Why an IT Company?

I was asked recently to write a blog entry about why I chose to start an IT company. Was this my dream from when I was a kid or something? As my mom can attest, I always talked about being a businessman and growing up always pretended I was running my own business. Back then it was selling baseball cards or designing and operating my own golf course. So I always had the business gene. What I didn’t have though is the Technology gene (and still don’t really). If you ranked the technology aptitude of the individuals working for integrateIT, I would fall near the bottom of the list. Although I know I would fall ahead of Dave so I have that going for me.

What Dave and I have as opposed to the technology gene is the opportunity gene. We both have a skill at identifying an opportunity and making the most of it. We can identify a need a customer has and deliver on that need. We do this by providing the customer exactly what they are asking for and with a great attitude and energy. For me it was a customer that requested that I come back to work for her to lead a program. That request lit the light bulb in my head that she was specifically requesting ME to lead that program…and that it wouldn’t matter which company I worked for. That was it. There was nothing more to it…11 years later here I am.

Is this my dream job? I would say that running my own company and working for my self is absolutely my dream job but that the type of business I run is not necessarily. As I mentioned before I have never really had the technology gene and so that continues to be something I work on and try to improve upon. I still call my brother anytime I have IT questions myself (HE has the IT gene in the family). Running this company is something that I believe I have gotten good at and so I will continue to grow it for as long as I can until it is time for me to start my next endeavor. What that is…who knows. I still have many other aspirations that I may try to pursue someday (Sr PGA professional, house flipper, politician to name a few). I laugh at the thought that I would actually be able to do any of these…but then again I am sure I laughed back in the day at the thought that I would run a company as well.


CVS…No more smokes…Smart or Not?

Today we posted on our Facebook Page an article about how CVS has decided to stop sales of cigarettes in stores starting October 1 (http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-02-05/the-strategy-behind-cvss-no-smoking-campaign?google_editors_picks=true). I figured since we posted it on the site and since it’s been in the news the past day I’d weigh in with my opinion from a business perspective.

For starters let me say that I am not nor have I ever been a smoker. I am writing this opinion strictly from a business standpoint and I know there are people (specifically the management of CVS) that will disagree with me here. I believe this decision is a huge misstep on the part of CVS management. I admire them taking the stand and I think the fewer people that smoke the better we all are. But let’s be honest, CVS stopping the sale of cigarettes will not cause people to suddenly stop smoking. Therefore they will begin to go elsewhere to buy their cigarettes. CVS estimates they do about $2 billion in sales of cigarettes a year. Now while this seems like a huge number, it actually only equates to about 2% of their overall sales. My thought however is that when a person comes into a CVS to buy their cigarettes they more often than not pick up other items when they are there. Those lost sales need to be factored in here as well. Conversely, I find it hard to believe that they will gain many new customers that are willing to drive further (otherwise they would already be going there) to give CVS their business just because they don’t sell cigarettes. This isn’t like going to a bar or a restaurant that is smoke free when all others are not. For this decision to pay off, CVS needs to attract new people to their stores because they do not sell cigarettes there.

Essentially CVS just got a free ad campaign to advertise they are a health conscious company putting their money where their mouth is. The $2 billion question….did they make the right decision? Time will tell but I think this decision will hurt them on the bottom line even though it will definitely help them in the PR department and we are all better off if less people smoke.

What do you think?

Capstone 2013

This week marks one of my favorite weeks of the year professionally. It is the week where the students in the Applied IT program at George Mason present their final projects for the Capstone Program. I have been a member of the Industry Advisory Board now for over 3 years and one of the ways I help out is by sitting on the judges panel for their final projects.

The goal of the program is to teach students the skills they need to be successful in the work environment. The Capstone Class specifically places the students into teams who then go off and work with real businesses to identify areas in which Information technology can improve the business. The team operates as consultants for the business by learning about the business and identifying some potential areas for improvement in the 492 class. Then in the 493 class they develop working prototypes of their solutions and present them to the judges.

