Strategies for Growing a Software Company Through a Recession With Brad Griffith

Brad Griffith 11:27

pretty close, pretty close. You’re not an airborne toxins. So it’s not that bad. You just don’t want to like eat them directly. But we go collect Buckeyes, there are plenty of Buckeye trees around. And then we make them into necklaces and sell them. And that was one of my first entrepreneurial ventures that was before Ohio State. You know, they’re big on their branding. So as before, they got really tight about sales around the stadium and about their brand. So it was a different time. My brother also ran a little publishing shop or a he sold customised stationery, so no cards and pads, and I would help him with that business. So we had various different businesses over time, I did start I never did this as a business. But I started building discs, I’d give instal discs to my friends for computer games that I wanted to play with them. And so I started to get this idea of how could I put together a product or something that I could distribute. And I’m in a service business now rather than been product. But But yeah, I definitely had various different ventures but I tried doing some stuff technology wise, some stuff that was more physical product, I don’t really want to have inventory these days. So I avoid that.

John Corcoran 12:37

It’s interesting, because you mentioned a couple of different things that were later replaced by technology. And some people are drawn to a service based business because get paid deliver product don’t have to worry about if the technology changes, if technology changes, we actually get paid to do some more work. And if you look back at like Even your father veterinarian, you know, probably unlikely that that business is going away anytime soon, because we’ll always need people to help with our pets. How much do you think about those sorts of things in terms of your career choices and your business choices? Yeah, good

Brad Griffith 13:12

question. So I I’ve had, I had a mentor who said, you know, you’re gonna see that 50% of your business, your revenue goes away in the next five years. But you don’t know what 50%. And I think he was probably repeating a quote from a book or from a famous person. So I’m sorry. So you’re always trying to figure out like, what is no longer going to be relevant because even in technology, technology is moving quickly. But if we are still doing today, the things that we were doing 15 years ago, doing it in the same way, we would be irrelevant, and we would not we’ve continued to grow the size of projects, we just just last week, no, just this week, we won our second largest contract ever. And by dollars per year, it’s the largest contract, we’re also continuing to grow that size of project that requires that we’re looking at AI and we’re looking at headless content management systems. And we’re looking at different technologies, we can use your container based architecture for our environments, all these different things that we need to make sure that we stay up on or our business will become irrelevant.

John Corcoran 14:11

Yeah. Since you mentioned it, and AI is kind of top of mind for so many different people. Now, how do you see AI? affecting your business now? And in the future? Yeah,

Brad Griffith 14:21

I mean, I asked one of our developers a couple of months after chat GPT came out. So you know, should we start considering using chat? GPT said, Oh, actually, yeah, I just I spent, like five hours developing some application the other day, and then I thought, oh, you know, wonder what chat GPT could do. And he said in 10 minutes, it produced like 80% 90% of what I had done over the course of a full day. So it is absolutely a tool to be used. I don’t have the fear over it that some people do. Like it’s not going to replace us completely as developers. But it’s something that we can use as a tool to be more effective. You know, it AI itself will not replace us. But someone effectively using AI could replace us. So I want to be that team that effectively uses AI, copilot and tools that can make us be more effective developers. It’s, we’ve worked on building our own chat bot that we can integrate into Slack and answers questions for me about our wiki. Our company policies and procedures are answers questions about the full history of slack messages. So we need to be using it as a tool that I think it’s transformative and content generation and brainstorming. It may not do that final draft might not give me the answers all of my business problems, but it will give me a whole bunch of ideas that will help me to find what is the right answer.

John Corcoran 15:40

Yeah, it’s a huge tool. Interesting. Now that your your current company so Buckeye Innovation actually started it in 2009, which was still a period where there was a bit of an economic downturn following the Oh 708 kind of time period. What was it like starting the company in that environment? And do you remember the early days? Was it hard getting clients?

Brad Griffith 16:03

Yeah, so I actually from that, that client or the first job, I had two young associates, they at that point, when I was starting my business had multiple branches across the country. And it was one of those branches of the company that was my first client. And so while I was still working at Go big network, will Schroeder, another mentor of mine guy who I worked for, who started quite a few businesses and had some great success. He knew everyone on his team had entrepreneurial ventures, I remember going to him when I said, you know, I’ve built up some consulting business, including this, this workforce educational planning firm, ready to go out and start my own damn thing. I’m gonna start my own business. So I don’t think you’re ready yet. But I understand if it’s what you have to do. And is any of us really ever ready? Like, I don’t know if we’re anyone’s ever fully ready to start their own business? Yeah, but But yeah, I mean, I made a go at it. And I imagine,

John Corcoran 16:56

oftentimes, in the early days, even if it is an economic downturn, sometimes people, if you’re young, you’re scrappy, you don’t have a lot of overhead, it can be to your advantage. You know, there are other clients, potential clients that are looking to lower their costs, Did you experience any of those things?

