Nick Damoulakis | Starting a Business During the Dotcom Bubble While in Academia

Nick Damoulakis is the Co-founder and President of Frederick, Maryland’s office of Orases. He has the privilege of leading a diverse, smart, and talented group of individuals across a variety of disciplines and with clients ranging from the NFL, Major League Baseball, Johns Hopkins University, and Hershey and Walter Reed Hospital. 

Nick is a creative problem solver and strategic thinker with over 20 years of experience in the digital landscape in creating custom software. He is also a thought leader in the industry and he authored and created The Digital Framework which is an interactive process of working with organizations to align values to their culture, leadership styles, and strategic thinking.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran is joined by Nick Damoulakis, Co-founder and President of Orases, to find out how Nick was able to successfully start and grow a business during the dot-com bubble while studying for a master’s degree. They also discuss Nick’s strategies for building a company culture and how it was like for him to work with his wife.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Nick Damoulakis recalls what his childhood was like as an immigrant, how his father influenced him, and the businesses he did as a kid.
  • Nick talks about the challenges that he faced while earning his master’s degree and then deciding to start a music-related online side business.
  • How Nick’s business was impacted by the dot-com bubble and Y2K in 2000 and what he learned from that experience.
  • Nick shares what it was like to work with his wife for the past 20 years
  • How Nick improved his company’s culture and the role Ed Robinson played in growing his company.
  • Nick’s advice to companies who are looking to build a virtual company culture.
  • Nick acknowledges the people who played a role in his achievements and success.

Resources Mentioned:

Sponsor: Rise25

Today’s episode is sponsored by Rise25 Media, where our mission is to connect you with your best referral partners, clients, and strategic partners. We do this through our done for you business podcast solution and content marketing. 

Along with my business partner Dr. Jeremy Weisz, we have over 18 years of experience with B2B podcasting, which is one of the best things you can do for your business and you personally. 

If you do it right, a podcast is like a “Swiss Army Knife” – it is a tool that accomplishes many things at once. It can and will lead to great ROI, great clients, referrals, strategic partnerships, and more. It is networking and business development; and it is personal and professional development which doubles as content marketing

A podcast is the highest and best use of your time and will save you time by connecting you to higher caliber people to uplevel your network. 

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Check out Rise25 to learn more about our done-for-you lead generation and done-for-you podcast services. 

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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  0:41  

All right. Welcome everyone. John Corcoran here, I’m the host of this show. And I like to joke that I’m a recovering lawyer. I spent years working in politics and as a lawyer, including as a speechwriter since in the Clinton White House and in for a California Governor. You know, in 2010, I discovered this medium of podcasting. I’ve been doing it ever since because I get to talk to the best people. It’s really amazing that the great CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs I talk with on a weekly basis, and I’ve talked to so many of them today. I’m also the co-founder of Rise25, where we help b2b businesses with the strategy and production they need to create a podcast and content marketing that produces tremendous ROI and connects them with their ideal prospects and referral partners. And I want to give a quick shout out to Ed Robinson of Vistage for recommending today’s guest, who is Nick Damoulakis. He is the President and Co-founder of Frederick, Maryland’s office of Orases.

Nick Damoulakis  1:29  

You said it right, yes.

John Corcoran  1:31  

And he has the privilege of leading a diverse, smart, talented group of individuals across a variety of disciplines and clients, including clients from the NFL, Major League Baseball, Johns Hopkins University, Hershey and Walter Reed Hospital. He’s a creative problem solver and strategic thinker with over 20 years of experience in the digital landscape in creating custom software. He’s also a thought leader in the industry. And he authored and created the digital framer, which is an interactive process of working with organizations to align values to their culture, leadership styles and strategic thinking. And we’re going to touch on all of those different pieces as we go through this interview. 

But first, before we do that, this episode is brought to you by Rise25 Media. At Rise25 we help b2b businesses to get clients, referrals and strategic partnerships with done for you podcasts and content marketing. And we specialize in helping b2b businesses with the high client lifetime value. So to learn more about how to do that and get some inspiration about how you can get clients referrals, and some of the best friendships in your life from a podcast go to Alright, Nick. So I know it took a long time for us to nail down this episode recording. But I’m excited to talk to you about this. So take me back to your childhood because we were talking beforehand about this. And your father was a big inspiration for you. He was an immigrant who came to this country from a small island in Greece, which is no easy task at any time. Any generation, what was that like growing up with an immigrant father looking at them?

