Charles Bender | From a Poor Boy Shining Shoes To Matchmaking and Ending Generational Poverty – Part 2

Charles (Chuck) Bender is the Chief Executive Officer of Attentus Technologies, a leading managed IT services firm serving the Pacific Northwest. He is an experienced executive with a demonstrated history of working in the managed services and internet industries. Chuck is also the President of Skynet Broadband, a company that provides high-speed data, digital phone, and IT services to the Puget Sound region. He has been a member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) for 22 years and serves as Regional Chair of EO’s West Region.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran continues his interview with Chuck Bender, the CEO of Attentus Technologies, about entrepreneurship and building an internet business. They also discuss how to end generational poverty, the benefits of building recurring revenue, and Chuck’s tips for teaching kids to be responsible adults.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • How Chuck Bender left the dating services industry to join the IT services industry
  • The benefits of building recurring revenue
  • What is generational poverty?
  • How Chuck learned about ending generational poverty
  • Chuck talks about teaching his kids to be responsible adults
  • How Chuck helps others end generational poverty
  • The peers who have had a substantial impact on Chuck’s life

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:14

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right, welcome everyone, John Corcoran here. I’m the host of this show. And this is part two. I very rarely do a two parter. But I really enjoyed the conversation last time with my guests. And so I twisted his arm and got him to agree to stick around for a second episode. And we really didn’t get into the second half of his journey. So I’m glad that we’re able to do that. His name is Charles Bender, he’s the CEO of Attentus Technologies. He also, for those of you who listen to the show, you know that I am active in Entrepreneurs’ Organization. And he is the Regional Chair for the US West of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, which is kind of like LFA, he’s the big boss for the Western United States, a lot of different chapters, everyone salutes to him when he comes into the room. That’s kind of how it works. And so we’re going to talk a little bit about his involvement in that wonderful organization. And of course, if you haven’t listened to the show before, go check out our archives, lots of great episodes in there, lots of EO members from Verne Harnish to Warren Rustand and lots of different guests like that, that you can go check out.

And this episode, of course, is brought to you by Rise25, my company, which helps b2b businesses get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done-for-you podcasts and content marketing. And you can visit our website at to learn more about it. Alright, Charles, last time, we heard some great stories about growing up in Prescott, Arizona, you know, shining shoes and making money. And what a poor kid learned about making money from a young age was one of the key pivot points that we didn’t get to that I was super curious about is how someone’s in the dating space, and then gets into IT services, because that does not seem like a logical linear path at all. But maybe it makes sense in retrospect. So how do we go from there to there,

Chuck Bender 2:21

I will start. So it’s not directly from dating to IT services. So what happened was is I moved to the country, I moved out and in the farm world, in 2002, and I had built the CRM system to run my dating service franchises. And it was dashboarding. And all this stuff was pretty early in that stuff. But I needed the internet in order for it to work and there was no high speed internet available at my house. And what I ended up and we talking dial up days, dial up days, right? I mean, well there was there was broadband in the cities, but not yet in the country. Right. And, and I was used to downloading on Napster man, I was like, you know, that was like killing me. But what really happened was is I got out here and when I was searching for the house, there was nothing that was the normal traditional, there’s no cable, there’s no DSL, there was none of those types of things that were available. And a couple of guys had started this wireless ISP. And they told me before I bought the house that oh, yeah, we can get you high speed internet. So I bought the house moved in went to order my high speed internet, and suddenly they couldn’t, right. So I was like, really, you know, I just probably made my biggest single investment in a property ever because it’s a couple acres, you know, nice acid. And it functionally means I can’t I still have to go to an office, that’s not going to work for me. So what I did, what I ended up doing is I ended up going and putting in what was called a T one, which is a one and a half megabit by one and a half megabit line for internet over copper. It was used to be really common back in the old days. And it was super expensive was like 900 or $1,000 a month, right? And I remember thinking to myself, Man, I need it badly I can afford it. But man, I’m cheap. I don’t like to pay $900 a month. So my neighbors had come over and these guys had this wireless business. They’re like, listen, we might be able to help offset the cost of the $900 If you let us put an antenna on your house. So I brought my neighbor’s over and showed him what high speed men or internet was like. And they were like, Oh, I have to have some of that. So I was like, Okay, well I’ve got eight neighbors on my on my off of my house. 900 divided by eight. Maybe I can get my whole team one paid for by the neighbors. Yeah, look at where it’s done. So we did that. And it was really early days of wireless technology. And frankly, the what happened was is these two guys didn’t have any money. They had an idea. They had some skills One of them was super bright. Actually, he’s a principal at Microsoft today. Super bright guy, his, his brother younger brother is my business partner in my IT business today. But, you know, he additionally was my partner when I bought into the broadband business. And I bought into it because I had money and lots of hubris, right? I frankly, thought because I had a successful business that I understood business. And, and I was young and thought I was invincible. So

John Corcoran 5:32

it was an existing business that was providing broadband in the countryside is outdated.

Chuck Bender 5:37

Trying to it was when I say existing business, they had 14 customers, okay, so it wasn’t a business, okay, it was like a hobby that they were trying to turn into a business. And neither one of them really had the funding, they didn’t know how to build a business model. They didn’t know what it would cost to actually make it a profitable venture.

John Corcoran 5:57

This is like your Berkshire Hathaway story, your Warren Buffett in Berkshire Hathaway, you know, you know, the original orange origin story of that, but it was like a defunct textile mill or something like that. And that’s where the origin of the name came from? And then, of course, you know, made it into what it is today.

Chuck Bender 6:12

Yeah, you know, I, if you can put me in the same sentence with Warren Buffett, and I will take it right. But in all honesty, I had no clue what the hell I was doing. And so I bought him, I paid off a credit line that they had from another investor, in exchange for that I took 50% of the business at the time. And then and then I had a deal for if I put more money into it, that they would either pay it back or my equity would increase.

John Corcoran 6:41

Question, why did you go into this deal? It didn’t sound like they were all that impressive. They didn’t have much of a business. Why didn’t if you wanted to start a business, why didn’t you just start one on your own? Or was it you saw something in them? Why did you go in with them?

Chuck Bender 6:55

I’m gonna tell you hubris. I would say so the one guy who had the business plan, the guy that works for Microsoft, his name is Gabe Frost, he’s, he’s absolutely brilliant. He’s a brilliant human being. And I saw a young guy really brilliant, like he was in his early 20s, just out of college, super fired up. The other guy was also super brilliant. But he was one of those guys that is really smart in theory, but not really practical in reality, right. So didn’t follow through with things and, and ultimately, we dissolve that company to take it over. And then I’ve just owned it solely since right. But what had happened was is I really I had a technology background from the military. So in the Navy, I worked on radar systems and guidance systems for targeting for computing for the weapon systems onboard ships, right. So I had a somewhat familiarity with how electronics worked, I knew how frequencies worked. I knew how radar worked and wireless technologies, ironically, pretty similar, right? You have a dish aimed at a direction and then you get a feedback. And then but it’s on radio waves, so you can add packets to it and some other information. The so I thought that I knew what I was doing. But I looked quickly learned I had a clue what I was doing. And the really smart guy gave took a job at Microsoft left the business. And then I was left with his partner who, frankly, was terrible he had he had some problems he had, you know, and some issues and challenges to overcome. And I won’t air those here. But ultimately, that didn’t work. But what I realized is what he was telling me during the day, and what I was Googling at night, didn’t match up. So I ended up going to school full time basically at night on my own, to become a network engineer to understand what the hell this thing does. So I can actually grow the business and be able to not get lied to basically, you know, when it comes down to I was easily when

John Corcoran 8:57

it came to technology. He was telling you certain things about technology got it.

Chuck Bender 9:02

Okay, tell me about the technology telling me problems that couldn’t be overcome. And oh my god, these aren’t problems that can’t be overcome with a little, just a little scratch at it. reveal that so. So once that parted I, you know, we blew the business up. We were we were we grew really quickly, but because we’re rural, if you do anything with computers, or anything with technology, everybody calls you with their technology questions. Yeah. And so from 2003, I would say until 2005. We added a million dollars a year in revenue and IT services work. That was just just saying yes, right. You know, when you’re starting, you just say yes to pay the bills,

John Corcoran 9:48

right? helping businesses, helping businesses helping

Chuck Bender 9:51

whatever. Yeah, and then I looked at it one day, and I was like, Oh my gosh, I actually have a business here. That’s an actual real business. Separate and apart from the internet. business that I should probably treat with the respect that I want a real business,

John Corcoran 10:04

right. And at the same time you’re running the dating, business is the same time.

Chuck Bender 10:08

So the irony there is in 2002 2003, we were growing like crazy. And then then then I realized that I didn’t know anything about business. So the thing about the dating service businesses, it was a really a sales and marketing business. And there was really no recurring revenue. So so let’s just put it to you this way. If you’re if you’re on a dating business where you match people up, and you’re extremely successful, right? How many of them pay you again?

John Corcoran 10:41

Right, right. I don’t need you anymore.

Chuck Bender 10:44

Right. And if you’re not successful, how many want to pay you again?

John Corcoran 10:49

None. Right. See the problem?

Chuck Bender 10:51

Yeah, yeah. So. So we were spending, I would say, between three and 4 million a year on direct mail. So every one of our markets, we saturated with direct mail every household every six weeks, and we were making about a net profit of 20 25% on two tenths of a percent of return on our mail. Right, so we got two tenths of a percent of return. So we’d send out a mailer or someone to fill out a form, talking about what they’re looking for, they would send it back to us, we would call them set an appointment, have them come into our office, we sit down, explain what we did, they would buy it, and then we would start matching them. That was our model, right? Well, in 2003, late 2000 to 2003, they passed the law Congress called the Do Not Call list, right? And that do not call telemarketing list. At the time. If you recall, every evening, you would get hit up by telemarketer, telemarketer after telemarketer right now, we were using direct mail. So we weren’t those people. But everybody that was doing that shifted to direct mail as soon as the law went into place. So instead of being one of maybe three pieces of advertising in the mail that you’d get over the course of a week, we became one of 30 people would get a debt.