Jeff Burgess – Co-Founder & President, BCDVideo

Jeff Burgess’ career has spanned over 38 years in various segments of the computer industry. He founded Burgess Computer Decisions, Inc., (BCD) in 1999, as an IT reseller, building HP servers for Fortune 500 companies. In early 2008, a chance meeting sparked Burgess to begin transitioning the company to the video surveillance storage market as BCDVideo.

Now the industry leader in purpose-build video surveillance recording systems, BCDVideo has over 50,000 systems recording video surveillance in 52 countries, either as their own branded products or privately-labeled for some of the biggest names in the security industry. BCDVideo’s recording devices have been installed worldwide by the industry’s largest security integrators at airports, multi-government embassies, correctional facilities, universities, hospitals, casinos, stadiums, cruise lines, and retail chains. Many of the world’s most recognizable brands rely on BCDVideo recording devices to protect their environment.

BCDVideo was on the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing companies in both 2013 and 2017. Additionally, in 2017, Inc. Magazine also named them among the country’s best workplaces, and The Channel Company’s CRN Magazine tabbed them on their Solution Provider 500 list. Burgess is also a member of Hewlett Packard Enterprise’ OEM Customer Advisory Board.

The company is forecasting $60 million in 2017 revenues, which represents twenty-five percent annual growth for the past three consecutive years. Burgess has been married for 32 years to Joanne, who he also met on a “chance meeting.” They have three children, two of whom work at the company.

Tell me about your early career.
Way back in 1979, after bombing out of college a few years prior, then blowing through job after job over the next few, I landed as a shipper at a fairly fledgling computer company. By the third day, I felt this sense of destiny come over me, and I committed myself to learning the business and the industry, all by one packing list at a time. Within the first three years, I was moved into inside sales, promoted to manage inside sales, and shortly thereafter transferred to open an Austin, Texas facility just as IBM was inventing the PC. Within seven years from my hire date as shipper, I was vice president of sales.

From there, I was recruited by a few other large resellers as their account manager targeting Fortune 500 companies, and overall was fairly successful.

How did the concept for BCDVideo come about?
BCDVideo was actually an offshoot of the company I opened in 1999, Burgess Computer Decisions (BCD). The company was set up as a server builder for Fortune 500 companies. One of those companies was General Electric, then the #2 company in the world. They had many subsidiaries, including GE Security, for which we were building servers since 2002. As they were a GE Capital business entity, I frankly assumed the “security” in their name was financial; I sure never considered it was for surveillance.

Thanks to a customer-caused system issue, and our white glove service resolution, I was introduced to this market properly by a camera and video software manufacturer’s representative looking for a system builder. We met the next morning for breakfast and literally morphed the company from building IT servers to video surveillance servers. We now have over 50,000 systems recording video surveillance and controlling access in 52 countries worldwide.

How was the first year in business?
For BCDVideo, considering it was 2008, rather challenging. Within two months of this initial company metamorphosis, the housing market crashed, taking with it the economy and the IT market. Therefore, all of the recurring IT revenue we counted on to fund us during this initiative was gone. So, our first years we fiscally difficult, but we never lost the faith or the vision we shared.

What was your marketing strategy?
The video surveillance storage market, as it was at that time, was basically no-name white box servers, with little emphasis on technology. Our top priority was the ability to build our solution on an HP platform; granted it would be custom-engineered for video usage, but it would be a “technology solution,” rather than just a “box.” I had been selling HP and Compaq servers since 1985, and my first eight years of BCD was supplying high-availability HP servers to those Fortune 500 companies. So, HP was always in my bloodline. BCDVideo is considered among the pioneers in bringing an IT infrastructure and Fortune 500 customer service mentality to the video surveillance storage marketplace.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Not quite as fast as we had hoped. We knew we wanted to have a channel to sell through and never sell to the end customer directly. We thought security distribution would be the fastest avenue, as they were selling the cameras and video software that would accompany it. After a few years of plodding along that distribution path, we decided we needed to work directly with the security integrators in order for them to understand our product offerings as they were so radically different than historical systems. That’s when everything really connected. I would call the first three years of working through distribution a learning curve. We were able to refine our product, learn from our mistakes, and use it to our advantage.