It is always impressive to me to see the ideas the students come up with and the quality solutions that can be developed over the course of just months. More impressive to me though is how interested the class is in learning from the feedback they get from the judges and how professional they act towards their the judges, their clients, their professors and most importantly their peers.

Often times owning a business can be a very frustrating endeavor with government shutdowns, budget cuts and other items that have a way of sucking the energy and motivation out of me. Things like the Capstone program serve as a means to re-energize me professionally and remind me that I really do love what I do. The energy and excitement the students show during this week is contagious and for that reason I am excited to be volunteering this week.

My Night at GMU

Last night I once again had the privilege of serving on the judges panel for final projects of the Capstone program at George Mason University. I serve as a member of the Industry Advisory Board for their Applied Information Technology program and everytime I attend anything associated with this program I walk away impressed. I am still amazed that more schools around the country have not adopted this type of program.

The goal of the program is to teach students the skills that they need to be able to apply their technical skills on a job site after graduation. These are things that most students will not learn until they are already in their first job and learn them the hard way. These are some skills most people think are understood or should not need to be taught but as many of us in business can attest are not. Things like working on a team, presentation skills, the elevator speech, etc. I know which students are a part of the Capstone program the minute I walk into the building…they are the ones wearing shirts and ties as opposed to ripped T shirts and jeans. They are the students that show up prepared and on time to the class.

Last night was the night they got to present their final projects to the panel. The students break into teams and work with a local business to identify challenges that business is faced with and then come up with ways to improve that business through the use of IT. They work with this business all semester and then present their findings on final project night. The panel, 3 or 4 individuals with a wide variety of business backgrounds including sometimes retired colonels or generals, then grill the teams with questions about their findings. Sometimes the questions are brutally honest and the teams are dealt hard lessons about their projects. One group in particular last night was dealt a hard dose of reality that the company they were trying to help needed much more than IT to help them survive. This was a company that is potentially weeks away from going out of business. What would implementing an Inventory Management System do for them? We could see the disappointment in their faces as this hit them. What will they use for their project next semester now? (semester 2 is when they actually implement their findings from semester 1). These 5 kids (I often have to remind myself that yes these are still just kids) impressed me to no end. When the presentation ended I had an idea for them for a new project that they could work on with my company. We sat around an extra half hour after class ended with the Dean of the school of engineering and this group and we discussed a plan of attack to get these guys back in the game. Their energy immediately picked back up and they were excited to get back on the horse and start working again. As I walked in my door last night at 11PM after a long day of work followed by these presentations I was tired sure…but those 5 students reminded me why I volunteer for that program. Those students are the future employees, team leads, and who knows…maybe even business owners. Knowing that they appreciate the time and are interested in learning makes the late nights totally worth it. As I sat drinking my coffee this morning I was thinking about last night and all I keep thinking about is what a powerful lesson for these students. Anyone that does anything in business knows that at some point you are going to be dealt a disappointing message about your project, your job, your company, or something else. How you react and deal with this is what defines you. These guys dealt with their harsh message like true professionals.

Best Companies to Work For 2013

As most people that know me now are probably aware, integrateIT was recently informed that we will be featured on the 2013 Best Company to Work for List for 2013 when it is released by the Washington Business Journal next month (yes I am proud of this so forgive me). To many, this is just some stupid marketing gimmick. To me though, this is aknowledgement that a decades worth of work has been noticed. All of the reasons why integrateIT will show up on this list have been years in the making. They are the core principles of a company that was established in 2004 as just a pipe dream. It represents sticking to these ideals even after we have been told by several people that it wouldn’t work or that these things we cared about just weren’t that important to others. I am proud of our company not for this award but because of what this award symbolizes. It symbolizes that you can come up with an idea and if you stick to it you can make it work. Obviously you can’t do it alone and that’s what else this award symbolizes to me. That after nearly a decade in business we have it figured out. We have the right people in the right jobs and we are doing things the right way and this award also symbolizes to me that we need to continue exactly that…doing it our way.