Nick Damoulakis  2:57  

It’s a great question, especially with everything going on today. Right? Yeah. And some of the work we’re doing today, giving back to people to come to the United States with justice, which is something that we’ll talk about in the future here. But yeah, my dad came to the United States in the late 60s, went to Rice University to work on engineering, and had a full ride coming from a small island to Greece out in the middle of nowhere over to Rice University, where he worked on electrical engineering and signal processing. So as a child, I always got to see him work on really interesting things. Always had, he always bought gadgets, or you know, computers, and I used to always try to take computers apart. When he left for work and put them back together before he got home. Most of the time, I was successful. I got in trouble a couple times. But it was fun. But, you know, one of the greatest things is just having access to technology back then. AOL and prodigy. Yeah. Yeah. So that was a big part of seeing that. But one of the big things that he lost was really just seeing the work ethic. You know, here’s a person that, you know, doesn’t have the same means that we all have today, in the US, someone that, you know, they weren’t sure when they were eating there was, you know, the floors in their house were dirty. You know, there weren’t even floors. So it’s different. And I think he always kept that and just just kept working hard, kept working hard. He was never an entrepreneur. He was a producer. He did some great stuff. One of the things that he did in the 70s was worked on getting Apollo 13 back to the United States. And that was one of his theories that NASA used to swing the Apollo around the moon and bring it back to Earth with as little electricity as possible.

John Corcoran  4:57  

Wow, he was working for NASA at the time.

Nick Damoulakis  5:01  

It was a Rice University on their PhD program with NASA and the Houston you know, Houston down there and all that worked at several Oregon, you know, Texas Instruments Gould, Martin Marietta back then. But yeah, so I’m not sure exactly which place he was at, but always worked hard and got it done. And, you know, growing up, I was never the smartest guy in school. But so I knew, you know, it’s one of those things where you knew you could never outsmart him, because that’s just wasn’t what I was about, but about different characteristics to the table, you know, I was able to work with people and take on projects as at a young age, rather, if it was being a newspaper boy, or doing a lot of yard work, snow blowing, whatever, I was always able to get a group of people together and make money doing doing work at an early age. So two different paths, one, someone getting into the details and getting it done, and another one, getting groups of people together and getting them organized and getting them to want to do the work. So we can all get paid.

John Corcoran  6:08  

Well, that’s easy to do, either, especially at a young age. So were you starting like lawn mowing businesses, or like lawn raking businesses or things like that?

Nick Damoulakis  6:18  

Absolutely. I think it was just a gene that, you know, I, I don’t know where it came from. I can’t sit here and tell you it was because of this thing. But I would say I always enjoyed making money off of hard work. And doing it with pride and being proud of the work that you’re doing. Leaving things better than how you found it, there was all is always enjoyable. And whenever I was able to do that with a group of people, and leave a smile on a client’s face, I was always happy. So I think at an early age, I kind of figured out you know that that was my niche. And I was always good with people. You know, I could always work with people and get people to want to do things together. Just something that I still am passionate about.

John Corcoran  7:06  

Well Are some of those projects, some of those different things you did tell me a story from high school or junior? Oh,

Nick Damoulakis  7:11  

boy. Ah, well, I’ll tell you it varied all over the place. You know, it started one with snow blowing. You know, we came from Chicago to Maryland and we were the only people on the street with a snowblower. So when it snowed we were very popular

John Corcoran  7:28  

in and yeah,

Nick Damoulakis  7:29  

yeah, in the man. You know, I would usually just tell my friends Hey, you know, bring some gas over so we could get this thing running and the door knocking on people’s doors saying $5 to clean your you’re absolutely, absolutely. So went from there in the summertime that was doing a paper route back then. You know, we were all on our Schwinn bikes. And they were actually paper boys, you know, and going, you know, getting a group of people together to wake up at five o’clock in the morning to deliver papers. And then the worst part that they don’t tell you is collecting the money. Yeah, doing collections that, you know, 12 years old. Could you imagine that today? Yeah. Yeah. And lawn lawn work. That turned into doing lifeguarding, that turned into taking, taking working at a small restaurant. And to the point where the owner said, You know what, I trust you Here are the keys. We’re leaving for the summer, keep the place running, you know, a lot of fun stories, but everything I did, I did 100% the best I could and the results were there.

