Sync

SYNC Interview with Judge, #Cloud Guru Adam Stern, CEO of Infinitely Virtual

SYNC Interview with Judge, #Cloud Guru Adam Stern, CEO of Infinitely Virtual

Russ talks with Adam Stern, CEO of Infinitely Virtual about the cloud, the next BIG thing in the cloud and Adam's take on entrepreneurship. Infinitely Virtual offers the widest array of products and services based on revolutionary hosted virtual dedicated server and cloud computing technologies.

SYNC Interview - Feedvisor's Shmuli Goldberg

How Feedvisor Helps Online Sellers Reprice To Maximize Sales and Profits 

Shmuli Goldberg is the Director of Marketing at Feedvisor, the world’s first fully algorithmic repricing platform for e-commerce marketplace sellers. In 2015 Feedvisor was awarded a BIG Innovation Award.

Shmuli is an experienced marketer, who has worked with online sellers of all sizes to improve their online performance.

An analytic geek at heart, Shmuli has spent hundreds of hours delving into the intricacies of the online marketplaces, and has been a featured speaker at industry conferences all over the world.

Big Awards SYNC With Herb Hogue, SVP of @EnPointeTech

SYNC Interview with En Pointe's Herb Hogue

enpointe.jpg

Herb Hogue has developed more than 20 years of expertise in the information technology arena. He has held a number of technical and business oriented positions, including Engineer, Network Manager, Technical Architect, CIO, and sales General Manager, equipping him well for his current role within En Pointe.

Drawing from his past experience as an executive level technology leader, Herb crafted an efficient vision of implementation and execution of cloud strategies & data center operations, systems and processes, and cost containment. He also successfully built and managed a number of national and offshore technical organizations, establishing and unifying cross functional teams to support software life-cycle management, implementation, and infrastructure transformation.

Interview Transcript

Russ Fordyce: Good afternoon everyone, my name is Russ Fordyce from the Business Intelligence Group, and today we're going to interview Herb Hogue from En Pointe out in California. They're an IT services provider, they seem to provide everything under the sun to companies. We're going to talk to Herb about what En Pointe's doing, his role in the organization. Also, really more importantly, the trends in the market and what they're seeing. Herb, thank you for joining me.

Herb Hogue: Thank you for having me.

Russ Fordyce: Give us the elevator pitch for En Pointe, and what you guys are offering.

Herb Hogue: Sure, En Pointe is a 28 year old established solutions company. We sell both hardware, software, and services. We focus on everything from devices all the way through the data center, and including cloud, cloud solutions. We're, of course as you mentioned, based in Southern California, and we have engineers and resources all across the country.

Russ Fordyce: Well, that's great, so you guys are now focused on cloud. I imagined that is changing rapidly, which we'll talk through on here in a minute. Now, you are the senior vice president of, I think, engineering and professional services. I imagine that's probably one of the busiest departments in that company.

Herb Hogue: It's a lot of fun, never a dull moment.

Russ Fordyce: How did you arrive at En Pointe?

Herb Hogue: I was a customer for a long time, originally in my career. I've been in IT for well over 20 years, started on IT Help Desk, all the way to CIO. About 10 years ago now, maybe nine, I got on this side of the business with some other companies, and I enjoy it. I enjoy solving a lot of different solutions, and this is where I've stayed. I've been with En Pointe coming up on three years.

Russ Fordyce: That's great, so when you're out talking to customers, and solving problems, what are the most common things you guys are working through today? What are the hot items in your portfolio?

Herb Hogue: I think there's several that I hear, and they're all cloud-centric, whether that be customers trying to move their productivity apps to the cloud, reading Office 365, we see a lot of that, and we've been doing a lot of that, I'm sure as you've read and seen in the press. We also do a significant amount around VMware, and their cloud solutions, and hybrid cloud solutions. Then, of course, with Microsoft and Azure, we've seen tremendous up-swell of inertia around those solutions, so that's particularly ... Even as recent as last week, many customers are trying to move and figure out how to incorporate the Azure portfolio, so we're extremely busy on that side of our business today.

Russ Fordyce: It sounds like you guys are really focused on taking technology in the marketplace and applying it to customers and their needs. Are there any proprietary solutions that you guys are offering, or is it taking the right widget and sticking it into the machine of the enterprise?

Herb Hogue: Well, I think it's a little of that. I also think it's a little bit of our capability to provide holistic solutions, so as I mentioned earlier, we have the ability to talk about devices, and MDM device-centric solutions. We have the ability to talk about governance, and solutions that manage, and maintain, and monitor the applications and secure process. We have the ability to do data center, and then of course, we have the ability to integrate that with cloud, which gives us a unique ability to be a holistic solution provider, as opposed to a provider that focuses on one or two portions.

I think the big thing we see right now is everyone's trying to be, or move to some type of hybrid platform, which you really need to have and understanding of both areas, which we do have, which is why we're extremely busy right now in that space; migrating some of the data center to the cloud, not all of it, but you're seeing a lot of that adoption occurring.

Russ Fordyce: When you're out there with the customers, what size customers are you looking at? Are you ... Sounds like you're on the higher end of the customer range, maybe mid-size enterprise, or large enterprise?

Herb Hogue: You know, it's funny, we're seeing it from all angles, all sectors, and all sizes. I think the only thing that changes due to size is their ability to change quickly, so obviously smaller customers can adopt and integrate quicker, because they have a smaller environment; larger customers have a little bit different use-case, they're looking for more ROI. They're obviously ... they have to integrate their current processes and security architectures into that solution, so it was a longer time horizon.

Russ Fordyce: Okay, and as you guys are out there pitching or solving problems, what is the number one problem that the companies are coming to you with? Is it ... I mean, obviously I think the solution may be the cloud, but what's the underlying problem that you're seeing the most?

Herb Hogue: I would say the number one challenge that a lot of customers are experience is two-fold. One is changing fast enough. Obviously, their executive level leadership in all these companies today are inundated with what the cloud can do for them and their business, and they want to take advantage of those capabilities. So, you're seeing tremendous adoption of change within businesses around technology. When I was at CIO, it was very lethargic with change, and customers are now looking to change much, much faster than most IT organizations can handle; so, they don't have enough resources, and they're going through a tremendous amount of change.

The second is their ability to proficient in new technologies. All of the platforms that we're talking about are two years or less, most of their internal resources have no experience, have no background, or limited to no training; so, they really depend on partners like us that understand where they are, and how to migrate to those types of platforms. That takes time given that we've obviously done many, many of those [inaudible 06:08] engagements, they definitely leverage that type of experience from other partners. If they had to make that capital investment themselves for a one-time migration, this doesn't make economic sense for them. They often times need a lot of training through the process to understand how to manage and maintain that environment going forward.

Russ Fordyce: That's a good topic, is you guys obviously do a lot of the integration of the technology in with the customer business. In what ... If you had to rough guess, what's the percentage of hardware/software services against the migrations services, and all the professional services to make it work? What's that look like from a cost standpoint?

Herb Hogue: Generally, on average, I would say 60 to 70 percent of the spend is software-related, and probably 30 to 40 percent is ... Yeah, 30 percent is hardware, and then the remained would be services. We're continuing to see that hardware spend shift to software and/or services, it's not going away, but it's different. It's changing.

Russ Fordyce: As it changes, it's shifting more towards the software side?

Herb Hogue: I would say so. I mean, obviously you look at ... I'll use Microsoft and/or VMware's push, we see they're trying to migrate that infrastructure somewhere else, so that definitely gives them a different platform and strategy to do so.

Russ Fordyce: That's interesting. Now, as you guys have adopted this, I guess, this new cloud-focus, or these cloud platforms, are there different needs that are driving the customers into the cloud? Is it wanting to have more security or more disaster-proof items? What is it that's really driving folks into the cloud versus building their own data center, other than capital?

Herb Hogue: I think the other piece is most customers are looking for moving ancillary services or secondary services out to another environment. I'll Azure as an example for that question. A lot of customers are looking at, "How do I move branch storage, for example, or tier two storage out to the cloud?" and Microsoft has done a great job with StorSimple, and there's other partners as well, [Manav 08:36] for example, that have put solution sets in place to easily integrate that to extend their storage environment, for example. So, that gives them a great opportunity to move that infrastructure out seamlessly, without having to do a significant holistic migration, and it's a low-cost entry point for them, which makes it very simple without having to turn their whole IT organization upside down.

Russ Fordyce: It's interesting you say that, because it sounds like they're moving things that are easy to move into the cloud, and things that are secondary to them. What needs to happen to get that shift into the primary role? What needs to happen from a services standpoint, or even from an integrator standpoint?

Herb Hogue: Well, I think two pieces. This evolution with cloud is very similar to the evolution of virtualization. Customers need to trust and believe that it works in production, and with their most important business applications, and then they gain continued adoption of it. If you have legacy applications, which most enterprise customers have for short, making that migration to the cloud is much more difficult for them. If you're developing that new applications, then it's just extending your security [artifacture 09:51], and using the cloud as a platform much, much easier for adoption. But most enterprise customers don't fall into that use-case, which is where we come in trying to help them plan to find, design, and architect, and implement solutions to make that transition. Particularly if they're in a highly distributive environment, there's performance metrics and things that they want to validate before they make that holistic jump. You see that time horizon much longer. But for platforms like SharePoint, for example, that's a much easier migration, right? Because the platform is consistent with what they're used to, they can make that migration much easier than a legacy app.

Russ Fordyce: In terms of the scope and the horizon for cloud, I don't know if you've ever seen the Gartner Hype Cycles, but there's always these new technologies that are building up the curve, and then there's these other technologies that are coming through the curve of the hype, and getting into real solutions and being adopted. What do you see that's coming up that curve, or on the horizon, if you will, you know, that's really starting to gain some traction in the marketplace, and that will soon be under rapid adoption?

Herb Hogue: I think there's two key areas, security across the cloud will be a big one. You're seeing a lot of customers look to, as they make that migration, how do they manage across multiple environments? Whether that be [SAS or PAS 11:18] environments, they still want to retain security control and understand where that sits, and there's some new emerging technologies in some of those phases that I think will be interesting as that space continues to evolve. Microsoft's doing a lot of things in that space as well to do that. Then, orchestration across the cloud. Many customers probably won't have just one cloud. Being able to orchestrate virtual assets across those different environments will be very important to manage from a process and workflow perspective. Then, you know, governance is always out there when you talk about security and control.

Russ Fordyce: If we're at ... We're probably at a take rate of ... I don't know, I see stats that ... like 60 to 70 percent of new deployments of technology are moving into the cloud, and I know that's probably inflated quite a bit, but as you guys ... you guys are in a good position to judge that as you're solving things for customers. How much of that is done OnPrem versus in the cloud?

Herb Hogue: It's quickly evolving, and I would say most of the OnPrem that we see is in conjunction with a migration path. I spoke a lot about Office 365 and we're doing a number of those engagements, even currently with customers migrating them, and usually what happens shortly thereafter, when they do an Office 365 migration, there's a SharePoint migration, because that goes hand in hand. Obviously, extending their active directory environment system center, and before you know it, additional services start kicking in.

Russ Fordyce: Okay, now if you had a magic looking glass, and you're looking out five years, maybe even 10, what does this look like in that period of time? What does En Pointe look like? What does the cloud space look like?

Herb Hogue: Well, that’s a big question. I think the industry is evolved from one where individual solutions were sold to holistic solutions, adding the ability to deliver application development capability, cloud management capability, cloud brokering capability will be important. Manage services is going to evolve across the space. I think it's going to make [manual 13:42] services somewhat easier, because customers are going to ... I believe you're going to see customers want to spend less and less of their internal IP on managing boxes, and more devoted towards their internal IP, to help [sell them 13:57] whatever rigid they may be trying to sell.

You're already starting to see that shift in spend. You talked about Gartner Hype Cycles, and I'm sure you've seen the [Gartenal study 14:07], 70 or 80 percent of IT spend goes to maintenance. I think you're going to see that invert over the next five to 10 years, where IT organizations will be looking for value much more than looking for keeping the lights on, and I think that will occur in that transition. That will open a great opportunity for us.

Russ Fordyce: Yeah, it's interesting, most people think that means all this means less jobs in IT, but it probably means more specialized jobs, and more development resources and jobs like that.

Herb Hogue: Absolutely, and I think, this is very "dot com"-like in what we're seeing right now from a talent pool perspective. As I mentioned earlier, there's not enough resources because the technology that we're evolving and deploying today is so new that people haven't either been trained or brought up on, and the ones that are fluent and trained, are in high, high demand.

Russ Fordyce: So, is the secret sauce to all of this the ... what seems to fall under your command, which is that professional services? The guy that puts all those pieces together? It seems like we got a lot commodity infrastructure and commodity services, is the secret sauce really finding a great IT company to put it all together and to build it out because they're the most knowledgeable people?

