Episode 5 – Jason Etheridge – Logic Speak

Confessions of an IT Business Owner Podcast

Episode 5 – Jason Etheridge – Logic Speak

Welcome to the Confessions of an IT Business Owner podcast. In this episode, you’ll learn about some profound struggles related to owning and growing an IT business from the perspective of Jason Etheridge, CEO of Logic Speak.

This episode is sponsored by 5stepmarketing.com and BVOIP.com. Check out Josh Whitford and his offering at 5stepmarketing.com/audit, and learn more about the perfect channel only offering for your IT firm and MSP business at BVOIP.com.

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Dave Scott: Hey everyone, welcome to another edition of the Confessions of an IT Business Owner Podcast, where we share stories about how healthy cash flow is critical for the health of your IT business, automation is paramount, and how building trust with your clients by looking more professional is going to help grow your business. I’m your host, Dave Scott, and today, we’re honored to have with us, the CEO of Logic Speak, Jason Ethridge. Today, we’re going to chat about some pretty in-depth things about the wins and losses inside of what it takes to grow an IT business.

 

Jason Etheridge: If we’d have continued on that path, we would have imploded, because we would have never been able to keep up. And, all of the growth that we had experienced would have eroded.

 

Dave Scott: Here’s the podcast with Jason.

 

Hey Jason thanks a lot for joining us on the Confessions of an IT Business Owner podcast. I appreciate it and appreciate your time very much.

 

Jason Etheridge: Thanks for having me.

 

Dave Scott: Talk to me a little bit about the name of the company where you were from and what you all do. Let’s start out with your baseball card stats?

 

Jason Etheridge: There you go. So my company is Logic Speak. We are a managed services provider here in Atlanta, Georgia. And we’ve been in business for almost 14 years now. We started our company in 2004.

 

Dave Scott: Well, 14 years. That seems like a long time in business years, doesn’t it?

 

Jason Etheridge: That’s like a lifetime in dog years.

 

Dave Scott: It is. If it was a Chihuahua, you’d be old and gray underneath your chin. So Jason, talk to us a little bit about the problems that your MSP solves and maybe if you want, this is all about you, so do you verticalize, do you specialize on one thing? Do you service just health care, nonprofit, education small B2B business? So talk about the vertical that you serve and maybe the problems that you’re solving for your clients.

 

Jason Etheridge: Yeah. Great question. We don’t actually do verticals yet. We do have core competencies in a couple of different verticals but we haven’t yet said, “These are the verticals that we service.” Essentially what we say is that we focus on professional services companies, generally B2B companies, that primarily use technology for their business. And so, the problem that we attempt to solve is to bring proactive managed services to the client so that they’re down less often, so that they are more efficient, more productive and ultimately, we’re more profitable because the less time they’re down, the higher our margins.

 

Dave Scott: That makes sense. So talk to us, you touched a little bit about the pain points you saw for businesses, but who is your ideal business, who is your ideal persona or your ideal client and why?

 

Jason Etheridge: Yeah. So, throughout the maturity of our company, just like many small businesses, you start by doing work for anyone who will pay you and you’ll do anything that they’ll pay you to do. And over the last 14 years or so, we have started to mature and grow and knowing who we are, we’re a teenager now. We think we know who we want to be, and so, we focus on companies that are anywhere from 20 employees all the way to our largest customers, about 400 employees strong.

 

Engineering is a good target for us. The engineering space, I happen to be married to an engineer, so I kind of have it in there and the inside track on the unique challenges of an engineering firm. And then, we are also really heavy into the financial services sector. Financial planners, accounting firms, CPA and tax firms as well.

 

Dave Scott: I like it. Yes, being married to an engineer sounds crazy cool, I like that.

 

Jason Etheridge: It has its unique challenges as well as its unique benefits. We are two small business family, we also have a two year old and so we like to say we actually have three kids.

 

Dave Scott: That is awesome. So is she a partner at this firm or she just works there is a W-2 employee?

 

Jason Etheridge: No, she owns her company as well. We are we’re fully immersed in the entrepreneurial spirit. Let’s say it that way.

 

Dave Scott: So talk to me a little bit about that. Let’s go down that path because typically, what we find in with our partners, MSPs, is that it’s usually a husband or wife team. Wife will do sales, marketing, bookkeeping whatever. The husband might do the actual implementation, onboarding, technical aspect or vice versa of those roles, it all varies per company, but that is super unique. How does that work inside of your house every night?

 

Jason Etheridge: It works on an ongoing basis. We have to be very intentional. Her company is a little bit younger than mine, like I said, we’ve been in business for about 14 years, she’s been in business for about five or six. I probably hit certain milestone before her. There is a tendency to want to participate each other’s businesses, to give each other advice. And we do that when requested, we certainly talk a lot about business at home. But we decided very early on that we wanted husbands and wives and business partners and that we couldn’t do both.

 

I know a lot of people who are husband and wife teams. We both are type-A red people, if you are familiar with those kind of terms. We decided we couldn’t really work for each other. But we do talk a lot about business and of course I provide all the IT support for her company. If we’re not intentional, work can take over and we’ll put our son to bed and go sit at home on our laptops and work through the night. There’s a tension between spending time at home with each other and focusing only on work.

 

It’s one that we constantly manage, and don’t always get it right and the pendulum swings back and forth. But we try our best is to both have really healthy family lives as well as focus our business as well.

