it-help-atlanta-podcast-episode-7

Episode #7:
Barry Adams and Eric Mintz

IT Help Atlanta Podcast Presented by TeamLogic

The following is a transcript of Episode 7 of the IT Help Atlanta presented by TeamLogic IT podcast. All episodes of the podcast can be found on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Announcer: Broadcasting from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, it’s time for “IT Help Atlanta,” brought to you by TeamLogic IT, your technology advisor. Now here’s your host, Rick Higgins.

Rick: Hey, good morning, everybody, and welcome to “IT Help Atlanta.” The podcast and radio show that profiles small businesses and highlights how those companies use technology to succeed. “IT Help Atlanta” is brought to you by TeamLogic IT, your managed services advisor, specializing in cybersecurity and cloud solutions. TeamLogic IT leverages cutting edge technology to solve all types of business problems. We make technology work for business. Go to ithelpatlanta.com for audio archives of this radio show and to learn more about our sponsor, TeamLogic IT. I’m your host today, I’m Rick Higgins, and today’s special guests are Barry Adams of Peachtree Awnings and Eric Mintz of EM Squared. Good morning, gentlemen.

Barry: Hey, good morning, Rick.

Eric: Good morning.

Rick: So, we’re going to start. We’re gonna do kind of a one-at-a-time scenario on the interview process and we wanna start with Barry. Barry, you’re the founder of Peachtree Awnings. Tell us in your own words who you are and what do you do?

Barry: Well, Rick, we are a manufacturer of custom commercial and residential awnings and canopies in the Atlanta metro area. We actually, we serve the entire Southeast. Our projects go from Central Florida down in Tampa, Orlando, up to Greenville, Birmingham. And then actually, I’m physically sitting at our location in Nashville, Tennessee right now. So, I’ve got a location in Nashville, and I got a location in Atlanta. We started the business in 2005, so we’ve been 15 years in business and yeah, we sell shade and it’s a lot of fun in this COVID era to help people enjoy their time and their staycations in their home. So yeah, we really enjoy that.

Rick: Thank you. Fifteen years, good for you, Barry. That’s really an amazing accomplishment. When you think back to prior to founding the company, you think back to all the reasons that you’ve thought about and what went into being an entrepreneur. What have you learned since then that’s been a really pleasant surprise, or something that’s been fulfilling to you that you just didn’t expect when you were first thinking about starting the business?

Barry: Well, it’s been a labor of love, Rick. I think for all small business people, it is a labor of love, and one of the things I’ve really come to appreciate about my business is that my business is my ministry. You know, I know there’s a lot of faith-based businesses out there but one of the pleasant surprises for me is we happen to be in the awning and canopy business, but I really enjoy helping people to become better people, you know, helping people to fulfill their potential in life, financially and professionally, and become better people. And I found that out after a number of years that I just really enjoy helping people move along a pathway of their choosing. And, it’s challenging. Some people come willingly and some people don’t participate fully, but my business is my ministry and I really enjoy what comes back to me. Whatever I put into it, it seems to come back to me times four, times five. It’s very rewarding in that respect.

Rick: Well, and learning how to get work done through others and managing those people, it really truly is the most difficult thing that a small business person can deal with, right?

Barry: Yeah.

Rick: Because you are the HR department. You know, you are the accounting department, you are the everything department, and sometimes you are the internal counselor to your people as well, right?

Barry: No question, and you have to be a bit of a renaissance man or renaissance person certainly in this day and age. You got to wear, I wear my marketing hat some days and I wear my HR hat some days, and sometimes it’s moment by moment. And I wear my financial, my CFO hat some days, and it changes literally moment by moment. The good news is that as you grow in size, then, of course, then the resources that you can hire or put in place to address some of those, you know, increases, it doesn’t necessarily relieve you of the responsibility of overseeing that part of your operation. But certainly, the old adage “Hiring people that are smarter than you” comes into play, and I was… I don’t know if it was Steve Jobs or somebody else who said that but, you know, hiring people that are smarter than you. And I’ve been blessed to bring people into my organization that were really, in their specific jobs, were really better than me, better than I could do it. And it’s gotten to a size, you know, I used to be able to wrap my arms around just about every problem or every situation that I encountered. But as we’ve gotten larger, I’ve had to make sure I have people in place that can do that.

