Jeffrey Pruitt – Founder, Chairman & CEO – Tallwave

Jeffrey Pruitt is founder, chairman & CEO of Tallwave, a business design and innovation company that helps organizations build, bring to market, and scale great products. He also serves as general manager of Tallwave Capital, Arizona’s most active venture capital firm in Arizona that is focused on B2B technology companies. Jeffrey is an Arizona native and brings nearly 20 years of technology-focused leadership to his post.

Jeffrey earned his bachelor’s in accounting from Arizona State University and started his professional career as an accountant for Arthur Andersen. Channeling business acumen to bolster his entrepreneurial intuition, he pursued a passion for leveraging technology to solve real business challenges.

Jeffrey notably served as president of digital marketing agency iCrossing, where he drove revenues from $2 million to $23 million within six years, and then as head of corporate development, he supported the acquisition of seven companies as iCrossing grew to $120 million in the following three years. He then founded Tallwave in 2009, with a mission to help clients transform ideas and businesses in the digital age. Over the past eight years, he has led the company to exponential growth, orchestrating several acquisitions, and has earned Tallwave a spot on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies, three years in a row. Under Tallwave Capital, Jeffrey successfully raised $13.2 million in seed funding in 2014, earmarked for the technology sector. It has since funded 28 companies in the Western region, who have raised over $56 million in total capital.

Jeffrey is a sought-after speaker and contributing author on leadership and innovation subjects for outlets such as Inc. and Entrepreneur. He has also served on the advisory councils of Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

Tell me about your early career.
I started my professional career as an accountant for Arthur Andersen, but had a long-standing passion for leveraging technology to solve real business challenges. Deciding to pursue it, I went on to serve as president of digital marketing agency iCrossing. It was an exciting time. We were in a rapid-growth phase and I got to be part of the team that drove revenues from $2 million to $23 million within six years. I then became head of corporate development, supporting the acquisition of seven companies as iCrossing grew to $120 million in the following three years. In 2009, I left to start Tallwave and Tallwave Capital.

How did the concept for Tallwave come about?
While I was at iCrossing, I oversaw corporate development and had the opportunity to serve on the technology councils of Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. Much of the conversation revolved around what kind of technologies they were going to develop and how they were going to bring them to market. Business innovation resonated with me; it was a goal of mine to work in that area since college. Incidentally, around that same time when I was helping to develop iCrossing, a lot of smaller companies began asking me to serve as an advisor. I began to see there was a need for helping companies – small and big – grow their businesses, particularly in product and service innovation. That was the impetus for Tallwave and our end-to-end service model that helped businesses bring innovation to market, from design to build to growth.

We also wanted to spin out our own companies, technologies, and brands with partners like we did with Shelvspace and Dave Albertson, as well as start a capital fund to provide investment to innovative startup companies, which we did with Tallwave Capital.

In the beginning, the structure was all three of those areas – the service line, spinning out companies, and the fund. The goal was to create an end-to-end ecosystem. Today, as the need has evolved, we’re primarily focused on Tallwave as a business design and innovation company. And Tallwave Capital, which operates as a separate entity, is still focused on providing investment to rapid-growth, technology companies. Today, it’s the most active VC firm in the Southwest.

How was the first year in business?
It was an exciting time. As any entrepreneur who’s left the comforts of a corporate job can attest, you’re suddenly thrust into doing everything yourself from setting up your office to building the business. But there was a lot of excitement, energy, and euphoria. A lot of people from the technology and local community were interested in what we were doing and wanted to support us in some capacity, and that really helped us grow.

We really had a high-caliber team right out of the gates, and as a result, started generating revenue quickly. Though we were a startup, we didn’t carry ourselves as one. Our culture was very professional, but with a “get stuff done” attitude. We were all in it together.

What was your marketing strategy?
In the early days, we relied heavily on our network. When we launched Tallwave in 2010, product and service innovation design wasn’t as known as it is now. So, we focused on storytelling and sharing our vision, values, and purpose with those who already knew, liked, and trusted us. That’s partly why building our core team was so imperative to our early success.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We grew pretty rapidly from two perspectives. In the early days of Tallwave, spinning off new companies and technologies was a directive of ours and we were able to do that with four brands that saw great success. On the service side of things, we were growing in leaps and bounds, and within a few years, had earned a spot on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies.

