Monday, July 25, 2011
Monday, July 18, 2011
A funny thing happened during the last four years of the recession. It seems that it has now become OK to just be OK. It appears that we have re-defined success at much lower levels of expectation than prior to the recession. It shows up everywhere in our language. A few examples:
· “Flat is the new up”
· “We’ve maintained our position”
· “We’re up from last year” (but up is still well below 2008 or 2009)
· “We’re holding our own”
· “We’re doing well…considering the economy”
Is it true that we no longer seek to achieve new heights or lofty objectives? Have we become less powerful, less motivated, less capable, and less confident? When was the last time a leader advanced a bold objective like “Put a man on the moon in the next decade?” How would we react if someone did advance an idea so bold? Would we snicker and roll our eyes? Do we now feel powerless to take on such a significant challenge?
We not only no longer expect and demand greatness; we have become tolerant of mediocrity. It now seems unfashionable to differentiate between levels of performance. People are incapable of providing and accepting constructive criticism about improvements. We congratulate each other for mediocre performance. The overwhelming us of the word “awesome” is one example.
I seldom attend a meeting anymore where someone is not congratulated for an “awesome” performance. It doesn’t seem to matter what the performance level is, the response is still the same: Someone who can’t get the basics right for an event or project is congratulated on an awesome job; a leader who barely maintains an organization’s or government entity’s status is saluted for an awesome term; the president of a company who avoids risk and therefore doesn’t make a mistake is saluted for maintaining the status quo.
Certainly there are pockets of exciting opportunity. I see these everyday as our consulting firm works with the firms who are becoming Colorado success stories. However, this innovative segment is less than one-third of the economy. It is a different world with the mainstream two-thirds. Is this malaise of mediocrity the product of the “everyone gets a ribbon” generation, or “grade inflation,” or just lowered expectations? Is this condition temporary, or are we witnessing a seismic cultural shift? Has our collective desire for greatness and achievement been battered and diluted by economic stress?
Is it just me, or has it become OK to just be OK?
Monday, July 4, 2011
Maria Vogt and Sonya Yungeberg are co-owners who lead Ayuda Management which provides services to a select client base in the areas of general contracting/construction management, construction defect repair, homeland defense consulting/security system design and installation, and environmental consulting.
The company became a Small Business Administration 8a-certified minority business contractor in 2006. Today, a significant portion of its business is in projects with government entities. The company has grown from $275,000 in revenues in 2006 to $25 million in 2010. Ayuda Management has been recognized as one of the 2011 Colorado Companies to Watch.
When I recently met with the two partners over lunch, they collaborated on the responses to my questions about the business. I was reminded how well they work together. Over the last five years, they have developed a close business partnership that has been a critical ingredient to Ayuda's successful growth.
Your operating philosophy seems unusual for a government contractor.
We operate with a few basic principles: We do what we say we'll do. We under-promise and over-deliver. We focus most of our energy on building clients for life. Our processes, hiring, reward systems, and training are centered on the belief that delivering high quality service to our clients leads to repeat business. We stress to all of our people to put client interest before profit. We reward our employees not based on profit, but on customer satisfaction. We feel that, if the customers are pleased, profit will follow. We like working with the Federal government. We understand the Federal systems and procedures and perform well in that environment.
You have an unusual sales compensation system. You don't reward for generating new customers, but for repeat business with existing customers.
It bothered us in previous companies that the emphasis was always placed on getting the next new customer, but not necessarily on doing the best job for existing customers. So we decided that we would reward our people for getting repeat business with existing customers. This puts the emphasis on maintaining excellent relationships, encouraging strong, open communication, and a commitment to over-delivering on the current projects. Clients have responded. When they are pleased with our performance, they want to offer us opportunities on newer and larger projects.
Has the recession caused any bumps for you?
There was one... very large bump. In 2009 we had a client that went into bankruptcy leaving a large balance unpaid. We still owed the subcontractors and suppliers. We recognized that how we handled this problem was a defining moment for our business. We wanted to do the right thing - to pay everyone. So we met with all the subcontractors as well as our bank and had a direct, open, and honest discussion about what we thought we could do. Everyone bought in to the plan. Our bank and our bonding company could not have been more supportive. It took us over a year but everyone got repaid - it was over $1 Million.
Taking a $1 million out of your pockets must have been painful.
We took a hard look at every expense and really tightened our belts. We decided we could answer our own phone calls for a while. It was actually a good experience because it forced us to really re-examine our overhead and expense structure. We feel really proud that we were able to make everyone whole.
What are the keys to continued growth over the next five years?