And it’s gotten larger than me. And so it’s both exciting and terrifying at the same time to say that I’m not the person that can handle… I have more questions than answers every day. And it’s relieving in a sense that as a business owner, I don’t have to have the answers. I really have to, and my role and now is to pose the questions that cause us to get better. And it’s still challenging, by the way, to come up with the questions, but we come up with the questions and it’s a collaborative effort. And those things that we get accomplished, we get accomplished together and I like to say all of us know more than any of us. And so, in every regard, it is a collaborative team effort at Peachtree Awnings, so.

Rick: So, I recently read a four-page spread article on you and your company in a magazine in which you are on the cover. It’s a trade organization and the magazine’s called “Specialty Fabrics Review Magazine.” So, congratulations on that profile and that spread. There was a couple of really interesting nuggets that I pulled out of there that I’d like to ask you to talk about and unpack. And one of them just, I really highlighted it and I’m gonna read it here where you said in your business, it’s almost like being an architect. Could you discuss that and explain what you meant by that?

Barry: Yeah, sure. Well, again, one of the pleasant surprises about being in the awning and canopy business, it’s a custom business and every project that we tackle, even…two awnings or two canopies that look alike, I promise you, they’re not fabricated the same. And so it’s very, very custom work. So I like to say that, in my business, that we spend equal times… A third of the time, I’m a manufacturer, a third of the time, I am a contractor, and a third of the time, I’m an artist. So, equal parts manufacturing because it’s a shop-based business and we manufacture what we install. So, a third of the time, I’m a manufacturer, third of the time is spent out in the field, installing the stuff that we manufacture and that certainly has its challenges as well if you’ve ever been involved with a company or an operation that does field work. That is probably the most unpredictable job environment that you could possibly work in. You get anything and everything thrown at you every day.

Rick: No doubt.

Barry: So that is…yeah, that is really, really challenging. And especially in a thriving metropolitan area like Atlanta and Nashville, the variety of projects that we get involved with is pretty vast. And then a third of the time, I’m an artist. I’m creating a vision for somebody else. Quite frequently, we show up and there’s not a set of plans. You know, I’m meeting with a business owner, and they just have some kind of vision in their mind about what they want this piece or their storefront, or a courtyard, or what they want a certain area to look like, or how they want it shaded, or how they want it protected from rain or the elements. And so we have to create that vision almost from scratch. So it’s like baking, yeah, like baking from scratch. And you have to really be very adept at all three parts of the business in that regard to be successful, I think.

And so we’ve tried to do that at Peachtree Awnings. Never focusing on one of those disciplines to the exclusion of any other is really, really important and trying to develop yourself and develop your team in that way and deliver a very high level of customer service. Obviously, that’s what it’s all about. So, if there’s ingredients to the secret-secret sauce in the awning and canopy business, perhaps, that’s kinda it. That’s been my recipe, anyway.

Rick: Yeah. And that’s good advice for anybody in any vertical or any type of business. So, the other nugget, to use that word again, that I pulled out of here is you made a really interesting general comment about being an owner. And you said, “You have to work on your business rather than in your business.” Could you unpack that a little bit for us?

Barry: Sure, Rick. I think it’s a little counterintuitive for most of us. The more control you try to take, the more you wrap your arms around your business, actually, the less control you have. It’s, for all of us, I think our businesses are a baby, you know, and I try to treat my business literally like a living, breathing entity. And if you treat your living, breathing entity, your business with love and care and concern and nurture it, then it will return to you what you’ve put into it. But the more I try to control that by wrapping my arms around the things that I always used to do, right, I mean, when I started my business in 2005, there was three of us, I called it “the tripod” because it was me, a welder, and a seamstress. That was it, that was three of us. And now there’s 25 in the organization. Still small by anybody’s measure, but the more you wrap your arms around the functions and the things that you do in your business, the less control that you have, and the more that you give up, the more you’ll be able to grow your business. You know, there’s a continuum that we all operate on. And most of us start, it’s operator, owner-operator, owner, right? There’s a continuum there and we start as operator, we all most of us start as operator, many people never get out of that phase of operator. Not to pick on any one discipline or tradesperson, but there’s plenty of plumbers, electricians, painters that only stay in the operator phase.

And then we try to move a distance to owner-operator and I’m still kind of in that…still in that phase, but maybe starting to move a little bit more toward owner. And as we move in that continuum toward owner, then we can really work on our business rather than working in our business. And that is a very, very difficult transition to make. It’s not easy. And you’ve got to give up as much as you take on or you’ll never have that ability to grow. And so, I find that to be challenging for any small business owner.