John Corcoran  8:40  

Yeah. And so you are actually getting your master’s degree in information technology. And you start your current business on the side. Right. So how did that come about?

Nick Damoulakis  8:52  

Yeah. So I’ll back up one more step. Because it all kind of comes together. And there’s a little bit of a long story, but I promise it’s worth it for many of you who have children that you’re just not sure. So, you know, in high school, I never was a great student. I was in high school more for the friends, the camaraderie and I played guitar as a musician. So my evenings were usually at the bars at night playing guitar. And I had serious aspirations of moving to LA and and being in a band like everybody wanted to do in the 80s. Right. So probably a couple things in my life led me to this path and I’ll kind of go through those points and the first one was waking up one day. And all my stuff was packed and my dad packed the car into Let’s go, got in a car and he drove me about three hours into the mountains in the middle of nowhere to his little University called Frostburg State University. Which if you don’t know, Frostburg great, great school, but was basically the easiest school to get to in Maryland. And drop me off there and said, Come on with the degree or don’t come home, close the door and take off. So he actually filled out my application and got me into Frostburg, which I learned about, you know, earlier that day. When I got there, I took, you know, my first steps out of the car and looked around, and that was a big hit. And you’ve been pretty much at the side, one or two directions, at that point, make the best of this situation or flunk out. Yeah. And I chose to take that moment and make the best of it as everything else I tried to do in my life. And ended up meeting a friend befriended a person there named Ben young Chung, who knew computers really, really well. And I just took on, you know, a friendship with this person. He taught me everything I knew about computers. I signed up for my first computer class with them. Where we taught people how to play guitar online. That was my first project. first semester, first class, make a website 1994. And 95. I’m sorry. So I built this website for this class where you could go online, and you could learn how to play guitar. Right. Now back then, you had to buy cheap music, which was like six to $8 a song which, you know, that’s that was pretty salty for, for a college student or for anyone back then. Yeah.

John Corcoran  11:40  

And the music itself costs money to buy CDs.

Nick Damoulakis  11:46  

All right, let’s build this website. And before I knew it, you know, 10 people started using it, I got excited, people started submitting and how to play the music can turn into 100. 100 turned into 1000. Within 30 days, I had over 100,000 people using it. And I have over 100,000 songs in the system. Which led me to my next pivotal part of my life. So imagine this, you know, you’re getting dropped off in school, you can take your first class, you got a good project going on. And one day I’m working on it and it just stopped working. And I got a phone call from the Provost Frostburg State University. Right. Now, I didn’t even know what a provost was, at this point.

John Corcoran  12:32  

Let me guess you’re running it on like the computers servers or something like that. I mean, probably right. Yeah,

Nick Damoulakis  12:38  

of course. I’m doing the short version of this. But yeah, back in the day, there was only one computer, right. And everything was on that computer. And that computer happened to be connected to the internet, which served not only grades, and all the information at the school, HR, everything, but also was a web server, which is unheard of. Right. Right. So this site would actually bring the server down multiple times, right. But the kicker happened on this one specific day when the Provost called and I went down to his office. And he pulled me aside and said, Hey, you know, we need to have a conversation. And he goes, you’re gonna wait right here, we’re going to bring you into the boardroom, like, Oh, my boardroom. So this is my first boardroom. I’ve been in several sets. But this is my first introduction to a boardroom. So, you know, probably the scariest time of my life, you know, they opened up the double wooden doors and no long wooden table down the middle. And at the end of the table was the principal of the school Dr. gira, president of the school. Great, great person. There were three guys in suits on one side. They introduced themselves from Sony records, Terry Fox, agency, and BMG,

John Corcoran  13:58  

and they come to Frostburg State University.

