be the best tomorrow ever.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Success in business is an infinite game of will – the willingness to persist, despite the odds, and the willingness to adapt and pivot when needed in the face of those odds.