Staci Redmon – President & CEO, SAMS

Staci L. Redmon is the president and CEO of Strategy and Management Services, Inc. (SAMS), an award-winning SBA 8(a) program participant, verified SDVOSB, EDWOSB, SBA-certified SDB small business, WBENC and Commonwealth of Virginia SWaM-certified company. SAMS provides back office support and building services for federal agencies, state and local governments, and commercial buyers who want high-quality services with the high-touch of a client-focused small business.

As a United States Army veteran and a successful leader with over thirty years of demonstrated success, Staci has been delivering innovative services and solutions to government and commercial agencies since 2008. Today, SAMS ranks among the top small businesses in the D.C. metro region. SAMS has grown to over 125 employees in 26 locations throughout the United States and internationally.

SAMS has been listed on Washington Technology’s Fast 50 list for three sequential years for the company’s exponential growth, in addition to being recognized by Inc. Magazine’s 500/5000 list as one of the fastest-growing companies in America for two years in a row. SAMS was recently awarded a Meritorious Veteran Owned Business Award by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

Staci is also a winner of the 2016 Enterprising Women of the Year Award, ranked as #14 on the Women Presidents Organization’s (WPO) 50 Fastest Growing Women-Owned/Led Companies worldwide, and was selected as the 2016 U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)’s Small Business Person of the Year representing Northern Virginia. Most recently, she was selected as the Woman Vetrepreneur of the Year by the National Veteran-Owned Business Association (NaVOBA) and as a Minority Business Leader award winner by the Washington Business Journal.

In addition to her professional achievements, Staci is committed to actively furthering SAMS’ mission to make a difference within the local community. In 2014, she founded SAMS Cares, the charitable division of SAMS, in order to encourage employees across the country to regularly volunteer, by focusing on community service and social awareness. SAMS Cares gives back through various projects, including a job fair for veterans, participating in Wreaths Across America, annual school supply and clothing drives, volunteering with Easter Seals’ Respite Program, and participating in the AFCEA 5K run/walk where proceeds were donated to the veteran’s education fund.

Staci holds a BS in Computer Information Systems, an MBA with a concentration in acquisition, and a graduate certificate in procurement and federal contracts management. In addition, Staci is a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program.

Tell me about your early career.
I’ve always been very non-traditional in every way. I did very well in high school, an honor student, but my senior year I got pregnant. As a single mom, I needed healthcare for my daughter and stability. Growing up in a military family, I knew that following in their footsteps would be my best career choice.

At seventeen, I joined the Army. When you join the Army, you take a critical skills test, and based upon your math scores and analytical skills, they make a recommendation for you. They came back with an administrative clerk, obviously because I was a woman. I told them if I was going to go away and make this sacrifice, then I needed to do something that I would not do under normal circumstances. So, they came back with tactical satellite microwave system operator. I said, “Hey, now that sounds great.” So, that’s what I picked.

I spent six years in the Army until an injury abruptly ended my service. I then worked for the U.S. government as a civil servant in several capacities. However, my husband was in the Army as well and the constant moves made it challenging to keep a steady career. I knew I needed stability so, despite having three small children, I went back to school full-time studying computer electronics and later a bachelor’s in computer science, which led to a career with aerospace company, TRW.

How did the concept for SAMS come about?
After over 30 years of federal service in the United States Army, as a civil servant and an industry contractor, I sat in a meeting in which I watched critical warfighter systems that our troops desperately needed be denied funding. As a veteran, I knew the drastic consequences that would result. I couldn’t simply stand by and do nothing to help, so I focused on designing a company that measures its impact not on the bottom line alone, but on how it makes a difference to its people, its clients, and the community.

How was the first year in business?
When I first founded SAMS, I funded it with my 401(k). When you’re at the beginning stages of your business, you’re learning how to be an entrepreneur. How do we get to the first $10,000? How do we find the first five clients that are going to keep the business going? How do we identify those first employees? Those are classical challenges for small-business owners.