Our Proposal Process

We just put the finishing touches on another Prime Contract bid and it got me thinking how far we have come from a few years ago after our first failed attempt. I will never forget the debrief from that effort. It was actually humiliating to sit there and have the customer reach to find positives to tell us about what we put together and submitted to them. Our documents were terrible, our resumes were terrible, everything we submitted to them..was terrible. We were at a crossroads and had to make a decision. Do we take it as a huge slap in the face and give up or do we listen to them and learn from the process. I still have the set of debriefing slides sitting on my desk in my office. Anytime someone tells us we can’t do something I think back to those slides and that failed effort and think how far we have come in just a few short years.

Since that effort we have been awarded 2 prime contracts and have just finished up and submitted yet another bid this week. This last one reminds us how far we have come because we were able to turn the effort around in a 10 day period (calendar days not business days) which is an extremely aggressive turnaround time for a proposal. Not only did we meet the date, we still had both of our owners doing billable work during the day to clients during that time. Dave and I have gotten very efficient at this process and we both compliment each others roles very well. In fact this last effort was done with only one face to face meeting between us. That meeting lasted about 30 minutes. We laid out our plan of attack and our outline for our documents. We then split up the tasks and got to work. We both have great confidence in each others abilities and that is critical when pulling together a proposal on a quick turnaround.

The other thing we have working in our favor is a great team. As soon as we find out about the proposal we send an email to our entire staff to see if anyone has any interest in helping out. The only people we will ask to assist us after that are people that replied to that initial email. We will never ask anyone twice to give us their time to work on a proposal. We signed up to own this company and part of that responsibility is doing work after hours to grow this business. Our employees did not sign up to work around the clock on proposals. In fact that is one of the reasons many of them join us to begin with; because they come from big companies where that is the norm. That being said, our employees are paid for every hour they spend on a proposal all the way down to editing a proposal document for us….another aspect that is very different from most other companies.

Our recruiter Lee is our other Ace in the Hole on these efforts. As soon as Dave and I identify our staffing needs for a proposal, I get on the phone with Lee and tell him what we need and off he goes. Lee pre screens countless individuals and narrows down to a list of people we need to meet iwth in person. He then looks at our calendars and sets up in person interviews for us. This last effort, we interviewed about 9 people over the course of a 4 day period to make 3 job offers.

The bottom line with proposals is that it really doesn’t take a team on overhead working on nothing but proposals in order to be successful. In fact, I would argue those companies that do that ar eoften times at a disadvantage because they have people writing their proposals who don’t stand to really benefit from winning those proposals. Whereas for a company like us we have our two owners doing the work. We know how to sell our business. We after all made it what it is today. The last effort we were awarded, we beat out two companies that had over 300 employees each. The look on their faces was priceless to us as we sat around a table with them when they were informed that they were beat out by us….”two kids” as we were sure they were thinking.

There will undoubtedly be more losses in our future…it’s the nature of the business. But we also now can guarantee that there will also be many wins as well. In the past we would question that and wonder if we should continue to pursue prime contracts or just settle to continue to be a subcontractor. It has been proven to us over and over again that it pays to be different.

A Virtual Company

Choosing the location for your corporate offices is a very big decision. Deciding where to locate can determine how much it will cost you to provide goods and services to your customers and dictate how competitive you will be in the market. Many companies end up spending a lot of money in order to have a beautiful office with a big logo on the building. What would you say if I told you that the best location for your corporate offices is no location at all? At integrateIT, we have been operating out of a virtual office now for 9 years and believe it is one of the keys to our company’s success. 

What exactly is a virtual office? A virtual office is when a company operates on a day to day basis without a physical corporate location. Our employees work either remotely or on a client site. We have a business address that is used for receiving mail and as our official place of business and we believe that we save countless dollars annually by operating in this fashion.