Rick: It’s the only way to scale. I mean, an individual can only do so much as an operator, you cannot scale unless you can let go. And learning to let go is really, really tough. I just…maybe offline over a lunch or something, I wanna unpack that a little bit more with you to talk to you about exactly how you’re going through that transition.

Barry: Well, and it’s been pleasant to watch you, Rick, because you started, I mean, we started just, you know, maybe a few, I’d say a few years apart. I’ve watched you at TeamLogic IT do the same thing. It was you driving the bus and now you’ve got some really capable people working with you, and so it’s been a joy for us both as our businesses run in their life evolution somewhat in parallel and that’s been a pleasure. That’s been a pleasure to watch.

Rick: So, full disclosure to the listening audience, Barry and Peachtree Awnings are, what, a five-year client now of ours at TeamLogic IT?

Barry: Yeah, at least something like that. Yep.

Rick: Coming up on that.

Barry: Yeah, that’s right.

Rick: And likewise, we’ve really enjoyed working with you guys. Here’s one of my favorite questions, Barry. What is an aspect of your business that people don’t think about, but that you wish people would ask you about?

Barry: Well, these are trying times, and I’ve tried to be a leader in our business and in our community. I hope everybody who listens comes away with a sense that we, you know, we have a responsibility to the communities that we serve. It’s real easy to come in your office every day with your head on, kind of put your head down and start working, keep your head on the desk and stay on point. But we got a real opportunity to be business leaders once we embark on small business ownership, and so, I become the face of my business in the community. And we try to get involved in some philanthropic activities whether that’s the, used to be called the Norcross Cooperative Ministry, now it’s, I think, called the Neighborhood Co-Op, or, and different aspects that we can give back to the community because it’s given so much to us and provides our livelihood. And so, I hope…it’s difficult right now. I think a lot of nonprofits have suffered through the pandemic just because people are not wanting to be in close proximity to each other, but it’s really, really important for us to be strong community leaders and stand up and be recognized and have our people be honest as well.

Rick: You’ve done that, Barry, and I know you won’t mention it yourself so I’m gonna mention it for you. Folks, Barry Adams is the president of one of our local chambers of commerce here in North Metro Atlanta. He’s also the chairman of the board of the main trade organization that he works with, the nonprofit. So, congratulations, Barry, because it’s not just, for you, it’s not just talk, you really are pulling it off with your effort and those of us in small business understand what kind of effort that really takes. So, thank you for that service.

Barry: Thanks, Rick. I appreciate the recognition. Thank you so much.

Rick: Well, I wanna wrap up with you, Barry, but before I do, well, you tell the audience how to get in touch with you and find your business online or otherwise.

Barry: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Rick. Yeah, I mean, we can be found, www.peachtreeawnings.com, or, likewise, www.tennesseeawnings.com in the Metropolitan Nashville area and we’re moving to a new location in Lawrenceville in mid-September. So, yeah, we’ll be in a new facility about a mile from Sugarloaf Mills just off of Duluth Highway 120. Yeah, we’ll be in the new facility in mid-September. So, it’s an exciting time for us.

Rick: That second domain was tennesseeawnings.com because I think it broke up a little bit on the audio, so I wanna repeat that for the audience.

Barry: Yeah, tennesseeawnings.com.

Rick: Gotcha. Gotcha. Barry, thank you so much.

Barry: Thanks, Rick. Really enjoyed it. Thank you so much for having me.

Rick: All right. Take care. So, now let’s turn to our second guest. Eric Mintz of EM Squared. Eric, how are you? Good morning.

Eric: Oh, good morning. How are you guys?

Rick: Great. In your own words, Eric, tell the audience who you are and what do you do?

Eric: All right. I was actually gonna use your words but since you have, so I’ll use mine. I am the owner of EM Squared. EM Squared is a software company and we build custom software that automates business workflow. And we’ve been in business since 2001. So that’s nearly 20 years I’ve been in the business. I won’t do the math for you, but since 1985, I’ve been writing software. Started out with doing electrical engineering with Texas Instruments and then started doing software for them. A few years after starting with them, worked for NCR, worked as an independent contractor, did work for Turner Broadcasting, for Sprint, AT&T. And most recently, 20 years ago, started this company.

Rick: Twenty years. Congratulations.

Eric: Thank you.

Rick: That’s an amazing accomplishment and longevity. Give us, Eric, if you would, give us a success story. It doesn’t have to be anything recent but something where you helped out a client or someone and something that you’re particularly proud of. Is there anything that comes to mind?