Even before I started hiring a team that I was responsible for, I wanted to make sure I got my business established and running smoothly by focusing on building strong connections with others in the industry. In order to do this, I spent over a year meeting with entrepreneurs, contracting officers, and anyone with experience who could share wisdom and advice with me. As soon as I felt I knew everything I needed to know and was prepared for every challenge, I dived in and founded SAMS.

By taking the time to lay the infrastructure and get the house in order, I was able to quickly position SAMS towards success, particularly in going after the 8(a) program. The SBA will tell you that a business can’t apply for the 8(a) program until you’ve been in business for 24 months, but we got our 8(a) status long before the 24-month point because we were able to demonstrate our strong business case and capabilities.

I built a relationship with a contracting officer who wrote the SBA and told them if SAMS had its 8(a), she would contract with us that day. The day I went to the 8(a) program orientation, I was immediately contacted by a contracting officer interested in working with SAMS. So, SAMS instantly started with work and flourished in the 8(a) program. Once we landed on our feet and continued to tell our story and build relationships, the work just kept coming in.

What was your marketing strategy?
Originally, our marketing strategy was all about getting SAMS’ name visible and easily recognizable through participation in numerous networking events and by getting involved with local chambers of commerce and organizations that aid small start-up businesses. I personally attended as many events as my busy schedule could handle, and I encouraged my team members to get involved as well.

My strategy today has evolved dramatically. As an established company, SAMS’ name and brand are easily identified throughout the community. Our focus now is on lead generation and establishing our company as a subject matter expert through social media and other digital media platforms, as well as through sponsorships at large industry events.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Once SAMS was off the ground, the company grew at a rapid pace. Starting with only one employee in 2008, SAMS grew to 32 employees in 2011 and then to 95 in 2013. After just three short years in business, SAMS was earning almost $2 million in revenue. SAMS continued to thrive and successfully achieved a compound annual growth rate of 199% in 2014. Additionally, SAMS has ranked on Washington Technology’s Fast 50 list, for exponential revenue growth every year since 2014.

How do you define success?
Our success is defined by how we’ve made a difference at the end of the day for our clients and employees.

What is the key to success?
SAMS’ success was really all about setting up the company infrastructure before hiring employees and taking on work. There were setbacks along the way, but through the connections I had made and the knowledge I’d acquired, we were able to overcome every challenge we faced and come out even stronger than before.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I realized very quickly in the beginning that I could not do everything on my own. I also learned how vital it is to hire the right people. Once you hire that first employee, it’s time to start hiring other talent employees to help you build the company infrastructure. I am extremely selective about who joins the SAMS team so that I can carefully ensure that each employee fits within our company and client culture. I’ve found that employees who are hired on with a first-hand, depth of experience, such as veterans and their families, are critical to bringing the best-in-service and expertise to clients, particularly in the government sector.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Everything you can imagine is real.”- Pablo Picasso
“People do business with people they know, like and trust.”
I’m a firm believer in relationships because I’ve seen their power. And I was always appreciative that anyone would give their time because it’s a precious resource.

What are some of your favorite books?
My recent favorite book is Start with Why by Simon Sinek.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
My toughest day was in August 2014. The government unexpectedly cancelled an awarded contract which reduced my employee population from 90 to 30 employees, overnight. Additionally, the “sequestration” and “government shutdown” in 2014 impacted SAMS’ revenue stream significantly, resulting in large-scale challenges company-wide for my team.

When faced with these massive challenges, I stayed true to my mission and quickly guided SAMS to recovery. In just four short months, SAMS won new contracts, grew revenue, and increased overall employee count, positioning us for robust future growth.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Every setback is a learning opportunity. When we run into a problem at SAMS, we evaluate the entire process that may have caused the problem and identify what it was that went wrong. We then work together to create a remedy that prevents the problem from ever recurring. At SAMS, problems won’t knock us down, they make us stronger. As soon as we’ve created the solution, we get right back out, better and more successfully.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Take everything that you know and apply it to the decisions you make every day. You may make the wrong choice sometimes, but that’s how you learn. Ask yourself what you learned from your mistakes. The more you learn, the more informed you’ll be to make better decisions the next time.

