Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Colorado success stories: Brierley Associates

Expertise, value, and responsiveness lead to success underground
Editor's note: This is another in a series of Colorado company success stories as told by CEOs and business owners.
When I recently met with Gary Brierley, CEO of Brierley Associates, I was wondering how we would find enough material to fill a 90-minute interview. Two hours later, I was thoroughly engaged in a conversation about solving difficult client problems, delivering exceptional value to clients, and building a successful business with a national reputation for excellence.
You might think that this doesn't sound much different than other Colorado success stories companies... except we were talking about building tunnels. Brierley Associates provides design, analysis, and management consulting services for underground construction such as tunnels, mining, and quarry projects and excavation support.
Dr. Gary Brierley is passionate about building tunnels. He is even more animated about solving problems. His energy and enthusiasm are infectious. Over the last 12 years, he has surrounded himself with like-minded people who live to solve problems. Brierley was recently recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in Colorado growing 79 percent between 2009 and 2010 to $9.3 million in revenue with 2011 growth that is estimated to exceed another 50 percent in 2011.
How do you compete?
We exist to design and build things underground. It is a niche within a niche within a niche in the construction industry. It is highly specialized and has limited competition. If you look at the number of people who know what they are doing in the tunnel business, there may be less than 1000 in total in the United States. This business is perceived as high risk so that keeps the competition to a minimum.
We have great knowledge and expertise, but we are also very responsive. Two thirds of our work is repeat business - we strive to keep every client. We want clients to know how important the success of their project is to us. There's an old saying, ‘I don't care how much you know, until I know how much you care.'
We compete based on responsiveness and value. We do not compete on price - we offer a fair price but high value. You talk with a real person when you call - and within five minutes you can be talking with an engineer or a geologist. Our clients need an answer when they call with a question, issue, or a problem. We need to be there when they need us. We strive to add value to every interaction with every client and to establish a trusting relationship.
Has the path always been smooth?
We started in 1999 with the simple philosophy that if we did good work and worked hard, we would be successful. For the first ten years, we did exactly that. We did good work, built credibility, and earned a loyal following from clients. We enjoyed steady growth. Then two years ago, we hit an inflection point and began to grow rapidly. In 2009, we acquired Denver-based Lyman Henn, Inc. which was very complementary since it added significant business in Colorado. Brierley's business had been more nationwide so we had virtually no overlap in markets. This year we bought another company, Berti-Lindquist Consulting Engineers in San Francisco, which has greatly expanded our presence in the California market.
What are the keys to your future growth?
We do not have specific goals for growth - we tend to go with the flow. Our biggest problem is finding the right people - people who do tunnels but are also customer-focused and responsive. There are no degree programs in tunnel engineering. It takes about ten years of experience for someone to become a good tunnel engineer. You have to be in the field to see the actual ground conditions and to see how the earth reacts to what we do with it. The good news is that once a good engineer works on a tunneling project, they are usually hooked for life.
In your culture, no one says "No" to a customer?
We make decisions quickly. We are very knowledgeable about ground conditions and about underground construction. No one in our organization is authorized to say ‘NO.' They can say yes, they can say maybe, but if there is a potential ‘No' response, then we will discuss it. We want to be able to solve the most difficult problems and issues for great clients. We say we ‘do the right things for the right reasons for the right people.'
You also have very low turnover and great morale?
Engineers love to solve problems so they don't tend to watch the clock. We try to provide an environment where talented people can do their best work. We really have only one goal for our company: ‘when you get up in the morning, I want you to look forward to coming to work.'
This article demonstrates that there are great opportunities in every field if you fill a need, do it well, and provide a superior customer experience.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Colorado success stories: Trada

Crowdsourcing gets better online ad results for small businesses

Editor's note: This is another in a series of Colorado company success stories as told by CEOs and business owners.