How do you define success?
I believe when you’re doing what you love every day and can approach everything you do with energy and excitement, you’ve achieved success. I often talk about the fact that I do not think in this world, with the ability to always be connected, that it is possible to find Balance. I think it is much more important to strive for Harmony on how you enter each part of your life. My formula for that is 1) be obsessed with what you do during the day, 2) take Time (for you and your family), 3) be Present and 4) continuously learn and evolve. When all of those pieces come together, for me, that means success.

What is the key to success?
There are numerous factors to success. From a practical, tactical perspective, for any business to be successful, it has to be repeatable, sustainable, and profitable. But you also have to have the right leadership, culture, and processes in place, and that starts from a foundation of purpose, vision, values, and norms.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I’ve learned a lot of lessons over the years, but one that stands out is the importance of getting the right people in the right seats on the bus. It sounds so simple, but it’s not. It takes time, but when you get the right person, it feels like adding two or three. You can feel it and you just know they’re a great fit. When you make a wrong hire, it’s a drain on the system. And it has nothing to do with the people not being good people. They’re just not right for the role that you need.

What are some quotes that you live by?
I don’t live by quotes per say, but I have a formula for what I think is harmony and happiness – and that’s what I live by. You have to be obsessed with what you do every day (after all this takes up a majority of your time), take time (for yourself, family and friends), be present, and continuously learn.

As for a quote, there is one from one of my favorite movies, 13 Hours, that has always stuck with me, “All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells are within you.”

What are some of your favorite books?
Most recently, I read The 12 Week Year, which provides a great structure for getting more out of your days, as well as Essentialism and The Untethered Soul, which are also both really interesting reads.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Losing an employee. We were headed up to out of town for our leadership retreat and we found out we lost one of our employees in a motorcycle accident. The gravity of losing someone on your team, then having to bring the news to others on the team was devastating. Amidst the heartbreak, it was amazing to see our team pull together to support one another as well as the family of the individual we lost.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I think it’s human nature to want to persevere, but it also has a lot to do with how our fight or flight mechanisms have developed over the years. I was always raised to face challenges head on and I was put to the test at an early age. I was dyslexic as a child and I was determined not to let that hold me back. So, I learned to lean in and work extra hard to achieve my goals. Today, there is so much more awareness about it and the truth is there are advantages around creativity and seeing things from different perspectives.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Out of college, go get a real job where you are held accountable to a business that is not yours. But take it as serious as if it was your own. Push yourself beyond your limits and really build the skillset to do that. You’ll need that when you venture out on your own. And when you do get out and start your own thing, surround yourself with good advisors who are willing to be transparent with you.

Alex Sumetsky – Co-Founder & CEO, OceanTech

Alex is the co-founder and CEO of OceanTech, an IT asset disposition company established in 2005. OceanTech has been featured on the Inc. 5000 twice, in 2015 and 2017. Other companies include Ocean Holdings, a real estate firm established in 2011 that operates 50,000 square feet of commercial space, and OT Hardware, an enterprise IT hardware brokerage business. The latest venture Alex helped co-found is WipeOS.com, a data sanitization solution.

Tell me about your early career.
Started OceanTech within the first year out of college, so not too much there. I was always looking for ways to make money. In the early days of eBay and PayPal, I was selling unlocked cell phones, which was my intro to online sales that contributed to founding OceanTech.

How did the concept for OceanTech come about?
I worked at an electronic recycling company towards the end of college that did mainly scrapping and had a small retail store for resale. This was right when eBay was getting big and we quickly realized that certain items listed on eBay will sell much faster and for more money than scrap vale or waiting for someone to come into a retail store, so we started an online resale department for them which was quickly doing $30,000 per month in revenue.

At the same time, I was interviewing for corporate jobs and all I could think about was how I did not want to work for any of them. I continued to run the eBay operation at the other company throughout the summer, then in the fall, after graduating, I started OceanTech with my business partner in his parent’s basement. We started out by selling all the electronic recyclers’ equipment online.