 

Dave Scott: Good for you guys for being committed to doing it. And yeah, I love that word intentional. That’s a word we use a lot around here in the office. I got to imagine carving out time for yourselves and your family and your little boy. That’s got to be challenging, carving out time and not becoming overworked, so to speak.

 

Jason Etheridge: It is a daily intentional thing, that’s for sure.

 

Dave Scott: Yeah. One of our guests, Bob De’Lisa, he was on our podcast a couple of weeks ago and he talked about your business being your mistress and you can get lost in it. And if you’re not intentional with your time, it can not only be good, but it can be really bad, so I’m not sure if he can relate to that sentiment.

 

Jason Etheridge: More than you know.

 

Dave Scott: Yeah, I bet. So talk to me about the role inside of your company. And thanks for sharing what you did about your family dynamic. That is really neat. What’s the role, what role do you play inside of Logic Speak, Jason?

 

Jason Etheridge: Yeah. The good news about having the growth that we had and we certainly are still a small business, but we are at least to a point of what we call mass. We have a critical mass where I have made it to just being president and participating in the sales organization as well. But, I don’t on a daily basis take tickets, I’m not working in the business on the boots on the ground side of things. I really do get to focus more on, and not exclusively, let’s not kid ourselves.

 

I’m still a very technical resource. I do still help out from from an architecture perspective on projects as well as escalation of really complicated problems, I’ll certainly weigh in on and try to help, but my primary job is vision casting, leading the organization, managing our finances with my accountant, kind of from a high level. It’s funny, we talked about this today, me and my service manager, looking over the trees down at the horizon, not getting buried in each tree, each project, each deliverable.

 

Dave Scott: Yeah. I wish more CEOs practiced that. It’s so hard to let go of a lot of those things you’ve been doing for so long, you know what I mean. So it’s really difficult to look over the trees, so to speak, and not get down into them, isn’t it?

 

Jason Etheridge: No. For several years now, I’ve had kind of a word of the year that I talk about in our company kick off and then we try to tailor things around in terms of what we want to accomplish for that year. And the first time I ever did that, my first word of the year was intentionality. That we should do everything as if it were on purpose, and that we have to intentionally decide what we’re going to accomplish. It’s a very important to me, actually.

 

Dave Scott: There’s a pastor friend of mine named Matt Chandler and he was diagnosed with brain cancer about six or seven years ago. He was in his late 30s by that time. And after he went through that bout of cancer and he got cured and everything and moved on from there, that was really his word, being intentional.

 

He’s a super intense, focused, very goal driven individual. I feel like you have some of those attributes and I love that about individuals who really put that into practice and it’s hard, it’s hard to not get distracted and waste time. Butt to your point, it’s so important we have such a limited resource of that. So it’s good that you guys figured that out.

 

Jason Etheridge: Well, we try. Every day is not a a success, but when you’re trying to do that, when you’re being intentional, even if you fall off a horse, even if you fall off the wagon, the next day you hop right back on and set about accomplishing the goals that you set out. And it’s clarifying. From a vision perspective or vision casting perspective, when you set your mission clearly ahead … And everyone in our company knows what our mission is because I have literally plastered in almost every room of our company.

 

Because I want people to see it every single day as they walk through our office, I want them to constantly be reminded of what we’re here to do and why we’re here essentially. And so, that’s important.

 

Dave Scott: Jason, talk to me about … Speaking of intentional, let’s be intentional and talk about some of the wins that you’ve had over the years. Share with us, if you could, about maybe some of the top couple of victories or wins that you’ve had over the last 14 years.

 

Jason Etheridge: Yeah. I’m happy to. Probably my story, in a lot of ways, mimics a lot of your listeners. When I started out I was working for another company and we got gobbled up and acquired by Hewlett-Packard. And so we went from a company of 200 something employees to 140,000 employees, which, talk about culture shock, that is the very definition. I worked there for a while and then my business partner, who I started Logic Speak with and I decided that it was time for us to branch out on our own and that we really had a passion for the small business.

 

And that’s what we had known and where we had cut our teeth. That’s when we started Logic Speak, and ultimately, the name Logic Speak comes from the fact that we want to translate technology into the terms or into the language that our customers speak in the business so that we’re not using three-letter confusing acronyms and geek speak, that we’re actually translating what we know how to do into our customers business. So, that’s where the name came from.

 

We grew, our first three or four years were high growth, double, triple year revenue. People find out that you’ve struck out on your own, so you get a lot of organic growth that way. And then in 2008, we hit the housing crisis and thankfully, we weren’t that tied of the commercial real estate industry so we had to hang on with both hands. And we took a haircut. People always ask me, “What was that like to go through and what you do it again?” And certainly, I would never choose to do it again,.

 

But I will tell you, that that was a very clarifying time for our company because we had we gotten fat and happy, money had always come in. We never really struggled for money before and had some pretty big name client that helped keep us from worrying about money. But again, we’ve gotten fat and happy and weren’t as concerned with the profit margins as long as there was money in the bank. Money was increasing every month and so it was no big deal.

 

So when the housing crisis hit, we were forced, as many companies were, to have to learn how to do more with less. And ultimately, to have a hyper focus on efficiency. And those lessons that we learned in 2008, while I wouldn’t choose them to do again man, I wouldn’t trade them for the world because it has shaped the very nature of who we are as a company, and our focus on metrics and our focus on efficiency and productivity.

 

Those things we’ve got, we cut our teeth on those things during the crisis, that’s been a huge win. We made it through that. Like I said, we all took haircuts and we made it through that and then started growing again as the market started to improve and kind of really started to hit those, not necessarily double and triple, but really consistent growth rates. And in 2012, my business partner who I started the business with, he had two kids had a wife and that was getting burned out.