Nick Damoulakis  14:01  

It was a pleasure to meet them. And they drove all the way from New York City for hours, prospered and then widely, equally thrilled to meet you. Oh, absolutely. Then on the other side of the table, the Provost which is basically the person in charge of the school legal, the state attorney of Maryland, their assistant and my teacher. Okay. Right. Yeah. So they said, you know, to have a seat. Okay, thank you. Basically, at the end of the day, it was the first website that had tablature online guitar tab, giving it away for free, and this was very disruptive for the music industry. So they kindly asked us to take it down. I of course would say yes. All right. And we also can say took off and the principal or the The President looked at me, Dr. Gary, and she said, You need to stay here. And I thought that was it, man. I mean, I, you know, going in high school, I’d been suspended before I knew the conversation that was happening. And I was not happy. And I sat down, she said, look, I think you know what you’re doing with computers? What if you help? What if we hired you? And you built the first website for our school? Wow, okay, that’s cool. I got a job offer. Yeah, that’s good, pivotal, you know, taking the worst thing that could happen to something positive. And they put me in a room with no windows. It is about 20, you know, 20 by 20 room, pretty nice sized room. And they bought me anything I wanted computer wise. And my job was to build a website for the school. Once that was completed. I was then in charge of building websites for all the businesses out in Western Maryland, in a resort area, and I spent four years doing that, learning how to talk with customers, building up their websites, their web presence, and there weren’t books to tell you how to do this stuff. 

Unknown Speaker  16:16  

No, we were all making it off. This is pre pre Dreamweaver, pre use

Nick Damoulakis  16:20  

Dreamweaver, macroom, HTML 1.0 beta, probably know that there weren’t many tools. And it was just such a magical time when you knew that the time you were putting in. You know, it was magical. Because, you know, the web was the canvas. You could do anything you want. Nothing was invented yet. Yeah, yeah. Amazon had a one page bookstore up, you know. So it was a really cool time. So for four years, I did that. And when I graduated, there were 22 people working in that lab when I was done. and higher. Number eight, was a lovely woman who later became my wife, Amy. When I graduate, so when I graduate. Now, remember, I told you one thing here, I was never the smartest guy, right? So one thing I knew when I graduated, I had to move on to get a master’s degree, because well, one, I found a passion that I love, you know, computer programming. But I wanted to be the best and be the best. You have to just keep on getting educated, keep learning. And I went to the one school that I could find on the East Coast that didn’t didn’t care if you took GRS or not. So that ended up being our it. For my next story. Alrighty, Rochester Institute of Technology, great school.

John Corcoran  17:54  

prosper. Before we get to that, I want to ask you, is there a part of you, even a small part of you that regrets what happened with that early website for learning to play guitar online?

Nick Damoulakis  18:07  

You know, it’s a great question. Because if I would have kept that, those sites are making millions of dollars nowadays. I don’t regret it all because I can really authentically say I really don’t have any regrets for decisions throughout my life. They’ve all ended up in great places, I’m very happy. And I love the journey that I’ve been through. I love the journey. And that was nothing more than an event that happened. And I don’t know where the other path would have gone. But, you know, at the end of the day, when we settled up, and I told them, I wouldn’t do it anymore. I actually gave all the code to company up in or school up in North Dakota. And they created the online guitar archives, and it just became a whole nother beast. So it was like a little baby that just blew off to something bigger. So I was happy about that. The Pro of it, you know, the story got in the New York Times. So, you know, during that time, I was getting job offers left and right. But I always knew there would be a bubble popping, you know, just some follies new

John Corcoran  19:20  

window, which did happen actually kind of burst around the time you were getting your masters, right. So you got your masters, and you actually start your current business in the midst at that period of time. Right around 2000 which, at that time, what was everyone talking about? y2k? Yeah, what did you open up like saying I’m gonna solve the Y2k problem in January 2000. I’m gonna have a business.

Nick Damoulakis  19:47  

Well, I’ll tell you this. I was building websites out of my dorm room as well. So not only was I working 40 hour weeks, going to school full time undergrad, but I was also working at night just doing some projects. So my first client paying client was the guy who invented the Elvis Presley stand back in 1998 90, somewhere around there. And he was my first client where I put that on online for him and his company. And he used to come to my dorm room and I’d say, how does this look? And he’d say, yeah, it’s good. Yeah. So you know, that was my freelancing time. When I went to Frostburg, I mean, from frost radar it back then they did interviews. And you know, so they obviously look at your grades, look at your transcripts, talk to your teachers, make sure you are, you know, ready for the master’s program. But really, they wanted to check and have an interview with you. And this is just another crazy story. My girlfriend at the time now  wife, and i got in the car together. We’re like, let’s go get a master’s degree. We went to MIT. And we drove eight hours to Rochester, New York. And we get there. And they’re like, Alright, why don’t you both come into the interview? That’s kind of odd. But okay, so we get in there, and we’re having our interview. And the professor just is not in this mentally, not in the conversation. Right? Now, I was fortunate enough to work with clients. And I could tell when people were interested or not interested. And I was like, this is just weird. And I just asked them, I said, I got to pause for a moment. We just drove eight hours for this interview. And I’m sorry, but I’m just not feeling the energy from you at all.