Brad Griffith 17:13

I think there was definitely some pruning of the, the industry, you know, the companies in 2007 2008, that were not really healthy, they went out of business. And so there probably was a little bit less competition in 2009, for me to deal with. But there’s so much business to be had, I’m definitely one have an abundance mindset, there’s a lot of work to go around, there’s work that is the right fit for Buckeye Innovation, we have a specific approach to projects, a specific type of client that we’re going for. So there’s plenty of work to go around. I wouldn’t say that there was probably less competition, there were people who were looking to be more efficient, do more with less, they had fewer employees and needed to apply technology. So I do think that there were some positive effects even the COVID pandemic, as much as I hate to say it, like it was really good for business, it helped because people couldn’t interact physically in person, they needed to find ways to deliver services digitally, they needed to put alerts up on their website and communicate more effectively. And so that there are times where it might be devastating for for human life for everybody be devastating for parts of our economy. But technology thrives and we need technology to help get us through a time like that. So I think 2009 was maybe a similar time coming out of a recession.

John Corcoran 18:30

So I think I know the answer this already. But looking back, you know, you created this online survey for this education planning firm, I think it was around 9897. And you created it. It’s easy to look now and say that, Oh, so many challenges have already been solved digitally. You know, there’s Survey Monkey, there’s Squarespace, there’s Wix, there’s all these different solutions. So it’s easy to look back and think like, oh, you know, so many of these different problems have been solved? Or do you look forward now and think there’s so many more challenges? That I’m excited about solving those challenges? Is it one or the other? What are your thoughts on that?

Brad Griffith 19:13

I mean, yes, I am the kind of guy I would say it’s both. It’s definitely both at all. There are a lot of problems that I was solving I built when I was in college at Ohio State. I was in a fraternity I was also in a student organisation where we had directories we had a list of all the members I did this for Ohio State University as well just on my own not officially for the university. They had a system that you could search for any staff member any student and get their address. This would not go over today.

John Corcoran 19:43

They’re looser girls. Yeah,

Brad Griffith 19:45

absolutely. And so I built a mobile application I was using Java J to me on an old Nokia flip phone and I built this search of either the with you directory I did one for the student organisation is Nami fortune Add that today is not necessarily like there are much easier ways to do that. But still today, I mean, we’re getting projects, we did a really cool project a few years ago that’s continued over the last few years, that helps with Record Sealing for those in the justice involved community. So if you have something on your criminal record, but you’re it’s been several years, it was a minor offence, you’ve had no, no violent offences since then you can get those records sealed. And there are hundreds of 1000s of people, literally hundreds of 1000s of people in the state of Ohio alone, who could have their records sealed, but only 6% of those ever apply. Because they don’t want to have any involvement in the justice system anymore. They just want to move on. And it’s an arduous process. So something like that, maybe there’s a solution. And maybe there’s an online form. But there are parts of our economy, parts of our society, potentially the judicial system that are they have not yet adopted all that technology. And so there are ways to make it more accessible to people, or people that need access, who don’t currently have access. For me, I’ve got a powerful computer in my pocket and a desktop laptop computer. But not everyone has access to that same technology, or someone is working for a business that’s that’s larger, and it doesn’t move as quickly. And so even that big business now has a disadvantage that they have big fan of Clayton Christensen and his his disruptive technology, innovation, that that can be a disadvantage to being big and being the top player in the industry. So I like to help both the small businesses, the female minority owned business, figure out how can they uniquely apply technology, and the solutions are not all out there and easily accessible to them, as well as a bigger company or a government entity, where they just are not nimble enough. And so there are problems to be solved. As technology moves forward, you know, who would have thought when I was a kid that instead of a black and white TV with this long antenna, I could watch my cartoon on it, I’m going to have a phone with Netflix and like, it’s it’s revolutionised how we consume content. But there are new problems to be solved, there are always gonna be problems to be solved. So and

John Corcoran 22:08

how often when they come when the client comes to you and says, This is our challenge, we have an idea of the solution we want. Is it something completely different? Are you kind of innovate and be like, hey, well, actually, this would solve this would serve you much better?

Brad Griffith 22:23

Yeah, good, good, right. I’ve always got a better way. Always got some other way to do things. Not always a better way. I’ve got

John Corcoran 22:29

A different way. 

Brad Griffith 22:32

Yeah. I would say I always like to present options, who wasn’t who I was just talking with. We’re working on an RFP for police transparency system. So we’re putting together a proposal for a system there are a lot of these being created throughout the country where transparency is needed, and police code of conduct violations and complaints and commendations when they do a good job. So there’s a campaign out there for improving transparency. And I said, you know, what, there’s $100,000 available in this RFP, I could put in a proposal, we could build a great system, we built this other one that’s involved in the justice system, we’ve had several other government projects, we could just build it for them. But I said, You know what, there’s probably something out there. Why don’t I look at they gave a couple examples. Why don’t we look at an open source platform? And why don’t they consider that. And so frequently, I lean on open source software and say, you could use this or probably not for for police transparency in that level of sensitivity of data. But for a survey of schools around the state of Ohio, you can do Survey Monkey. So we actually did push a client education client to use Survey Monkey instead of us building a custom system, because that’s going to be more efficient for them. But then there are others who need that they they have social security numbers in their system, or the efficiency of having something that’s fully built in their website is going to give them more value. So there are always multiple ways to do things. I always like to say, here’s a cheaper, free option. If you want to do yourself, here’s an open source option. Here’s a custom option that we could build for you. Yeah, yeah, probably want to avoid proprietary options where you don’t get the flexibility of a custom system, but it’s going to cost you a lot more than doing it yourself or

John Corcoran 24:14

open source. Yeah. I want to ask about with your company. There was, um, we were talking about kind of, like downturns over the last 15 years. And, you know, you said a lot of the downturns have been a little bit self imposed. Where you kind of lost track of the company culture didn’t have the mission or vision and values kind of nailed down. Talk to me about that. what that experience was like how you the company kind of got off the rails?

Brad Griffith 24:43

Sure. Yeah, no, I had an entrepreneur asked me I was speaking to a group through an accelerate Columbus programme recently they said So Brian, when did you feel like you were just like you’d made it like you were at your past that scale when there were problems and now just smooth sailing and I said that You know, you’ve ever like fully made like I, I have these feelings of milestones when I joined EO entrepreneurs organisation that was a really big milestone, and they’ve got a revenue threshold. So that felt like a big milestone. I think even hiring my first employee hiring my fifth employee that hitting 10 years, like they’re all these milestones. But all along the way, there’s this possibility of being totally disrupted either by something’s going on with the economy, or I feel like right now, economic fears and economies not necessarily bad, but people don’t know what to do with the uncertainty. And so that’s kind of a challenge. But yeah, there are to your point, there are a lot of self imposed downturns. Where are we at my most embarrassing moment that I shared with people about my leadership, as I said, you know, what I learned in college, and I helped facilitate the Leadership Institute. And we talked all about having a vision and operating with core values. And with a mission, we need to do that. I don’t know, why did I lose track of that, since college, maybe that’s what’s causing some of our problems, we need to focus. So we did some brainstorming, I said, Alright, we’ve got some brainstorming around our core values, who wants to go finalise our core values, and I delegated to a subcommittee, the core values of my business that I owned 100% of. And in retrospect, that was ridiculous. That was not the way to go. People will come and go through the business. And we have incredible team members who I rely on. But I need to be the chief culture officer, I need to be the one who feels most passionately about our vision and our mission. And so I think I’ve gotten better since then, we lost about half of our team through that that downturn, where we really kind of ended up with two factions in the company, and those who fought followed, one team member ended up leaving. And so I learned a lot through that I think we do much better on on those core values and mission and vision. But there have been other growing too fast kind of challenges where we hired too fast, we didn’t really have a clear picture of who we needed on the team and what kind of work they needed to do. So some of the downturns that we experienced are a little bit self imposed. So as long as talking about my career path, I want everyone on my team to have a very clear career path, what are they trying to achieve? How are we helping them grow. And it’s no different for myself, like I want myself to have a next step in my career. And so trying to become the CEO, and coaching people empowering them, providing opportunities for them is where I want to be where I’m the chief culture officer, chief strategy officer for the business, but I’m not running the day to day and in the certain area of the business, and that that leaves some room for others to step in. Most of us have probably worked for someone who’s a total control freak and wants to control every aspect of everything that’s done in the business, every client relationship, I don’t want to be that way. I want to empower the team and let them have the authority and responsibility. But I have not always done that the best way like the the culture, you’re delegating the definition of our core values, can’t do that. That’s my business, I need to be in charge of that. I also need to make sure that when I am giving responsibility on delegating responsibility, it’s not that sort of abdication, where I’m just saying, Well, I’m out. You guys can do whatever you want. Here, I need to provide enough guidance. And I need to provide me we started this year putting together a management development programme, where we have a curriculum that that goes through various topics, where I might pull one of my favourite books from my bookshelf and say that we’re going to go over a disruptive innovation strategy and how as we’re coaching our clients, this is how I want our clients to try and approach bringing the new technology to market or The Lean Startup as a book I love so bringing some of the books that I’ve enjoyed or going through business school, what are some of the case studies that I read, bringing some of that knowledge and having conversations, not that I’m going to come with all of the expertise and everything that they need, but we can at least have a conversation. We can read an article together or read a book together. And then we can say, let’s talk about one to ones with team members. What makes for an effective one to one with your direct reports. And how do I like to approach it? What are some other things we might learn? So I need to do a better job of being intentional as I put people into management positions, that I’m not advocating authority, just letting go and leaving a void that they have to feel that I’m setting the strategy and the guidelines and giving them the coaching they need so that they can become great managers.