 

And I at the time was still single and so I carried the mission that we had originally started with and the vision for the growth that we wanted to accomplish. So we made the decision that that one of us was going to buy the other out, and since he was burned out and I still carried the mission, that it would be me bought him out. It was a very interesting process, which we could talk for a whole another podcast on, about the process of valuing your company and trying to decide what its worth to you, if you’re going to buy it, what ultimately you intend to do with it and what its value has for you.

 

So I did that. We negotiated on a number over the next three months or so and he felt like he didn’t get enough and I felt like I paid too much, which means it was probably the right number. And then when the deal is done, the dust has settled you sit back at your desk and this thing that you now own outright or after three years when the payments are made, the thing that you own, you now have to decide, what is the state going to be? What do I want it to be?

 

Dave Scott: Because now it’s yours.

 

Jason Etheridge: Yeah. Now it’s yours. There’s no one else to blame. Young can’t say, “Hey, this guy didn’t do what are you supposed to.” It is now yours. The first thing that I did, and I don’t really remember why, it probably was via a leadership podcast, that I’m a big fan of that I started to learn about this, but I really wanted a clarifying mission. I needed something to laser focus, sort of point my employees to as what was going to be Logic Speak 2.0. And the example that I’ll use, real quickly is that, when we started our company, you go through the business planning, you kind of follow traditional business planning and, “Oh, what you need is statement of value, you need a mission statement, you need all of these things.”

 

And so we had this big, long mission statement there was three paragraphs and talked about shareholder equity, all kinds of stuff that no one cared about. Nobody ever read. And if you asked any of our employees, they couldn’t tell you a single thing about it. So I started the process of creating a one sentence mission that encompassed what I believe and what I wanted Logic Speak to be, and that’s what we rallied around and that’s what I rolled out as Logic Speak 2.0.

 

If you’ll indulge me, I wanted to tell you what our mission is. Our mission is to use our our abilities and technology to have a positive impact on the lives of our clients and our employees. So it doesn’t say anything about shareholder value. It doesn’t say anything about business success or all of these things. At the end of the day, I feel like I’m put on a planet to have a positive impact on the people around me. And by way of extension, that’s what my company is here to do.

 

We’re here to serve people and have a positive impact on their lives, and if we’ve done that, then I feel like everything else will work itself out.

 

Dave Scott: I love it. There’s one thing I want to go back to though, and that is a awesome mission statement. I love it, super clear, super succinct. Tell us what you do from a technical as well. So I love that addition in there. You talked about when you had parted ways with your former business partner, and by the way, it sounded like it went as good as it can. And there’s a friend of mine who owns and M&A company that actually services the IT industry. They’re called Revenue Rocket in Minneapolis.

 

And I hear all about the trials and challenges of M&A and buying out partners and buy-cell agreements. So yeah, I can totally relate to.

 

Jason Etheridge: It’s emotional when it is something that yo-

 

Dave Scott: It is.

 

Jason Etheridge: It’s like Solomon splitting the baby. You’ve got to take this company and decide who’s going to take the baby or or split it up. And fortunately, Jared and I, he is a man of integrity. He never wavered in that. And so we were able to have a very calm, rational but sometimes emotional conversation about the value and the end of the day, we’re still friends. He’s moved on to another company and so we still get together every three to six months and chat and commiserate and laugh and cry together.

 

I really feel good about that because as you said, I’ve heard horror stories where courts get involved. It’s just awful, but it went really, really well.

 

Dave Scott: Do you ever miss it? Do you ever miss having a business partner to bounce ideas and thoughts on and lean on in times of trial?

 

Jason Etheridge: That is a great question actually that no one has ever asked me. You are person number one to ask me that question. I will tell you what I do miss, I miss the camaraderie. I miss being in the trenches with somebody where there’s no other choice but to succeed together. I kind of miss the shared, ho about this, the shared yoke, the burden that you can walk with somebody.

 

My advice to people today when they talk about starting businesses, especially if they start with a partner is that it shouldn’t be 50/50. We started with the best of intentions, we started with shared focus and shared goals and shared ideals. But it’s like I believe in a marriage, it has to be 51/49, at the very least because at the end of the day, somebody has got to be the tiebreaker. And if you’re not, then you ultimately, and this is what we fall into, you ultimately make decisions based on the nose, based on, we can’t agree on this, so ultimately the opportunity passes by.

 

It’s not a very good business practice to make decisions based on what you can and can’t agree on. If Jared and I had been for 51/49, we might still be in business together today. But but when you’re 50/50, it gets to be very challenging to make each other agree on things.

 

Dave Scott: Yeah, it can. And I was in business with my college roommate, best friend. We’ve known each other since we were, gosh, 18, 19, 20 years old, whatever it was, and we’re both in our 40s now. And yeah, when I left that partnership, when I left working with him on a daily basis, that was the biggest thing I missed. I didn’t miss … I miss the daily grind and the sludging it out in the trenches, you know how it is.

 

You’re working together for a common purpose and your serving customers and hopefully making people’s lives better, and making a few bucks for yourself as well. But yeah, the camaraderie, the sharpening of iron as iron sharpens iron. That was a big thing that I missed, that we don’t work together every day anymore. And yeah, it sounds like you can totally relate.

