What inspired you to start your own business?
I started Advoqt five years ago because I wanted flexibility. I wanted to have flexibility in how I invest and how I do business, and more importantly in how I lead my life.
What are you most proud of as the CEO of Advoqt?
As CEO of Advoqt, I’m proud to have built a company that brings together a combination of software development, cloud migration services, and cyber security expertise to help businesses take advantage of the latest innovations in a way that is scalable and secure. Yet, what I’m most proud of is being able to create job opportunities and to use my financial and human resources to give back to the community.
What three qualities do you think a CEO must have to succeed?
Having a high degree of emotional intelligence is key to a leader. In my view, whatever you think you know is wrong. I think every leader should be hungry for constructive criticism. It’s key to know what your blind spots are. Not only as a business but more importantly, personally. You need to be clear about what are the things that drive you to make decisions. It’s also important to recognize your own apprehensions and why they make you view things in a certain way. All those things are important when you’re leading a business.
Tenacity is another quality that a CEO needs to succeed. You’re going to get knocked down hard a lot and you must be willing to get back up with the same level of enthusiasm. As a CEO, you need to view setbacks as learning opportunities and not lose sight of focus on your why. And, to me, the why is much more than money. It can’t be just about money because candidly there are easier ways to make money than to be a startup entrepreneur and build something out of nothing. In fact, I think it requires a little bit of insanity to go down that path. And money is not the driving factor. I don’t think it ever is.
A third quality is having foresight. Every successful CEO should see around the corners and assess where the market is today and where the market is going. Particularly with a technology business like mine, there is no such thing as today. It’s always about tomorrow because things change so darn quickly. If you start building an offering around what’s there today without taking into consideration what new innovations are going to be available tomorrow, then by the time you’re rolling it out to the market it’s going to be obsolete. You need to understand what people are going to need before they need it.
What is the most important factor that propels business growth?
I think capital propels growth. You must also keep a strong eye on cash flow and what your inputs and outputs are throughout the business. You need to have access to the right capital so you can invest into making strategic decisions. If you don’t, it will be extremely difficult to scale. That’s how you end up making a lot of decisions that you know are not the right thing long term but they are the things you need to do to survive.
Effective networks are also very important. I believe in the adage: it’s not what you know but who you know, but I take it a step further. I think it’s also about who knows you and your body of work. It’s so valuable to have people who trust you and are willing to bring up your name in conversations. Particularly when you’re not in the room and they are willing to put your name out there for you. It’s something that comes with time and you only get that by delivering consistent results and doing the right thing. When I say do the right thing, I don’t mean just what’s in the contract, but what you know is the right thing. If you do the right thing consistently, then good things will happen.
How do you define success?
For me, success is about building systems. When I say systems I’m not just talking about IT systems. I’m talking about businesses and economic development activities that allow me to leave the world a better place than what I found it to be. I love the word system because I think it’s a combination of things, such as looking at the resources that are already there and figuring how you add value to build upon them, rather than try to reinvent the wheel.
What’s the best piece of advice someone gave you that’s helped you in business?
Cash is king. When you start out you’re new at thinking about payroll. You look at your financials and you think you’re being profitable. But at a practical level, it’s about how much money is in the bank and when the money is coming in and looking around the corner to be resourceful. I think small business owners can relate to this. In our case, we’ve never missed payroll and I’m very proud of that.
If you were to start all over again as CEO, what would you do differently?
I would do additional planning. I’ve learned how critical it is to have the right products and services at the right time. You also have to know which of those products or services will be more profitable and give you the right cash flow and capital infusion you need to grow your business.
Sometimes, I have found myself chasing projects and work that are interesting to me but don’t necessarily provide the financial rewards that are needed at that point in time for the business. Setting up those timelines for yourself is important. It’s better to slow down a bit and get a handle on your operations. That way you position yourself for success. You can scale quickly down the road if you set up the right foundation.
What words of advice do you have for other small business CEOs?
Invest in finding the right people for your team. As a CEO and owner of your business, you must understand that to do something of magnitude you are going to require a team of people that is equally bought into the mission and talented and with the same amount of integrity as you have. Without that, it’s hard for you to get significant traction and growth.
From the series
CEOpinion: Conversations with CEOs about what it takes to succeed in the game