Rob Braiman – CEO & Managing Member, Cogent Analytics

I have a long-standing reputation as a “serial entrepreneur” and I’ve spent 15 years working directly with business owners to improve strategic planning, operations, growth, and profitability.

I founded Cogent Analytics after spending over 10 years as a senior business analyst helping to improve and build main street businesses across the country. The company has now been ranked for two consecutive years on the Inc. 500/Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in the country and #5 in the state of NC.

I have personally engaged with over 1,700 businesses across the United States and I continue my work to further the interests of other business owners like myself. The mission of Cogent Analytics is to bring tools of better management, organization, and profitability to privately-held, small- to mid-sized businesses, and to deliver our services with integrity and transparency.

Cogent’s primary objective, in every interaction, is to put the interests of the client first. In support of that directive, I’ve built a company culture based on a code of honor, courage, wisdom, faith, perseverance, and loyalty. The foundation of my value system started in the U.S. Military as a young man serving with SOCOM, and my deeply-rooted personal code is what I demand of myself every day; and is what I ask the employees of Cogent to embrace. Service to others under this code is at the very core of the entrepreneurial spirit and of which is a foundational pillar at Cogent.

I support former military members during their transition to civilian life and It’s a privilege to help them discover the value of their military experience as they seek employment and find success in the business world.

A husband of 24 years and a father of two, I stand committed to my family, my community, and to my employees and clients.

How did the concept for Cogent Analytics come about?
I had been in the industry for more than eleven years working as an analyst for another consulting firm. I was doing quite well with them, however, I saw things that needed to be changed as far as their policies, how they treated clients, and their overall business philosophy. I did not agree with the way they conducted business and could not abide by their way of doing things. I knew I could do a better job in delivering a service that was based on integrity and transparency, both of which were lacking not only in this previous company but throughout the industry. I always believed that there could be a small business consultancy that put the interests of the clients first, and I wanted to build a team of individuals that could honor that basic mission. I wanted to serve clients the way I would like to be treated, and I knew that if I stood by that philosophy, then I would stand out in the industry and be successful. But more importantly, the small business owner would be treated fairly and would receive the genuine help and advice they deserved. There is no better feeling than knowing that you helped turn a business around, saved a family from losing their business, or helped a couple regain some life balance in their relationship. Small businesses are the backbone of this country, and they are probably one of the most underserved segments in our economy. I am honored to be able to help serve other people.

How was the first year in business?
Cogent Analytics started on April 22nd, 2014 and became an individual consultancy firm with an office space no larger than 1200 square feet. We started with six members in our first year and we grew to 25 or 30 members by the end of December. Of course, we faced several challenges ranging from process development and developing measurements in KPIs, to configuring our financial metrics. We also had to develop the framework for our organization and for the day to day reporting and process both in product deliverable as well as internal management. Our consultancy didn’t even have a website within our first ten days of operation. However, because I had already developed the front end of the business development team and the BDC team, the next real challenge after we opened the doors was finding analysts and project developers that could review companies and do the work.

What was your marketing strategy?
I didn’t have a formal marketing strategy. I view marketing as one facet of business development which includes both the selling efforts, incorporates human resources into the active approach to market, and the marketing meant to support our brand. In our overarching business development strategy, we have both an inside and outside sales team who work collaboratively to initiate a discovery (a comprehensive analysis, both qualitative and quantitative, of a client’s business). However, in regard to a marketing strategy, marketing was woven into every aspect of what we did. My first step was establishing my company name, an official logo, and a strong message of integrity and transparency – something I thought was lacking in other consulting firms. I established our difference from the beginning. These items provided a grounding foundation from which we could build from. It also established me and my company as a viable entity and a trusted service in the minds of prospective clients. From there, my go-to marketing strategy, in the beginning, was literally making phone calls and going from door to door to introduce my service and never giving up. When I was able to help one client, I could usually get two more and so on.  Each client that I was able to help was also happy to refer someone they knew, but most importantly, they trusted me. Additionally, an important aspect of marketing strategy is persistently and consistently adding content and material in all facets of marketing to provide small business owners with solutions. Through the understanding of those solutions, clients will seek us out for assistance, since we produced the solutions, and then choose to do business with Cogent Analytics. It is also important to implement this marketing strategy into the prime markets that we have identified whether it is mature market or expansion market, and we incorporate into our marketing strategy web-based platforms including creating a website, case studies, blog articles, podcasts, or broadcasts. Ultimately, it was the initial message of integrity and transparency that I delivered in everything I did, or said, that provided in the end. In short, my marketing strategy was simply to do what I said I would do and deliver it in the way that I said I would. I “walked the talk.”

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We just crossed over our fifth full year in service. We had made, by our third full year, the Inc. 500 list at #233 in the country and #5 in the state of North Carolina. Subsequently, we have made the Inc. 5000 list each year thereafter. The Inc. 5000 list is a measurement of growth, and many people were surprised that any organization could grow at the speed by which we’ve been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. It was a slow build, and I employed the help of a small circle of six people who could help build our client base faster. But when you measure success by the quality of your service offering, and the quality of your people and processes, then revenue takes care of itself. Currently, we are actively operating in 22 states and we have done business in 27 states. Strategically, over the course of the next three years, we will be in all fifty states by the end of 2022.