How do you define success?
I define success by paying it forward. I believe you do that by offering opportunities and giving people the stage to create the life they choose, and being there as a mentor and cheerleader along their path, and hope they do the same. When I see that come together, I know I have given back. That’s success.

What is the key to success?
Involve others. A year or so ago, we had a film crew do a shoot at our company interviewing employees about our culture. When they were done and packing the equipment up, the producer came to see me to thank me for opening up the company for their access. She had never seen a company where the employees felt so significant to the business outcome, regardless of their position. I have never felt more successful in my life.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
“First get the deal, then worry about it.” Learned it from my mentor within months of that first job in the computer industry. Don’t waste time planning for a deal you may never get. Once you get the deal, everything will fall into place, especially the vendors beating a path to your door. In 38 years, it has never, ever failed me.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Everything happens for a reason”, which is basically, “For every action, there is a reaction.” I think when you do something, anything can happen. Some of my biggest deals came about because I did something totally unrelated or even unknowingly that there was a deal to be had. I was just open enough to both see and seize the opportunity before me when it was there.

What are some of your favorite books?
Not much of a book reader. Does reading 200 emails a day count? Of the few I have read, I did devour The HP Way by David Packard. Granted, I have an HP bias, but the story of how Bill and David built that company was fascinating. Considering it all started in 1939 when Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz adds to the amazement. The company was founded only because Walt Disney wanted state-of-the-art sound for Fantasia in eight select movie theaters. They were not only pioneers in technology, but in how to treat employees.

Another is Building a Magnetic Culture by Kevin Sheridan. Talks of the importance of engaged employees, and creating a high-performance workforce. As I read it, it was obvious he was talking about my team. I was pretty jacked up by it.

Most recently was Becoming the Best by Harry M Kraemer. It speaks of values-based leadership, being the best in all departments within your company, and building a company around those values.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
How about a year? 2008 was rough. I guess it was lucky we had a two-month head start before the housing crash and the IT world crapped out. It has still yet to fully recover. In the two years it took to truly transform us over to video storage, we lost over $500,000. Yet, this never effected our credit with the vendors as I was committed to continue to pay bills whatever the circumstances. We were able to maintain our good credit which we worked hard to create with our strong payment history over the first nine years. As this was happening, my wife and I had just purchased a dream property and had started to build a dream house, so I was double-dealing with it at work and at home. Stressful times, to be sure.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Self-belief that you are doing the right thing. Stay the course, stay on plan. I have been fortunate in many ways in life. The experience of having to deal with adversity has actually made me stronger and trust my gut even more. Doesn’t mean I didn’t have doubts along the way, but I had faith in my ability to survive it and was too stubborn to give up.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Of your brain, your heart, or your gut, always go with your gut. Your brain can cause you to overthink the opportunity, and your heart can always get broken. Your gut represents your instincts. Trust it. No one knows more about you or your capabilities than you. And most important of all, your company’s core values positively have to mimic your own. Otherwise, you are just faking it to your customer and lying to yourself.

Andrew Young – Founder, President & CEO, Core and More Technologies

Andrew Young is the president and CEO of Core and More Technologies (CMT). Founded in 2010 and a Google Certified Partner since 2011, CMT has made the Inc. 500 list of America’s fastest-growing private companies for the past two years, while also being named to the top 10 list of fastest-growing private companies in New Jersey during those same periods. In August 2013, CMT was recognized by a leading independent analysis firm as a top 10 worldwide Internet marketing provider. In early 2016, CMT also achieved the distinction of becoming a Google Premier Partner.