 

Jason Etheridge: And what I found, just real quickly for your listeners, the way to replace that, especially as you get to a certain size, because as you mentioned it does get very lonely at the top. And it gets stressful because that ultimately the buck stops with you every single time. That can be a very isolating feeling. I worked with an executive coach and his recommendation to me was, even if you’re the only owner, you should have a leadership team around you that can share the burden. I have never done that, because I didn’t want to burden other employees.

 

I didn’t want them to feel like they had the burden of the company when they don’t have any ownership. But he asked me a very clarifying question, he said, “When you were working for another company, if the CEO of that company had invited you into the conversation in terms of the leadership of the organization, would you have felt like it was a burden or would you have been privileged to do it?” And I said, “Oh my God, I would have loved it. It would have been amazing to be part of the conversations.” And he said, “Why would you rob other people at your company of that opportunity?”

 

I did that and now I have a leadership team and we meet twice a month. And I literally, I have hands open in that meeting. I tell them it’s a meeting of equals, it’s not me versus them or me telling them. It is literally us around the table, deciding how we’re going to lead this company forward. And I can bring tough decision to them, “Hey, we need to let go of an employee, hey, here’s our revenue, here’s our net profit. Have a look at it, and tell me what you think.” It has helped me to be able to again, have that camaraderie, have the partnership of people who care about moving the company forward.

 

You got to pick really good people to be on that leadership team. But if you do, they’ll help propel you forward and you’ll be able to replace that feeling.

 

Dave Scott: I completely agree and dude, that is so spot on. There is a book that I have in my office, I’m actually looking at it right now called, Team of Rivals, and it’s about Abraham Lincoln’s choice of his political cabinet. The whole point of the book is, he found success, incredible success because he surrounded himself with good individuals, some of whom were really stubborn and appointed, and direct, but that made them sharper and better as a team.

 

They all had a deep profound respect, love and care about each other, and they all expressed that in written word. So, it’s a really touching book and it’s a really good book, you should read it sometime.

 

Jason Etheridge: I’ll check it out. Similarly, I read The Big George Washington biography, and it’s funny you mentioned that. George Washington did the exact same thing. He had Hamilton and Jefferson, who were arch rivals and they were part of his cabinet.

 

Dave Scott: So, talk to me about the day you left your old 9 to 5 job, and it sounds like you possibly were acquired. Let’s go back to that for a minute, you touched on it a little bit earlier. What was the feeling like, the instant or maybe the moment that you knew that being self-employed was the direction you were going to go in? Talk me through that day where you left your normal 9 to 5 and ventured out to create Logic Speak.

 

Jason Etheridge: Sure. To back up just a step, when my business partner that I started the company with, I actually recruited him to work at that company that we got acquired at together. I recruited him to come work for me, and he said to me, he just got married and he said,” I will come work for you at this company, if you all agree that within five years, will talk at least about starting our own business together.” And so, I said, “Hey, of course.” I didn’t know it would come so soon. I said, “happy to do that.”

 

And it was only eight years later when HP bought us. So, it was very prophetic that that would have happened so quickly. But in terms of starting our own company and how I felt about it, I know this is going to sound weird, but I think I was just young and excited enough that from a risk perspective, I calculated everything based on the probability of something happening or the risk that something would happen. And so, I’ve never been one to shy away from a calculated or a strategic risk, or one where I believe the probability ways in my favor.

 

And so, I never had any sort of fears around starting my own business. I think I was young enough as well, I think I was 25 or 26 at the time. I didn’t have a family, I didn’t have a wife and a child to support. So I knew that if everything fell apart, that I had a network of really close friends and family that any of which would take me in. And so, you have to be willing when you have your own shingle out there or when you start something.

 

It’s like Columbus, when you get to the new world, you burn the ships. And that’s what I did. It took me a while again, to leave HP. And of course, Logic Speak was well underway at that point, we had everything planned, and we had our business plan. And our first client even. It was really perfect timing. I got the call, “Hey, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry you’re going to be laid off.” And they granted us the seniority from our own company.

 

So I got three months worth of severance, and that three months salary, was really the foundation of the investment into Logic Speak. I wasn’t upset at all, I’m like, “Oh okay, no problem, we’re good.” And so they were shocked that I wasn’t upset. Well, long story short, the HP transition team got word that I had been laid off, and I was the only one who knew anything about the infrastructure. So they made their way back to HP’s HR team and then made it back to me and then they said, “Congratulations, you’re not laid off anymore.”

 

And I said, “No.” And they said, “What?” And I said, “Well, no, you promised, I’ve already made plans. I’ve got things working and you can’t unlay me off.” Turns out from a legal perspective, they actually can’t unlay you off, but they made side deal with me, that if you agree to say one more month, we promise to lay you off again.

 

Dave Scott: So, did this sweet severance come along with it, once they re-laid you off?

 

Jason Etheridge: It did, exactly, because if they wouldn’t have done that, which they were nice and honored that. But if they hadn’t, I would have to quit with nothing. Instead, I got three months severance.

 

Dave Scott: That’s interesting. How did your family feel about your transition? Maybe those close to you not necessarily your family because it doesn’t sound like you weren’t married at the time, but what did those around you say to you when you decided to venture out and start your own IT firm?

 

Jason Etheridge: Thinking back on it, I think that was one of the coolest things, is that everyone to a person, was super supportive. Not everyone had advice for me, a lot of my friends and family, non of them at that age had started their own businesses before, but I just remember this outpouring of support for what we were trying to do. There was excitement around it, people were constantly interested in how it was going and how things were progressing. And I feel kind of like it takes a village.