How was the first year in business?
The first year was filled with uncertainty. I had no idea if we would be able to turn OceanTech into a real business, but the thought of having to go to work for someone else was a great motivator. In the beginning, we spent our time scavenging for items to sell, mainly from other electronic recyclers, auctions, Craigslist, etc.

Our initial idea was to just do resale without the recycling. However, we quickly realized that they go hand in hand. When an organization wants their old stuff gone, they want it all gone. So, towards the second half of the first year, we accepted that we will need to offer recycling as well, and not long after that, we hired two cold callers and started to offer an IT asset disposition service. At the end of the first year, we moved into a 10,000 square foot warehouse.

What was your marketing strategy?
Apart from the usual, reputation, we always want to under promise and over deliver.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Not fast. We started with $300 and did not borrow any money, so all of our growth was 100% organic. Although our growth was slow, it was sustainable. We had to make all the money we re-invested which left little room for error.

How do you define success?
Not having to work anymore if you don’t want to.

What is the key to success?
Putting one foot in front of the other and following through on your vision for the long haul.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I have seen many businesses fold that seemed so big and impressive, so sustainability is key. Otherwise, you are building a house of cards. Learn from failure, preferably other people’s.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

“Never, never, never give up.” – Winston Churchill

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – Dr. Seuss

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” – Richard Branson

“An idea is only worth what you are willing and able to make of it, or someone else is willing and able to pay for it.” – Alex Sumetsky

What are some of your favorite books?
The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox, and Winning by Jack Welch.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I remember the first lease we signed; it was only $500 a month for one year, but it seemed more stressful than buying our latest building for over $1,000,000.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The idea that something should get in the way of reaching my goals seems like an affront that should be dealt with accordingly.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Keep your business sustainable! With all the hype about raising money, I really don’t feel like sustainability gets much attention, even though at the end of the day, that is all that really matters. It amazes me how much some business owners care about growing revenue and their balance sheet without considering their bottom line for the years to come. Most likely, you are not going to be a unicorn, so don’t think about huge numbers. Prove that your concept will fund itself.

King White – Founder & CEO, Site Selection Group

King White is founder and CEO of Site Selection Group, where he manages the daily operations including strategic planning, account management, business development, marketing, and corporate operations. King has over 20 years of experience in site selection, economic incentives, and corporate real estate across the globe. He has completed over 1,000 projects including call centers, data centers, distribution centers, headquarters, manufacturing plants, retail, and information technology operations. Under his direction, Site Selection Group has become one of the largest, independent, full-service location advisory, economic incentive, and corporate real estate services firms.

King’s intense focus on driving innovation has enabled him to develop industry-leading products including GeoCision®, LaborCast®, and IncenTrak®. He is continually-cited by numerous global publications as a thought leader, written over 100 articles on global location trends, and received numerous awards from a variety of organizations.

Prior to the formation of Site Selection Group, King was a principal and founder of the Corporate Site Selection and Economic Incentives Division of Trammell Crow Company. This division was responsible for providing global site selection and economic incentive services to Trammell Crow’s corporate customers. During his ten year tenure at Trammell Crow Company, King developed his long-term vision of what has become Site Selection Group.

Tell me about your early career.
I began my career in the commercial real estate industry in 1996 when the corporate real estate sector was really starting to take off. I spent one year at a boutique tenant representation firm, where I excelled very quickly in business development, targeting high growth companies across the U.S. when the tech industry was in its early stages. Then, I took a leap and moved to Trammell Crow Company, which at the time was one of the largest developers in the U.S., who was trying to rapidly expand its corporate real estate services division. It was there that I developed the business plan, received executive approval, and proceeded to build a global site selection and economic incentive practice which became a very profitable business unit at Trammell Crow Company. I become one of the youngest principals in the firm, at around 30 years old. I spent 10 years there before leaving to start Site Selection Group. I consider my days at Trammell Crow Company as getting my MBA in preparation for running my own business.