Tell me about your early career.
I, like many others, was very uncertain about which direction I wanted to go in early on. Starting out as a journalism major, I have always had a passion for writing and for political science. However, with journalism as a major, I figured I might as well learn how to say, “Want some fries with that?” over and over again, at least back then. So, I dropped out and went to technical school for electronics and computer technology. Shortly after graduation, I got a job with a privately-held company as a computer technician. I then began pursuing a degree in computer science at Monmouth University. At the same time, a new position opened inside the company for a business application developer. I applied and got the job, which entailed full development using the Lotus Domino platform. We built a platform that was well-leveraged and provided for a complete business suite including purchase requisitions, capital asset management, conference scheduling, and various engineering functions.

How did the concept for Core and More Technologies come about?
I started thinking about creating a new company when I lost a job I had for ten years. We were originally positioning ourselves to provide a suite of services to facilitate and streamline business processes, as defined above. Then, demand drove us in another direction: Internet marketing. Within the first month of starting the company, I sent out an email blast promoting our suite of business applications, with the personal email address of one of my former competitors on the distribution list. He forwarded my email on to his successor (more on that below), who in turn reached out not to inquire about what we were promoting, but rather to ask if we offered digital marketing, specifically SEO services. That company was based right smack in the heart of Silicon Valley. Upon executing with them for about one year, they began to expand their engagement with us to include all other areas of digital marketing strategy – SEM, website design and development, social media marketing, and finally Salesforce development and marketing automation. Over time, as people departed that company and went on to others, they brought us with them. Within three years, we had a growing, viral base of customers (10 total) in the San Francisco Bay area. Each of these companies remains a loyal partner, now in some cases, seven years later. In 2013, we were super proud to have achieved Google Partner status, and in 2016, we were further distinguished when we were named a Premier Google Partner.

For the “more on that below,” it is really a great story. I was a product manager and my company had acquired several companies across North America. We had a very savvy president and we were on a strong upward trajectory for growth. Then, they fired that president and took the company in a totally different direction. Suddenly, the company was being run by bullies whose interest was more in their image and ego than anything else. I was tasked with heading up a project that included a major competitor. While I opposed the move, I took my marching orders and executed the plan. Very late in the game, the superseding president got involved and put that kabash on the whole project, and at this point, ordered me to simply leave the other company hanging in the lurch. I had to do some soul-searching here. I did not want to execute on this deal to begin with, but was overruled by senior management – this president’s direct reports. Now, he was overriding them, and I had a working relationship with the competing company, and did not want to just leave them sitting there as he had ordered me to. So, I did the right thing. I made the phone call and told them to pack up, go home, and that my hands were tied. If I had followed the president’s orders and left them just sitting there, there is NO WAY that this person would have, months later, forwarded my email to his successor, and I may have never had that first major client and all that it led to. The moral of the story is to follow your heart, have the courage to do so, and practice a lifestyle that demands honesty, balance, and integrity.

How was the first year in business?
Our first year in business was all about excitement, uncertainty, and risk-taking. Many hours were spent in the library – attending seminars, and leveraging all available resources to increase my knowledge of business ownership and strategy.

What was your marketing strategy?
Our focus was on larger entities. One large entity will result in revenue equal to or greater than numerous smaller entities. While we have taken on smaller clients since, our primary focus in terms of business development continues to be large entities.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Our growth was purely organic and this continues to be the case. Our growth was slow and steady the first couple of years. Our emphasis has always been on customer delight first.

How do you define success?
That’s a great question. Obviously, helping our clients to accelerate visibility and growth while exceeding their financial return objectives is our top priority. But to me, whether they are a global NY conglomerate, a Silicon Valley startup, or a local service provider, when folks within the company choose to partner with us, they are paying us a tremendous compliment. Think about it. People build their careers on the success they are able to create for the organization. They are not just working to kill time. At least to some extent, they desire to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families. I love to think that the results we create will help to position the people who chose us to move up in the company and improve their careers. I get a lot of personal satisfaction when we play a role in making that happen.