Herb Hogue: Well, you know, I put my customer hat on when I was at CIO. At the end of the day, most customers are just looking for someone to solve problems, and be their advocate. Given that we have such a diverse portfolio, we can be holistic and agnostic, which puts us in a unique position. Sales develops and manages and maintains our relationships, which we have many, and our engineers are responsible for solving problems, helping to find and design future solutions, and being their advocate across whatever solution set makes best sense for their particular use-case.

Many of our relationships have extended well over a decade, and I think the reason we have customers of that longevity is because of that ability, because of those services that we deliver. We're going to build on that because we've recognized that the more value we add to our customers, the greater trust, and obviously, spend, we're able to capture and maintain. But at the end of the day, if we're doing a good job and solving problems, our business file is going to be scalable, and we'll be fine. If we're not solving problems, then obviously we know what comes with that.

Russ Fordyce: Yeah, your value comes down a little bit. Now, when you're not in the office and pushing buttons and fixing servers, what are you doing on a personal level?

Herb Hogue: Well, I don't push too many server buttons anymore, but we got a pretty large operation. We're doing a significant amount of revenue, and we have engineers flying all over the country. I spend a lot of my time speaking with customers, and going to conferences, and trying to keep up on the latest and greatest. For a personal perspective, try to spend time with the family as much as I can, I have a young daughter, so I try to have some fun there, and that's about all the time I have left over at the end of the day.

Russ Fordyce: Well, as you may have seen, I have a young daughter too, I think she was at my door a few minutes ago.

Herb Hogue: [Inaudible 17:22] I have a little one myself.

Russ Fordyce: Well, I appreciate your time today. It sounds like you guys are definitely off and rolling, and moving in the right direction helping customers migrate their infrastructures into the cloud, and it sounds like you guys have a great portfolio.

Herb Hogue: Thank you very much, I'm very excited about what the future has to hold for us in the industry, and I think these are very exciting times. So, thanks for your time and your including us today.

Russ Fordyce: Yeah, absolutely. This has been an interview with Herb Hogue of En Pointe Technologies. I encourage you, it's E-N-P-O-I-N-T-E Technologies, there's a link at the Big Awards website, and we look forward to keeping an eye on them and see what they're up to. I really appreciate your time.

Herb Hogue: Thank you very much.

Russ Fordyce: Have a great afternoon.

Herb Hogue: You too.

Russ Fordyce: All right, bye-bye.

Big Awards SYNC with @151Advisors Partner Steve Brumer on Business Development in the Technology Market

SYNC Interview with 151 Advisors Steve Brumer

Steve Brumer
Steve Brumer

Steve is currently a partner with 151 Advisors and has over 25 years of experience in the wireless/mobile space and has unprecedented knowledge of the industry. During his accomplished career, Steve has been a dynamic entrepreneur with proven expertise in sales, marketing and channel development. His expertise is helping wireless/mobile products and services find the right distribution and channels to ensure commercial success. He is an active presenter/speaker in the wireless industry, having spoken on wireless technology and M2M, products and future trends at CES, CTIA, Wireless IT, CIO Symposium, C3 Expo & AFSM.

Interview Transcript

Russ Fordyce: Good morning everyone. This is Russ Fordyce from the Business Intelligence Group. Today I have Steve Brumer on from 151 Advisors. Steve is an expert in the wireless industry, wireless mobility. Steve, thank you for joining us.

Steve Brumer: Thank you for having me. Good morning.

Russ Fordyce: Good morning. Tell me a little bit about 151 Advisors, and what you guys are specializing in. It's a neat story.

Steve Brumer: We are a almost 10 year old firm. We are focused and specialized in finding and helping companies grow their revenue. I know that sounds like a cliché for a consultant advisor [inaudible 00:00:40], but I'm not sure what else we could do for people but help them. We have hit our stride in a couple of different areas. We work with international companies trying to find a way to enter the North American market. They still believe that our streets are paved with gold, and this is a great place for them to make a lot of money.

It's great to have some great products but there are small companies from Singapore or Lithuania or Latvia or Estonia or Czech Republic, and they're going, "How do I get here? Who's going to sell my product? What am I going to price it at?" We have a research department that does competitive price and market analysis. We've developed sales and marketing strategies. We work with PR firms. We work with various companies that are doing distributions. So we have relationships with all of the distributors, the carriers, the [NDMOs 00:01:33]. We're trying to figure out what is going to be the best strategy for these companies to bring their companies to bring their product to market.

Domestically, our clients have ranged from Motorola Mobility to Verizon, and also down to small medium-size startup companies that have been referred to us by VCs and private equity firms where we are the grownups in this situation. We're helping them expand their business. Also helping companies figure out something that's near and dear to my heart, and probably a lot of people, is how do you make money doing what you're doing? How do you sell your product? How do you sell your service? Who's going to sell it for you? Where are you going to sell it? Is it priced right? What's your marketing strategy? All of those things that seem to be, sometimes, the last thing that people think of. So that's where we focus our attention.

Russ Fordyce: It's funny. I think the application economy, and even in the dot-coms, it was all about bringing applications and new technologies to market without any thought to how to make money. If you look at Twitter, they're barely making money. And I think there's a renewed focus on really coming out with business models that do have a revenue engine. Are you seeing more of a trend of companies at least with some sort of idea on how they're going to make money, or their sales plan?

Steve Brumer: I can look at it in two different ways, Russ. If they don't have an idea then we have an opportunity [inaudible 00:03:01] as a consulting firm, but some of them are actually learning a little bit more of the lessons. They're coming up with great ideas, and they're starting to strategize. The recurring revenue model for applications is very, very hot and it holds up the valuation of company when investors are looking at it. So we really look for that kind of scenario.

Sometimes we still see companies that sit there and go, "I'm [inaudible 00:03:27] bring my application to the carrier, and they're going to put it online and I'm going to make a lot of money. Or I'm going to put it on the [inaudible 00:03:33] and I'm going to be on the first top of the page, and I'm going to make a lot of money. And we all know that, eventually, that dream busts really quick. So we try and then figure out other ways to do it, whether it's through channel partners, whether it's through direct sales, whether it's through marketing in a unique different way in order to go after the vertical market that they happen to be in. Things that like.

Russ Fordyce: It's interesting. It's sounds like a lot of your applications are B to C, or excuse me, B to B. Is that true? Or have you seen a lot more B to B or B to C?

Steve Brumer: Actually, our focus has been on the B to B, B to E, arrangement. We're very heavily focused in the enterprise side, but the consumer side, obviously, is a blend now. So when you're look at M to M or IOT, well, it was all B to B, right? I'm managing machines that are in business enterprise environment but now it's, "Now I got to have help. I've got all these other products." So a lot of what we are doing is expanding into the consumer side. We do have certain clients that have widgets or products or services that are going into the consumer side.

Russ Fordyce: That was a lot acronyms. This industry is full of them, so B to C, 'business to consumer.' I know 'machine to machine' is M to M, so you're talking about talking machine to machine. What is IOT?

Steve Brumer: Gosh, I wish I knew. Isn't that a million dollar question, because it changes for everybody, right? So the 'internet of things' means ...

Russ Fordyce: Ah!

Steve Brumer: ...specific things for the Cisco's of the world that are advertising that they're the internet of everything, then the 'internet of things.' I saw a great definition yesterday. IBC came out with a report yesterday that they're looking at, over the next couple of years, that the IOT M to M world is going to be worth some crazy number: 7 billion dollars or 7 billion units or it's just a crazy number. But they defined IOT the way I would define it, which is you have a thing, we can expand on the thing, communicates over the internet.

That's where I believe we still need to focus, right? If it is a thing, if it's a watch, if it's a [inaudible 00:06:01], if it's a [inaudible 00:06:04] monitoring machine. If it's something that communicates wirelessly over the internet, and can be managed and controlled, it is an IOT related thing. Machine to machine, in my opinion, is more of the [inaudible 00:06:16]. I'm managing that meter. I'm managing that [asset 00:06:20], I'm managing that Coke machine. I'm managing something like that, from a machine to a machine that [inaudible 00:06:27] differentiation is between where the IOT world is and the M to M world.

Russ Fordyce: We did a great interview last year with a company that was trying more machine to machine for beer kegs. It was pretty interesting, so check that out on the site. You've got all these 'internet of things,' what are some of the interesting applications that you're seeing across your desk, if you can without breaking any confidentially clauses?

Steve Brumer: If I can help sell them, then I'm not breaking any, right? There's a couple of things that are ... Obviously, mHelp is huge. I think that, primarily, is a market that is so untapped and has amazing potential. As our world continues to grow older, and you look at my mom, at 80 years old, alone, living in Florida, where else? and they need to be able to monitor her, whether it is from a remote camera or a remote heart monitoring. She's got diabetes so I want to make sure her sugar level ... Anything that I can do remotely to control it which would ultimately reduce the cost. The mHelp things for you and I, if it's monitoring for running or health related stuff, that's a pretty cool thing, and it's, obviously, getting better, right? But again, what is that size of the market? I don't know. Russ, are you wearing your Fitbit right now?

Russ Fordyce: We had a Fitbit in this house, and it immediately got lost.

Steve Brumer: Exactly.

Russ Fordyce: The things that don't tend to get lost are iPhones, and I know Apple's made big inroads this week into that market and trying to get into that market with their API, so I imagine that's about to explode.

Steve Brumer: Exactly. I think the tracking scenarios: The tracking of your kids, the tracking of your luggage and your golf bags. Those are some traditional M to M related things, but now they're blending. So now they're blending onto your phone. They're blending on to devices. Again, overall expansion of that IOT world. And you look at the things that are being crowd funded that are in that space. It's just huge, and you have to look at that as a pretty good barometer of where the business is headed, because if the average person is willing to invest, whatever, to get a widget in the IOT base, I would [inaudible 00:09:12] to them, as a funding source, pretty interesting. I mean, there are some pretty cool things.

Russ Fordyce: Will the IOT, 'internet of things' devices, or the machine to machine devices take over the larger applications of RFID, the radio frequency IDs. These 'internet of things' are not yet disposable. They're relatively expensive, but is there high-end applications of RFID you see the 'internet of things' devices taking over from that market?

Steve Brumer: You got to throw RFID in with the same thing as iBeam and the Beacon things that are coming out of Qualcomm, too. So, are we looking at close proximity, and what is those all about? I'm member of the Location Based Marketing Association, and we're very interested in what happens inside the store. What is an RFID tag can do to combine with what you have on your hand-held and look at the marketing and look at the [targeting 00:10:13]. I think that is another ... What I would consider another communication mode, operationally, functionally, what it does for us, and how we use it, is still part of the whole process but [inaudible 00:10:29] communication mode. just like a wi-fi connection or triangulation inside a store would be able to provide you with ads and marketing promotions [inaudible 00:10:41].

RFID, yes, the cost has gone down dramatically. If you look at the amount of companies that are now looking at doing more things with it ... Internationally it's a different model. Here we really haven't ... It's like NFC. NFC on a worldwide basis is really taking on, but we still in the US are ... We don't even know what to do with it.

Russ Fordyce: It's interesting. I touched on NFC tag at a mall. It was ...

Steve Brumer: [inaudible 00:11:14].

Russ Fordyce: I was probably the only one ever.

Steve Brumer: Exactly. You were the only one who knew what it was, probably. And that's really sad because remember ... I don't know how long you've been doing this, but the original NFC trial was here in Atlanta, where I live, at the arena and at the dome, and it worked out great then, and where are we?

Russ Fordyce: Yeah.

Steve Brumer: It's not well accepted. It hasn't really gone through it. Like you said, you don't even know you're touching a NFC something. You don't know when you go to a trade show that you got a NFC chip inside your badge, because the average person doesn't know. But I still think that that's a wonderful technology.

Russ Fordyce: So why do you think that is? There are several examples like that, where the US is, actually, a laggard in many areas. I mean, SMS and texting was definitely ... We were a laggard in that market. NFC, we're definitely a laggard in that market. Mobile payments we were definitely a laggard. Why do you think that is?

Steve Brumer: Mobile payments is a great example. We're going to be lagging behind that for awhile as long as we continue to have the credit cards with the mag stripe instead of the chip set in it, we're going to continue to lag in it.

Russ Fordyce: Now, that's changing next year, right? We're going to pin and chip next year, or 2015?

Steve Brumer: Quote, unquote, Russ. We will see. We'll see. We always have great plans in technologies and it never works out. I think that the biggest issue that we have is education. We are creatures of habit in the US, and Canada, and we always lag behind because the [inaudible 00:12:56] do the 'Show me," right? Show me it works. Show me it's cost effective. Show me I'm not going to screw up, and it's not going to work, that kind of stuff. I think that's what's going to happen. It's going to take some time for us. We're always going to lag behind, because we're skeptical about the technology and how to use it. We're very simple people when it comes to technology.

Russ Fordyce: I don't like hearing that because that means we slower adoption of the stuff I want now.

Steve Brumer: Well, the great thing about being in the business that we are, Russ, is that you and I can use it, and we're okay. We tell ten people, and they tell 10 people that it actually works, and it gets out. But an article in the New York Times, and an article in the Wall Street Journal. Mossberg writes an article about NFC or something like that. That doesn't mean it changes the world, or the selling of the products on a consistent basis here in the US.