How did the concept for Site Selection Group come about?
When I got into the business out of college, I realized I was competing against commercial real estate brokers who were twice my age. I was incredible at selling on the phone, but lacked the gray hair to win big business on my own. This is when I stumbled upon the fast-growing call center industry. Companies around the world were creating centralized call centers which created a unique opportunity for me to capitalize on. These companies were making decisions based on labor, not real estate. I quickly latched onto the concept that the company should make real estate decisions based on factors other than the simple basics of real estate cost and availability. I rapidly-expanded this concept into other capital and employee intensive operations such as manufacturing plants, distribution centers, headquarters, data centers and shared service centers. The value proposition of a typical commercial real estate broker is dwarfed by this concept, considering that a company’s overhead is only 5-10% real estate, with these other more critical factors making up the difference. From that point forward, I built one of the most robust site selection platforms in the U.S., which allowed me to sell on business intelligence and strategy, rather than brick and mortar. I was able to win against the traditional real estate brokers and take corporate real estate location strategies to the next level.

How was the first year in business?
We started with a small crew of my primary team members who were working off of fold-up tables in an office space I personally guaranteed. The whole operation was self-funded, which is challenging when you are in your early 30’s with two small children at home. If it weren’t for the loyal team that is still with me today, then we would have never been successful.

What was your marketing strategy?
Marketing has evolved to be my true passion. I began as a cold caller and I found that business development just came naturally for me. The ability to connect and build trust with a complete stranger is critical to successful marketing. In the beginning, we did business development the old school way by hiring college graduates to cold call, just like I had done in the beginning. As our business model took off, I took our marketing to a whole other level because I wanted more aggressive growth and the ability to find business development talent was very challenging. So, I decided to practice what I had preached to my call center clients and set up my own call center and simultaneously launched an aggressive online marketing platform. This strategy resulted in Site Selection Group making over 150,000 calls and sending over 2 million emails per year and writing some of the most highly read blog posts on niche topics such as site selection, economic incentive, and real estate strategies.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We have grown at an average of 20% per year for the last 10 years. Our growth has been 100% organic. Our growth was happening naturally for the first five years. However, I really focused on building a more focused strategic growth plan after the Great Recession. That plan caused our business to grow much more rapidly over the last five years. We made the Inc. 5000 list in 2016 as our revenue basically doubled over the previous three years.

How do you define success?
Success is very difficult for me to define. I believe it is a very personal thing that comes in many forms. It is very challenging for me to find daily success due to some of my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I personally strive for perfection in every aspect of my life, so reaching true success always seems so far away, if not impossible.

However, there are a couple of things that make me feel gratified about success. The first is the ability to help others in business, whether it is connecting a capital source to an entrepreneur with an incredible idea or watching an entry-level analyst at my firm work his/her way up to partner level. It is easier for me to see success in others that came as a result of something I did to help. I believe Mr. Trammell Crow had some of the same intentions as he built his firm. He built an incredible platform that allowed entrepreneurs to leverage his platform to become successful. When I attended his funeral and witnessed the amount of people that he inspired and gave opportunities for success, it truly made me feel thankful for the opportunity that his business model provided to me and I have always felt inspired to pass that along.

The second area of success that I have found rewarding is when Site Selection Group helps our clients. We work on some very high-profile global projects ranging from the first U.S. manufacturing plant for Adidas to regional headquarter projects for companies like Liberty Mutual and Medtronic. The feeling of success kicks in when you read the front page of the local newspaper or WSJ that discusses the amount of jobs created and the economic incentives received by one of our clients that we helped locate. This makes me feel like we impacted a lot of things including the community, future employees, and the lives of the daily workers who help to build these facilities. It just makes you feel like a million dollars when you see those articles in the paper.

What is the key to success?
Passion is the key to success. If you have true passion for what you do, then success will come. It is that unbridled passion that enables me to gain the trust of my employees and my clients. It provides me with the ability to wake up every day and fight the battle that I am passionate to win despite the challenges that lie ahead of me.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Focus and hard work pay off. The concept of getting rich quick rarely happens. I focused on a niche industry and spent almost 20 years building on it and expanding on it. I never looked up and I never looked back. It is the constant need for change that will drive you to innovate and differentiate yourself in the marketplace.