Find someone to talk to and who has been there before. There will be times when you’ll doubt yourself and you’ll have days when you just want to quit, but don’t quit. It does get better.

Dennis Dimka – Founder & CEO, Uptime Legal Systems

Dennis Dimka is the founder and CEO of Uptime Legal Systems, North America’s leading provider of technology, cloud, and marketing services to law firms.

Dennis started Uptime as a general-practice IT service provider in 2005. Over Uptime’s first decade, Dennis grew Uptime from a geographic-generalist to a national specialist, honing Uptime Legal’s focus to nationwide cloud services to law firms. Uptime Legal has also been an Inc. 5000 fastest-growing private company for three consecutive years.

Dennis is the author of Law Office in the Cloud: How and Why to Move your Law Firm to the Cloud, The Law Firm Cybersecurity Survival Guide, and was also an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2016 finalist.

Tell me about your early career.
I began my career in IT, first in technical support, then as a network administrator. Working with outside IT consultants, I thought “I can do that,” and started Uptime as a pure play IT consultancy.

How was the first year in business?
Uptime’s very first year was strong. My initial goals were conservative: to make more money than I did at the job I had left. In year one, I accomplished this and then some, and Uptime continued to grow rapidly, and profitably.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Uptime (then Uptime Systems) evolved pretty quickly from a pure consulting firm to a IT managed service provider (MSP). To be proactively innovative, in 2008, I refocused the company to build and deliver cloud services.

By 2012, Uptime Systems was roughly half IT provider, half cloud provider, and all generalist – no specialization or vertical focus. We were growing year-over-year, and profitable along the way. But we were still a relatively-unknown, small company. We began to realize that cloud computing, as a service-provider business model, was the future. It broke down the walls that limited our market to where our engineers could travel.

But in this new, larger market, our new cloud computing rivals were beginning to make the same realization (and they were bigger and better-funded than us). We knew we had to remain one step ahead of them, or be lost in obscurity.

It was time for Uptime to truly stand on its own two feet, and throw down the gauntlet. And to do that, I knew we needed to specialize. Specifically, it was to go vertical. Our chosen vertical was the legal industry. Over the years, we had developed the expertise and the contacts within the legal technology sector enough to deliver our best-in-class cloud computing services to law firms.

So, we made the leap and went all-in on cloud computing in the legal market. Fast forward to today, and Uptime Legal has grown to become the #1 provider of cloud services to law firms, and has expanded its portfolio of offerings into legal document management and legal marketing.

What was your marketing strategy?
In its early stages, Uptime grew namely from Internet marketing. The Internet is a great equalizer. It can give small businesses the image of a large company. Internet marketing gives small players a seat at the “big boy table.” Internet marketing helped launch Uptime in its early phases, and remains a major part of our marketing engine today.

How do you define success?
In a phrase, I define success as, and measure success in, growth and profit. I want my company to grow and to profit. I want our clients to grow and to profit with us. I also want our employees to grow as professionals and profit along the way, in order to get something back from their time here at Uptime.

To summarize my own personal definition, success is growing as an entrepreneur, profiting from your hard work, and helping others do the same along the way.

What is the key to success?
I think there are many keys to success, but in my own personal experience, there are a three primary ones:

1. Strategic planning – Whatever the stage of your company or endeavor is, have a plan. Your plan should include big picture and long-term goals, medium-term goals, down to monthly and even weekly goals. Your daily, weekly, and monthly goals should align to your annual goals which should align to your long-term goals.

Your plan should include specific metrics you use to measure success (or lack thereof). Whether it be revenue growth, deals closed per month, client retention, or projects completed, you should establish some critical numbers, establish what’s good, okay, and bad for each, and work towards and manage to these critical numbers.

2. Laser focus – You need to laser-focus on not only your strategic plan and your goals, but also laser focus on:
A) Who you are (and aren’t)
B) Who you’re trying to serve (and who you aren’t)
C) What services you provide (and what you don’t)

Crisply defining your core values, your target market, your offerings, and your value proposition this way makes other decisions (and distractions) easier to deal with. You have a sort of “business constitution” to hold every decision against.

