In 2009, Aaron saw a need to bring highly-skilled resources to solve major problems for the U.S. Government. With the U.S. economic swoon, traditional big corporations were focused on revenue retention and not with providing a quality product and a real solution to the government’s needs.
MS3 was founded to fix this problem, and won its first contract supporting DISA in an effort to modernize their integration offerings. Throughout his career, Aaron has taken leadership roles in the architecture, development, and implementation of solutions focused on enabling companies to improve their operations through automations and re-useable interfaces. His solutions have saved clients and taxpayers millions of dollars while enabling additional cost savings through extensibility and agility.
Prior to MS3, Aaron was the lead architect and engineer for The MITRE Corporation, where he was responsible for the design and implementation of standardized services and integrations for aviation and military flight data. Here he built an extensible flight display that enables both the DoD and FAA to construct fast prototypes for data visualization.
He received a Bachelor of Science in Computer and Information Sciences with a concentration in Networking and Data Communication from Shepherd University and a Master of Science in Software Engineering from West Virginia University.
Tell me about your early career.
I grew up in Southern WV and am a direct blood line to the Hatfield and McCoys. I have parents that only have a HS diploma or GED but are full of ingenuity. Growing up watching this ingenuity in both business ventures and home fixes, I knew that I could apply this same creativity to my career. The first to jump into technology, I took on work doing airspace redesigns and aircraft trajectory modeling for FAA and NASA, trying to solve environmental issues. However, my heart was in entrepreneurship so I started my first business in 2003 named Lost and Found Homes. It was a first of its kind eMarketplace for FSBO home owners and brought in all of the ancillary services needed to make these successful such as closing attorneys, home inspectors, pest control, etc. I was able to quickly spread the company and support agents from Michigan down to South Carolina. However, when the market collapsed, so did Lost and Found Homes.
I continued to work a full-time job during the time that I was running LFH so it wasn’t a huge hit when I needed to close its doors. It was about a break-even venture and left me a lot of lessons learned.
How did the concept for MS3 / API Pro come about?
MS3: After LFH closed its doors, I was working for a company named The MITRE Corporation. This was a powerhouse organization that provided R&D for the federal government. When we would build a successful concept, the product would be “tech transferred” to large organizations such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Booz Allen Hamilton, or others. They would then take our designs and concepts and attempt to implement them in the production environment for the federal government. Unfortunately, with the government, contracting butts in seats were more important than quality resources and so I watched many highly successful ideas fail or struggle to be implemented once it left the halls of MITRE.
At that point, I realized that the government needed a provider who could execute on delivery and not just provide warm bodies to fill seats. So in 2009, I launched MS3 to provide high quality services and started on our first contract with the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). The second and third contracts were government, supporting the U.S. Department of State (DoS) and VA Hospital respectively. In 2014, MS3 elected to start providing commercial clients the same high quality services that we were bringing to the U.S. Federal Government. That is when the growth of MS3 really began to explode and the company we have today was really formed.
API Pro: API Pro came from years of MS3 implementation practices. We found that having to learn different API contract languages was not only time consuming, but also was inefficient. So, we originally decided to create a form-based application that would allow us to build the contracts. I quickly realized that this was a product that was needed by all organizations. We added in additional features to support test driven development (TDD) and the ability to help enterprises govern how their APIs were designed and created. API Pro is scheduled to GA release September 4, 2017 but already has some large organizations testdriving its capabilities such as McDonalds, Chick-fil-A, The Warranty Group, and iPipeline.
What was your marketing strategy?
MS3: Word of mouth for successful delivery.
API Pro: Currently using social media but starting to move into some paid marketing.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
MS3: Was very slow in the beginning because federal work is a naturally slow sales cycle. However, starting in 2013, we started focusing on commercial clients and it has been triple digit growth, year over year.
How do you define success?
MS3: I feel the growth of our engineers really defines the success of the company and we have already achieved that as we have implemented a repeatable process for continued success. However, from a corporate standpoint, reaching 200 billable resources will help to solidify MS3’s success as a corporation and that it is a company that will be around for a very long time.
API Pro: Success will be when we have gained full market adoption as the leader in API design and governance. We have many customers already touting how the tool is changing their process and delivering huge success.
What is the key to success?
MS3: Key to success for a system integration company is talent retention. That’s why MS3 has some of the top benefits in the industry. We strive to make sure that all of our engineers continue to build their skillsets and even provide additional PTO days so they can get certified and trained in various technologies. Lastly, trusting and supportive relationships are key to our very existence. To help foster those relationships, we take our entire company to the Caribbean every January for an extended weekend out of the cold and into some warm relaxation. We do this to help refresh our engineers’ minds from a long-taxing 4th quarter, but also lets them strengthen relationships with one another so that the amazing internal support that we have for one another can become even stronger.
API Pro: The key to success for API Pro is the adoption of the product to market. The problem is surreal and apparent in every industry today that is trying to modernize their technology stacks to support API enablement. There is too much variability by engineers and API Pro is designed to address that.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
MS3: Managing people is extremely hard. There are so many personalities, opinions, and various ideas with workers that you really have to learn how to manage every aspect of the business and the personalities that come with it.
API Pro: When rolling out a product, the only thing that you can guarantee is that something will go wrong.
What are some quotes that you live by?
KISS – “Keep It Simple Stupid”
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
There are two:
1. Every day when work and/or travel causes me to miss time with my kids and their activities (I have seven kids, so I miss a good bit).
2. Product release days are highly stressful because there are so many moving parts and coordination that needs to happen. The blood pressure gets really elevated on those days.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
When I run into adversity, I look back at the pride that success gives my parents and my kids. I see how much I help and change lives because of it. Everything from sponsoring a talented 14U travel softball team and sponsoring Shepherd University Football (where I played in college), supporting engineers on their career paths, to being able to help my family. All of the hard work that I have put in has made that support possible and encourages me to push through any adversity.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Starting a company is hard work. It’s not easy. Go in understanding that once you start, you can’t stop, especially when you have employees. They depend on you. Find your inner purpose and use your company to support that. It gives you more incentive to keep pushing forward.
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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