What are some of your favorite books?
I am a junkie for business information so The Wall Street Journal and some very niche industry specific news services are my books. It helps me stay on top of the latest industry trends so that I am armed with industry intelligence for my next pitch.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I think the toughest time I had was at the end of the Great Recession. I had never experienced a real recession in my career so this was a very new thing for me. Our business model was doing great when the recession started because we were moving companies to lower cost geographies to help cut their costs. Our revenues kept growing during the early years of the last recession. The toughest time hit at the tail end when there were no more projects and the company was just breaking even. We never lost any money but it sure did feel like it. We were able to hold onto 100% of our staff and this is when I realized I needed some outside help if I was going to be prepared for the next recession. This is when I joined Vistage, a CEO networking and training organization, that helped me realign our strategy for growth and build a better foundation for future growth.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I strongly believe that challenges create opportunities. As a major proponent of change, I am constantly looking for ways to change or improve what we are doing today. If you are doing things the same way you did it last year, then you better get ready for problems. You must always be evolving and dealing with adversity if you want to build a business that can compete and win in today’s highly-competitive marketplace.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
I think there is a real misperception today of what an entrepreneur really is. I think many young people simply think it is coming up with an idea like for an app but fail to ever follow through due to the commitment required. An entrepreneur clearly needs to be able to come up with the concept. However, they also need to be prepared to do what it takes to deliver it to the market. They need to be prepared to figure out how to find the capital, build, and communicate with a team, and most importantly, be dedicated to the long-term implementation of the concept. Getting rich quick is not a reality.

Andy Marshall – Founder & CEO, A. Marshall Family Foods

A Tennessee native, Andy Marshall grew up in the grocery business. At age 26, he purchased his first grocery store – an investment that quickly led to four additional locations, and his being named president of the Tennessee Grocers Association and the Piggly Wiggly Association.

In 1998, Marshall sold those stores and bought Puckett’s, a small grocery store in the village of Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. He launched a formal dinner and music program to enhance the shop and complement the town’s roots.

Today, Marshall has expanded A. Marshall Family Foods Inc. to encompass Puckett’s Gro locations in downtown Franklin, downtown Nashville, downtown Columbia, downtown Chattanooga, and downtown Murfreesboro; Puckett’s Boat House in downtown Franklin; Puckett’s Trolley, the brand’s mobile food venue; Puckett’s Events & Catering; and the multi-layer Homestead Manor property in Thompson’s Station. Scout’s Pub, an upscale modern pub concept, opened in June 2016 in the Franklin community of Westhaven. Each family-owned eatery focuses on providing friends new and old with home-cooked food and Southern hospitality, the Marshall way.

In July 2016, A. Marshall Foods opened Hattie Jane’s Creamery, an artisan ice cream shop adjacent to the Puckett’s Gro. in downtown Columbia, The second location of Hattie Jane’s opened in downtown Murfreesboro, Tenn. alongside the Puckett’s Gro. in early 2017.

Marshall recently signed a lease on a space in the Life & Casualty Tower, a historic downtown Nashville skyscraper located just a block up from the Puckett’s Gro. The Southern steakhouse concept named Deacon’s New South is currently under construction and will open in October 2017.

In 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, A. Marshall Foods was recognized on the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing private companies. The company was also was awarded the Nashville Business Journal’s Best in Business award in 2015.

In 2014, 2015, and 2016, Andy Marshall received the Nashville Business Journal’s Williamson County IMPACT award for the second year in a row. In 2015 and 2016, the publication also recognized him as one of Nashville’s Most Admired CEOs.

In addition to keeping up with his restaurants, Marshall finds time to be involved with his community. He was the president of the Downtown Franklin Association for four years, an executive board member of the Heritage Foundation of Franklin & Williamson County, and a board member of the Williamson County Chamber of Commerce.

He currently serves as the vice president of the Franklin Theatre and is on the board of One Williamson One Chamber. He is also involved in the Franklin High Culinary Arts Program as the culinary advisor. The Puckett’s family of restaurants are all members of the statewide Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association, and Marshall sits on its board and is a member of its Education Scholarship Committee.

Marshall has also won several professional awards including Nashville Business Journal’s 2014, 2015, and 2016 Williamson County Impact Award, Small Business of the Year in Hopkinsville for two years in a row, and the National Spirit of America Award for Entrepreneurship.