There when we look at [inaudible 00:13:56] mobile wallet, it started with the banking institutions saying, "Here, you'll never going to have a mag stripe again. This is what you're going to use," and the adoption rate was huge. Right now, I don't know, but Bank of American and Wells Fargo ain't given me anything but a mag stripe on my ATM card or my credit card. So, until all that changes that's going to continue to be an issue. If you look at Isis, there's this whole big publicity about Isis and the mobile wallet, and where is it today?

Russ Fordyce: It's like the VHS/Betamax wars. We got Google with NFC and Apple with iBeacons and Isis and all these other competing standards, and I think they're all taking a fraction of a fraction of a percentage of the market, and the market's tiny.

Steve Brumer: Right. And that fragmented [inaudible 00:14:46] of the market hurt adoption, right?

Russ Fordyce: Absolutely.

Steve Brumer: I think that's going to continue to be a trend until there's a ... I don't know if it's the FDIC that turns around and says, "No more mag stripes." Then everybody has to adopt. We also have a slow government when it comes to technology changes. Now I'm not sure if Tom Wheeler or the FCC makes a difference. [inaudible 00:15:13] I'm not sure if it's his background in CTIA in understanding what we have, but I think it's going to take visionaries like Tom and the other people to be able to make changes to happen faster than ... Like the rest of the world is doing.

Russ Fordyce: Now all of these 'internet of things' and all of these new devices that are coming into the market, and mobile payments is definitely putting pressure on the networks. Obviously, we got Mr. Wheeler's embroiled and embattled with net neutrality right now. More and more of this is going into the cloud. What are you seeing in terms of cloud adoption and applications coming into the cloud?

Steve Brumer: Obviously, it is the simplest and most effective way for you to go to market. So when you're looking at an investment in a company that have to have the cloud to transmit the data or store the data or access the date, the cloud gives you so much more flexibility at a cost you can afford. Not having to spend that infrastructure cost yourself is amazing. It's very simple to get started. Again, we believe in trust. So we trust that the data is secure, and that we know that it's there, and nobody else can see it, and it's protected.

That's another pet peeve, Russ. We might have to have another interview just on the security and the trust factor that we have in America on technology and the data that goes through, as it relates to the cloud. Think about how the data gets to the cloud from your device, and you think about all the hops it gets to the cloud, is the cloud the most secure piece of that whole process? Did you just shake your head "No," Russ? You did. So if you turn around and look at the cloud, it's like the last warehouse of the data in the whole process that goes on, but that part is growing exponentially. If pricing is good, you think it's safe and it's easy to use, and I think that's where it's going to continue to grow.

Russ Fordyce: What impact did the Snowden scandal have on your business? You've got all these guys looking at US markets, and all of a sudden, you've got all this [inaudible 00:17:48] wiretapping. What were those companies saying to you?

Steve Brumer: They still think that we're more trustworthy than their own countries, for example, most of the time. They at least feel that there are Snowdens of the world in the US market at this point, [inaudible 00:18:04] what the hell's going on. Versus, in some of their countries where the executive branch, you don't know what they're doing. I don't think it affected them, I think they actually believe that we're more trustworthy than even their own networks that they have. I don't think that affected it at all. I think it's the Target example, and some of the things that happened with the credit card fraud that adversely affected us more than what the NSA is doing to us as big brother.

Russ Fordyce: You mentioned to me earlier before we started that you're there in Atlanta, and a hop, skip and away is a house in Florida for you. How often do you get down there?

Steve Brumer: Not enough. My wife and I and the kids went down. My daughter graduated from high school last weekend, so we went down there. Actually, we love Florida. The beach ... For us in technology, how far away can I possibly go, besides an island with not a cell site in [gear 00:19:14].

Russ Fordyce: It's fun. We say that, and then we get there, and then we're cursing at the carriers.

Steve Brumer: Wi-fi [inaudible 00:19:22] everywhere. Forget it. What are we going to do?

Russ Fordyce: What else do you like to do in your spare time?

Steve Brumer: I'm a still a 58 year old baseball-playing nut in an over 40 league. That's very important for me to continue to be healthy, as I continue to get older in this technology and this world.

Russ Fordyce: That's good. I'm not trying to scare you but somebody's walking around behind you. You might get clubbed in the back of the head or something.

Steve Brumer: I know. It's hard to get rid of some of these people. They come in and out of the office.

Russ Fordyce: I know how you feel. Steve, I appreciate all the time you spent with us today. Great insights on the evolution of the cloud and the 'internet of things' coming in to the business market. I really appreciate your time.

Steve Brumer: Russ, thank so much for having me this morning. It's great.

Russ Fordyce: I encourage everyone, go check out Steve Brumer at 151advisors.com. He's a partner over there. They're doing some interesting things helping international companies go to market in the US. Steve, thanks again for your time.

Steve Brumer: Great. Have a great day.

Big Awards SYNC with @dinCloud CTO Mike Chase on Trends in the #cloud

SYNC Interview with dinCloud's Mike L. Chase

Executive Vice President & Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

mike-chase-cto-dincloud
mike-chase-cto-dincloud

As co-founder, EVP and CTO of dinCloud, Mike established one of the first Cloud Service providers to offer hosted virtual desktops, servers, storage, and other cloud services worldwide. dinCloud has been rated #1 by Network World Magazine in their desktop-as-a-service ("DaaS") shootout article of May 21, 2012, Voted VDI Solution of 2012 by the UP Cloud Computing Conference and named 1 of 10 Hot Cloud Startups 2013 by CIO Magazine, Voted Best VDI Solution (beat our VMware, Citrix, Oracle & others) at the UP Cloud Computing Conference 2012 etc. Mike gained his experience with numerous service providers, multi-national corporations, and cloud companies such as Airespring, Equant, Broadcom, Wells Fargo, Experian, tamCloud and others. He is also an advisor to www.drivenbi.com which is a pioneer in cloud based business analytics.

Interview Transcript

Russ Fordyce: Good afternoon, everyone. This is Russ Fordyce with the Business Intelligence Group. Today, I've got Mike Chase who is the CTO of dinCloud on with us today. Appreciate Mike you joining us.

Mike Chase: Thank you. Glad to be here, Russ.

Russ Fordyce: dinCloud is an interesting player in the cloud. You guys are ... You specialize in hosted desktops. Why don't you give us just the elevator pitch of kind of what dinCloud does and who you're going after in the marketplace?

Mike Chase: Sure. Absolutely. Different cloud providers had different starting points. Some started with servers, some started with cloud storage. We started off with virtual desktops then kind of grew to have all of those products. The reason why we went after the virtual desktop was that we found that the software and the hardware, the whole infrastructure that you had to build for the virtual desktop was completely different than anything that was being recommended or being used at the time to virtualize servers.

It took a lot of R&D to get where we are, I'm glad that we did that because adding the other products later was actually much easier.

Russ Fordyce: You kind of go and top down, it sounds like.

Mike Chase: Yeah.

Russ Fordyce: Did you see that those initials trends of kind of a high end enterprise market to start with and now as you get into different types of products a little bit broader based?

Mike Chase: We have and it's interesting because people have asked us all the time, what is your market and really the market is anyone in the world particularly who's using the Windows. Because at the end of the day everybody kind of had to converge on the middle on the cloud no matter where you started.

Meaning that if you were a cloud storage solution, the day came when your customer called you and said "hey, I can't restore all that. Took two or three weeks to get into the cloud. I need it restored now. I don't have that kind of bandwidth. Can you turn it into a virtual server for me and get me connected."

Customers started with servers and then realized that the desktops have always been symbiotic, you need to live next to them. Whether you're one of the competitors that started with servers, you were us that started with desktops, eventually you hosted both and eventually all three products.

Russ Fordyce: You guys have been at this for a while, what ... Desktops are almost I would think the hardest to get somebody to kind of convert over to the cloud or to virtualize in general. What are some of the barriers that you guys have overcome in the market trying to pitch that out to your customers?

Mike Chase: Well, the first barrier was something that every VDI customer could sympathize with. Doing virtual desktops was a whole different adventure than virtualizing services. It was a tremendous amount of hype around it. It took a long time. We originally tried using VMware and Citrix like so many of our customers before we built our own solution.

We sold 65 major problems to get there. Everything from storage to the amount of bandwidth, to the type of network platform that it required. We use a lot of [inaudible 00:03:02] Infiniband, there's just different components. It was 100% opposite of what we would build to do servers.

We got really lucky in that sense because after years of R&D, we've been voted number one in the space by Network World Magazine, and users at conference when they vote on what solution they like best. That infrastructure allowed us to host servers and cloud storage as well. The desktops are very unique.

It was not just having the right software, it's also having the right hardware infrastructure and then for years, Gardner was predicting and mis-predicting, this is the year of the virtual desktop. Of course, VMware and Citrix were very much hoping that that would be the next wave for them.

Say this is year, this is the year. I can officially say that 2014 is the year because we're seeing the sales, we're seeing the adoption. I think part of that is just the marketing and getting the word out. I remember when we first started hosting servers and everybody has done this with virtual servers, people would ask that corny question, well, is it going to run in a virtual server?

Of course they would laugh at you. To this day, I get asked, will it run in a virtual desktop and we're finally at the point where that's now a laughable question too. This year, it's really taken off.

Russ Fordyce: What do you think is driving that? Is it ... Has it gotten that easy or people just think it's comfortable or the need really precipitated the demand?

Mike Chase: It really ... It really was this hype somewhat from VMware about have your own private cloud. A lot of people were led to believe that cloud was just mere virtualization. That being the case, why wouldn't you do it on site. They didn't realize was the technologies that cloud and only cloud were bind, things like object storage with Razor coding and the types of high density servers.

Ultra [inaudible 00:04:50] other things that some of these products aren't even available for purchase in the enterprise. They kept banging their head, banging their head trying to do VMware view or Citrix XenDesktop. Running into a lot of barriers. Now you kind of had to wait for a couple of things to happen and it happened this year where they finally exasperated their efforts.

Then large companies jumped in like Amazon which certainly helped legitimize the market and get the word out. Once that happens, where now the cloud providers in general are marching toward desktop. Being the leader in that space, we just need a tremendous surge of business.

Russ Fordyce: Yeah. It seems like there are two leading markets in terms of people that were using desktops specifically. I know that the health care industry really went after that virtualized desktop. I know the busy executives moving from desk to desk and office to office, moving around the country or the world.

It's a great benefit to them. How are you guys seeing now kind of take advantage of those solutions. What are the overall trends in the marketplace that you're seeing of where you're getting penetration?

Mike Chase: Sure. Well, cost was always a good reason to move to the cloud but the security was the reason that people stayed out. From the beginning, our logo had a lock in it for that reason. Having recognized that. We have a lot of things where everything in our cloud is encrypted. What you're seeing more in clouds now is a focus on security.

Because in the past without having private connections like MPLS, if all you have was Internet, the regulators kind of went a little nuts. If you’re doing multi-tenant, you couldn't do dedicated infrastructure, sometimes that was a barrier. The cost structures had to be right but the security had to be in place as far as encrypting.

We encrypt everything in our cloud for example. Because of that and the other controls that we put in place now we have very large financials. I have an army of attorneys in our cloud which is great because if it didn't work, I guess I'd be getting sued like crazy. They love the cloud.

A lot of these guys, it's true story, they'll leave on a Friday from a big firm, 20 of them will bug out. Then they realized that nobody drag the IT guy with him, literally call us, we had a couple of friends who did this, called us on a Friday night, we had them up by Monday. As I realized, okay, guys, it's great we just started on law firm but we have no infrastructure.

We've got credit unions now that are in there and technology companies, some of them are $800 million a year and larger. It's everybody. Because of that we also launched to consumer play. Having watched Apple crawl back into the enterprise through things like iPad and so forth, we created a virtual desktop just for consumer.

I think you'll see us this year come out with some very exciting what we call the personal cloud pack with sponsors and partnerships with Google and Microsoft around some of their licensing and our virtual desktops.

Russ Fordyce: Very cool. Well outside of desktops. What are you guys seeing in terms of other trends in the cloud services space. We're seeing ... We're running ... We're in the midst of nominations for our Stratus Award. We're seeing a lot of unique applications and a lot of unique services. What are you guys seeing as other trends that you're in or that you might be looking at?

Mike Chase: Right now, just for a revenue split. Virtual desktops is about 40% of our revenue, servers is 40%, and cloud services is about 20%. They all play in symbiotic ways. One of the questions I get asked all the time too, how come you guys never created an offline desktop, what do you do when you're disconnected?

What we've actually seen is one of the trends is that people are using virtual desktop just like they use any desktop to create the content but they'll consume it on a mobile device. Thing like Google Drive or even dropbox which by the way is built completely on S3 storage. A lot of people don't know that.