This laser-focus keeps your efforts aligned with your strategic plan but helps you avoid chasing shiny objects (distractions not in alignment with your strategic plan). It also keeps your business out of AFAB (Anything For A Buck) mode, and makes your business scalable.

3. Structure and rhythm – Once you have a strategic plan that you’re laser-focused on, you need to implement an effective structure and rhythm to execute on it. A regular rhythm and routine to understand your business’ key metrics, to check in with your key leaders, to understand where the bottlenecks, risk and opportunities are. Your management rhythm should mirror and be centered around your strategic plan.

To really put these three components together in an accretive way, I recommend every entrepreneur, CEO, or business leader implement a business operating system, such as the Rockefeller Habits or Traction/EOS. My company uses the former.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
It’s hard to just single out one big lesson. Along the way, I’ve definitely learned (and re-learned) lots of smaller lessons:
1) You can’t know enough people.
2) You can’t do anything with an enemy.
3) Be financially disciplined and profitable now, or else “later” will never come.
4) Run towards your problems, not away from them.
5) Avoid AFAB, and go for opportunities with tonnage.
6) Stay laser focused, on your numbers and your plan.

What are some of your favorite books?
Without a doubt, books that have changed my outlook, how I work, and how I live are:
Rework by Jason Fried
Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki

And for fun:
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin
The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Sometimes, I think the answer is the desire to win. To be the biggest, the best. I hate losing (almost as much as I love winning), so when faced with adversity of any type or size, I work hard to be the smartest and fight the hardest.

Ultimately, though, what really pushes me to keep moving forward is my family. My wife and two children. They push me, support me, and inspire me to press forward, to be the best version of me possible.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Apart from my take on the keys for success above, the advice I’d give new young (or old) entrepreneurs are:

1. If you’re still considering whether or not to leave the (illusion of) safety of a job and chart your own path, do it. Start a company. Take the leap of faith (remember Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises? Climb without the rope).

2. As you build your business, build it to scale it. Develop your strategic plan. Operationalize everything. Make every process a documented, repeatable one. This is not only a good discipline to have, but it makes growing your business possible at each stage in your company’s growth.

3. Surround yourself with great people. People who are hungry and who are smart. They’ll not only help support your own growth trajectory, but will also inspire you and give you new perspectives and insight.

Pat Sheridan – Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Modus Create

Pat Sheridan is co-founder and managing partner of Modus Create, a product studio that helps companies turn product development into competitive advantage. Founded in 2011, Modus Create has been recognized by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest-growing private companies in 2015 and 2016, helping firms such as UNIQLO and Genentech with digital transformation. An active member of the DCTech community, he is a frequent mentor for Lean Startup Machine and Startup Weekend events and co-organizer of the NoVa.JS and NYC.JS Meetups. He received his MBA from Georgetown University, where he is currently an Entrepreneur-in-Residence, and holds a BFA from the Corcoran College of the Arts and Design, where he serves on the strategic advisory council.

Tell me about your early career.
I did a lot of art and design freelancing in my early twenties and focused on large scale out door murals. I ended up working for a design architect for three years before jumping into a design leadership role in a startup in the late 90s. I was fortunate to find myself in roles where I was able to learn and be trusted with a decent amount of responsibility to deliver. I was lucky to have some very accomplished mentors early on who trained me on a way of approaching problems and designing solutions that continues to pay dividends in my career.

How did the concept for Modus Create come about?
After working in startups and consulting firms for ten years, I found myself gravitating towards open source software projects. I wanted to build a company based on the dynamics found in the open source world: outcome-oriented, highly distributed, talent first teams.

I saw many large companies struggling to adapt to a digital first economy and the related business model disruption it caused them. The opportunity existed for us to offer a blend of design thinking, emerging technology, and management consulting to bridge the gap in enterprise digital transformation.

How was the first year in business?
As a bootstrapped firm, our first year was an exciting roller coaster ride. We operated with no overhead and focused on adding one client and one employee at a time. We grew from one to ten employees and did about $1 million in revenue.