Marshall and his wife Jan have been married for 30 years and reside in Franklin, Tenn. They have three children: Claire, Chief Operating Officer for A. Marshall Family Foods, who is married to Tyler Crowell; Emily, an events specialist for Homestead Manor, married to Aaron Barker; and Cliff, who has recently returned to Middle Tennessee to help manage the new Puckett’s Gro. in Murfreesboro.

Tell me about your early career.
My father was in the grocery business, and I grew up learning the inner workings of that industry from the time I was 14. My father bought his first store right before I planned to leave for college at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., so I decided to stay home and work for him for about six months, eventually enrolling at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn., so that I could still help him as much as possible. I knew that working with my dad – and one day owning my own grocery store – was what I wanted to do.

When I launched my own career in the industry at the age of 26, I purchased my first grocery store, a Piggly Wiggly in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and went on to own several stores across Middle Tennessee. In 1998, I decided to go in a different direction, sell my grocery stores, and purchase a hidden gem in the little village of Leiper’s Fork called Puckett’s Grocery.

How did the concept for A. Marshall Family Foods come about?
My family and I ran the first Puckett’s for several years before branching out to start a formal dinner and music program there. That concept took off with locals and visitors alike, and in 2004, I landed an opportunity to open a Puckett’s in my hometown of Franklin, Tenn. about 10 miles from Leiper’s Fork, and we haven’t stopped growing since!

How was the first year in business?
It was awesome. The first year was full of hopes, dreams, and opportunity. It was about cleaning up a business, and setting the path, and all that was very exciting. It was year two when I had to figure out how I was going to make a business out of what I had, as well as how I was going to feed my family. So the first year was all exciting, and figuring out how to get it going.

What was your marketing strategy?
On the front end, it was a “whatever it takes” type of strategy to make the business work. There was nothing we wouldn’t do to keep cash flowing – from selling plants in the spring, selling Christmas trees in the winter, and even deer processing during the hunting season. Then, through our food and music program, we figured out how to keep the locals closer to home and also create a destination that people were willing to drive to.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We had a slow growth the first few years. It was honestly a struggle the first couple of years. It took us about three years to build some traction as we built ourselves as a destination for food and music.

How do you define success?
It’s hard for me to define success because I feel like I’m still building my business and constantly looking for ways to improve, and always looking for what’s next. So it’s hard for me to settle on what’s successful. I’ll tell you when I get there!

What is the key to success?
I think for me, it’s about never letting good get in in the way of great. I’ve always had the attitude that everything matters, and you don’t take anything for granted. The smallest detail matters to your customers. Finally, being excellent is a process, and it’s something you have to work for.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
You can’t do it all by yourself. If I could, then I’d still be getting up at 3:00 AM making biscuits in Leiper’s Fork. I’ve learned that coaching and training others has given me an opportunity to grow with the people we work with. I’m a frog on a fence post, I didn’t get there by myself.

What are some of your favorite books?
The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, The Way of the Shepherd by Kevin Leman and William Pentak, and Discipline Without Punishment by Dick Grote. Currently, I’m reading Rocket Fuel by Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I think probably the toughest days I had was when I decided to leave the grocery business because I was at the pinnacle of my career there. I owned multiple grocery stores, was president of the Tennessee Grocers Association, and I was president of the Nashville Piggly Wiggly Association. Despite my success, I just wasn’t happy and was missing something. So at the age of 35, I sold my businesses and started over in a brand new career. I had a lot of anxiety over what others thought about my decisions in a career change, but ultimately I had to be true to my heart. I’m a people person with a servant’s heart, and I knew this was the right decision for me. Ultimately, I’m better for it and happier with my career in the restaurant business than I ever was in my past career.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I’m extremely competitive and I don’t like to lose. That kind of gets to the core of who I am as an individual. I’m a people pleaser so I always strive to do the right thing, and to do what makes people happy.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Running your own business can’t be a hobby. You will have to give it all you have and then give some more, but when it gets traction and takes off, there is not a greater feeling!

Aaron Weikle – Founder & CEO, MS3

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”

What are some of your favorite books?
The BibleDave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

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.