In small and mid-size businesses (SMB), have you ever wondered what you could do if you had up to 2,000 highly trained paid search consultants available to work on your online sales ad campaign? How many more products or services could you sell? How much could you save? But, what small business has access or the resources for many paid experts who will work on a small account?  Boulder-based Trada offers SMB's just that advantage with "crowdsourcing." 

Trada engages multiple paid search experts which they call "optimizers" who work on a small business ad campaign at the same time, providing results no single person could ever achieve.  Speed, optimization, diversity of thinking, and lower cost are the benefits of crowdsourced paid search with Trada. The search experts - and Trada - get paid when the experts are more efficient in cost per click or cost per sale than the agreed-upon targeted rate. Click here to see a video on How Trada Works.
Trada, founded in late 2008, has experienced very rapid growth with a current yearly run rate of $25M in revenue and 85 employees with plans to quadruple its revenue run rate by end of this year. Trada has been recognized as one of the 2011 Colorado Companies to Watch.
I recently met with Trada founder and CEO, Niel Robertson over lunch at The Brasserie in Boulder next to Trada's new offices. One can quickly see how Niel's ebullient personality energizes and motivates the Trada team.
Where did this business idea come from?
At my last business, I took over marketing from the agency. It became very apparent to me that the small business person does not have the time or expertise to be successful in online advertising. The "eureka moment" came on a very long boat trip off the coast of Scotland with my parents when I realized that a crowd could think of many more ways that someone would search on Google than any individual and possibly provide a better outcome..  I also realized that there had been very little investment in the paid search space - so I saw an opportunity. We built the first system in two months, turned it on, and haven't looked back.

The beauty of this business model is that it seems that by its very design you constantly improve the value and the results for the clients.
That's right. We learn from every engagement. We are constantly improving the quality and expertise of paid search optimizers. Ongoing participation is based on performance. We invented a score for paid search. Now you have to apply to participate on a company's campaign. We measure the campaign outcomes and our team's performance to look for ways to improve.

Who are your competitors?
The biggest competitor is the "do it yourself" business owner. As word spreads about Trada's better outcomes, we believe that business owners will realize their time is better spent on their core product or service and meeting their customers' needs. The second source of competition is the advertising agencies. It is interesting to note that we have seen a big increase in the numbers of agencies that are choosing to use Trada as the way they do paid search for their clients.

What are some of the actions you have taken to accelerate growth?
We have added three sales teams - the internal team sells the SMB market, the enterprise/agency team is more of a national accounts group, and channel sales who sell in the small business aggregator space (which includes any association or organization with large groups of small businesses at the local levels such as plumbers or maids). We are developing service models that support each level of customer.
We have recruited some outstanding people to Trada who have built these teams before. This is a great advantage.

With this pace of growth, we need to reinvent ourselves every three months. We are very metrics-driven and with this underpinning of data, we are able to make quick decisions, quick adjustments, and quick recoveries. Flexibility and adaptability are the keys.

You mentioned that you have expanded beyond the traditional SMB products to broader services - even divorce lawyers.
The model works for all kinds of products and services. You would be surprised to learn how many people get divorced in North Carolina. Trada can help divorce attorneys reach clients in the most effective manner.

With all this success, what keeps you awake at night?
I worry about deeply understanding the customer experience so that we can make it better. SMB business owners are deeply knowledgeable and passionate about their customers - we are learning how to translate that to the work the optimizers do for them.
I am also obsessed with our ability to scale the business. As the business grows, process becomes much more important. We need to continue to improve. For example, we recently mapped our incoming sales on-boarding process - it has 77 steps. So we realized we need to retool it to be more efficient and improve the overall customer experience.

So what lies ahead?
We need to continue to tweak the dynamics of the market model to constantly adjust so that all parties do the right things. We are obsessively focused on management of quality and increasing the lifetime value for each customer. We have proven the inside sales model so that now we can scale this. We need to prove out the other sales models and customer support systems. We have not yet started to scratch the surface internationally. We see a huge upside.