How do you define success?
To me, success isn’t measured based on how big Cogent can grow, it is truly measured by the success of our clients. Accordingly, the definition of success is what our clients say it is, based on what we can do on behalf of others. You can see this in every video testimonial or letter. What gets me up and out of bed each day is the knowledge that I am going to help another small business succeed. However, it isn’t always just about the business either. It might involve saving a family from perhaps going under or repairing the strained relationships within a family business, and it extends out to the employees and to their families as well. In the end, it is less about the aspects of business and more about the resulting effects from helping people. For example, I think our greatest success story comes from a client who we first helped in early 2015. When we met them, they were a $5 million company. Today, they have brought us back in to do a whole other body of work, and they have grown to become a $17 million company. It is a rewarding experience when we can profoundly impact the American small business owner to the point where they are not only taking market share under their own accord, but they are running it better, they are more profitable, and they have been able to afford jobs in their communities. This is the impact Cogent Analytics has on not just the business owner, but also on the overall macro-economy. I think small business owners represent a large share of the macro-economy, usually underserviced, and we want to help a client who is underperforming and undercapitalizing and turn them into a performing entity. This leaves an important impact on the overarching community, whether it be in the form of jobs or increasing the equity of our client’s value.

What is the key to success?
My key to success, and what I impart to business owners, is having a vision and keeping that vision in focus no matter what trials and tribulations you face. Also, sharing your vision continuously with others so that everyone is moving in the same direction and are included in that success. However, just as important is how you achieve your vision. I firmly believe in standing true to conducting business in an honorable and ethical way at all times. When actions speak louder than words, it will always benefit you, your business, and gain the respect of both your team and your clients. The emphasis is not on how fast we can get there, but on whether we are doing it right. To truly find a “Superbowl” team, at the bare minimum, we need to hire and recruit people who can perform to the minimum standard and the overarching mission and goal of Cogent Analytics. This is probably the hardest task of building any business. Mediocrity, or hiring people who don’t necessarily align with a vision or mission, leads to the entire company underperforming. For us, we’ve been very process-driven. At every element of the firm, our process is what drives training, it’s what drives adherence to standard, and it’s what drives the measurables of performance. The long-term benefit is that we can scale the company appropriately without posing a risk to our clients or human resources.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Human resources will rarely see things the same way as a leader’s perspective. People hear the mission and the vision from the leader but will execute based on their own interpretation if the leader is not careful with being consistent with their vision and expectations. Human resources gaps, where people were either mispositioned or put into a position beyond their level of competency, always causes the system to fail. The greatest lesson I’ve learned is how to develop leaders and how to remind leaders that as they develop people, they should be recruiting and consistently training people who can operate on the team, aligned with, and collaborating with, every other member of the team.

What are some quotes that you live by?
More than a quote is my code of ethics that I live by. Born from my military experience, I have carried this through to both my personal life as well as how I conduct business. These ethics are: Honor, Courage, Wisdom, Faith, Perseverance, and Loyalty. Living by these standards, and encouraging them in others, has helped build lasting relationships both personally and professionally. Afterall, “Business IS Personal.”

What are some of your favorite books?
As for books, E-Myth Mastery and The E-Myth Revisited are both great books for small business owners. The books closely reflect what I have experienced personally, and also what most of my clients are experiencing in some form or another. I share the thought with Michael Gerber of making the distinction of working on your business versus working in your business.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I place great trust in my team. There are tough decisions that need to be made every day, but one of the toughest involves people. I want everyone to succeed and achieve their dreams, but one of the most difficult situations to face is when someone breaks that trust. I believe everyone has good intentions, but people can also lose their way and make unwise choices. I also believe in second chances when warranted. One of my toughest days occurred when I had to let someone go who I had placed unwavering trust in, and they broke that trust and acted in an unethical way. The Cogent team is like a family and the overall decision had to be made once it transcended beyond my personal feeling and affected the face of Cogent (and therefore everyone working here). “Walking the Talk” in delivering services with integrity and transparency is what made Cogent Analytics, and this needs to be upheld in making decisions on my journey. It sounds tough in theory, and it is even tougher to execute.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
First, I remind myself of my vision and all that I want to achieve. Then, I look around at the growth of Cogent Analytics and the incredible team of people who are also committed to the vision and are 100% fully dedicated team members. I am both honored and humbled. There is both a sense of great responsibility for the team and also a great source of strength that I gain from them as well. My biggest priority is reflecting on the many business owners and extended families that we have helped, and continue to help, who absolutely keep me energized while continuing my journey. Additionally, I am also motivated by the people here who are able to help keep the company moving forward. It is easy to become distracted by an individual who causes strife, as it is usually not the group itself but individuals from within the group who create problems. It is easy to forget that, for the most part, everyone is invested and focused, even when the hardship of the bad individual takes hold.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Always establish a vision: don’t lose sight of it and keep moving no matter what. Keep learning at every turn, stay true to your beliefs, and always act in an honorable and ethical way. Conducting business in this way is more sustainable. This will shine through and ensure your long-term growth and resulting prosperity. Others will want to align themselves with you especially as you attain greater success. Additionally, plan for everything, but most especially working capital. Being able to start a business is rarely the cost of all the assets and equipment that you need to buy and the first people you hire. Instead, the bills you must pay, starting from the first month when you don’t have any revenue coming in, are the true cost of getting started. That’s why most small businesses fail within the first twelve to 24 months: a lack of planning, preparation, and understanding of what it takes to get a business off the ground. Plan for how much revenue you’re going to bring in, plan for how much profit you intend to make, plan on how much debt you’re going to incur, and plan on which people you need to hire. Moreover, plan on what cost or unique expenditures you must make and invest in so that you can do your job. Please learn the financial elements of running a business because this becomes the foundation for everything that you’re going to do.