Are You Your Biggest Obstacle?
An Interview with Entrepreneur Jeff Young
"It starts with self-awareness and it goes beyond understanding what you are good at. You often hear that you have to play to your strengths and outsource for your weaknesses. But before you can get there you have to have a deep understanding of who you are as person, as a business owner and employer."
Marjau Systems, a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business, which provides software solutions for IT challenges for government and private industry was born from the recognition of a niche opportunity in which several engineers knew their entrepreneurial spirits could take wing. "I've had a long career at some major players. We were building exciting solutions and leading major projects, but then as I climbed higher on the corporate grid - I got lost in the shuffle somehow. I no longer felt that excitement and passion. The higher my career climbed the more disengaged I was with the growth stream that previously drove me. When you work for a large company sometimes you lose that sense that you are contributing. So I left. And it was a risk but I wanted to do more. My father and brother own businesses and I wanted to start something that my employees could really feel a part of - really take pride in."
Young and company President Michael Marchant, PMP, a veteran who served six years in the United States Navy in numerous roles including, a Naval Aviator, Helicopter Aircraft Commander and Management Information Systems Officer began the business with nearly 20 years of experience. "We had expertise in building software solutions for large databases and connecting them to mobile devices. With our software capabilities and my partner's ability to understand government contracting we found a great niche. I think we were ready or at least expected many of the obstacles we faced in the beginning, funding, finding talent, licensing, becoming approved vendors, etc. The obstacle I didn't expect was myself."
A common issue perhaps for many small business owners, too much industry expertise can actually impede operations. "As an engineer, sometimes you get caught up in the expertise. It caused a couple of big issues in the beginning. First was paralysis by analysis. At times we thought we weren't quite ready for one pursuit or another and then we'd see lesser skilled firms winning contracts. We needed to be more aggressive. Also we know our expertise so well that we can take a deep dive in and get too technical at times. We aren't slick salespeople."
Young was able to learn from his early mistakes. "I learned that being so engineering focused could hurt or help us - I needed to turn this trait into a positive. So we learned to take a straightforward, demo-based approach to business development. It's made a tremendous difference. Our clients see that we are experts based on what we demonstrate with our work - not what we "sell" them."
Need Based Approach to Keeping Costs Low
Cash and time are key. "When you are running a small business cash flow is everything and time is money. I think not realizing this is a mistake that a lot of entrepreneurs make. There are lots of bright and shiny cars out there - but do you need them when a Chevy works just fine? We don't need the storefront overhead or a lot of bells and whistles. We do our research and have been able to find tools and - services that give us our time back and don't make us pay for a bunch of 'extras' that we just don't need."
Careful research helps to weed out vendors that may be top-heavy in their offering for a small business. "Its how we found our online payroll service for example. There are lots of services out there but the one we chose was affordable and offered us both easy technology and really knowledgeable service reps. This has saved us a ton of time."
Young suggests having a list of what you really need and then have a list of benefits that you need both tangible and intangible. "It's a good model to consider when you are considering services for your business. Do they save me or cost me time? Will I be confident in the end result - will I have peace of mind. Trust me, it matters in the long run. In my experience, nothing is ever perfect and I can't be an expert on all the things I need to be to run my business. So I look for technology partners and services that will make my life easier and help me out if I have questions."