 

Certainly, when you’re going to do something like that, when you’re birthing a business and creating something from nothing, it’s invaluable to have a network of friends and family who get what you’re trying to do, who are supportive. And let’s face it, who understand when you have to miss that family reunion, or when you have to miss the guys hanging out to play poker, because you’re working all night.

 

There’s a lot of sweat equity that goes into starting a business, and having people that understand that and who are willing to support you, and who bring you a pizza, when you can’t look up from your computer to stop, that kind of a thing, it’s invaluable. Not that you can’t do it without it, I know some people who have done it without it. But it certainly made that time of my life, a lot less lonely and a lot more bearable. To have the underpinning of really close friends and family who understand.

 

Dave Scott: Yeah. No doubt in that you too, you hit the nail right in the head, it does take a village to grow a business. It does. You can’t do it on your own. And the more that you do try to do it on your own, the worse it becomes. So, I can totally hear what you’re saying on that point.

 

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Dave Scott: So, talk to me about the why. What keeps you going? You’re doing all these things, you left your security, you ventured out. You had, sounds like a really great support mechanism, which is fantastic, very few people have that. Knowing all that, that’s the functionality of it. Talk about the forum, like what’s the why, what keeps you going everyday? When you put your feet on the floor at 4:00, 5:00, 6:00, 7:00 am. What keeps you motivated to keep going? What’s the why behind it?

 

Jason Etheridge: Yes, so really, as we mentioned what our mission is, is an outpouring and a flowing of my personal mission in life. And so, I love to come to work every day, I’ve had this conversation with other people who are like, “Oh man, I hate my job, or I wish I didn’t have to work or I wish I could change careers.” A lot of these things. And I my heart goes out to them because I recognize that not everyone gets to love their job. It’s certainly a benefit and you certainly can use a job to pay for the things that you are passionate about in life.

 

So, there’s a model for that as well. But in terms of me, I get to get out every single day and come to work and do something that I love. And the other thing that makes it really possible is, I get to surround myself with phenomenal people, people who get our mission. People who are all in and engaged in helping us to get further or faster and to do great things. Literally, I’m looking right now, if you look above my door in my office, walking out into our kind of bullpen area, it is the word serve.

 

And really, what I’m passionate about is serving other people, I’m a servant at heart. I love helping other people, I love that feeling that you get from knowing that because of you, someone’s life was made better. And so, that’s why I keep doing it. And as long as Logic Speak gets to do that, and as long as I get to work with really phenomenal people, who really make this place work, then I’ll keep doing it. There’s no reason not to.

 

Dave Scott: That’s awesome. Man, looking back over the last 14 years, there’s got to be some points every once in a while, where you just put your foot up or feet up on your desk or whatnot and looked back and said, “Man, we’ve really accomplished a lot.”

 

Jason Etheridge: That’s true.

 

Dave Scott: That’s awesome.

 

Jason Etheridge: And it’s one of those things, so funny you mentioned that. If you’re not careful, especially as a small business when things are really, really fast and it’s so fast pacing, everything is changing and moving so quickly. One of the things that I talk to budding small business owners, or people who’ve been in the business like a few years or certainly, my wife and her company, is that you have to take that time to look back. Not all the time, because we all want to advance, we all want to progress, we all want our businesses to grow. We all want to take over the world, we want to succeed.

 

But you’ve got to have that time, that really still quiet time, to look backwards and see how far you’ve come, because if you don’t, like we talked about before, it is lonely and it gets daunting, and what is it all for? And is it all worth it? But if you can stop and look back and see how far you’ve come and what you’ve accomplished, then it will give you momentum and it will propel you forward to go further. It’s kind of losing weight, like you lose weight one pound at a time, when you look up and you’ve lost 30 pounds and you see somebody after six months, and like, “Men, you’re so skinny.” And you’re, “Well, I feel like I’m the same as I was.”

 

But that’s because you don’t see those small increments of investment over time. Same thing, you have to look back to be able to appreciate.

 

Dave Scott: I know firsthand how tough it can be to run a business and own a business. Let’s talk about some of those struggles, some of your peers might have delivery struggles, maybe some of your clients have left en masse, hopefully that hasn’t happened to you because that sucks when it does happen. Talk to me about some of the more prevalent struggles that you’ve worked through over the last few years.

 

Jason Etheridge: Sure, absolutely. Certainly, one of the struggles, when I bought the company outright, the first thing I had to do was evaluate everything that we were doing. And also the excitement around buying out the company and the single vision, and the single voice, casting vision. There’s an initial uptick for your company in terms of additional clients and growth and that kind of thing. We found ourselves, our client base and our revenue grew faster than our internal maturity and systems were growing.

 

And so, what that causes is, overwhelming your people, overwork, constant frustration with your clients who love you and want you to do what they need you to do, but if you can’t get to them fast enough at the end of the day, they’re going to find someone who can. And so, we really have a crisis of maturity back in those days, it was about, I guess, now five years ago. We really had to look at how we were doing everything that we were doing, what systems were we using, are they the right systems, are they going to propel us forward? Or are we suffering?

 

And the way I always said to my employees, if we had continued down that path, we would have imploded. Because we would have never been able to keep up and all of the growth that we’ve been experiencing, would have eroded, not overnight, but certainly when we weren’t able to keep up.

 

Dave Scott: And that is so important to understand that early on, to work through some of those struggles because to your point, if you don’t, the wheels will come off the bus very quickly.