We want to expand our services and revenue in the Federal marketplace. We are exploring the development of a teaming arrangement that has been sanctioned by the SBA. This is a "mentor-protégé" relationship with a larger firm with a greater geographical footprint so that Ayuda can meet the qualifications for larger federal projects. We would operate as a joint venture on a project-by-project basis. This relationship benefits both companies since the larger firm would be able to bid on projects with an 8a-certified firm, and Ayuda would have greater capacity to be able to perform these larger projects. The selection of the right industry partner for such an intimate relationship is a critical decision for us. We are looking for a company that has a similar culture and commitment to the customer.
I have to ask you about your partnership. What makes it work so well?
We genuinely like each other and respect each other. We think it also helps that we have different strengths and skills- Maria's background is in construction and business development, while Sonya is a civil engineer and very knowledgeable about project management. We operate by consensus. We agreed that if one of us ever strongly disagreed with a decision, that was probably a good reason to reconsider.
Sunday, July 3, 2011
By David P. Mead
Editor's note: This article was first published in ColoradoBiz magazine earlier this year.
Recently I spoke with John Williamson, CEO of Golden-based Qualvu, which has introduced disruptive innovation to the world of consumer focus groups, surveys and qualitative consumer market research. Qualvu was recognized as a 2010 Colorado Company to Watch.
Q: How did you decide to get into the business?
A: Every Fortune 1000 consumer-focused company in the world uses qualitative research extensively. The industry offered interesting opportunities for a startup: the chance to disrupt a market largely untouched by web-based innovation, to introduce self-serve methods, and importantly to make qualitative research accessible to thousands of companies beyond the Fortune 1000.
Qualvu, founded in early 2008, pioneered a breakthrough online experience for conducting web-based consumer feedback, allowing businesses to take their qualitative research online without losing the face-to-face connections crucial to understanding customers. By connecting companies with their customers around the globe via webcams, flip cams and even consumers' smart phones, Qualvu delivers more compelling and actionable business intelligence than focus groups, and because of cost efficiencies, it's available to any business. We call it "finding your truth" - and it's a really empowering Do-It-Yourself experience.
Q: How do you compete and achieve differentiation?
A: Qualvu was first to market with an innovative process that allows any user with an Internet connection - either PC or video mobile phone - to provide video-based feedback at the press of a button. Clients realize speed, cost and global reach advantages. Our clients can set up projects at any time day or night, and gain access to their consumers at home, at work, while shopping, or anywhere they interact with the client's products. Over the past 3 years, we have developed a proprietary process and technology to convert the data to highlight reels of key insights as well as online video reports too.
Q: What have been your biggest challenges?
A: We have constantly fine-tuned every aspect of the experience - from a self-serve project portal, to finding better participants, to delivering online reports within hours complete with video highlight reels of the most relevant and compelling consumer feedback, to creating completely searchable video. Every day is a new breakthrough in our refinement.
Our biggest challenge is getting the word out! We're just now starting to really pop on the industry radar, as we've attracted a who's who of clients, such as Chrysler, Procter & Gamble, eBay, Yahoo!, T-Mobile, Disney, Adidas, Pfizer, just to name a few. We'll start expanding our penetration beyond these larger companies as people begin to realize we're a site for any business that needs deep insights to make better decisions.
Q: What are the keys to continued growth over the next 5-10 years?
A: Relentless innovation to keep our technical and process advantages. A lot of that has to do with enabling breakthroughs in data mining video content, so our clients can increase the value of every project over time as they consolidate and re-assess consumer video data, trends, and insights. The beauty is that the more you use Qualvu, the better it gets.
Q: How do you maintain the culture and still build the management team required to grow?
A: We find great people and promote from within. We find smart, creative people who have a positive attitude and a strong work ethic who want to be a part of what Qualvu is accomplishing. One of our mantras to every new hire is, "Welcome to Qualvu. You'll do the best work of your career here." People see career paths because Qualvu is a meritocracy. We try to reward effort, talent, initiative, and values.
Q: How do global factors influence your growth?
A: Anyone with an Internet connection around the world can provide information vital to our clients' products and services. Certainly given the economic conditions globally the past couple of years, more brands are trying to do more research with less - and that's helped Qualvu gain traction more quickly I believe, as these types of conditions have the tendency to spawn new models that break through because buyers are more open to innovation to solve their business problems.
We opened an office in Dublin this year to expand our global reach. Dublin is accessible, has a multi-national workforce, and is cost efficient. Interestingly more money is spent on qualitative research today in Europe than in the US, and we intend to support our global client base with expansion to other markets too.