What was your marketing strategy?
Our strategy was (and is) to be active, visible, and relevant, in the emerging technology communities that our customer turn to for answers to difficult problems. We published two books, started several meetups on the east coast, and started a very popular engineering blog. We have strong technology channel partners that our services model complements nicely.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Faster than we expected or planned. We’ve grown at about a 50% compounded annual growth rate since founding and have been recognized on the Inc. 5000 every year since we became eligible.

How do you define success?
I used to think success was a finish line, but now I think of it as a “way” – a set of healthy habits and routines that increase your likelihood for growth, both personally and professionally.

What is the key to success?
Willpower, discipline, self-reliance, and a strong peer group.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Sacrifice is good when working on something important, but you have to know when to stop sacrificing and tend to the things you’ve abandoned during the pursuit.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Follow your bliss, most men live lives of quiet desperation.”
“An engineer can do for $1 what any idiot can do for $2.”
“Always make decisions in the best interest of the business.”

What are some of your favorite books?
Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman
Siddhartha – Hermann Hesse
Pyramid – David Macaulay

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
A few years ago, we shut down a software product company we were spinning out of Modus and had two large clients fall way behind on their accounts. In a matter of days, my co-founder and I had to realign our core business for success. This required a series of hard transitions and staff changes that were great for the long-term success of the firm but very challenging to convey to staff on the ground.

All executive compensation and discretionary spending were suspended while we worked to resolve our cash flow and client receivables. Incorporating the learnings from that difficult time have paid huge dividends in the years since.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
How you respond to failure, and anger, dictates a lot about how much success you can achieve. I try to translate the anger or frustration into positive directions. I feel very strongly that you have to approach times of uncertainty very differently than those in which your goal is clear. You must work hard during down times to build strength for when your next opportunity presents itself.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Don’t become a slave to your business – keep a great personal health and wellness routine and protect your time to recharge and stay connected to friends and family jealously.

Join a peer mentorship group to help you work through work/personal challenges and keep you honest.

Never stop learning. Share what you know. Stay open to new ideas.

Tony Safoian – President & CEO, SADA Systems

As President and CEO of SADA Systems, Tony Safoian firmly believes that technology can empower people to transform their world. To this end, he places innovation at the core of the business model, coupled with exceptional customer support and managed services. Under Safoian’s guidance, SADA has differentiated itself by proactively addressing a rapidly evolving market across enterprise, SMB, government and education sectors, while creating transformational value for customers.

Safoian has transformed SADA Systems from a small, family-owned business into one of the world’s top business and technology consultancy and cloud services brokerage firms. Joining a prestigious list of Microsoft National Solutions Providers in 2013 and becoming a Google Cloud Premier Partner in 2014, SADA enhanced its suite of product offerings, solutions and services providing consultative, deployment, change management and cloud managed services. Safoian’s continuous drive for innovation and growth has led SADA Systems to develop cutting-edge applications such as Atom, providing asset management and analytics capabilities for transportation departments and related agencies.

Tony earned his BA in Philosophy and Management from University of California at Irvine, and an MBA from the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.

Tell me about your early career.
My first job out of college was with a startup technology company that sold event tickets, like to ballgames and concerts, online. I worked in the marketing department but always had an interest in technology. After a year at the startup, I decided to join the business my parents had recently founded. The company, SADA Systems, was helping organizations find and use the latest and greatest technology systems. Culturally and otherwise, helping the family business was always the right thing to do in my heart and mind.

How did the concept for SADA Systems come about?
Growing up in Los Angeles, we always had high-tech computers and printers in our home. As a child, I spent countless hours tinkering with them, taking them apart and putting them back together, over and over again. I recall teaching my mother how to use a graphic design application, which she would turn into a career, eventually founding a company called Grafxworx.

In the late 1990s, my father was working as the head of IT for a business management firm he had started with a partner. Meanwhile, my mother was running her graphic design firm. Sensing an opportunity to build something bigger for himself and his family, my father split with his partner and founded SADA in 2000. The company was focused on writing customer software for small businesses. I joined about six months later, fixing computers and setting up basic networks for clients. In 2003, SADA and Grafxworx merged, creating SADA Systems. I was named president and CEO.