 

Jason Etheridge: And we have experienced that. You mentioned that kind of mass exodus, the way I’ve said it to my employees, is that, “If you don’t handle your overwhelmed problem, your customers will handle it for you, they’ll leave and you’ll be less busy. It just might not be the customers that you want to leave that are going to leave. And so, you should do that again, intentionally and decide which customers are the right customers to work with, and which ones aren’t or else they’ll pick for you.”

 

Dave Scott: One of the things that we do, is we focus on building a good clear persona, like, what are the problems and the pain points that we solve overall, for who we think are ideal prospect is, and our ideal partner is. And then we also identify who isn’t, because you don’t want to be wasting people’s time, going back to being intentional, like we talked about earlier. To your point, you have to be you have to be willing and be careful to understand that everybody is going to grow in certain respects, and you have to be just cognizant aware of that.

 

Jason Etheridge: It’s who you choose not to work with, is everybody as important and sometimes more important as who do you chose to work with. I think a lot of times we forget that, and we’ll take whoever will pay us, but if you’re spending time on companies … We call it fitting them into our box. We have an ideal customer and either customers are moving toward that box and getting in that box or they’re already in that box, or they’re moving away.

 

And if they’re moving away from our box, we need to help them find the right company to service them because we are not that company. And that’s critical because it will allow you to focus your margin on the customers that do fit your model, that do recognize your value, that do participate in the maintenance of their own systems and they see the value of managed services. So, I can’t echo that strongly enough.

 

Dave Scott: So, automation is critical to any business as you know, talk to us a little bit about the processes that you’ve automated and also talk about some of the tools that you use as well.

 

Jason Etheridge: Sure. Well, and that kind of dovetails is really nice where we were when I bought the company. When I bought the company, we were using our own custom developed help desk solution, which again, worked well for what we did, but it only did two things really well as opposed to the entire landscape. And so, we did that for help desk, and then for billing, we literally manually entered invoices into Quickbooks every single month.

 

I mean, literally talking about inefficiency. That’s why I say, we were literally imploding, we could not keep up with the growth from a financial perspective, from a billing perspective, and certainly from delivery perspective. The first thing that we did was we chose a new PSA, a Professional Services Automation tool. We looked at all of them, because I’m a systems guy, my background, which we haven’t talked about that I actually went to school to be a developer. I loved softwares, kind of liked Bill Gates in that way, software kind of will take over the world.

 

But anyway, I looked and it came down to me to ConnectWise and Autotask, I know people who love both and I certainly would never speak badly of either one. We happened to be an Autotask shop, but it was really the key, it was a foundation of our desire to become a systems and a process focused company. And then we started to build everything on top of that, we layered on and we meant to do our automation from a patch management and monitoring and management perspective, and that was critical. So, we early on we worked with Hound Dog GFI Logic now SolarWinds and that was kind of our platform.

 

And then we recently have migrated to Autotask Endpoint Management, because we really believe in that single pane of glass, and then I feel like Autotask has a compelling story with the tight integration that they’ve made in the whole center stage platform. We did that, then and just to kind of ConnectBooster a little bit.  I was at Autotask Community Live, I forget how many years ago, and one of my buddies there, who’s also in Autotask PSA user and he’s like, “Hey man, have you heard about Connect User?” And I’m like,” No, what’s the ConnectBooster?”

 

I’m like, “No, what is ConnectBooster?” And he’s like, “Oh, let me show you.” So, he logged into his own ConnectBooster portal to show me the solution and the fact that it integrated with Autotask, and did integrate with Quickbooks. So, that now we can generate invoices out of Autotask, like it automatically go into Quickbooks. And oh, by the way, your customers have a place to log in and enter payments into their ACH information or credit cards. And from a billing automation perspective that was the final solution in the loop, the closing loop of working the time, billing the time, sending it to clients and then getting paid for it.

 

Dave Scott: That is awesome. How does the automation of those tools you talked about Autotask, some of the other automated tools, obviously ConnectBooster is one of those. How have they helped your business grow? What have they done for you all internally?

 

Jason Etheridge: The real magic, if you were behind many services, is to be able to disconnect the value that you provide to your clients, from the hours that a human is putting, what I call jokingly, putting fingers to keyboard. Essentially, you want to transform the value to the customer in up time, efficiency, productivity, ultimately profit for them, and how well you are automating what you do. Or how you do that, is in automating everything that you can use.

 

So, instead of having someone manually push the  button every time, you write a script to do that, you use RMM  to install software, you use ConnectBooster to automate people’s payments, you use your Autotask PSA or Connectwise to send out invoices, and to automatically put them in your billing or your Quickbooks software. Ultimately, automation, the elimination of repetitive or redundant tasks, helps you to be more efficient, which in turn helps you to be more profitable.

 

So, you’ll be able to take on more clients and add more revenue, without adding headcount and staff, and those staff that you do have, will be able to accomplish the value that you provide to your clients much more quickly and much more efficiently.

 

Dave Scott: I love it. That scalability is huge as you grow and it sounds like you’re figuring that out.

 

Jason Etheridge: At the end of the day, if you don’t do that, if you continue to  do things the manual way or what I call the brute force way, you will grow, and  you will succeed, and  you will have success, but it will be much slower, and you’ll only be climbing the rungs of the ladder one step at a time. And what I mean by that is, I climb up the rung, I get a new client, I hire another employee. So, then I have to climb the rung up, hire another employee, I get a few more clients, I hire another set of employees.