What is the key to success?
Client success, and the ability to define that success. The ability to show what has worked, and sometimes what has not worked, is the key. In my industry, transparency is a huge deal. Someone once said, “Measure twice, and cut once.” That is another piece. No one can create an effective strategy without thinking it through, mapping it out, presenting it to others, then presenting it to the client. And you have to do it quickly and efficiently. Fast is always better than slow.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
“Sometimes you have to serve in order to lead.” Partner with every entity that chooses us to handle these all-important marketing functions. Do not look at them as a client and at ourselves as contractors. We seek to become seamless with the internal team(s) and if we are successful, we will become part of a team and will distinguish ourselves from all other vendors. To accomplish this is simple: take as much interest in the quality of the solutions and deliverables as an internal employee would.

What are some of your favorite books?
Consciously Creating Circumstances – George Winslow Plummer
Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson
The Wealth of Nations – Adam Smith

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Memories of corporate America and the subjugation game. Also, the desire to provide for a better quality of life for myself and my family.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
The key to being successful is to be lucky, but luck is simply an exercise in positioning. If you can be a risk-taker and efficiency expert at the same time, you will be successful. Several additional things to remember:
1) At times, you will need to serve in order to lead.
2) Ideas come from everywhere. Let them innovate!
3) Take risk.
4) Do not wait for the market to tell you what it wants. A true innovator brings things to market that no one else has yet thought of.
5) Trust your gut. If you run a research project and a focus group for every little thing you want to do, by the time you do it, the market will want something else.

Bill Scanlon – Founder & President, Strategic Solution Partners

Bill Scanlon is president of Strategic Solution Partners, a consulting group he founded in 2007. A results-driven sales and marketing leader with over 25 years of experience generating organizational transformation and achieving measurable results with global hospitality brands, he now shares his expertise with private clients.

He began his career in the hospitality industry at Marriott, where for 20 years he progressively moved up the corporate ladder to his pinnacle role in the company as vice president of Caribbean, Central and South Americas. He left Marriott to become the senior vice president of sales and marketing at HEI Hotels & Resorts. Following his experience at HEI, Bill founded his own consulting firm, Strategic Solutions Partners, where he helps clients transform their businesses and drive revenue growth. Upon completing a consulting consignment for his client, Wyndham Worldwide, he was asked to join the Hotel Group as their senior vice president of sales & marketing. After two and a half years growing revenue for their $1.5 billion portfolio of companies, he returned again as president of Strategic Solutions Partners with renewed dedication and zest.

He is also an associate member of the G7 Hospitality Group and an affiliate partner of Cayuga Hospitality Partners.

How did the concept for Strategic Solution Partners come about?
I had originally set up SSP as a consultancy. The very first inquiry I received was regarding a business development project for a hotel and the second was for an interim director of sales and marketing for a Caribbean hotel. Being the salesperson that I am, while this was not in my portfolio of services, I said “Yes, we do” and made it happen.

How was the first year in business?
Very slow. Like most senior executives who find themselves prematurely out of work, you tend to leverage your network. Once that is exhausted, however, you have to find new clients. Fortunately, I was a successful salesperson early on so I shifted  gears and hit the phones. It is difficult to revert and not get any call backs, overcome the normal lack of interest if there is not an immediate need, and the time limitations that our clients have, but if you persevere through the sales cycle, things start to happen.

What was your marketing strategy?
There is no replacing relationships and quality product. It is also about networking and re-establishing contacts that you have made over your career while also creating new ones. Word of mouth is your best marketing tool and that recognition is built upon your integrity and the quality of your product and service.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Initially, not quickly at all. I was doing a project for Wyndham in the Caribbean and they made me an offer that I could not refuse. I worked there from 2009 to 2011, returning to the business in late 2011. So, I consider 2012 my first real full year back. Since then, we have grown in the high double digits annually.

How do you define success?
Success is positively contributing to your clients, your partners, and your associates’ short- and long-term success on both personal and professional levels, if you can. Contributing to their success gives me a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment whether it impacts the top or bottom lines, or not.

What is the key to success?
Ethics and values. Regardless of technology, it comes down to the product you delver, the trust you build, and the ethics you operate under.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Stay positive. If you persevere, it will come. If you’re determined, you will succeed. If you believe, it will happen.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“No is just yes waiting to happen” and “Plan the work and work the plan.”