Unknown Speaker  21:38  

Wow. And brazen things to say.

Nick Damoulakis  21:41  

Yeah. Well, he stepped back. And he said, You’re right. He goes, 30 minutes prior to this meeting, I found out that my ta was caught cheating. And I just had to let go of Ta who had a full ride to this school. And he’s getting kicked out of this master’s program. Not only that, I have, you know, two months to find someone to teach a programming language called Lingo. And I don’t know where I’m going to find this person. Now, let me tell you something, John, I know an opportunity is knocking. I looked back at the guys square in the eyes and said, I know Lingo and I can teach that. Did you know, I didn’t know Lingo wise. He accepted my gracious offer, shook my hand and said, You know what, you know, we talked a little bit more, but he said, you’re in, not only are you in, I need you to start in two weeks, and you’ll be teaching Lingo to the undergrads. So, uh, you know, my wife was also accepted. And on the ride back, my wife looked at me, she’s my girlfriend, and she’s like, you don’t know Lingo? I said, Yeah, but you know, we’ll just get a book and figure it out. So, we went back out there, and I taught Lingo and got our master’s degree. And during that time, that was just 99, roughly, when I was teaching at RMIT, one of the people in my classes went to work at Xerox and Xerox needed a website. And I was teaching how to make websites. And she said, you know, are companies working? I said, Well, I’ll tell you what, I can freelance and do that for you. And she took me up on the offer. And my wife and I would literally wake up at six in the morning. We would work with Xerox engineering, Xerox. around four o’clock, we go to school for our I would go to school to teach my classes. And then we did night school for ourselves. So we were in school from like six to nine or six to 10. We work till about two o’clock in the morning. And we did that all through all through our masters. That’s how we look. Wow. Wow, putting in the time. Yeah,

John Corcoran  24:03  

yeah, absolutely. And so this was right around the time that bubble burst. And it was actually in school. So I went to law school from 2014 to 2007, which is the time when the economy was not doing that well. And it wasn’t a bad time to be in academia. But you also started a business at the time. So what was that period of time, like one being in academia when the bubble was bursting and to starting a business on the side, right before as the bubble is bursting.

Nick Damoulakis  24:35  

So this would have been 2000. So we officially so in 99, we decided, hey, we need to formalize and become a company. We had one client Xerox and that was enough for us and some Right. Yeah. So I had an introduction to a few things. Number one. My Amy, my now wife came up to me and said you Know what? This work thing? You’re kind of just making money on me paying 50 bucks an hour but selling me at $100 an hour? I don’t think it’s gonna work out. But I said, Okay, tell you what, if you buy a Mac computer, ah, you can have 50% of the business. So her bond to the company was a Mac computer. That is I wish I would have kept that computer within the most expensive computer. Yeah. Now worth millions, because then you married. And so we said, All right, let’s start this company. And we started in 2000. Again, and, you know, we just split down the middle, she worked with the clients that the project management, she also could code but was better with talking with clients getting the specifications down what we were doing, and then I would code it. And we just work like that. Constantly. Now, we, you gotta remember a couple things. We’re getting our masters right out of school from our undergrad. So we have nothing. Right, which is the happiest time of anybody’s life. Yeah, that has nothing because, yeah, there’s nothing to lose, you know. So, you know, I didn’t really understand economics, the economy, what really was happening, I was kind of blind to it. I was so busy working. And we had our one client, and we just made stuff happen. And what I learned about was when you make money, you pay a lot of taxes. So that’s what I learned about painful bills. There. Were

John Corcoran  26:42  

you did

Nick Damoulakis  26:44  

sample bills. Yeah, because we weren’t a formal company before 2000. We were independent, you know, contractors, and we paid a hefty fee. And that’s when we learned on, you know, becoming an S corp and moving forward and, and learning the taxes the hard way. what’s right.