 

And so, you’re keeping the business going, but are you increasing the value at the bottom line? Or are you making talk about your enterprise valuation? Are you making your business more attractive? Or are you increasing their value inside your business, the owner’s value? Are you doing that or are you literally just taking money from clients and handing it to your employees. Money from clients, handing from your clients to your employees. If you’re doing that, that’s not increasing the value of your business.

 

Dave Scott: Plus it’s that much more stressful like, why would you want to put yourself through the ringer if you don’t have to everyday? You know what I mean?  I’ve always baffled my mind. And oftentimes on my own worst critic too. So I say that tongue in cheek, so, take that with a grain of salt. But man, it’s like beating your head against a concrete or a steel beam. It’s like, why would you continue to do that if you don’t have to? And that’s the value of creating something that’s scalable and flexible and that’s great.

 

Jason Etheridge: And let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to be  much smaller, if your net profits are going to say the same, or the value of your business is going to say the same, just be smaller. That’s a lot less stressful.

 

Dave Scott: It is, isn’t it? I was talking with a friend of mine recently, his company is exploding with growth and he’s like, “Dude, things are so stressful, my business partner and I are fighting all the time, and there’s three of them.” and he’s like, “I’m going to cut one off the business and the other one is just not cutting it.” And he’s like, “I wish I would not have grown to be this big.” They’re pushing like about 20, somewhere between 25 and $30 million in revenue, they have couple of hundred employees and he’s just taxed. He’s burnt out man.

 

And I was listening to him and he’s like, “I wish sometimes that I would have just stayed smaller, like I wish I would have been that soloprenuer, that unemployed digital nomad, so to speak, where I had myself in five or 10 employees and built a really nice nest egg.” A ‘lifestyle business’ and done it that way, because as you grow, as you know, it’s almost easier to stay small because of the challenges that come as you grow and it’s not just one, it’s like half a dozen that will hit you at the same time.

 

It’s hiring challenges, it’s funding challenges, it’s how you write off expenses challenges, it’s payroll issues. And do you do your payroll differently, it’s creating a benefit structure that hires good talent or not. It’s all those little things, it’s your marketing engine. The smaller you are, you can take referrals. You don’t have to necessarily be really awesome at sales and marketing, but as you grow, there’s more competition. And you can’t do that, you can’t do the same things that get you from 2 million to five million, to get you to $5 million to $10 million.

 

And to be honest, you can’t have the same people that took you from two to five, to five to 10, to 10 to 20 million. And that’s another thing my friend is struggling with, he’s primarily hired a lot of his friends and not his family, he’s kind of been against that, but he has hired a lot of really close friends and some of these guys are very junior level. If we were to grade them like you grade the public school, like A, B, C, or D, some of them are B, C, D players.

 

And they’re bringing the rest of the team down, and they don’t have the skill set, and the panache, and the moxie, to get their company above that hump, to get them from 10 to 15, or 10 to 12, and 12 to 15, and 15 to 18, and 18 to $1 million in revenue. And it’s a really tough slog. So, I completely understand what you’re saying when you mentioned the fact that it’s almost easier to stay small.

 

Jason Etheridge: I haven’t read it actually, but there’s this book, that somebody recently was telling about, the title of which explains exactly what we’re talking about. What got you here, won’t get you there.

 

Dave Scott: Amen to that. It’s true.

 

Jason Etheridge: That was a very kind of succinct way to play.

 

Dave Scott: Yeah. And that is really hard. You know, you’re the CEO, you’re the guy. It’s really hard when you have to stare in the mirror in the morning and think, “Gosh, I really might have to let this person go. Or I might really have to transition myself out of this role.”  And some of those decisions are extremely emotional, they’re extremely taxing, extremely stressful. But it’s like Marcus Lamone, has once told our CEO at IT Nation a couple of years ago, when he keynoted, he said, “Hey, I get all those things but that’s the bed that you made you need to sleep in it. And that is part of the territory in going along with it and if you don’t like it get out. And if you can slog through it, then it’s for you.” And those were truer words I don’t think were ever spoken.

 

Jason Etheridge: Yeah. For sure.

 

Dave Scott: So I wrote a blog piece a few years ago called The 31 Things I would Tell My Younger Self. It was one of the more therapeutic blog pieces I’ve ever written. If you could go back Jason, if you could talk to the younger Jason, what are some things that you tell yourself?

 

Jason Etheridge: Ob boy, we don’t have the time for that nor enough therapy dollars. But, I think the biggest thing that I would tell myself, starting out my business again, and again, I talk to a lot of people in the industry we either are just starting out or really want to grow or just want to commiserate with someone who’s been there. And essentially, kind of the two things that I focus on most often that I would tell myself or that if I could do differently I would, would be to be intentional sooner in my life because it took me a little while to figure that part out.

 

To decide ahead of time where I wanted to go and what I want to accomplish. The other thing would be to read the book The E-myth, revisit it sooner so that I could understand the value of systems and process even when it was just me. And when I read it, it was literally like, “How does he know? That’s us. That’s me. We have that problem.” And essentially, the solution, not to give away the punch line but the solution is you should treat your business even if you’re just one person like it’s a franchise, like it’s Ray Kroc to McDonald’s, and make the hamburgers the world around the exact same way.

 

And if you can internalize that vision of systematizing what you do, no matter what sized company you want to have, it will make getting here a lot, a lot faster and a lot less pain.

 

Dave Scott: Those are wise words that you tell your younger self. Well, Jason, what’s one thing that you’d do differently knowing what you know now?