What are some of your favorite books?
The Count of Monte Cristo, Trinity, and Quietus.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
They all are challenging one way or another. I cannot isolate one over the other as they are equally as challenging and equally as rewarding. I think the hardest thing is bringing your “A” game every day. At some point, you transition from doing to being and being that leader/example is key to creating your culture and defining your expectations for your team members.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My commitment to my family, my team, and my clients.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Be flexible. Talk to everyone you can. Be a sponge. Keep your ideas for future use. Today, they may not be right, but tomorrow they may be. Take the time to proactively think through who your target customer is, what they want/need, who your competitors are for that customer, and what makes you different.

Keith Byrd – Co-Founder & Partner, Transportation Impact

Keith Byrd began his 25-year career in the parcel industry with UPS, where he held a variety of positions. Before leaving UPS in 2008, he served as a senior sales manager, covering North and South Carolina. In 1995, Byrd was assigned to the UPS corporate office in Atlanta, GA. Having earned numerous accolades while with the world’s largest shipping company, Keith envisioned starting a company that could leverage his industry experience to help companies minimize operating costs.

Transportation Impact has developed strategic partnerships throughout the United States to help clients find additional avenues in which they can reduce their respective supply chain costs.

Byrd served in the United States Marine Corps from 1981 to 1984 before becoming a member of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol from 1986 to 1987.

Tell me about your early career.
I joined the Marine Corps in 1981 and served until 1984, and then left the Marine Corps, and in 1986, joined the North Carolina highway patrol, where I stayed for two years. In 1989, I was fortunate enough to get a job with UPS as a driver. I drove for eight months, got promoted into management, and was with UPS for twenty years, mostly in sales. UPS taught me a lot, and most of the people that work here at Transportation Impact worked with me at UPS.

How did the concept for Transportation Impact come about?
My partner, Travis Burt, and I were both in sales, and our job was to protect the margins of the carrier. We would go out and negotiate with high-volume shippers, protecting the margins of UPS. Over time, we got to talking and said, “How would it be to do what we do, but work on behalf of the client?” In other words, offering our knowledge, skill, and ability to get the client better discounts and to share in the savings. But at the same time, we really wanted the carrier to be profitable, because if it’s not, nobody’s going to be happy. So, we had to come up with a business model that helped the client gain knowledge, get them a best-in-class rate, but ensured the carrier remained profitable. That way, it’s a win-win for everybody.

How was the first year in business?
The first year was very, very challenging. We were actually sued by the carrier. The lawsuit was settled, but we could not go into any of our old areas for two years. So, what that made us do is knock on doors and sell ourselves and our service to complete strangers instead of people we had business relationships with. It was very challenging, because we made no money to speak of and it was a lot of pressure. We both had left really good jobs, we had families to raise, we were accustomed to a certain lifestyle, but that adversity definitely made us better.

What was your marketing strategy?
In the beginning, we didn’t have a marketing strategy. I never will forget the first time we went to a trade show. It was called Parcel, and we really didn’t have the money to go, but we researched it and found out that people in our space met once a year. Back then, it was held in Chicago every year, and we went there without any kind of marketing plan or strategy. We thought we were just going to walk the trade show hallways and people would be flocking to hear what we had to say — boy, were we surprised.

When we got there, everybody had beautiful booths. I think back now how funny and embarrassing it was. We rented a regular old table, like a table that you’d see in a restaurant, went and bought a white tablecloth, and called the local sign company and got them to make us a 2’ x 3’ sign that had our name on it. We rented a space for hardly anything, because we were the last ones in and it was some space they couldn’t sell to anyone else, so it was in the back corner by the bathroom or something. So, here we are standing behind our table with no collateral and with that little sign, and you could feel everybody was just laughing at us. At that point, I knew that the game was a lot bigger than we had thought, from a marketing, collateral, professional, and presentation standpoint.