How was the first year in business?
Our first year in business was full of trial and error. What we lacked in experience, we would make up for in hard work and a commitment to customer success. From the start, we were firm believers in the notion that technology could transform every aspect of a company. However, in order to help our clients leverage the latest computer systems, we knew we had to become experts in the technology itself, as well as the processes by which companies find, buy, and adopt technology solutions. We anticipated a wild ride ahead, and we set our minds and resources to overcoming obstacles.

What was your marketing strategy?
“Strategy” is the wrong word. We were relentless, persistent. We knocked on every door and turned over every rock. We made sure that every project we took on became a success story, which inevitably led to referrals. Initially, we focused on the local market in and around Los Angeles. We got to know the people at the Chamber of Commerce, and made sure they were aware of the great work we were doing for clients. We delivered great customer service and referral business reflected that, and we still continue make exceptional service a top priority.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Our growth was slow and steady in the early years. We took risks but they were calculated. We watched every penny and reinvested in the business. In 2006/2007, we became acutely aware of the paradigm shift in technology to cloud computing. We recognized immediately the opportunity to establish SADA as a leader in this space, and followed up by training our people on the model and establishing partnerships with cloud computing pioneers, like Google and Microsoft. Over the past decade, with cloud technology as the wind in our sails, SADA has grown more than 40 percent every year.

How do you define success?
I’ve always said that we will only be as successful as our clients. When they achieve their business goals with our help, everyone wins. This goes back to my belief that technology has the power to transform organizations and truly improve people’s lives. This isn’t a marketing slogan: We’ve literally worked on projects for clients that have enabled people to live happier, healthier and more productive lives. We’re also proud of the business we’ve created, and the positive impact that our employees continue to have on our community.

What is the key to success?
For me, there are three things. First, I believe it’s important to be critical of oneself. In business, especially when you’ve had a little success, it’s easy to get a big head. I make it a point to evaluate my interactions with people and the contributions I’ve made in order to understand how I can be more helpful and thoughtful. Second, never lose sight of what a customer or partner wants – and then over-deliver. We know that our clients and partners have options when it comes to technology services vendors. Success for us is making sure they never feel the need to consider anyone else. And finally, success is about doing something you love, for which there is great demand, day in and day out.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Surround yourself with the best people you can find. And don’t be afraid to delegate – that’s why you hired great people! Also, don’t let people who are not in your shoes determine what is best for you. When the outcome of a decision has the ability to impact your career or livelihood, take control. At the end of the day, make sure that you are in charge of your destiny.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Stay hungry, stay humble” and “Luck equals opportunity plus preparedness.”

What are some of your favorite books?
Softwar: An Intimate Portrait of Larry Ellison and Oracle by Larry Ellison and Matthew Symonds

Tribal Leadership
by Dave Logan

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
by Stephen R. Covey

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
When I was just beginning in business, I had a tendency to take things too personally. If a client, partner, or employee was disappointed, I felt personally responsible, even if I wasn’t. Over the years, I’ve learned that “tough” days are really just opportunities to learn. How can we, as an organization, improve the situation? By taking the approach that most problems can be solved through teamwork, knowledge, and persistence, I’ve been able to power through many challenging business situations.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I am obsessed with the art of what’s possible. To me, that means shoot for the stars in everything I do, and approach every situation with an open mind. I feel a deep sense of accountability to our clients, partners and employees, and I strive everyday to deliver on SADA’s commitment to helping them achieve their goals – both professionally and personally. It sounds cliche, but as an organization, we take very seriously the notion of “pushing the envelope.” We are constantly trying to figure out what is over that next hill, and how to get there as quickly and thoughtfully as possible.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Do something you’re passionate about, with a keen eye toward what the market needs. Then, be consistent. To be successful in business, you must be committed to the process. Work hard and enjoy the journey, because being the best takes time.

Erika Flora – Founder & President, BEYOND20

Erika started her career as a microbiologist turned project manager and has always had a passion for improving how companies manage work and serve their customers. She founded BEYOND20 in 2006.