Amazon has success with S3 and we've now gone to compete with them. Those are the trends that we're seeing. People are just and it's why I changed our logo this yeah. We changed it to What’s Your Cloud Story? Because when you start asking customers how the they use the cloud, it really shocks and amaze you.

We've got guys who will do a pool of desktops because they've got a $12,000 tool. There's a telco here in California that does about four billion phone calls through the network. Actually quality control listening to phone calls. When customers calling to say hey, this sounds terrible, to void phone call, what's going on.

The quality control using a virtual desktop, with his very expensive tool on it. With engineers that are in India and Los Angeles, all over the world. You alos run into some funny things. Funny [inaudible 00:09:25] it was like well, it's been running for five months without a reboot.

When's the last time you ever ran windows. Normally you're starting, you're shutting down. I guess what I call the Microsoft questions. Why can't you make a better, I'm like I'm not Bill Gates, I'm just hosting this stuff. I can't avoid the blue stream just because it's in the cloud. A lot faster provision, it's a lot faster recover.

The good thing is we snapshot everything, every four hours. Who backs up their desktop. In the cloud, you can gauarantee that if you screw it up, you can put it back together really quick.

Russ Fordyce: Yeah. That's definitely one advantages of snapshot in time. You've got, you had reeled off a bunch of players that are in the market. You're talking about some huge players. You've got Amazon. You've got Citrix. You've got all these guys that are out there competing with you in one layer or another. How do you really, you bought built your own kind of special sauce.

How do you go out and differentiate in the market? It seems like cloud is really getting hyper commoditized?

Mike Chase: It really is and it's interesting too because it's different as the services are. There are a lot of differentiators where everybody is carved down a niche. There's still a lot of commonalities in the background. A lot of us buy and design servers with the same manufacturer, we use object storage and there's a lot of other commonalities.

From there it gets very very different. For us we're kind of lucky because even in the cloud and the enterprise as well. It's all been about Vmware and Citrix. We don't use either one of those products, particularly in our virtual desktop.

Originally we had some collaboration around our first gem, our latest generation is actually a collaboration with Google. The reason we're doing that writing our desktop produces Windows to an app on a Chrome Book. It's written through HTML5. Getting to a virtual desktop using a browser is nothing new but doing it in pure HTML5 code as a plugin to Chrome and it's in the Chrome web store.

If you type webhpd, you see our app is different. The reason for that is what we see happening the cloud trend that kind of get back to your earlier question is web rtc, if you've heard of that. Where you have voice, and you have video and chat and presence and all this in a web browser, of course Chrome is all about the web browser.

People don't realize the depth of programming that's going into that. If you combine our virtual desktop plus web RTC and then you can skin how it appears and how it's laid out on your monitors and your screen. You can get to it from any end point including the really cheap Chrome books and Chrome boxes and things.

It really changes how you look at Windows, how you look at files, how you look at voice phone calls and everything that you do. You start to realize there's no limitations anymore. You don't have to carry a laptop. I was in a data center the other day, in fact where they have this kiosk that were really locked down.

All they had was Chrome and the had Windows Internet Explorer. Because they had Chrome, I was in my virtual desktop. The next thing I know these guys are walking by the kiosk. I thought we locked that down. This guy is over in using Office 2013, he surf in YouTube and it's like, woah, security violation.

I said calm down I'm in a virtual desktop. You still have a kiosk, it hasn't been violated and they're kind of chuckling, you really had me. There's some neat stuff coming.

Russ Fordyce: Yeah. That ... It does tend to blow people's mind. You start getting in virtualization. What's one area where you kind of, you didn't expect it to take off but it did, and it kind of shocked you.

Mike Chase: It's interesting because we started with virtual desktops. Amazon and other started with servers. I didn't really think about cloud storage a whole lot until we last year or so and we launched our S3 offering. It's funny because hindsight it really is 20/20. When you look back, everybody should have started with cloud storage.

I tell you because the easiest thing to get a customer to do is DR. They know that the data shouldn't just belong in their building. When you look at VMware and hype advisors, what is a virtual desktop or a server. What's a file on a disk. That's what's it's been virtualized too.

If you could get them to move all those files plus their loose fileshares and other stuff, you can spin up a server, you can spin up a desktop, that would have been the easiest way to do that. Once we had realized that, that's why right now we're number one in virtual desktops. We're number one in cloud migrations.

The other clouds were kind of we host this but the deal is you spin it up new and we don't really care how you move your data. We've made that kind of our niche market.

Russ Fordyce: On the flip side of that question what's one thing that you really thought was going to take off, like the Citrix and VMware talking about hosted desktop that didn't?

Mike Chase: Well for a while actually the desktops didn't. You thought that was going to take off and it was like year after year. Fortunately for us, our kind of claim to fame is we really were the first virtual desktop that could do YouTube in 1080p at full screen and people are blown away by that. Because they were so tied up and all of VDI and its latency and you can't do this, and you can't do that.

We're now the only virtual desktop in the world that can do NetFlix. For example, NetFlix is funny, they'll kick you out if you're on these other products because they want you thinking that the movie quality is bad when it's not, it's the virtual desktop. We do it just fine. For a while, I though this is going to take off. It's going to take off, now, not yet.

People are still screwing out with VDI. Finally this year, mostly because the marketing hype. I don't have the marketing dollars, Amazon does but once they jump in and people started doing their homework. Fortunately we've already been rated by Network World Magazine that came out number one. We beat [inaudible 00:15:08] in other companies.

People start digging around on Google and through Bing and other search engines and figured out that we're there and sales skyrocketed. I really thought it was going to skyrocket years ago.

I had hoped, I had prayed. Finally it's happening, you got to, your servers and your desktops are so symbiotic that you really have to have both in the cloud. If you have one, you have the other.

Russ Fordyce: I bet that you're ... all of your investors are pleased to hear you say that it's taken off.

Mike Chase: They are, they are, because it's cloud is not for the feinted heart. A lot of guys came out there. I remember when wireless came out, to make an analogy. Everybody thought they were going to be their own ISP. You found out that these products were not made to be multi-tenant.

Cloud was the same way, everbody went in and jumped in, so I might be a cloud provider. I'm going to use all the enterprise gear from emc and Vmware and netapp and all these guys. It went broke really fast. They're scratching their head like my god, how do these cloud guys sell storage. Once cent, a gig per month and $0.03. We do that, it's in the herd.

I got to admit, I chuckle with it, it's intentional. When you see south of $0.03, just know it's subsidized by the way. At the end of the day, there's some really exciting staff coming in the cloud and we're just happy to be here.

Russ Fordyce: That's a great segue into, what are you seeing that's next, what's leading edge, what's going to be the next big trend, after hosted desktops?

Mike Chase: I see five. I see five things. I see virtual desktop and the web RTC stuff coming together on really cheap platforms like the Chrome box which are $349, only down to $199.

Russ Fordyce: I'm on one now.

Mike Chase: There you go. I see a lot of that happening where everything really does come in to the browser. I think people laughed a little bit when Google was ... They opened up Chrome book. They thought oh, that's all it is. If you actually read like the Wikipedia articles and web rtc and HTML5. You're blown away by how much is being hit from a code standpoint in there.

I also see some interesting things happening. Some technologies coming together like objective oriented storage and any cast networking. What this means is it basically you'll store something locally in Los Angeles in a cloud. That data will be protected and it will be available on London, Hong Kong, and Sidney.

You'll always have the most local copy of the data, that also gives you two things. It gives you a geographic QoS, meaning that you're getting really good quality and access to it no matter where you are. The other thing is that you've now become totally impervious to denial-of-service attacks, hackers, natural disasters, come what may.

Other things that I see happening in the cloud is I kind of made that list here. Where did I put it. I think that security will increase, it kind of has to, people are very irritated about governments looking into their data. We get request for S3 storage that will only be in the United States.

Where I get the Europeans are like anywhere but the United States. Asians are like I don't want it anywhere over there. I want it in Asia. We're able to accommodate that. I also see that analytics engines are going to become increasingly important. If you remember Star Trek back in the day, Kirk was always talking to the computer, and it was giving him answers.

All the data that's being kept in the cloud now, that's already being done, simple things like when you go surf for music. It's recommending things to you. Even with red box and NetFlix the same thing. I see that continuing. We actually partnered with the company called [inaudible 00:18:41] to do business analytics in the cloud.

It will replace spreadsheets as my prediction because what it's able to do is go get the data from different data sources, crunch it and actually report back to you, just as if you're Captain Kirk asking that computer, what this all lose data mean. It'll tell you or it might give you the Monty Phython computer answer. I don't know.

That's where we see it going at least. Then last but not least, the comments about HTML5. I think there's a lot there. That's where cloud is going. Anytime, anywhere, 365 days a year with some more smart intelligence to it.

Russ Fordyce: Yeah. Let's just, let's hope that the access providers can keep up with demand, with the bandwidth demand.

Mike Chase: Yeah. Actually that's something that we conquered this year with 15 carriers. We do offer one gig circuits now throughout North America and Europe for as little as $1500 a month. The largest customer data move that we did was with the one gig circuit like that and it was 500 terabytes, it was half of the petabyte it took six weeks.

Russ Fordyce: Wow.

Mike Chase: Previously that was one of the problems with S3 storage. People wanted it, encrypted, the regulator wouldn't let them use it, they didn't want data transfer fees. They needed bigger pipes. They needed software support from companies like [inaudible 00:19:58] Symantec and others.

All those barriers are gone at least with our offering and you can put big data in the cloud. That's pretty exciting.

Russ Fordyce: Mike, you obviously spent a few hours there at dinCloud, what do you, when you get the hour free ... What are you doing?

Mike Chase: I try to get as far away from technologies. I can up and go to forest but unfortunately, I have a satellite phones on. I'm still connected. If I fall off the tree, I do want to be rescued. I think me and the cloud always be tethered, here at dinCloud we have a slogan for the last three or four years that we've been running the company.

Cloud never sleeps and it's quite true. I get emails from our CEO and Ali and other guys three or four in the morning, there's somebody always awake and we've got staff around the world so it's pretty exciting.

Russ Fordyce: Yeah. Well, I appreciate you guys taking the time to chat with us today. I really do appreciate kind of the insights on the cloud and hopefully we'll see you in the Stratus rewards as well.

Mike Chase: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity and hopefully I'll see all the rest of you guys in the cloud soon.

Russ Fordyce: Yes. This has been Russ Fordyce with the Business Intelligence Group talking to Mike Chase, who's the CTO of dinCloud, you can look them up at dincloud.com. Thanks a lot Mike.

Mike Chase: Thank you, Russ, appreciate it.

Big Awards SYNC with Global Social Media Guru and Judge @LilachBullock

SYNC Interview with Lilach Bullock of Socialable

Lilach-Forbes-300x300
Lilach-Forbes-300x300

Lilach is a business owner, social media consultant, internet mentor and founder of Socialable.co.uk. Listed in Forbes as one of the top 20 women social media power influencers she is one of the most dynamic personalities in the social media market.

Lilach is frequently consulted by journalists from Forbes, Prima Magazine, The Sunday Times, Social Media Today and BBC Radio 5 Live. She is also a returning Big Awards Judge!

Lilach will share her thoughts on the trends and impact of social media on business and we will gain her perspective on how the role of women has evolved.

Interview Transcript

Russ: I’m excited to have Lilach Bullock from the UK. She runs Sociable, and she is bar none the social media guru to the stars, to businesses, to everybody, so Lilach, thank you for joining us today and I’m glad we finally got to chat.

Lilach: Thank you, it’s a pleasure, I’m got the hook up, but it’s great.

Russ: tell me a little bit about Sociable and what you guys are doing and what you are doing to help companies grow? What is your role in all of this social media madness?

Lilach: Sociable is a leading social media marketing agency. We work with clients all over the world and we help them raise more visibility and ultimately generate revenue for their business using a variety of different online marketing so that’s what we do in a nutshell, as well as we provide training, men touring and I [inaudible 00:01:00] and networker. That’s really in a nutshell what we do. We like to help businesses and charities as well as large corporate and entrepreneurs. A lot of problems or challenges that people have in the online world it’s noisy in there. How can you get heard above the noise and how can you get your brand out there? That’s what we do, we try and think of creative ways to get your message heard above the noise, literally.

Russ: It seems like most companies move into social media first in kind of a reactive mode because somebody said something dirty about them online or nasty, and then work their way into the proactive mode.

Lilach: We tend to get the larger companies tend to have that attitude, so if someone is talking about they not liking what they say, then they react in social media because it’s a very quick way. It’s kind of like they are putting out fires in the end. If someone says something negative about your company and then you’re constantly trying to make them feel happy again It’s a practice that we actually don’t advocate they do, so that engaging is not just about listening and bonding, it’s about generating conversations and obviously getting people talking about your brand the right way. It’s a fantastic way to use customer service and it’s great a company, particularly the larger brands are actually listening to people and engaging with them via social media.

It’s interesting how all companies work as well because a lot of them can be quite skeptical and they think everyone’s using social media, I should be using it. But then they just don’t know how to use it effectively for their business.