John Corcoran 29:19

Yeah. And Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup, great book, we’ll put it in the show notes. You know, I’m a big fan of gratitude. And if if you look back on your career, your journey who would you want to shout out video li peers, contemporaries, you know, sometimes there’s a fine line between a peer and a mentor. Would you want to thank for helping you in your journey? Yeah, there.

Brad Griffith 29:43

I love the idea of a gratitude practice you know, daily thinking about what am I grateful for and what’s helping me feel fulfilled? I would say, I’m gonna think of two different people here. One was very early on my career. I don’t know that hill here, the podcasts off to send them the talk. Test. Chuck Warner was a partner in the first business that I worked in other than my family business, called the youngest OSI, as I talked about it earlier about doing for the educational planning firm, building, their first website, their first intranet, some web applications for them. And Chuck Porter was one of the partners in that business, giving me my first job as maybe part of it my first job outside the family. But he believed in me, and he supported me and with a mentor in life and in business, you’re talking to me about marriage and about family and about values. And I can remember one thing that I do remember very vividly, he gave me a book, he said, When I was starting my business, he said, Well, Bradley, do you want to talk a little bit about how you’re going to charge for your services? And how do you run a professional services firm, and this is the guy he didn’t need to do this for me. You he owed me nothing. I’m substantially younger than he is getting started my career. He gave me this book. And we spent some time, you know, over numerous years where he would get together with lunch, get together with me for lunch. But he gave me this book. And one of those meetings, anytime you read through this, it talks about hourly rates, and how do you when you start to have employees, calculating your cost? And what do you need to charge? Versus what are the costs of the business. And he just gave me a lot of the fundamentals of running a professional services business, and gave me an opportunity to think through those in a way that that ultimately enabled me to grow my business, larger than then has been and product management is larger than Dion, but he ran a consulting practice for years and was very happy. And that’s maybe where the the life mentorship comes in that I could see how he treated his daughter and his wife, and how he he had really good values in the way that he approached business. And such I you know, Chuck is one of those people who really helped me to get started in business, and I will forever appreciate that. And one other person would call out Scott McAfee. He was with the city of New Albany. He’s now retired and lives down in Florida. But the city of New Albany, the staff there as well, Jennifer Chrysler’s another person there, who is doing amazing things, bringing Intel and Facebook, and Amazon and Google off to New Albany. Jennifer has given us a great opportunity working with the city and Scott trusted me to help out with the website, when I was maybe a year into business and stuck with me for for many years beyond that. We’re still doing a lot of work for the city of New Albany, we do work on more of their websites. And he also has been very kind to refer us business. And even recently, I talked to another municipality here in central Ohio. And they said they were coming. I actually got two of these within a week, where they came to us and said we’d like to talk about a new website. And I said, Well, Where’d you hear about us, and they named three different cities around Central Ohio. All of those are clients of ours because of Scott, because he took a chance on us. And when I didn’t have enough of a history in business to really warrant a city taking that chance on us he did so I really appreciate that. It really nice guy surrounded himself with very smart people was able to replace himself and Josh Bolin now is is our new trusted resource there the city and does some amazing things. And we still have a relationship with the city because of Scott’s

John Corcoran 33:25

work. That’s great, great stories. Brad, where can people go to learn more value connect with you and ask you any questions if they have any?

Brad Griffith 33:32

Yeah, LinkedIn is great. I can find him on LinkedIn, LinkedIn/BradGriffith. You can find me on our website, Learn a little bit about the business. Those are probably the best places. I love talking with people. So scheduling a call, I had an expert office hours session this morning where they innovate New Albany runs these appointments. If anyone just wants to talk about there’s got to be some better way to do X, Y, or Z in my business. And we got to use technology designed to improve that process. I love those conversations. So look for me on LinkedIn, find me on the website. I’d love to have a conversation.

John Corcoran 34:08

Alright Brad, thanks so much.

Brad Griffith 34:09

Absolutely. Thank you so much.

Outro 34:13

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