But that failure made us. To this day, in the industry, our marketing and our collateral are best in class, and we hear that from even our competitors. So, we took a negative and made it into a challenge, and we stepped up our game.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
I think the first year we grossed $14,000 in revenue, the second year it went to something like $140,000, and then it more than doubled. And then for the next four to five years, we were having anything from around 55% to 65% growth, which was crazy. We grew really fast. We started slow, but once we started getting clients and the word got out on the street about what we did and our references, our channels to market changed.

We started going to more trade shows. We got into the audit side of the business, which gained us visibility and demonstrated capability to a potential client. The audit is an invoice-based, non-intrusive recovery audit. The customer truly has to do nothing. It’s a no-brainer. Technology secures the refund, but the big thing is that it gives us visibility to our potential clients. That and we can run a free analysis to see if we can help them in the other aspects of their business. So, now we’re a leader in our industry by far from a revenue standpoint, a retention standpoint, and a growth standpoint.

How do you define success?
That’s a great question. Success to me is when our company offers a product or a service that benefits another company. You don’t know how humbling it is to be talking to a CFO and they say, “Because of the savings that you helped generate, we saved twelve jobs last year,” or “I was able to broaden my market,” or “I was able to come up with a different widget.” It’s very humbling. But how I define success is not only that, it’s also creating jobs for people. We take that very seriously here at Transportation Impact. Coming up with something that the customer can use to save money, recruiting great young talent, which we have here at TI, and watching them grow — that’s the definition of success to the leadership team here. And of course, revenue plays a part in it.

We’re very proud here at TI because we just found out today that for the second time we’ve been named one of the top 100 companies in North Carolina. And we found out last week that for the second year in a row we’ve made the Fast 40 in North Carolina, and for each of the last five years, we’ve been named to Inc. Magazine’s list of fastest-growing companies. But the one that we’re most proud of is the one we won this year for the first time: we were voted one of Inc. Magazine’s Best Workplaces.

So, my definition of success is to feel good about the customer benefitting, watching a young person get groomed, gaining recognition, and growing revenue.

What is the key to success?
The key to success I have found is paying attention to detail, and that’s the culture we have in our company. That’s the first part. The second part is doing what you say you’re going to do. If you walk into our conference room, by the door, before you go in, it says, “Attention to detail is what got us here.” When you exit, you look up, and it says, “Doing what you say you will do is what will keep us here.” So, I define the key to success as being different. Being different is attention to detail — you don’t really see that a lot in today’s world. People seem to get caught up or lose focus. And it’s the same with doing what you say you will do. If we say we’re going to reduce your cost by 18.2%, we do it. The other piece of it is to always be listening to your customers and your people. If you listen to what their wants and needs are and take action on those, success is inevitable.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The greatest lesson I’ve learned over the course of my adult life is to not take any good thing for granted. Whether it’s personal or work, humility is a trait I’ve learned the hard way, and it has been an excellent teacher. Great success and explosive growth will ultimately lead every person down a path where their character will be challenged. Their moral fabric will be tested. In the end, humility and appreciation for what you have will command your attention. My family, friends, and employees come first, and there will never be any exceptions to that. They are the good things I can’t take for granted.

A few other lessons I have learned:
1) Trust your instincts.
2) Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.
3) Book smarts are great, and street/business common sense is just as valuable.
4) It is impossible to “shrink to greatness.”
5) The value in taking risk and failing is learning the lesson. Don’t be afraid to fail.
6) Trust the people around you.
7) Take care of your people, and your people will take care of the company.

What are some quotes that you live by?
· “Do what you say you are going to do.”
· “Pay attention to the details and the small things.”
· “Don’t forget where you came from.”
· “There is no substitute for loyalty.”
· “You don’t get what you don’t ask for.”
· “Don’t be scared.”
· “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”
· “Do the right thing.”
· “Tough times never last, but tough people do.”
· “Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done.”
· “Be somebody!”