Russ: You recommend that more proactive approach of getting in and owning those conversations ahead of meeting and the reactive?

Lilach: Absolutely. For me, social media is all about engaging and building relationships, and it’s very content driven as well. It can be used to generate more revenue but it’s [inaudible 00:03:14] I think about many companies get it wrong they are simply broadcasting and effectively spamming. Sales messages, it’s so much more than that. It’s about providing valuable content where you can showcase your expertise, it’s gaining trust, it’s anything within the niche that you are in.

Russ: How do you think the difference is between business-to-business companies and business to consumer. Is there a difference in the social media approach if you are B2B or B2C?

Lilach: I don’t think there’s a big difference in the approach. I think it’s more about the brand and how much money they spend. I see a lot of larger companies throwing money at it without actually spending time to engage and provide content and value. Smaller businesses, they don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on ads. They actually have to be much more creative to actually reach their audience in a different way. I think [inaudible 00:04:21] is the same and it can give you loads of fantastic case studies of really, really good other brands who you can effectively get really good results and the opposite. I don’t think it serves their purpose, it’s more about the actual company and not my [inaudible 00:04:40]. That’s my personal opinion.

Russ: So if you had to give companies that have a small or nonexistent footprint in the social media atmosphere, what would be your tip to getting started in that media? How do you even figure out where to start? What’s the right way to go about it?

Lilach: There are two parts to it. First of all, social media is very time-consuming and it can be quite overwhelming once you start. I think it’s about appreciating the time is money after all, and where is your audience? Where are they and how can you reach them and what do they react well to and how responsive are they? For example, if your audience is using Facebook or Pinterest, you know you need to focus your time and energy on finding and connecting and engaging with them. Rather than having a I want to be everywhere approach, try to be as targeted as possible and think about where your actual audience is, where are the people listening to you and who you need to connect with.

Once you found them and know where they are and know the type of style that they like and how well they respond I think more than providing content, sharing your value and helping people is the best and the quickest to market and to social media. It’s really not rocket science, it’s how we like to be treated in the off-line world.

I laugh, I don’t know if you do much networking years ago but I was a prolific networker and I attended so many networking events and everything was going to an event probably is getting some business cards and saying hey, look at me, I’m fantastic, I do this. Now, you know you wouldn’t do that, now it’s in the online world. It’s about using a little bit of common sense as well and thinking about how you yourself might be treated and what makes you think oh wow, that’s really helpful, that’s really interesting. You know, social media is very much about sharing and that’s why content is very critical and having an effective social media plan.

When you’re sharing content think about what makes you think wow, that’s terrible. We always talk about going off on a tangent here, but we always talk about getting things by, everyone wants to have the viral effect. Things don’t happen overnight, it’s about planning. People don’t appreciate to get 1 million likes. There is so much planning involved that they can’t just create a video and turn it on and that was it. They built it up, they built their network, they built [inaudible 00:07:30] and then they switched on the viral effect. I think it’s about having a managed and realistic expectation as well.

Russ: You just mentioned two or three or four social networks and finding your audience. How would you recommend that somebody even though try to figure out where their audience is? Most people are familiar with Facebook, Twitter, we now have this great Google plus thing. And then you also mentioned a couple, some may have not heard of like Pinterest. How do you go about evaluating those?

Lilach: I think it’s about understanding your customer is. The more you know about your customer by where they’re located, what they like to do where they like to shop, the more information you know about your customer the easier it is for you to connect with them. Also to provide what they want and what they need. I think it’s something that every business needs to be doing regardless of whether they’re using social media or not because it’s the best way to understand what you’re customer wants. I write not for me, I write for my audience because I constantly have to put them first and think about where are they, what do they like?

Also it’s about taking it to the next step as well and thinking they may be on Facebook but Facebook is so crowded, so busy that I am just not going to be able to have a big enough impact. I want to think of other ways I can find them and using the smaller niche side like Stumble Upon and Tumbler, Google plus for example, although it doesn’t seem very popular and it’s really rising up through the ranks it’s still not satisfactory or noisier than Facebook, and I’m actually seeing much more engagement on Google plus been on Facebook for that very reason.

Even I’m spending more time on Facebook than Google plus. It’s about having a plan as well and working out how much time you have to spend and constantly testing to see what gives you the best results. Everyone wants different things, you know not everybody wants to, I know it sounds strange but everybody wants to make money from social media. For some people it’s a way to listen and to get market research. It’s a way to get introductions, connections, it’s a way to build trust, credibility, drive traffic, build options on the net.

There are so many things you have to think about, what you want to achieve, what are your goals. It all goes about the whole planning [inaudible 00:10:11].

Russ: I know you are a prolific writer and on your website, sociable.co.uk there’s a lot of material there, including a lot of resources and books. What would you recommend to somebody in that early stage social media planning? They go to your website and download?

Lilach: We have a free resources section where you can download a free e-book on five crazy ways, I’ve got it, the title of my book, Five Crazy Ways to Get Traffic to Your Website Now. We also have a checklist for the main social networks like Pinterest, Google plus, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. wheregoing under checklist and it can help you get up and question what you need to do and at the end of the checklist there’s a list of lots of different tools and resources to help you get the most out of each of those networks. I recommend you do that. I recommend you spend some time looking at my site and if you are really serious about it we can connect that thought and once again call us and feel free to get in touch and we can discuss further how we can help you.

Russ: One of the biggest factors of people not getting into social media is being afraid of making a mistake. What are some of the big mistakes that you’ve seen that brands make but also some mistakes that executives make. We see the Justin Biebers and the others make mistakes all the time, but what are the common business mistakes that you see being made out there?

Lilach: Oh gosh, there are so many, where to start. Just the spamming side for me is a big turnoff. People who just don’t do a message without even knowing you. All they are trying to do is to sell instead of actually build a relationship and get to know you, so I hate that whole thing, but I’ve always hated that. I think for me, social media is about engaging and sharing content. If you get those two things right then you have a successful campaign.

Russ: Good, so all of you listening out there, don’t spam, it’s a nasty habit and don’t engage with people you don’t know. Get to know them personally.

Lilach: Yes.

Russ: That’s great. So now when you are not on Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebooking and tweeting and whatever else, pinning, what are you doing in your off time?

Lilach: Off time, what’s that? I have a beautiful young daughter and she’s going to be nine soon. I got her school report yesterday and she did well, I’m so proud of her. She’s a little entrepreneur in the making, actually. It’s wonderful. I’ve been home with my family [inaudible 00:13:12]. I have an and easiness about traveling and I’m very fortunate because I was speaker so I get speaking travel all over the world. I recently won a car as a gift [inaudible 00:13:25] so that was pretty cool. I’m a workaholic and because I’m a working mom, I don’t get much [inaudible 00:13:34]. I love what I do and I’m very privileged to be able to do what I do and connect with so many awesome people all over the world. It’s all good.

Russ: They say the Ferraris are redder in Monaco, is that true?

Lilach: Oh my God, they are green, they are green. I think green is the new color, I tell you I saw more green, luminescent green than anything else. Lots of red. I think I may have saw white, maybe black it’s crazy. You don’t see them, you hear them.

Russ: If I remember correctly I think Harley Davidson was the first motorsports company to actually patent a sound. They patented the grumble out of their motorcycles. I’m pretty sure Ferrari is probably right behind them with their growling.

Lilach: I wouldn’t be surprised.

Russ: That’s the true social media, someone following your growl. I appreciate your time. I would encourage everybody to go to sociable.co.uk, follow Lilach on everything you can. She provides great advice for entrepreneurs. I know her advice and her tweets and her content was critical to the big award getting started in Business Intelligence Group. I’ve been following her for years, her advice really is spot on. You will get a lot of insight following her and connecting with her, so I encourage everybody to do that right now, you can find her and engage with her.

Lilach, we really appreciate all your time and energy going into this and helping companies and we look forward to the 2013 judging.

Lilach: I’m really excited, I can’t wait to see what the new business is. It will be very cool.

Russ: All right everybody, go check her out, sociable.co.uk. Thanks for joining us everyone.

Lilach: Thank you.

SteadyServ CEO Seeks to Solve Suds Struggle

Logo for SteadyServ
Logo for SteadyServ

Steve Hershberger hopes to solve the terrifying problem of running out of beer. A global problem, SteadyServ measures and monitors kegs of beer for restaurants and bars. Sounds trivial, but when you think what that means to an average restaurant, running out is not an option. And with most bars and restaurants, space is at a premium so storing more kegs isn't a great option either.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, most restaurants try to make alcohol sales account for around 30 percent of their revenue. Restaurant, bar and grocery store owners often use that estimated percentage of revenue as one factor in pricing their drinks. The more a business hopes to make from alcohol sales, the more expensive its alcohol. HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Join us for a Big Awards SYNC with CEO Steve Hershberger as he explains the challenges growing a small business and how his technology can help your local bars and restaurants.

Live interview here Friday, June 28th at 9 a.m. eastern.

Interview Transcript

Russ: Good morning everyone. This is Russ Fordyce with the Business Intelligence Group. Today we’re here with Steve Hershberger from SteadyServ out of Indianapolis. SteadyServ is a beverage management company. I don’t know any other better way to say it, but Steve’s going to give us an insight into his company and how he got started. Steve, thanks for joining us and welcome to the Big Awards Sync.

Steve: Thank you, Russ. I appreciate the opportunity to be with you today.

Russ: Yes, so tell us just briefly, kind of in that elevator pitch, what SteadyServ is and what market you're going after?

Steve: Yes, absolutely Russ. SteadyServ technology was formed to solve a very specific problem in the industry. What we do is we do inventory and supply chain management for the beer industry. Now the beer industry is broken into really two sections, two groups that were mandated by law by the Federal government. You have on-premise, and if you think of on-premises, “I'm going to drink my beer here.” When you go off-premise, which is, “I'm going to take my beer after I buy it and drink it somewhere else.”

What we do is we help on-premise retailers and then the distributors that support and supply them, and ensure that their supply chain of beer is flowing smoothly.

Russ: I think you guys developed a proprietary technology, I think a patent tending technology to do this. I guess in the old world, the manager would go round and lift kegs. I remember that from my fraternity days. It wasn’t very effective. Now your technology is basically monitoring the kegs; is that right?

Steve: Well yes, Russ. In a general sense that’s exactly what happens. What you did at your fraternity back in the days still occurs. The beer industry, if you think of draught beer, it really hasn’t evolved since essentially 1933 or 1934. The only difference is today are that we use either diesel or propane powered trucks to deliver it and the kegs are no longer wood. They're aluminum. Outside of that it's pretty much the same.

If you think of an industry, for instance the automotive industry, and it operates on the just-in-time basis, right. Ford, as an example, when they need bumpers they don’t send an email and say, “Hey, send us over 2,000 or so bumpers and we need them in a couple of hours.” It doesn’t operate like that. But that’s exactly how the beer industry operates. In essence, for the on-premise, the places, the bars and restaurants and taverns that we support, they buy almost $22 billion worth of beer a year. All of that beer is just-in-time delivery.

The problem is that when they order their beer they do exactly what you did when you were in college, and they take a legal pad and then they walk into a cooler and then they shake those kegs and go, “Well, gee, this one feels a third full or this one feels mostly empty,” and, “Gosh I get my delivery day after tomorrow,” and, “Boy I think we bought this last week and maybe this the week before so that sounds good to me and I'm only going to check 10% of the kegs because those are the ones I can reach.” Then I put an email or a voice mail or a text message into my brewer and I hope for the best.

That’s the solution that’s just untenable to us. You can't really operate with any degree of efficiency in an environment like that. Because of the explosion in craft beer today and the level of competition, and frankly the money that’s at stake, brewers, distributors and retailers are saying, “We really wish that there was a better way to do this,” but up until now there really wasn’t.

We went in and developed a hardware and software solution that essentially makes all of those problems evaporate.

Russ: Tell us a little bit about the technology. What goes into iKeg?

Steve: Well it's actually a fairly sophisticated hardware and software synthesis. But be that as it may, from the user standpoint, it's got to be incredibly simple and easy to operate; they really don’t care what happens. But for the purpose of today’s interview, essentially we have a hardware device that sits underneath their keg. And think of it like a very sophisticated scale. It measures pressure and it takes that pressure and translates that into weight and the velocity of change of that rate over a specified period of time. That uses RFID technology to determine what’s actually in that keg because every time a keg empties it goes away to be refilled and it gets filled with something else, whether it's the same brand, Miller, Coors, or it may go to one of any hundred different craft breweries to be filled with a different brand and a different style every time.

The RFID technology understands and says, okay I now know what's in the keg and it pairs that information with the information that the sensor is telling us, “Hey, here's how much is in this keg.” Then it uses a very specific wireless frequency that’s different than the standard Wi-Fi that everybody is familiar with. It uses that singular set of band width to send information from the sensor in the cooler to an uplink that is near that cooler that we created. And then it uses one of two cellular channels to deliver that information to the Cloud. Once it's in the Cloud it goes through our enterprise software and then it's delivered back to either a portal similar to the … it's access to their computer like you are and I are talking on, or maybe delivered to a tablet or an iPhone or an android phone or a kindle fire that a manager is using as they walk around their facility, or that a distributor sales person is using as they're making their way to and from the hundred different accounts they have to serve every single week.