Here are some of the practices we follow that allow us to operate our company virtually.

Owners on Overhead – We have one Overhead employee (recruiter) and this includes our owners. Our owners have scaled back billable hour targets to allow us to perform some tasks required of an owner but most of our work is done in off hours (nights and weekends). A common practice of many small companies is that their owners immediately stop working on billable projects. The thought they have is the only way to grow the business is to have them focused on growing the business. We have found this to not be true. In fact, we have found that having owners on client site has actually helped us grow our business.

Staff Meetings – When operating with a virtual office, it is important to get your staff together periodically so they can hear what’s going on within the company. It also serves as opportunity for them to share information with the other staff and also allows for the social aspect a company can offer. This is why we hold quarterly staff meetings and follow it up with a company sponsored happy hour. We pay about $150 to rent a conference room for an hour and it is all set up for us so we only have to show up. The cost of office space is thousands of dollars a month.

HR, Accounting, Security – We outsource these on an as needed basis. For HR we use my wife who at the time we had a need was on Maternity leave from her job.  This gave her opportunity to work some hours (and have grown up time) and also gave us opportunity to keep our HR in house with someone we trusted. She has since returned to work but continues to serve in our HR role and we have found no issues with the level of support we are able to provide our staff due largely to her ability to streamline our HR processes. As far as Accounting and Security goes, we use them on an hourly basis when the need arises. Our security person is actually located in Alabama and provides our staff with a tremendous level of support.

Pay employees to perform OH tasks……At integrateIT, wee encourage staff to get involved wherever they would like to and we compensate them for their time. Our staff serves as our web developer/content manager, they help on proposals, work on business development efforts among other things. All of their extra time they spend is compensated at their regular hourly rate. Doing this eliminates the need to hire full time individuals to perform these tasks or hourly resources that are not familiar with our business. It also allows our staff to get involved with the company and help it to grow.

Business Development – Our owners perform the Business Development tasks for our company. We have been extremely successful with our approach. We now have 9 contracts including 2 prime contracts. We also have GSA approved rates. We have teamed with most of the big companies in the metro DC area and many of them have ongoing relationships with us. We also now sit on the Advisory Board for the Applied Information Technology program at George Mason University. All of these tasks have been accomplished while both of our owners are working on client site and have been done above and beyond these regular billable jobs. This allows us to maintain a revenue stream for positions that are typically huge costs to small companies.

Recruiting – we have recently hired a recruiter based out of Florida who became our first overhead employee in our 9 year history. He works out of his home and uses several means to identify candidates and then pre screens them via a skype web interview. If the candidate passes his initial screening then he schedules an in person interview with one of the owners who makes the ultimate hiring decision. The in person interviews take place usually over coffee or lunch. We find this alleviates one of our major needs for having a physical office and also provides a more casual laid back interview for the candidate.

Director of Talent Management – This is the resource that manages our personnel. He does performance reviews, manages employee issues as they arise and works with employees to plan their careers. This role is also done above and beyond the persons billable job. He is paid hourly for all work performed in this role and also has an incentive plan set up that revolves around the retention of the company resources.

Benefits Consulting – We use a benefits broker to assist us with our benefits as well as with consulting on HR issues as they arise. The broker prices out coverages for us annually and then works with us to enroll or renew coverage. They also are available to meet with us to discuss HR issues that we may be dealing with for the first time as a small company.

Setting up and running a virtual office is not easy and has many challenges associated with it. However, we believe that we have gotten extremely good at it and truly look to this as one of the reasons we have been so successful over the past 9 years.


Geoff is the CEO of integrateIT (http://www.integrateit.net). integrateIT strives to provide innovative solutions to organizations within the public and private sectors in the Washington, DC metro area and beyond. We aim to supply clients with qualified, energetic resources that foster both a winning team attitude and a wealth of technical and management expertise. integrateIT strives to add value to clients by successfully completing projects within budget, scope, and schedule requirements