John Corcoran  27:00  

It’s a hard lesson the first time you let you learn it. Yeah, I,

Nick Damoulakis  27:04  

I paid a lot of taxes. I paid a lot of tax. So you don’t have any write offs? We had nothing. Yeah. So it was interesting. 

John Corcoran  27:15  

Your wife still works in the business. 20 years later, you guys still work together? What does that like? 20 years of working together. And of course,

Nick Damoulakis  27:21  

it’s the yin yang man, it’s we do two very different things are two polar opposites, as are any great marriages or partnerships. So I’m big picture. All about the fun, the culture, the bigger, faster, better every time. And she’s all about the details. So the two of us work great together. Now, over the course of 20 years, I’ll tell you this, you know, she does this work over here on the right hand side, and I do all the work on the left hand side. So we don’t work together that much during the day. It’s just when the two when the two cross, you know, yeah. So, you know, we used to go to our first apartment, I mean, she was in one corner, and I was in the other corner. And if we wanted to talk we would actually like I am each other through, you know, AOL, I’m or whatever back in the day, or IRC, you know, that’s how we communicated. But uh, you know, we kind of she, this is what made it work. She did her work better than I could do. So I knew it was in good hands. And she knew that vice versa on the work I did. And that’s what made it work. Yeah,

John Corcoran  28:35  

yeah. Now, with the company, I know that there was a point that you felt like you had you needed to improve the culture, which is something that you’re really passionate about now. Yeah, I’ve been running the company for a number of years. How did you go about one coming to that conclusion? And two, what did you do about it?

Nick Damoulakis  28:54  

Yeah, great question. So let’s go back. So from 2000, we started and then let’s fast forward all the way to roughly about 22,008. So we built websites. That’s what we did. And we were really, really good at it really good. But the problem is we were hiring programmers that were really good that we’re getting bored with just websites. And there’s only so much you can do no offense to web developers and so forth. But again, for me, I’m always bigger, faster, better. I wanted more and more and more and I was really getting bored with talking about making the logo bigger or the color blue needs to be darker. That didn’t excite me. Yeah. And at that time, we had about 10 employees and I didn’t know how to lead them. I would almost say you know you can lead with a fire Under someone or a fire inside someone to do their work and get better at their career. And I only knew how to light a fire under someone really

Unknown Speaker  30:12  

scare them.

Nick Damoulakis  30:14  

Yeah. And it didn’t work. It was horrible. The culture was bad, turnover was bad. More importantly, I wasn’t having fun. And, you know, around 2008, probably one of the worst things that happened. You know, we talked about 2000 being a death. Well, 2008, eight years of learning about the economy and another recession happened. And we had a client. I mean, we were maybe only a million dollar $1.2 million company. And we had a client who didn’t want to pay a bill for $450,000. Wow, imagine what that does to your psyche, right. So I didn’t do well. I went into a deep depression, I pretty much didn’t get out of bed for 30 days, I didn’t know how to handle it. The pressures of everything just just all collapsed on me. And one day, my wife had gotten out of bed, so you got to go do something. Go do it, do something. Meanwhile, she was keeping things running and making it all happen. You gotta get out. So I went to a friend of mine and invited me to hear about a speaker. And that speaker, I went to go see looking for any hope. And that one speaker, turned me around and turned my worst situation into probably one of the best lessons that I keep on to that. And that happened to be through Vistage. And that was going to be my first meeting with Ed Robinson, my coach, who’s still my coach, you know, 10 years later. Yeah. So that was a big part. And

John Corcoran  31:55  

I remember what he would have talked about during that speech, crystal clear man.