Eric: Sure. We’ve got a client who is a music teacher. And when I say “music teacher,” I mean, he’s got schools in several states, and many teachers per school and they all go out and teach music lessons for kids at home. And he was kind of, the owner was working with some kind of homegrown software. And they were doing okay with that, initially, but as they started growing, it became kind of a ceiling that they couldn’t break through. And we developed end-to-end software for them to manage every aspect of their business from scheduling to billing to hiring teachers to paying, doing payroll, just really soup to nuts. And the feedback I got from that was their business grew, as a direct result of that, 30%.

Rick: Oh, wow, 30%?

Eric: Thirty percent.

Rick: Wow, wow. And that probably doesn’t even count the soft savings based from the efficiencies that you created as well, right?

Eric: Well, that’s right. I got that feedback a year after, it’s been longer now, since we’ve done that, but I got that feedback a year after we deployed it. And that was just the bottom line. That doesn’t include kind of soft savings and efficiencies.

Rick: Wow. That’s great. You mentioned the word “automate,” you say that you automate businesses. What does that really mean? Could you unpack that a little bit? Is it all software or what else does it include?

Eric: Yeah, well, a lot of it is software. But it also could include IoT devices. So, for example, let me start there, and then I’ll unpack what I mean by “automate.” So, one of the things we built for a client a little while back was a device that goes on trash bins. So, they’re a waste management company. And their challenge was that if they let the bins overflow, they lose customers. And if they dump them too frequently to keep them from overflowing, then that increased their costs, because that’s a cost every time they dump it. So we built a hardware device that attached to the hydraulics of the waste bins, and it would phone home, you know, letting us know, kind of how full it was. And when it was full enough, it would send an automatic work order to whoever’s responsible for emptying that bin to have it emptied. And then we would track to make sure that it really did get emptied or else somebody would have to follow up.

So that’s an example of how we can include not just software, because we wrote the software to do all that, but actually hardware devices as well that we can build that can integrate in. So, by “automate,” it could mean a complete automation of certain aspects. So it’s not gonna be where people don’t have to go into work anymore, people are still needed. But for example, if your salespeople or possibly your customer service people are supposed to send out email reminders, or text reminders, or something like that along the process of serving this customer, that can be completely automated. So, it only shows up on somebody’s dashboard if something went wrong, otherwise they just never see it, it goes out and it’s handled. Same thing with invoicing or even reporting. If you have investors, for example, and some of our clients do, that want periodic reports, that can be built completely automatically. We build a PDF, we email it out, and they never touch it. So this, I mean, those kind of things used to be things that would take somebody’s entire day to do, for example, doing the reporting or sometimes you miss the email reminders and things like that.

So, that’s kind of an example of things that we completely automate. A lot of times, it is decision support. So, for example, if you’re running a business and you have several different systems, you have an inventory management system, you have a finance system, you have a CRM, you have all these different pieces. And if you want to get an overall report of what’s going on to your business, well, that’s hard to do. And you may not even do it and you may need to do it, but you don’t because of how hard it is, and you may not even be able to get good information. So, we can approach it from two different directions. We can build the entire system. And sometimes it makes sense to do that, that gives you that decision support. And sometimes we integrate systems that you already have that you should keep. For example, maybe Salesforce is a good CRM for you, and you shouldn’t have a custom-built one. Or maybe your business is different enough and it needs to integrate tightly enough that you should have a CRM.

So for example, the music teacher has an integrated CRM because that made the most sense. So, decision support, process flow automation, and things like dashboards. So, instead of everybody having to dig in to kind of see what they need to do next, you know, certainly they can go look at the data and see those things. But what we do is have business rules that, depending on your role in the organization, that it will show things on your dashboard that you need to give attention to, so that way, things don’t slip through the cracks.

Rick: I love that concept to having everything on the “dashboard,” especially the important business metrics that really matter to you on a daily, monthly, quarterly basis, whatever. So, great. So, how, in general, do you find new business? Where do you find your clients? And how does that happen for you?

Eric: Yeah, that’s kind of evolved over the years, actually. So, back in 2001, when we started, right, I don’t know if you remember, well, actually, I’m sure everybody remembers, but remember the recession we had, I mean, it was pretty bad. And I had just started, I had just gone into business. And one of the things I didn’t know how to do as, as a technologist, that’s, I mean, that’s my background is technology. I didn’t have a clue even where to start. So, I had no idea. So, when I first started the business, I was getting all my business just word-of-mouth because I’ve been around doing work and contracting and people knew me and they would call me. As soon as that happened, I had to learn how to sell. And it was sink or swim, or sink or sell, you know, and I did that, actually a big part of that, for me, was joining the Atlanta Chamber. You know, that gave me a way to learn how to network and learn how to sell and things.