 

Jason Etheridge: In typical fashion, I’m not going to be able to do just one, but I’ll you one or two. So the one thing I would do differently is I would use a PSA quicker. We thought for a while we could write our own help desk system and sell that. And so we were kind of suffering from what kind of company we want to be? Are we a software development shop or are we an IT shop or are we a helpdesk shop or whatever? Are we a product company?

 

I think I would have abandoned our custom built help desk solution, or never even gone there. I would’ve gone with an Autotask or a ConnectWise a lot more quickly. That, I think, would have made a big difference. And the other thing that we did that was super transformational is that we found a coach or a consultant in our industry who helped us remake our service delivery process.

 

And ultimately, that has been one of the most transformational things that we could have done was to … Because at the end of the day, it was like whoever wants to take the tickets that you want to take, build the relationships with these people. But, “Oh, if this ticket comes, I don’t want to take it.” We really hadn’t focused on the maturity of how we deliver our services. And if we could have done that sooner, I think we would probably be double the size that we’re at now.

 

Dave Scott: Yeah. And that’s part of the operating maturity model too. You have to understand some of those things sooner than later. I completely hear what you’re saying about getting a PSA sooner than later, I think that’s really great wisdom. Jason, what’s one thing if you’re talking to a young guy a young gal a young couple, whoever it might be. They’re just starting their journey as an IT business owner?

 

Lastly, what’s one thing that you would impart to them? What’s one piece, what’s one nugget of wisdom that you would share with them? Or one or two.

 

Jason Etheridge: Yeah. And honestly, I think this goes back to the other thing I would tell myself back at 26 is, the business will take as much time as you’ll give it. So if you give it 80 hours a week, it will take 80 hours a week. If you’re going 100 hours a week, it’ll take that. If you give it 60 or whatever. So you need decide up front when you’re starting your business that you’ll set some guardrails for yourself around how much time you’re willing to give your business. Not that there’s not a season in life that you put in 80 or that you put in 70 or whatever.

 

But set some guardrails so that you don’t lose that connection to the outside world, so that you don’t abandon your wife, if you’re already married when you start your business or that you don’t not see your children grow up if you have small children when you start your business. Or like I was, when you’re single, that you don’t delay getting married because you don’t spend time dating because you’re focused on growing your business.

 

All those things are … Starting your business, growing your business. Those things are great and they need to happen. You’ll need to split and sweat equity, but you need to set some guardrails so that you don’t get a season of your life pass you by and then you look at one day and you wonder, “Where did all the people go?”

 

Dave Scott: Yeah. That is fantastic wisdom and knowledge. There’s a couple of friends of mine that have passed away suddenly of cancer in the last year and it’s been really emotional for me, it’s been really hard, it’s been extremely eye opening. And one of the things I’ve heard time and time and time again is, “I regret not doing this. I regret not spending time with this.” You can make more money, you can buy more cars, you can meet more people, you can network more, you can always watch goofy cat videos and Tony Robbins videos on Facebook till the day is long, but you’ll never get more time.

 

So, go ahead and start, go ahead and do what you want to do. Go ahead and start that dream, go ahead and take that step, and realize that it’s often not as hard as we think it will be, versus what our mind portrays it to be, if that makes sense. So that’s great wisdom. And to your point, if you don’t do that, you’ll look back at 80 years old on your deathbed and go, “Dang, I really wish I would have done this differently”

 

Jason Etheridge: Absolutely.

 

Dave Scott: Jason, lastly, where can people find you?

 

Jason Etheridge: Yes, so my website is www.logicspeak.com, and that is L-O-G-I-C-S-P-E-A-K.com. And you can reach me at Twitter @Jason_Etheridge, E-T-H-E-R-I-D-G-E. And I would love to interact with you guys. Certainly, shoot me a tweet or a direct message, and if there is anything that I can help with, I … The other thing we didn’t talk about is, I’ve done some consulting with other small businesses to, like I said, to kind of help them to move further faster. And if there’s anything I’ve learned along the way, I love trying to help small businesses not to make the same mistakes or make different ones, or maybe learn from some of the things that I’ve done.

 

If there’s ever an opportunity where I can do that, I’lI love to invest back into other small businesses to try and help them to do some things well.

 

Sponsor Message: Before we end today’s episode, we’d like to thank our sponsors, 5 Step Marketing and BVoIP. Don’t forget to take advantage of your free one hour marketing strategy session with Josh and his team. That link, again, is 5stepmarketing.com/audit. That’s the number 5, 5stepmarketing.com/audit. And check out BVoIP if you’re looking to improve your telecom strategy. You can find BVoIP online at bvoip.com.

 

Dave Scott: Jason this has been wonderful, man. I really appreciate it. I appreciate your time and thanks for coming on the podcast.

 

Jason Etheridge: Thanks for having me. It’s always good to catch up with you.

 

Dave Scott: And thanks everyone again, for joining us today on the Confessions of an IT Business Owner podcast, where we believe that healthy cash flow is critical to your business, automation is paramount, and building trust with your clients by looking more professional is ultimately going to help you grow your IT business. To learn a little bit more about our podcast and listen in and download all of our recent shows, visit us online at ConnectBooster.com/podcast. That’s ConnectBooster.com/podcast.

 

And to learn a little bit more about Jason’s business, like he has said, visit him at logicspeak.com and feel free to follow him on Twitter. Thanks again everyone for joining us on today’s show. We’ll talk to you soon.

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