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.