So, I guess, that is kind of the beginning of how I started being able to sell at all. So, even so, most of my business, most of my growth has been word of mouth from networking groups, from existing clients who stay with me and want more service or they recommend their buddies that could use this. Just recently within the last six months, I brought a guy on who’s a really good salesperson. So, this is a brand new thing for me and he’s really drumming up some good business and we’re kind of on the next ramp, the next ramp up from where I could go just as myself, as a non-salesperson.

Rick: That’s a great step that you’ve found someone that you trust, and as you say, they’re great. This might be an interesting change in your business for you.

Eric: Yeah, I’m counting on that. I think it will be and it’s already, just in a short time, already starting to really take off.

Rick: So, 20 years as an entrepreneur. Well, again, congratulations on that, that’s impressive.

Eric: Thank you.

Rick: And I know you’re proud of it. When you were thinking about starting the business, I know you had all kinds of motives and desires and expectations. But now at 20 years at this point, looking back, what are you finding is something that, in a way, which you’re fulfilled that you just did not expect 20 years ago when you were thinking about this?

Eric: Well, I’ll tell you. Back when I was just working a job working for other people, I mean, at one point, I was green and I was learning, but at one point, but at some point after that, I really got good at my skill set and my trade and I knew how to do the right things and how to do things right. And I found myself working for people who were junior, and they were good people, they just didn’t have the experience and they were making mistakes that I sat and watched them make and couldn’t talk them out of and knew exactly what the outcome of that mistake would be. So, one of the things as a business owner, and I can kind of set up the business the way I want to, is I can really do things right and the fruits of that is amazing to actually see things work like they should.

You read the technical journals about how the successful projects go. And they actually go that way when you’re able to run them right. So, that’s very fulfilling to be able to really, I mean, genuinely help people, not just provide a service. I don’t just think in terms of, “We’re gonna write this software because you asked me to write this software,” I’m thinking in terms of, “Your business has hit a ceiling because you’ve grown beyond the resources, the technical resources you have. And I’m gonna make it so that you can break through that ceiling and have another growth spurt.”

Rick: Right, and scale.

Eric: I think that’s very fulfilling. That’s right, to scale.

Rick: Yeah, and the hands-on helping, helping other small businesses or otherwise. Well, that’s great. That’s interesting. And I don’t think I’ve heard that… I’ve asked this question of everyone I’ve interviewed, Eric, and I’ve never heard that exact answer. So, good for you. Good for you.

Eric: Thank you.

Rick: One of my favorite questions to ask in this process, and I always like to do it, is, what is an aspect of your business that people don’t think about, but that you wish people would ask you about?

Eric: Well, they know we’re technologists and they know we do software. And some people know that we do the hardware for IoT and things like that. But most people, until we start working with them, until after a little bit of time that we start working with them, don’t realize that part of what we do, as part of our software automation process, is actually process reengineering. So as, I’ve actually come out of first meetings, and this has happened a few times where I would come out of a first meeting with a client that we’ve just signed up, and we’re doing our interview process to understand their business workflow. And I’ve actually suggested changes that don’t have anything to do with technology in a single meeting that saved them tons of time. You know, because that’s just part of the process. So, I wish people would think more in terms of not just, “What software can I write to solve a problem that I’ve already identified?” but just look overall at how we do business. And you’ve seen lots of businesses and how they work. Look for the bottlenecks that you can solve, whether it’s through technology or otherwise.

Rick: Great answer. All right, Eric, I wanna go ahead and wrap up with you. But before I do, tell the audience how to get in touch with you and find your business online or otherwise.

Eric: Oh, sure. So the name of the business is EM Squared. That’s” M” as in Mike, EM Squared, all spelled out, and that website is www.emsquared-inc.com.

Rick: Great. Thank you, Eric, thank you so much for your time this morning. You did great and we really appreciate you being here.

Eric: I enjoyed it, Rick, thanks for having me.

Rick: Folks, that’s it for this version of the “IT Help Atlanta” radio show. Again, we’re sponsored by TeamLogic IT. We make technology work for business. So, for my guests, Eric Mintz and Barry Adams, I’m Rick Higgins and join us next time on “IT Help Atlanta.”