What are some of your favorite books?
My favorite book is the Bible.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Well, the toughest was when UPS sued us. I had it in my mind that we were going to come in here and just do big things right off the bat, and that brought me down to my knees very quick. They’re a big company, and I’m out here beating my chest saying how good we’re going to be and all that. That was the toughest time for me as an entrepreneur.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I love challenges. When you get comfortable and everything’s going great, that’s when you get sloppy. When faced with adversity, I just the love the challenge of finding the root cause, finding out how to fix it, and fixing it. It’s that simple. Here at TI, we’re faced with adversity all the time. We go and lock ourselves in a room, and we bring in employees, we bring in the leadership team, and we whiteboard it. We say, “Here’s the problem,” and we attack it. And we don’t leave that room until we have at least a plan to push it forward to where we can fix it.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
When we first started, I thought that to build our company and be successful, we had to hire people who had a lot of experience in the industry. And I learned very quick that it’s the opposite. Sometimes, you put blinders on to how you think things should be. When you’ve got a 25 year old that’s never been in the industry come up with some of the biggest ideas and figure out some of the best solutions to some of the biggest problems, it’s just amazing. That’s been one of the biggest parts of our success. So, one piece of advice I would give to a young entrepreneur is they don’t have to recruit people with college degrees or who are experienced in the industry. I would also advise never to forget where you come from. UPS taught Travis and I many things, but one that sticks out for us is giving back. UPS is huge on that. We’ve brought that culture to our company, not just in funds, but also in time and effort. Don’t forget where you’ve come from and always help your fellow man out.

James Kyle – Founder, President & CEO, Millennium

James Kyle is currently the president and CEO of Millennium, a national distributor of fiber-optic networks serving the communications industry. James’ vision of having a distribution business designed to deliver solutions to markets where network owners and contractors struggle to receive products and resources they need to be successful began in 2003 and today has over 9 distribution centers around the country that offers just-in-time inventory, same day/next day shipping, and local delivery services. As well as supplying thousands of products from over 250+ vendors to meet clients’ needs, Millennium’s dedication to help their clients grow includes offering extended terms and leasing options, in addition to providing field training and support for products and equipment.

Prior to founding Millennium, James was VP of Business Development for GS&M, a manufacturer’s rep firm servicing independent telephone companies with fiber test equipment. While helping to grow GS&M to $30 million+ in gross sales, James gave up his role and equity stake to start Millennium.

Over the course of 15 years, James has actively contributed to industry organizations across the U.S. and remains committed to education, personal growth, and the development of the communities where Millennium operates.

Tell me about your early career.
In the mid-1990s, I was a young 20-something year old without any guiding light or degree to provide some focus. I was living in the Chicagoland area working in the mortgage industry. I was good at what I did and I really liked helping people. Apparently, I was good enough to get the attention of one of my clients who owned a telecom test equipment rep firm. He liked my drive, my enthusiasm, and my creative, individual approach that he asked me if I’d be interested in changing career paths. After about six months, I took the jump out of residential mortgage lending and into a larger unknown as an independent rep on test equipment I knew nothing about.

Luckily, I had some really helpful training with manufacturers of fiber-optic and DSL technologies from both Silicon Valley and South Carolina and used the same personal approach I had used when doing mortgages and applied it to telecom industry. I applied the same principles of wanting to help my clients with equipment to construct and test broadband networks.

Over the course of four years, I worked my way through the ranks and I became a VP of Business Development and began buying into the business for an equity stake. During that time, I saw a reoccurring problem: there was a need for local inventory with experienced staff to support these contractors and end users who were building these networks. No one was doing this in the Illinois/Wisconsin region. There were far too many projects experiencing delays due to materials being late, and often times, it was the wrong materials when it did arrive. Seeing the projects get delayed, contractors losing money, and broadband rollouts get delayed provoked me to start Millennium and give up my stake in the former business. Since then, I’ve lead the company to supply more than 3,000 clients nationwide with 9 warehouses and 68 employees. We’ve had the honor of being on the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing companies three times and created opportunities for a number of people to excel within the business.