Russ: I read on line, I think Bloomberg had that it was 30% of a restaurant’s revenue comes from the bar. Is that what you guys are seeing?

Steve: Oh, absolutely Russ. The draught beer category is the single largest revenue driver as well as margin driver that any restaurant is going to enjoy. Let me give you a little bit of an anecdotal story to sort of drive that home. We are working with one very successful retailer that everybody probably in the country has been in it at least once. The gentleman who leased that used to run operations for a large publicly traded franchise of companies that most of us have either seen on television or have been in. He says to us they’re very good operators, “We know exactly what our costs are for labor, for food, for spirits, alcohol, for disposables, the napkins, plates and what not.” He said, “But beer is a black hole. We’re just constantly guessing. It drives us more revenue and more profit than anything else by a long shot, but we have no idea what's happening in it. And so we just sort of fumble around.” For the first time now iKeg gives them the ability to understand their largest profit contributor on their P&L and make better decisions about what they need to carry, when they need to carry it and how much they should be spending on that line item.

Russ: Alright. Now you're obviously very passionate about beer, but I get the sense that you’ve got more than a beer background in your history there. How did you get here? Steve: Well that’s a long strange tale, Russ. Yes, I came to beer actually by accident. I'm a software and services guy by trade. I've spent 20 years developing either software or services that support software throughout my career. About four years ago I entered an opportunity to have lunch with a friend of mine. At the time he worked for a large consumer electronics firm and he wanted to retire … he was a tremendous operator, but he wanted to retire from that to become an entrepreneur. I took him out to explain the entrepreneurial lie to him which is it's going to get better in six months, and I'll be home in 20 minutes.

Russ: (Laughs)

Steve: He said, “Man you’ve really bummed me out. The best you can do is buy me a beer.” We went to a craft brewery that’s here in Midwest and we got a tour by one of the owners. We walked around and I looked at my friend and I said, “You know what, I think this is a good business model and I think this is something that we could do.” Three years ago we started planning to open a brewery and we did and we scaled it to where it was one of the fastest growing craft breweries in the Midwest.

During that period of time one of the things, Russ, that I was most concerned with was what are the drivers that cause retailers and distributors to either want to keep a brewery on tap because that’s life-blood revenue for a brewery, or what are the drivers that cause them to make the decision to remove them from being on tap. For me, understanding of that allowed me to … us to do some, what I thought would be good for predictive analysis on making sure that we always took two steps forward rather than one step forward and one back.

During that process, Russ, I learned that this problem of just-in-time inventory with no system tools or processes existed and that the market was very chaotic and a mess. We said, “Well, wow, why can't we solve that problem? If it's not going to be us it's going to be somebody else. It may as well be us.” And therefore it was.

Russ: Well that’s great. The concept is really great. It does seem like a black hole. Just, again from my days, you’d grab it, you pull it and you didn’t know. Then you’d just grab one from the back.

Steve: Let me drive a soft home for your audience. Imagine that you sell widget to a very large customer segment, and every year 20 to 25% of those widget orders are raw, and that every year you have to bring back a million dollars or more of those widgets and you’ve got to buy them back from your customer and then you’ve got to throw them in the trash. That’s what goes on in the beer industry. As we all know, we see on TV, there's a freshness state for beer. Well in reality, is that marketing? No that’s not marketing because beer will actually [inaudible 0:12:07]. It will turn skunky or it’ll go bad if it sits around long enough. It's not like wine, it doesn’t age. There are some instances if you do it … from a brewing standpoint, but that’s not the case. But if it's in a keg and it's in a retailer’s cooler it needs to be sold. If a beer is at or near it's freshness state that distributor’s got to bring that product back. They've got to buy it back and they’ve got to poor it out. Those distributors ever year sometimes on the low end they poor down the drain 200 or a quarter million dollars worth of beer. On the high end sometimes its two to three million dollars a year that they just pour down the drain.

iKeg allows them to track the age of every beer before it goes to market, when it's in market so that they can move to an industry standard. Let me ask you, have you ever heard of the term LIFO or FIFO, last-in-first-out, first-in-first-out?

Russ: Yes. Steve: It's pretty standard, not only accounting practice, but as inventory management practice, right. Well in the beer industry they don’t use either. They use nifo, nearest-in-first-out because they don’t know what they’ve got available to them.

Russ: Are you out there selling to individual retailers or are you out solving this problem for the distributors and it's trickling down to the retailers as a benefit?

Steve: Well that’s a great question, Russ. By law, the Federal government years go established what is called a new … it's a three tier system. At the top of the system are the LEMs, the suppliers, the brewers. The middle are the distributors and the wholesalers and the bottom are the on-premise and off-premise retailers. What we do is we literally, quite literally, support all three tiers of the process. Our customer is the distributor and our user is the retailer. The indirect user is also the brewer. The brewer benefits from the information that we make available to them by knowing how to better allocate their brewing schedule. “What do I brew, when do I brew it? Then I also have as a brewer an infield sales team that I spent a lot of money to support. Where do I deploy those people so that they're actually effectively helping the distributor sales team?”

iKeg, a lot like Mattel, selling to the mob but the kid plays with the car, so the kid’s the user, the mum is the one with the checkbook. We operate much the same way.

Russ: Okay. Now what are your challenges right now in scaling the business? I imagine you’ve got to go out and talk to every beer distributor in the world which is a hefty task? What's the challenge to scale and grow the business?

Steve: Good question and the challenge of scale is operational excellence. Our technology we've been working on, Russ, for quite some time. This is not a small endeavor and we have been … we have a team of dedicated engineers on both the hardware and software side that are built here in Indiana, that are in Dallas, Texas, that are in India, that are in Italy as well as a facility in Singin China that is where we manufacture and do a lot of our [inaudible 0:15:31]. We've got all of those people tightly coordinated on building a solution that integrates the hardware and the software seamlessly. Right now we’re in a closed beta which we will come out of due this summer. Then our job in terms of scale is to share iKeg with other distributors. Really it's to tell the return on effort, return on time, return on the investment story that they're able to deliver; more market share, more revenue, lower costs at lower effort.

Russ: I would imagine that there are others in the market trying to do similar things. Is there anybody breathing down your neck in this space?

Steve: Well you know right now we, like everybody, have worthy competition. Our competition has really been focused on using flow meters. Flow meters do an admirable job in tracking how much beer flows through a tap. But that’s what it tells you on an aggregate, how much beer flows through that tap? It's really focused on the people that manage their systems or still the systems, focus on shrinkage. How much beer am I wasting or how much beer is being stolen from me by a fruit pint to somebody? While that’s important we think that that’s the tail lagging the dog. We've taken a very different path.

The other competitive choices that are available or taking an actual scale into the cooler, taking that keg, dragging it across, putting it on the scale and reading the number to somebody else that writes it on a legal pad. That’s the second competitive choice that you’ve got. And the third competitive choice is do nothing.

Really what we’re focused on, Russ, is creating for the first time a repeatable defined standard within the industry for order and inventory management to take this spikiness and the black box out of it and make it predictable and essentially to create a new normal that makes it easier for everybody in that channel to operate and do their job effectively. If we do a good job at that,

Russ, nobody’s going to want to go back and do it the way that they wanted to before or did do before.

Russ No, I can't imagine they would. It seems like a black pit, a big hole in a lot of bars and restaurants and when that’s your life blood, that just simply can't be the case. I applaud your efforts. Now when you're not … when you do have that 20 minutes off and you are … you're not tweaking code or finding another distributor or looking for your next partner, what do you do in the off time?

Steve: Well I do a couple of things. The first thing is that I spend a lot of time on my road bike. I've been a cyclist of years. I try to get out either with my friends or by myself and either just take in the rural countryside that I'll disappear into. Or I'll be thinking about solving problems. I'm here doing that or I'm playing golf with my 13 year old, and believe it or not already getting lashed by him because 13 you can drive it almost 300 yards and I just look at him and I go, “Really?” It's not fair. Then I've got a seven year old daughter and they both swim as well so I am … I try to be half as good a parent as my wife is. She does an amazing job with our kids so we just try to be … I try to live up to her standard and enjoy them. Between my kids and my wife and spending time on the bike, that’s where I spend my off time, Russ.

Russ: Now is the brewery still around?

Steve: It sure is. As one of the founders I'm very proud of the success that they’ve had. I sold my interest in the brewery a while back because it was necessary for me to focus intently on scaling SteadyServ. But the brewery, I love to promote it. It's called Flat 12 Bierwerks and its named after a car engine and a really interesting story that included some industrial espionage at the turn of the century. But you can find them at flat12.me. They make some of the best beers on the planet.

Russ: Oh, that's great. Well, Steve, I really appreciate you joining us today on Big Awards Sync and we wish you the best of luck in your coming out into general availability on the iKeg product. Steve: Well Russ, I really appreciate the opportunity to share what we’re doing and it's been a pleasure to spend the morning here with you.

Russ: This has been Russ Fordyce with Steve Hershberger from SteadyServ and we’ll see you next time. Thanks everyone.

Steve: Thanks.

Big Awards SYNC with Green Business Guru Andrew Winston

Green Business Guru Andrew Winston
Green Business Guru Andrew Winston

Andrew Winston is one of the foremost green business gurus and founder of Winston Eco-Strategies. He literally wrote the books on green business having authored Green Recovery and co-authoring Green to Gold, the international best-selling guide to what works - and what doesn't - when companies go green. Andrew is a globally recognized expert on green business, appearing regularly in major media such as The Wall Street Journal, Time, BusinessWeek, New York Times, and CNBC. Andrew is dedicated to helping companies, both large and small, use environmental strategy to grow, create enduring value, and build stronger relationships with employees, customers, and other stakeholders. Andrew is also a highly respected and dynamic speaker, reaching audiences of thousands of people around the world and acting as a practical evangelist for the benefits of going green. He writes extensively on green business strategy, including a weekly column for Harvard Business Online and regular pieces on Huffington Post and his own popular blog. For his efforts, Andrew was named a "Planet Defender" by Rock the Earth.

Andrew received his BA in Economics from Princeton, an MBA from Columbia, and a Masters of Environmental Management from Yale. He lives in Greenwich, CT with his wife and two young sons.

Transcript of Interview

Russ: This is Russ Fordyce from the Business Intelligence Group. Today we’re here with Andrew Winston from Winston Eco-Strategies. Andrew is literally the guy who wrote the book on businesses going green, so Andrew, thank you for joining us on the Big Awards SYNC.

Andrew: Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Russ: You have quickly become renowned for helping companies really devise and execute their green strategies. How did you get into this business?

Andrew: Yeah, it was kind of a personal shift about 12 years ago. I spent the first half of my career in regular business jobs. I worked for Boston Consulting Group originally, and then I was in media companies, in strategy marketing, “biz dev” jobs. I didn’t actually come from a green or environmental background, but after the dot-com bust … I had taken a detour into a small digital startup … we ran out of money, because that’s what all dot-coms were good at back then.

I had a chance to step back and say, “What do I really care about? How can I bring my business background to what I think about a lot?” I was concerned about the environment, and about resources, and about the base of our economy and how we were going to keep functioning the way we were going.

I ended up going back to grad school and getting a degree in environmental management, and started a new career from there. I had an MBA, and I had done the business thing, and I wanted to marry the two. “How do I bring business to environment thinking, and vice versa?” That’s been my mission for the last 12 years.

Russ: You’ve actually built a very impressive client list. You work with several Fortune 500 … I’m looking at the list now, you’ve got Allstate, HP, IKEA, Pepsi, and Unilever … how do you go about getting into those organizations? Are they seeking you out, or are you seeking them out?

Andrew: I guess I’ve been lucky. When I came out of grad school, I wrote a book with a co-author, Dan Esty, and it’s called Green to Gold. We sold over the last six years about over 100,000 copies. As business books go, that’s really good. As green business books go, that’s kind of unheard of. There was enough of a presence very quickly from the book, and then I was doing a lot of speaking. I still do. In the first couple of years after the book, that was really a heavy part of my career.

My name was just out there enough that I’ve mostly been approached. I’ve been lucky that way. But in the last couple of years, I’ve signed a partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers, so I work part-time with PwC on my consulting. I have my own consulting practice, but I do a lot of the big-company consulting now with them. I kind of have an outlet: I can bring them in, and vice versa. That’s another channel for me.

For the most part, the advisory work I do, like sitting on advisory boards for large companies, has been invited, and I’ve been lucky.

Russ: That’s interesting. There’s a big discussion or a big movement in the marketing world to content marketing and to pushing out knowledge out of your organization. It sounds like you took your own knowledge and pushed it out in these books, and that kind of original content marketing really paid off in spades.