Through the company’s growth, Erika has given back to the community as an adjunct professor of project management at San Diego State University (SDSU) as well as a board member and volunteer with a number of professional and charitable organizations. She holds a master’s degree from the University of Florida and is a prolific writer and presenter on a variety of technical and business topics. When she’s not at work, you’re likely to find Erika at improv class.

Tell me about your early career.
I grew up in Florida and studied microbiology at the University of Florida (go Gators!). I worked as a microbiologist for a few years and decided it wasn’t for me. Through some happy accidents, I ended up working as a project manager in the pharmaceutical industry and absolutely loved it. While working as a PM, I got the opportunity to lead an enterprise-wide software initiative and organizational transformation effort. It was a huge success, and I was hooked. Since that time, I’ve worked with several companies to change and improve the way they work.

How did the concept for BEYOND20 come about?
The name BEYOND20 came from a Gartner research study that looked at root cause when mission-critical IT systems failed. What they found was that 20% of the time, it was due to failures in hardware, software, and natural disasters. A surprising 80% of the time, it was due to failures in people and process. That’s what we are passionate about – fixing the people and the process issues. Essentially, going beyond the 20%. We do that through training, consulting, and technology.

How was the first year in business?
The first year of a business is always a bit bumpy. It was spent figuring out our products, services, pricing, and messaging, and convincing our first few customers to take a chance on us.

What was your marketing strategy?
Since the beginning, we have always set ourselves up as the thought leaders in IT service management and project management. We have done this through lots of writing and speaking, and we continue to do so today. The reason is that, ultimately, people do business with those they know, like, and trust; and we find lots of different ways for people get to know us, whether it be with our podcast, YouTube videos, or our blog.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
In a small company, things never happen as quickly as we would like. However, each year since our inception, we have grown in revenue. Recently, we have experienced rapid growth and have made Inc. 5000’s list of fastest-growing private companies for the last three years.

How do you define success?
For me, success is continuing to learn and grow individually and as a company. However, success is not permanent. You must always continue to chase after it.

What is the key to success?
The key to success is to always move forward. Be open to failure, move past it quickly, and figure out how to improve.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I’ve learned so many lessons along the way. Here are a few that are top of mind:
• Culture beats strategy every time. If you foster a great environment, your people will kick butt.
• With a bit of creativity and resourcefulness, you can and will beat much larger, better-funded companies.

What are some quotes that you live by?
I’m a devourer of quotes and books. Here are a few of my current favorites:
“One becomes bold by doing bold things.” – Anonymous
“Obstacles are not the barriers to the path, they are the path.” – via @marissalevin

What are some of your favorite books?
I like these books on networking: Debra Fine’s The Fine Art of Small Talk, Keith Ferazzi’s book Never Eat Alone, and Harvey Mackay’s Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty. A good leader reads, a lot.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
There’s a lot of tough days. It would be hard to pick just one. However, whenever I face a tough day, I have to remind myself that the bad always comes with the good. You learn not to get too excited with the good or get too discouraged with the bad because it’s an ebb and flow. You must, however, be sure to celebrate accomplishments within your organization. Most companies don’t do that enough. We actually have champagne on hand and take time to celebrate our achievements with the entire team.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
What keeps me going is the fact that we do work that matters. We change lives – we train people to be far better at their jobs and give them tools to improve. We help companies see the forest, not just the trees, come up with an actionable strategic plan, and solve some of their most nagging problems. We give leadership teams – many times for the first time – visibility into their organization and the ability to make decisions based on data they can trust. When you lose sight of your “why,” it’s easy to get discouraged.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
If you’re starting out as an entrepreneur, you’re going to get a lot of advice on what to do and what not to do, but remember: you are the one risking it all, no one else. You certainly want to listen to other entrepreneurs who have “been there and done that,” but you must find your own way. The best advice I heard when starting out is this: in business, think of it like walking down a long hall with lots of doors on both sides. The temptation is always to turn, open a door, and walk through it. You can, but when you do, your business fundamentally changes, and you must make sure you’re okay with doing so.