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.

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A Successful Night for Charity


poker

Our winner showing over her stack of chips and her Club Level seats to the Redskins game! Our runner up showing the Agony of Defeat!

This past Friday we held our first ever Charity Poker Tournament to raise money for two great charities (The Jason Beach Foundation and the Washington Literacy Center). Putting on this tournament turned out to be a lot more work than I expected it to be and heading into the event I really wasn’t sure if it would all be worth it. Well, we found out quickly that it was.

All of the participants seemed to have a great time as they enjoyed the open bar, the buffet, the poker, and the conversations at the poker tables and around the room. Some even ended the night by enjoying some dancing in an adjoining room at the club!

Since the event I have had several people come up to me to comment on how much fun it was and request that we hold another one in the future. Done.

A big challenge for Dave and I is to always try to be creative when planning events to try to pick events that can be enjoyed by all types of people. We have held Iron Chef cooking contests, bowling parties, Top Golf outings, Happy Hours, attended Nationals games, Redskins games among other charity events like cleaning up students laptops at the Literacy Center, charity walks, making care packages for soldiers. To me the perfect events are ones where we can combine having a fun night with raising money or helping out charities. That’s exactly what we got with the poker night. Everyone had a blast and Dave and I were able to present both charities with checks that we know will be put to great use. I am already looking forward to an even bigger and better poker night next year!

Love Letters for Literacy – Great Night


Last night was the annual Love Letters for Literacy event hosted by The Washington Literacy Center. It’s the event where the center throws a beautiful gala to thank people, raise money, and allow some of their students to speak from the heart about how the center has impacted their lives.

integrateIT was selected this year by the WLC as a recipient of the annual Champion of Literacy Award Winner. As a result, the team at WLC hosted us for the event and boy did we have a good time. The event featured a cocktail hour, an auction, a delicious dinner, and an awards program. To me (and I am pretty sure everyone else) the highlight of the evening were listening to two students at the center READ about their experiences at the center and how it has changed their lives which always resulted in standing ovations from the entire crowd.

To me this evening was rewarding not just because we received an award. It was more rewarding having so many of the WLC volunteers and staff come up to us to thank us for the volunteer work integrateIT is doing. This was confirmation for me personally that getting involved with this organization was a great decision. To hear one of the staff thank Tim for working all weekend (and his wife, Allie, for letting him work all weekend) on a new screening tool that will automate a 100% manual process, made me smile. I was proud of Tim just as I am proud of every single one of our employees that took time out of their lives this past year to help a great organization.

As I have said before, it’s a great benefit that we offer each of our employees $1000 a year to donate to the charity of their choice and we will certainly continue to offer this benefit. This past year, I wanted our company to roll up our sleeves and donate some of our time/talents to a great cause. As I sat at the table last night, it was one of the most rewarding experiences for me personally just to look around our table and see our employees smiling, having a good time, and being recognized by countless members of the WLC team for the work they did.

My goal for 2014 is for us to not only increase our involvement at WLC but also to find another organization that we can also get involved with and donate more of our time and talents.

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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.

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.

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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

Victory!


Last Thursday I received the call that we had been awarded the contract we have long been awaiting a response on. I actually can only recall the first few seconds of the phone call because once I got the word that we won, I was done. My mind raced with so many emotions….pride, excitement, amazement, nervousness, and anxiety because now the hard work begins. If we can’t produce results then we won’t survive to see the end of this 5 year contract we have just been awarded.

When I started integrateIT in 2004, people used to always ask me, what my goals were for the company. My goal has NEVER been to sell the company and cash in. My goal has always been to grow a company that people want to work for and one day retire working for this company. Our number one goal has been to win a prime contract. The reason this is big in our industry is for a few reasons. For starters it provides a little more stability for a company and also more flexibility in your ability to hire the people you want without needing to get approval from another company. The other reason winning a prime contract is important is because it shows other people you know what you are doing and gives you the confidence that you can do it again.

3 years ago we attempted a prime contract bid and we were slapped in the face by reality. At that time the reality was we were not ready or qualified to be a prime contractor. The government had no problem telling us this in our debrief in what was a painful hour long meeting where we were bluntly told all the things we did wrong or could have done better in our proposal. It was demoralizing and at that time I wasn’t sure if we would ever attain this goal. Fast forward to last week and you can see why we were so overjoyed by this award. We had to make a tough decision to go forward with all of this work to submit this proposal after the last experience of being shot down big time. We did it. We really have come a long way and it feels great. So many people deserves thanks for helping us get o this point…..a great co owner, our families for supporting us, mentors who have helped give us guidance along the way, and of course our employees that provide us with an incredible story to tell to our potential clients of previous successes we have obtained.

I think what my co owner Dave wrote last Thursday sums up how I feel about this award. “I think we made it”!

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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.