Andrew: Yeah, and I continue putting out ideas. I have an almost-weekly column for Harvard Business Review online, as part of their blog network. I just finished my third book. I just handed in the manuscript and took a couple of months off from the blog side. But I’m always putting out blogs, I have magazine articles periodically, and, like I said, I speak a lot, so I’m out sharing my ideas.

Yeah, it’s content, basically. It’s a content form of marketing. I think that puts me in people’s eyes. I’ve had people in the field say, “God, you seem like you’re everywhere.” I would like to take credit for it being completely coordinated, but I can’t really claim that. A lot of it’s just worked out that way. I’ve been in the right place a lot of the time, and I get invited, I think, to the right conversations a good percentage of the time. That puts me in people’s eyes, and they keep seeing me, and eventually I guess they figure, “Well, I’m going to keep seeing him, I might as well talk to him, and ask him for his thoughts, and his perspective and advice.”

Russ: You’ve formed this bridge with PwC. How did that come about? How did you go approach them, or how did they approach you?

Andrew: It was kind of mutual. I had decided about five, six years ago that I didn’t want to build my own consulting firm. Once the Eco-Strategies technically made it … it’s a one-man shop, but I have part-time help in a bunch of different things, like a research assistant, a personal assistant. I’ve worked in concert with others, and I’ve always had trained freelancers to do projects when I need to.

I had one or two firms that I generally worked with, and, to be honest, a lot of the little firms … 10-, 20-person firms in my field … have been bought up over the last few years. A few years ago, one that I was working with was bought by one of the Big Four accounting firms. It forced me, frankly, into finding other partners, and since the big guys were buying everyone, I was talking to the big guys. I basically had conversations with most of the Big Four and the big consulting firms, about how we could work together, and decided after almost a year of conversations to work with PwC. It just felt like the right fit for me.

Russ: If you had to tell viewers what your overall goal was, what would you tell them in terms of a business goal, other than revenue?

Andrew: In some sense, I’m mission-driven. That sounds probably more fluffy than it really is. I’m trying to effect change. My purpose in my business and all the work I do is to change people’s perspectives, change the minds, really, of executives and managers to see the management of environmental and social challenges, of which there are many, to see that as a business goal … a very deep business goal, and one that’s very, very profitable, if you do it right … and to not treat sustainability, which is the kind of catchphrase, as philanthropy or part of some sort of responsibility agenda, but that it is part of core business.

My mission is always, “How do I extend reach, and how do I effect change in the largest organizations I can?” So it’s, “How do I get in front of the top management of the Fortune 500? How do I get on advisory boards, so that I’m talking to them regularly? How do I partner with someone like PwC who has access to every CFO in the world, really?”

The mission was really effecting change, and the depth of impact, and for me, that’s always then come with a good living. A good business has come with trying to effect that change and making that mission clear, and then, to be honest, not being afraid to ask to be paid for my services. There’s a lot of people that expect, because I’m talking about going green, that it’s an NGO, that I’m a nonprofit. I’m not. People ask me to come speak, and I say, “This is how I make my living.” It’s a very blunt conversation. It’s like, “Yes, I can come help you with making your business better and help your business do better by the world, but this is how I make my living.” It’s a blunt conversation with companies, quite often.

Russ: It’s interesting. I’ve talked to a lot of consultants over time, and it’s something that people often struggle with: that divide of your moving from “help” to “paid help.” Sometimes you’re just doing a favor, and now it’s a little bit more than a favor.

Andrew: That’s always a challenge. I talk with people that are of a similar scale to me, that are one person, two people, that are putting their name out there in the way I do. You often have to give a little bit for free; that’s marketing. You have to talk to people, help them in some way, and then at some point say, “Okay, there’s a limit to that. Now I need some compensation.”

I think people understand that. I’m saying that to big Fortune 500 companies that are very, very profitable, so I don’t think it’s a surprise that they’re ... But often, even the really biggest, the most profitable companies, I think they feel like you should just want to work with them, because of who they are, right? Because they’re a big brand. I think small companies deal with this all the time. Small, you feel like you get the imprimatur, the stamp of approval, by having their name on your resume or on your website. Sometimes I think they use that. They leverage that big-company, big-brand thing. You have to, at some point, pull the plug and say, “Now I have to get paid.”

Russ: I don’t know if anybody’s coined it, but it’s kind of the Walmart effect, right? You want to be in Walmart, so you’re almost willing to do anything.

Andrew: That’s right. That’s true for people offering perspective and advice and speaking. I did two or three talks for Walmart free at the beginning. Went to their Saturday morning meeting they have in Bentonville, Arkansas, and spoke to their executives. Then when they asked me to come and speak in Brazil, I said, “Okay, now it’s a trip. Now you’ve got to pay me.”

I think that’s a typical path that a small firm has to go through, is you pick your battles. You have to give up something to show value at first. Again, luckily for me, I think having a book, having a best seller out certainly helped, because then they already saw value. But yeah, Walmart and others play that game of, “Well, you should be happy to come work with us because of who we are.” There’s certain truth in that. It gives you credibility, but you can’t do that forever, right?

Russ: Working for free does not pay the bills. Insurance and electricity is not for free, and housing. Getting on to the green side, what are these companies really looking for? Are they looking for your expertise in how to roll out a sustainability program, or are they looking for the overall strategy of what they should be doing? What’s their mission?

Andrew: It’s all of the above. The advisory boards that I sit on … I sit on three for large companies: Unilever’s U.S. North American Group, HP Global, and Kimberly-Clark. It’s a little different by each company, but basically, they’ve got executives tasked with developing environmental or social strategies and dealing with this huge array of issues: climate change, resource constraints, commodity prices, pressure from their own customer base. We mentioned Walmart already. If you’re a consumer products company selling to Walmart, you’re getting a lot of questions about how you make your products, where are they made, who makes them.

There’s a whole range of issues, from innovation to marketing and positioning to goal-setting, that they’ll bring a group of experts or advisers in and get our opinions, and say, “Here’s our strategy right now maybe for this particular division or this brand or for the whole company. What do you think? What are we missing? What will different stakeholders think about this? Is this an aggressive enough goal or plan? What should we be considering in our innovation agenda?”

Those are the kinds of questions that I tend to get involved in, and it’s a blast. I love what I do. It’s very high-level strategy stuff. That’s where I originally came from, from BCG, and I’m back to that but with the angle of trying to work on these environmental and social pressures that companies are under.

Russ: You go in and you develop a strategy. You develop a long-term plan and areas where the companies can focus on. I would imagine when you present that plan, and the costs, and the sacrifices, and the change in culture that will have to go on, there’s a lot of pushback inside of, even, the executive tower. How do you deal with that?

Andrew: It goes back to, I said before: the big part of what I do is changing minds, and frankly, kind of evangelism. I talk about practical evangelism, making the case that this is good for business. There’s always going to be resistance to change, and especially, to be blunt, on the green agenda, there’s almost a visceral response in a lot of people, that they think it’s somehow anti-business.

In the past, the environmental movement was, in many ways, anti-business. That’s not totally irrational. But that’s changed an enormous amount in the last five, ten years, and there isn’t really this “either/or” mentality. It’s more of an “and.” “How do we reduce our environmental impact and profit?” Those two things are not at odds at all.

The case that I make is very much that the pressures you’re facing in business are very real, they’re not going anywhere, they’re growing, they’re coming from your biggest stakeholders … your customers, your consumers, your employees. The changing demands on what a company is about is just happening. I think most top executives know that.

There’s, first and foremost, some very quick ways to save a ton of money through eco-efficiency, through reducing your impact, but then there’s an innovation agenda here. You can drive top-line growth. If you go to executives and say, “We’re going to cut your costs and raise your revenues,” it’s pretty hard for them to not listen. It’s basic value creation. The hurdle is really just the starting point for a lot of people, that if we’re going to talk about green, we’re just going to be talking about, “What’s the right thing to do?” and about philanthropy, and that we’re not going to be talking making money. I come in, and people like me come in, and say, “Look, this is about making money. You’re not going to make money if you don’t go down this path, and you’re going to make a lot more if you do.”

You get over the intransigence, or the people that don’t want to move, by making the business case. This is just too valuable to ignore. I think that’s getting easier and easier. For me, it’s a matter of, “How deep a change can you get a company to undertake?” I think the basic stuff, everybody’s on board with.

Russ: Yeah, recycling paper and printing on both sides of the sheet of paper are the easy starts. I recently heard, I think it was Subaru, is literally developing a plant that will have zero waste.

Andrew: Actually, Subaru had a plant … it’s almost been 10 years now … they’ve had zero waste to landfill in one of their U.S. facilities for 10 years. GM actually crossed the 100 manufacturing plant mark. A hundred of their factories … it’s more than that now, they announced 100 last year … are zero waste to landfill. That’s actually becoming the norm. The things that were bleeding edge five years ago are now table stakes. That’s the kind of conversation I have with clients, to say, “Do you know where the table stakes are? Do you know what’s the norm?”

So yeah, double-sided copying in the office is kind of a joke, taking water bottles out of the cafeteria … that’s all the stuff that the employees want to take care of in their “green teams.” That’s great, but it’s really, “How do you change the core of the business: the way we make our products, the way we design them, the way we deliver them, the way we communicate them … the core business?” That’s what’s really changing now, in a really fundamental way. I think companies have to. There’s not really a choice. The pressure is just so real. We can talk about that for a long time, but the demands on companies are growing very, very quickly.

Russ: If you had to highlight four or five companies that are really knocking the ball out of the park in driving real change in the green discussion, who would they be?

Andrew: The leading light, I think, in corporate sustainability now is Unilever, which is a company that’s not very well known in the U.S. They make brands that something like two billion people use every day, around the world, and people know their brands, like Dove soap and body care and Axe body spray, and ice cream brands like Dove bar … There’s a bunch of stuff they make that everybody knows.

At the corporate level, they’ve set the most aggressive strategy agenda around these issues. They’ve made the goal of doubling their sales while halving, or cutting in half, their impact. That’s their strategy. That’s not their sustainability strategy; that is their corporate strategy. That makes them very unusual. They’ve made these issues the core of their growth strategy and their innovation agenda.

Walmart has been leading in the big-company ranks for quite a while on a number of dimensions. In their own operations, they’re now the biggest corporate user of renewable energy in the country. They’ve also sent pressure up the supply chain by asking their suppliers … the 50 to 60,000 companies that work for them… frankly, to change their practices. There’s companies like that.

There’s tons of companies that have done different pieces of this agenda very, very well. Ford has done a lot of good work on their product development, and making greener cars and greener vehicles. GM has done a lot on zero waste in their factories. There’s a lot of international examples: IKEA, Puma … There’s smaller companies … Patagonia is kind of the leading light that’s been doing this for years and years. There’s a range of companies that on different pieces of the story are world-class.

Russ: On the flip side of that coin, if you will, who’s one company you’d like to go shake and wake up, and tell them to get on board?

Andrew: It’s not like I’m avoiding the question, it’s just hard to answer because there’s no black and white. Someone listening to this will say, “Yeah, but what about Walmart’s labor issues, or what about their business models shipping stuff from China? That’s not sustainable.” Every company’s got good and bad.

I will say that the oil giants, companies that are dependent mainly on fossil fuels, have a very big challenge ahead of them. It’s not a personal dislike or something for energy; it’s that we have to drastically reduce our carbon emissions. Climate change is a threat to our species, frankly. It’s going to be very good business for companies to use a lot less energy. They’re doing that, and they’re discovering that. It’s going to be increasingly good business for them to use less fossil fuel energy.

I would say that the companies that are dependent on selling coal and selling oil … oil companies are making more money that anybody in history right now. It’s very hard when you’re that successful to shift, right? It feels like, “Well, the money’s just going to keep rolling in.” But the change that’s going to happen globally in where we get our energy from is going to happen and is happening very quickly. I would like to see those companies stop and think pretty hard about what their future is and the amount of money they’re spending finding new sources of fossil fuels that we cannot burn, if we want to keep the planet at a relatively safe temperature, is not smart business, I think. There’s going to figure that out after they’ve spent literally trillions on finding and digging up sources of energy that we actually can’t use.

That’s the sector that’s got the most to lose, and they’re fighting a lot of these things because of that. They’ve got a lot of money at stake, and I understand that. But I do think they’re going to have to change pretty profoundly.

Russ: Is it consumers that are driving the change, are they the ones that are pulling this strategy through? Or is it going to require constant legislation on behalf of consumers?

Andrew: Look, there’s always three legs to any discussion about society. There’s government, and the united front of our community that government represents … we always treat government like it’s the other, but we’re a representative democracy here. Government is us, right? We elect people. … So there is the government and regulation, there’s private sector and companies, and there’s citizens, and citizens as consumers.

I actually think that consumers have been the least of the groups to press for this. The reality is, the percentage of people who will pay more specifically for green is very low, and has been low for 40 years and hasn’t moved very much. They’re not really driving this. The percentage of people that want greener options at the same price and quality, that’s growing very fast. That’s becoming everybody. Everybody younger, Millennials … it’s not as much a question for them. They want it all. They want you to give them a product that was made safely, that factories didn’t collapse when you made the t-shirt, that there wasn’t toxic chemicals used, and that used less energy. They are going to demand that.