How did the concept for Millennium come about?
After the telecom bust in 2002, the market became flooded with used equipment. The demand dropped as some of the competitive carriers collapsed, so I shifted my focus on consumable materials for communication networks, specifically fiber-optic cables and conduit. These items seemed to be a pain point for contractors and telcos alike, and those pain points were making it difficult for them to connect rural towns with broadband throughout the Midwest. I officially started Millennium in 2004, but the idea and planning were a few years in the making. The mission of Millennium came from the needs of our clients to get the right materials and have them delivered on time, every time. We wanted to supersede our client’s traditional experience with material distributors. To do this, we needed to bring in local inventory and have the ability to deliver to job sites while staying in constant communication with their field personnel. Supplying product for a project is kind of like a domino effect – once one piece gets delayed, all the material components need attention to change schedule, change delivery times, and even locations. There are always multiple balls in the air.

How was the first year in business?
Like most businesses, Millennium’s first year was extremely challenging and fragile. There are so many hurdles facing a new business, especially in the distribution space where it is capital intensive and difficult to prove a value proposition. Initially, lack of capital was the hardest to overcome. Most banks are too averse to credit risks to throw money at a new business, so it took every penny from our personal savings and retirement, coupled with a loan from my grandmother to buy inventory. Without enough funding to hire a staff, I became the salesman, delivery driver, and accountant for the first couple of years. I was fortunate that two strategic vendors, Hubbell and Duraline, took a chance on me and Millennium. They were the first to offer credit terms and distributor pricing which paved the way for Millennium to stay in operation and secure agreements with many others through the years.

What was your marketing strategy?
Focus on underserved markets and companies with less than $50 million in annual revenues. This allows us to provide real value through handling just-in-time deliveries, product suggestions, and flexible credit terms for companies that didn’t have the resources to do this without Millennium’s service.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Millennium experienced some explosive growth in the first three years, growing more than 480% in that period to revenues of $6.8 million. By the end of the third year, we had hired a staff of seven people and constructed our first owned warehouse to distribute from.

How do you define success?
Success to me is two-fold. First, our clients need to be more successful and profitable by doing business with Millennium. That’s reflected not just through our product pricing, but also by keeping materials in stock for them and making sure that their projects are always on time in regards to the materials required. Second, success is defined by the number of employees at Millennium who grow professionally and personally by being part of our team. Creating opportunities to excel for both our clients and employees is always on the forefront of our planning for success.

What is the key to success?
Company culture. Defining the core values and aligning our marketing efforts with a long-term vision is the key to success. One person cannot drive a successful, healthy company, so the only way to achieve traction is by bringing together people with strong core values to execute a well-defined plan.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
It’s important to belong to a strong group of peers and advisors. After trying out a few different groups, I am in Vistage 3361, and have found that good mentors, peers, and a business coach will help provide direction and hold me accountable.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Begin with the end in mind.”

“I know you have big dreams for yourself, but don’t forget how far you’ve come already. Remember the days you prayed for things you have today.”

“I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.”

What are some of your favorite books?
Traction, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and The Four Agreements.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
In 2014, I was faced with the challenge of completely restructuring the management structure to allow the organization to scale up. In the process, I found that some of the people we had in the company, longtime friends in the business, were no longer able to scale with the needs of the company and it was impacting our ability to service our clients. Nothing prepares you for sitting across from someone who helped build the business and telling them that, through no intentional action of their own, we must part ways. That was one of the most challenging emotional days for me as an entrepreneur.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Fear of letting down the clients and coworkers. As we’ve grown, clients and coworkers have come to rely on, and trust, Millennium. As individuals, it would be easier to give up in the face of adversity, but knowing that we must push forward for the greater good provides a deep-rooted sense of energy and desire to win.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
1) Plan your target market, come up with your vision for the business ten years from now, and always stick to your core values.

2) Initially, you will need to work in the business, a lot. It will consume your time and energy and at times be extremely stressful. Remember that it’s an investment in your dream and it should feel natural.

3) Finally, when the company can support it, hire the best people for the roles you fill. Too often as entrepreneurs, we hire people we think we can manage rather than finding the people with the best skillset to take it to the next level. Make sure that those people share your core values and they’ll execute a vision that even you may doubt when getting started.