Nick Damoulakis  32:03  

It was about your triggers. It was about what are your triggers? Why? Why are you triggered right now? Why can’t you get out of bed? Why can you do that? You know, and looking at that opportunity. And in my past, I always told you, I look at opportunities. And I always made the best of it. But I didn’t make the best of this. And when he dissected my psyche, and myself, you know, we said, Hey, yes, this person owes you 450,000. And they’re not paying, find a way to get out of it. And I called the person up, and I can tell you what, you keep your 450,000. And we’ll just do it if we go to the client directly. And that client happened to have about a half million dollars of work that we could do? And if we did that work just perfect. Right? Perfect. We’d breakeven. Right? So I knew this person was going to pay, I knew this, this wasn’t going anywhere. So we signed a piece of paper that said, You know what, we won’t talk about it. We’ll take on you, you’re free of pain, the 450. But we’re going after the client directly now. And you’re going to make the introduction and get out of the middle. And we’ll call it a dad got it. And fast forward, that client ended up becoming the NFL. And that also ended up being two of the most famous projects we’ve done on getting them on a paperless system. And they’re still a client today. Wow. So we did our job, we did it. Well, we got out of that. In the process, coming out of a massive depression, coming out of knowing what triggers you. And learning that process of rebuilding yourself as a leader and then rebuilding your company is a process. And I documented that process. And coming out of that I created a framework that I work with other clients and CEOs that are in a slump and don’t know how to get their company aligned and and I did that for about six years, until I moved on to something else that excited me. So I started working in around 2010 to about 2006 with friends, CEOs, clients who had CEOs that were in the way of making their companies successful, not knowing their values, their vision, their mission, aligning them with their team, and I kind of did it as a side hustle. And I did about 4045 of those projects. And at the end I was getting paid about $15,000 a day to do them. Wow. And I loved it. Yeah, you know, I haven’t done them in years for years now. But it’s the time my life where, again, you take the worst, and then you make it better. And it was a process.

John Corcoran  35:07  

Yeah, I want to ask you so we’re recording this in October, late October of 2020, the global pandemic, from COVID-19 continuing to affect all of us. What, uh, you know, you talk about culture, and you know, the impact that, obviously meaning Vistage and Robinson had on you. A lot of companies are struggling these days with building virtual culture. Having a company that, you know, obviously people are bonded, they want to work for the company, they buy into the mission, all that kind of stuff. What advice do you have for companies that are finding themselves virtual these days and want a strong culture?

Nick Damoulakis  35:46  

Yeah, yeah, it’s great. Well, the first thing is, you can’t leave unless you know yourself really, really well. So you have to figure out what your purpose statement is, what your personal priorities are, what your values are. Because until you figure that out, you can’t lead with full authenticity. Because you don’t know who you are. And if you don’t know who you are, you don’t know what you stand for yet, when difficult times arrive. Yeah. So I’m a big fan, the first step know yourself. Know, have a personal statement that summarizes what’s most important for you know, your values. Know your priorities in life. And stick to it. Write it down. Yeah. So I would say that’s the first part. That’s the first part, hands down. The second part, you know, and I’ll go to the book drive from Daniel Pink, which is another piece. Yeah. Now the last guest

John Corcoran  36:52  

on this podcast two times.

Nick Damoulakis  36:55  

Listening and, yeah, absolutely. And he actually came up and spoke at one of the events we put on up here. But that was another pivotal part, once I understood who I was I was looking for. Okay, how do I inspire others? properly? Yeah. And there’s a couple things I learned number one was from his book, you know, giving people mastery. So, you know, I had to make an environment where they could get training to be the best. So what did I do? I searched around. And this is another crazy story, man, we’re going down rabbit holes. Yeah. But mastery, number one, basically training your people. So I wrote a grant to the state of Maryland saying, Tell you what, what if the state of Maryland gave money to see to train people, instead of giving it to places like Workforce Services? And what have you held us accountable for the results, making sure that people are getting higher paying jobs, that they’re being promoted in their companies, and that the stuff they’re learning is actually something that’s employable, that makes them a higher asset? stay married, and one said, Okay, let’s try it. Love the state of Maryland man, they did a great job with us. And they trusted us with $150,000. It was so successful, they gave us another 150, then another, now we’re up to $750,000 worth of credit, nonprofit. And that allows small businesses to get the training they need to give their people the mastery. So number one is mastery. Right? So attack it, attack it hard, there’s ways to get your people training. You know, number two is autonomy. You know, you have to give people autonomy to do their job, you can’t micromanage people, you know, so we had to set up a culture and environment where we’re doing really complex projects. But you gotta let people fail on their own. You got to let people think big, you got to let them fail, fail cheap, fail fast. You know, we’re all about that. But you got to give them autonomy. And so when you get people mastery and autonomy, you got a magical piece there. And then the biggest one of those two, is give them purpose. So we started changing the work we were going after, and how we sold it to our people. When we closed the project, we didn’t say, Hey, we’re building a case management system for the Association of immigration lawyers. Now, we changed it to say you get to be part of allowing immigrants to get justice to come to the United States the right way. Let’s be part of that. And that’s when we have people and team members in our organization raising their hand saying I want to be part of that project. I want to wake up every day and be part of that purpose and that mission. And that’s when things really changed. So he did a great job on summarizing it. So you got to have that part. The next thing I figured out, which was really important, especially during COVID are three big things that really bring a heartbeat to the organization, you got to build safety. So everyone’s comfortable in the working environment, you got to build that safe safety environment. Not just safety from COVID. But just that safe feeling where you know, when you’re with your team, they gotcha. Mm hmm. There is no one else I want to be in the foxhole with then this team, this is, right. And how do you do that? You got to get vulnerable. Right? leaders, managers, directors, I don’t care who you are, and it starts at the top, you got to share, you got to get vulnerable, show that no one’s perfect. And you really got to let go. That’s one of the first steps you got to do for that safety. And then the third is go back to Daniel Pinky. So summarize the very easy purpose. You know, if you share the vulnerability, you make it a safe environment, you get people’s purpose, you’re going to have a great culture, how you do that during COVID. Up to you, that’s that’s, that’s going to come from your unique leadership, from your personal priorities, your values, your purpose statement, you’ll figure it out, spend some time on it.