The real pressure is just coming from business, I think, on itself. Like I said, Walmart asking its suppliers … and by asking, I mean that lightly. Asking is a light word for what it means when Walmart says, “You need to change your process.” … They are becoming de facto regulators. Walmart and Target, if they say to their supply chain, “We want you to make toys with plastics that don’t have certain chemicals,” they change the chemical industry. That’s happening right now.

I think the real pressure is companies, and we’ll see some pressure from government. Not from here. The federal government here is broken. I don’t think I’m saying anything out of school. We can’t get anything done. But other countries are moving much faster: China is moving faster than people realize, Germany, and Brazil … there’s a lot of activity around the world to drastically reduce carbon as fast as we can. That’s going to affect business all over the world. Here, we’re going to lag a little. We always kind of wait and then we jump in when we think we’re ready, when we think we can win.

Russ: When we think we can win is about right. I think China’s got the most at stake with the growing population. It seems like they have the most health concerns …

Andrew: They do.

Russ: … escalating and the biggest problem ahead of them, so they better …

Andrew: It’s hard. Yeah, they’re facing the worst pollution maybe in history at the largest scale, so they’re building the clean economy faster than anybody. They’ve created the largest solar and wind industry in the world in just five years. They’ve built 5,000 miles of high-speed rail. They’re investing just gobs of money … like 80, 90 billion dollars a year … in the clean economy, just dwarfing our investment. But they’re also building tons of coal plants. They’re building everything. They’re going around the world, sucking up resources because they’re growing so fast.

They’re facing, now, pollution and pressure from their citizens in a way that it can’t sustain. They are changing, and they’re going to change. It’s going to happen. We’re going to see massive changes in how we lead our lives, in how we make products, and how companies operate, because the pressures just are what they are. Resource constraints and commodity prices … commodities are higher than they’ve, basically, ever been, fundamentally … and extreme weather and climate are changing the way we operate.

Look at New York City. Couple days ago, just came out with a 20 billion dollar plan to shore up the city from rising seas and storms. I lived in Boston in the early ‘90s when the Big Dig started. If there’s a price tag on a city project, it’s usually going to be a lot more than that. So if New York says it’s going to be 20 billion …

Russ: A hundred.

Andrew: … let’s assume it’s going to be more like 50. That’s a big price tag, and that’s going to affect all of us. That money doesn’t come from nowhere, right? It comes from taxes; it comes from business; it comes from citizens. This is the cost of doing business today.

Russ: You’re up in Connecticut, the executive capital of the world?

Andrew: Yes. We’re the hedge fund.

Russ: When you’re not out on the road in Brazil or speaking for free in Bentonville, Arkansas, what are you doing for fun?

Andrew: Well, I have two kids, a nine- and a six-year-old. I’ve got baseball practice tonight, those kinds of things. It’s summer now, so it’s great. I run and play tennis when I can, when my joints agree with me … I’m in my forties now, so I’ve discovered that everything aches now more than it used to. I don’t know how that happened … When I’m home, I work out of my home office, so I see my kids a lot when I’m not traveling. That’s how I strike balance is, I’m home a lot, or I’m not home for a while. It’s a way I’ve found that keeps me sane.

Russ: I think your wife is probably challenged by that, I would say. The on and off.

Andrew: It’s tough. She was a very successful executive, and she chose about five years ago to stay home with the kids, after we had the second one, and thank God. It’s allowed me to get on the road. It would have been much harder with the schedule I keep as a small business and consultant. Consulting always takes you on the road, and speaking just puts you on the road a tremendous amount.

At peak, I’m gone 40 weeks of the year somewhere, for some part of the week. I go somewhere, it seems, almost every week outside of the holidays. Hopefully it’s local, maybe a New York City trip for the day, but often it’s abroad. It’s tough. But like I said, I love what I do, and I’m passionate about what I’m doing, in trying to convince companies that there’s a better way and make companies more profitable and better at what they’re doing. That’s my mission.

Russ: That’s great. Well, I appreciate you taking a half hour out to talk with us and to the Big Awards SYNC audience, and really do appreciate. This has been Andrew Winston of Winston Eco-Strategies. Andrew, really do appreciate your time.

Andrew: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Russ: Thank you. Have a great day, everyone.

Big Awards SYNC with Entrepreneur and Mom Cordelia Blake

Courtesy CNN Money
Courtesy CNN Money

Cordelia Blake started Oh Goody! Party Favors in 2013 after years of frustration trying to find party favors to hand out at her own kids parties that were not "junky." Like many entrepreneurs she wanted to start a business that was product focused, rather than service oriented, so that she could have more flexibility to spend time with her children while providing a better opportunity for growth. Hearing the frustration of other parents she came up with the idea of an online store where parents can buy high-quality toys to give out as party favors-no more bags of junk. Cordelia was no stranger to the web as she owned her own Web Design company for 4 years and worked in marketing and sales at AchooAllergy.com. We'll talk with Cordelia about how she got started, the lessons learned in starting your own online storefront, and how she is managing the daily operation while working to balance growth with her goal of family time.

Big Awards SYNC with Diamond Buyer Anne Johnson from MJ Gabel

A Diamond May Not Be Forever

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Matt-Anne-Gabel1
mj-gabel-logo-e1331743889455
mj-gabel-logo-e1331743889455

Anne Johnson is part social worker, part diamond broker and part blogger. As the Managing Director of MJ Gabel she is responsible for growing the business and writes about the diamond industry, trends, and inside secrets. At just 26 she handles clients looking to part with precious diamonds and works to find buyers across the globe. We say down with Anne to talk about her business, the challenges she faces and her tactics to find new customers.

Interview Transcript

Russ: We are here with Ann Johnson. Ann is part of the MJ Gabel Company, which are diamond specialists out of the upstate New York area. We are going to talk to her a little bit about the diamond buying business and working as a small business and talk to her about the economy and how things are going.

Ann thank you for joining us and welcome to Big Awards Sync.

Ann: Thank you Russ for having me.

Russ: Absolutely! Tell me a little bit about MJ Gabel and your role there.

Ann: Sure. At MJ Gabel, I am one of the Managing Directors here. Our company specializes in purchasing diamonds in a variety of forms: old engagement rings, old jewelry. There aren’t that many outlets for people to sell these pieces in the industry. We started this business in order to help those people who are looking for an outlet. Just really can't find a good price or have been unsatisfied elsewhere.

Russ: It's an interesting market you've got, especially during kind of the economic down turn. I imagine this is a similar explosive growth as the gold movement. Has the economy driven for your business? Has it actually been helping your business?

Ann: I think it has a little bit. I think the other thing that's helping our business, in kind of an unfortunate manner, is the divorce rate in this country and the amount of breakups that we tend to see, broken engagements, divorces like I said.

A diamond symbolizes that connection and that love and when that's broken, people have this pieces and their not sure what to do with them. Sometimes, people have held onto them for many years. Now, in this economic climate, people are finding well it's just sitting here, I might as well see what I can get for it. I think most people sometimes are surprised at the value that you can pull back out of the piece.

Russ: How did MJ Gabel get started? I mean, what was the evolution? How do you guys decided to go out and build this new company?

Ann: Absolutely! My partner used to work in the Mergers and Acquisitions Business and he used to trade large parcels of diamonds. He then, kind of, switched gears in working in single stones, which are just obviously the single diamonds in up of themselves. We both happen to be products of broken relationships and had diamonds that we didn't know what to do with it. We work any fair prices. We ended up selling them each for very little. We realizes that there is a place in this market for people to sell diamonds and that place needed to be filled by a company. That's how we came to be.

Russ: What are the other or traditional outlets that companies or people might go to? How are you guys different?

Ann: Sure. Most times, people go to a jeweler first. Thinking this is where I bought the piece. It would be logical that the jeweler then would purchase it back. Then we also see them going to traditional private sale groups such as Craigslist or Ebay. The main problem when going back to a jeweler is jewelers tend to not purchase diamonds back because they don't want to disclose the markup that was made on the original sell.

Let's use round numbers. If you purchase the diamond engagement ring for $10,000 and you walk back into their store and said, "I want you to purchase this back. How much do you give me?" They give you a number, say 4,000. You would look at them like they were nuts because of that increase mark up. They don't like to disclose those numbers, so most tend to not purchase stones back.

Then people tend to go to the private route, Craigslist, Ebay. Craigslist is bombarded with spam these days. Send your ring to a, my cousin in Nigeria. Give you my PayPal account, I mean lots and lots of scams. Then you also have to find someone who loves the ring as much as you do and has the cash liquidity to spend on it. Again, when you purchase a ring, retail originally you can finance it, you can almost get a mortgage on it If you needed to.

There are some boundaries that people have to overcome and get through to sell the piece. It can be a tough journey and that's where we like to come in and offer our services to people to make it an easy transaction.

Russ: You're getting this rings at a fair rate and then what are you doing in return? Are you back out selling those rings? Are you selling them wholesale? How are you guys doing on the sales side?

Ann: Yup! What we do is we actually recirculate the diamonds back into the industry. It's not like, a person would sell us their ring and then two weeks later they'd see it in our showcase, for example. We don't do that.

The pieces are reused, circulated back into the trade. If it's unpurchased, an outright purchase from a client that's what we do. We use our resources, lot of them are outside of this country. There's some big diamond markets in Israel, in Belgium, we utilize those. As an alternative, we also offer brokering service for clients because sometimes it's not a situation where I just purchase it from you. I may guide you to a different source and just broker that transaction to make it smooth for you.

Russ: It seems like you guys are heavy online, what sort of marketing outreach are you doing and what did you found to be successful?

Ann: A lot of it is word of mouth. We strive for very high customer satisfaction. In return, most of our customers kind of pass that word on. If they have a girlfriends that may be just got divorced or knows that they have a ring that they aren't using. But we have to keep in mind that the timing for this is different for everybody. While most people have gold that they can sell, not everybody has a diamond ring for example. It's a life changing event typically. Everybody's timing is different. That's why word of mouth helps us the most. We reach out to some people locally and say, "Hey we're here! If you need us." A lot of its organic searches. People are just finding us organically through the internet. Submitting a form to us and we got on the phone and have a real conversation with them about what they have.

Russ: You're bridging that kind of digital gap and personal gap with the actual human interaction which is..

Ann: We're trying to! Yes, I believe you're not to know is the hardest thing to get somebody on the phone but once you get them on the phone, I think it brings it back into a personal level that we are people. We're a serious company and we strive for that satisfaction.

Russ: It's interesting. I once heard a statistic that, I think it's, you lose, was it, after five minutes of submitting something online, the ability to connect with that prospect goes down like a 100% or something. It's something crazy.

Ann: Yes and that's why, the minute someone submits a form, it gets forwarded to inform our customer service department to one of our representatives. We can at least try and get them on the phone within that same day. If not within a short amount of time, hopefully within an hour. It's usually our goal.

Russ: What are your obstacles of growth? Is it finding new prospects? Is it selling diamonds? What are your barriers right now?

Ann: What are our barriers right now? I think that one of our barriers right now is just finding people at the right time that they're ready to sell their ring. I think that's the hardest thing. I mean, we could blank it in advertising but it wouldn't necessarily make a difference to a lot of people because, again, it is a life changing event. It happens specifically at a time per person and they may not be ready to sell their ring right when they had their breakup. It may be years down the road. That's our biggest obstacle is reaching out to people at the time that they need us. Not necessarily just reaching everybody. However, everybody could be a potential client. It's kind of a balance for us, I think.

That's one of the barriers that we're facing is how to reach people at the right time but then it's also a kind of put a bug in their ear it in a couple of years they’re in that kind of a situation. Not that we want them to be. The reality of this country is, we do have a very high breakup rate and divorce rate unfortunately.

Russ: It sounds like Israel and Denmark have a lower breakup rate.

Ann: I don't know if that's true or maybe they. I don't know what the situation is over there but maybe we do need to mimic some of their styles.

Russ: That's great! When you're not pouring over the diamond trade and looking for new prospects and talking to customers, how do you wind down?

Ann: I have two dogs. I have a boxer and I have a black lab. They keep me busy for now until I have once I'm two feet running around. We love the outdoors, spending time outside. I really take time away. It's coming up memorial day weekend, we're going to the Thousand Islands but I guarantee you, it will still be work. It's mixing work and play for us right now while we're building our business. We try and pull away when we can but you really never pull away fully from it.

Russ: Yes! I know the feeling. Ann I really appreciate you joining us today on the Big Awards Sync. We wish you all the success in the world and really do appreciate you joining us this morning for brief discussion.

Ann: Yes! Thank you Russ very much for having us. I really appreciate it.

Russ: This is been Russ Fordyce and Ann Johnson from MJ Gabel. Ann is a diamond specialist and I guess a recovery specialist, we might say so.

Thanks Ann for joining us and we'll see you next time!