Tracy: I’m chatting with Chuck Drobny a US Army Veteran and West Point Graduate who has stopped by today to share some of the things he has learned in his journey as an entrepreneur. Thank you for being here Chuck. Let’s start by hearing your back story, how did you become an entrepreneur?
Chuck: Well Tracy, it was out of necessity from losing a position, gaining a new mortgage and enrolling my first child in college.
I’ve always stretched the envelope, even when part of a larger organization. I preferred to work with the organization as a resource. It was only when I found myself out of work and geographically trapped in an economically depressed region that I started out on my own. I guess it was of necessity. I found I could make my own way and did not have to limit myself to what was available. I could hire people, acquire resources, buy assets and borrow money and make things happen.
The first year, I built software for workboats using satellite comms from my home. After a year I’d gained a half dozen customers, employed a dozen technicians and paid a lot of tuition.
Tracy: What can you share with us about how you’ve matured as an entrepreneur? Was there anything you’d change?
Chuck: Starting my own company beginning with just me was an exercise in error prone decision making. But I learned from each fail. I returned to the graduate school classroom as a professor and learned a lot about different companies from adult learners each with a day job. Finally recruited to join a startup I was able to grow the business operationally and mold it to my leadership and management style. Today I’m President of that company and we’re still growing.
Tracy: What can you do for your clients?
Chuck: We can monitor and control their physical processes, display that information, gather and store the data regardless of their equipment, location or configuration. We won’t push one size fits all solution. We’ll configure and adapt the solution to fit what they want, not the other way around. We can do this by hiring and developing engineers, managers and technicians for how well they think and adapt rather than what they’ve worked on in the past.
Recently we had a chance to do some electrical work for an animal feed plant. It was completely out of our market but since the request came from the father of one of our managers, I authorized the work. When I heard about their problems I sent in a team of our engineers to make some recommendations. Today we are actively serving this new vertical by exploiting the opportunity that literally fell into our laps.
Tracy: What aspect of your work are you most proud of?
Chuck: We never say “no” and burden the customer with solving a connected part of their problem. I never consider our existing assets and staff as the limit on resources we might need to deliver a solution. We’ll embrace as much or little of the problem as the customer wants us to handle. We’ll turn over all the documentation and reveal all the IP that we get paid to deliver. We stick around to insure the solution actually works.
Tracy: Being an entrepreneur requires a constant fuel supply to keep that passion and motivation going. Where does yours come from?
Chuck: My family keeps me motivated. I’ve been married 42 years to my wife, my son is a law partner in large TN firm and my daughter is a nurse midwife. I also enjoy biking and I cycle about 100-125 miles per week and ride events like MS 150 and Bike around the Bay on weekends.
Tracy: Do most of your clients have a common problem? Is there a particular thing that causes someone to need your services?
Chuck: They have disparate system components of varying design generations that they can’t connect to integrate and control their entire process. Their control systems are a rat’s nest maze of unlabeled wire that looks like multi colored steel wool. If they desire to upgrade they don’t know where to start.
Tracy: After so many years in business, do you find that you hear the same few questions over and over? What are the 2-3 most common questions your prospects ask?
Chuck: Definitely. Everyone asks “Who else have you done this work for?” and “Do you know how to work on our Repeat system?”
Tracy: Are there “Do It Yourself” solutions someone might try before coming to you?
Chuck: They don’t realize the complexity of their problem at first and often try to get the local electrician to reconnect wires in hopes he makes the right hookup. Of course, that almost never works and the situation is an even bigger mess by the time they call us. Most customers don’t know exactly what they want until they get it and that’s what we do for them. We listen to what they need and we make it happen.
Tracy: Thank you for spending time with us today, Chuck. You’ve given us some great insight. How can someone connect with you?