John Corcoran  41:23  

Yeah, that’s a great book. I recommend that to so many people. Dr. is a wonderful book by Danna, and we’re running a little short on time. So I want to wrap things up with two questions. So the second last question is I’m a big believer in gratitude, expressing your gratitude to others. As you look around at, you know, other peers, maybe other founders or CEOs and in your Vistage groups over the years, other entrepreneurs, or people in your industry that you’ve looked up to that you’ve learned from, you admire the business that they built, who comes to mind.

Nick Damoulakis  41:58  

And we’re getting deep here, hmm. Until the next one comes. You know, I would probably say, my wife at the other day, you know, from thick and thin from the beginning, where we had no clue what we were doing, starting a company to her going through that time of me going through my journey of a depression and figuring out how to get out of it, who’s always there. So I hope other people in the world can find somebody that gives what they need to get through the journey of life.

John Corcoran  42:38  

Hmm, that’s great. And then the last question, let’s pretend we’re at an awards banquet, much like the Oscars or the Emmys, and you’re receiving an Award for Lifetime Achievement, for everything you’ve done up to this point. And who do you think not just sure your wife, I imagine your father, who also the the mentors along the way, the professors that the provost, the people that you would acknowledge in your remarks,

Nick Damoulakis  43:01  

it, it’s all the people in the story that I gave you gave to you today. There’s so many pivotal parts of my life that happened, but at the end of the day, none of this would be possible would would have been possible. Without the leadership team here at or assist that we have without the team members, none of it would exist, none of it would have been possible. So without them, believing in myself as a leader, then taking the journey with me being part of this through the ups and downs. Every year, you know, we get up there and we say, Hey, here’s our goals for next year. This is what we’re gonna do they all look at me like, Oh, my gosh, we’re doing that. That is that even possible. And every year we do it every single year. So you know, it’s the team here. It’s the thing is I love them. Yeah.

John Corcoran  43:57  

That’s great. That’s great. Nick, where can people go to learn more about you and and learn more about your company?

Nick Damoulakis  44:04  

Sure. I mean, for those who are interested, we are offices, software development company based in Frederick, Maryland, just north of DC, about an hour west of Baltimore. We all have our software developers are here in the US. We don’t outsource anything across fees. Were 100% focused on quality. That is what we’re about. We have the lowest turnover at 4.2% over 10 years in an industry where there’s a 30% turnover. Clutch has ranked us the top five software development companies for three years in a row. Out of 20,000 other firms across the world, where Inc 5000 company three years running. At the end of the day, we love complex problems. We love building apps, we love building complex websites, complex projects is what we’re about and so you can Learn more at Orases, O-R-A-S-E-S, .com

John Corcoran  45:05  

Nick, I loved hearing your story. Thanks so much for sharing it.

Nick Damoulakis  45:07  

Thank you, John.

Outro  45:10  

Thank you for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast with John Corcoran. Find out more at and while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast.