At Sage Summit in Chicago, we spoke to Sage Live customer Stephanie Morgan, co-founder of ICS Plus in Austin Texas. Stephanie founded the business 11 years ago with her husband and now has several staff.
ET: Could you describe what ICS Plus do?
Stephanie: “We develop custom software for building automation and audio/video control systems. With a lot of the sustainable buildings that are being built now, not only do people want to control their video conferencing and room scheduling they also want to integrate the lighting system and the HVAC. We are the middleware that makes that happen. Our software lives in the black box produced by Crestron or the other manufacturers that we deal with. From there, it controls all of the other devices that are part of the system.”
ET: Who is your inspiration and why?
Stephanie: “My husband. He loves what he does. He’s worked in this industry his whole life. He really, really enjoys the technology and being able to take these diverse pieces of equipment and find a way to make them all work as one cohesive system. I wanted to create the ideal work environment for him that would best meet what he needed out of his job. I also wanted to let him focus on the things that he loves to do and the things that he does best.”
ET: How would you describe your leadership style?
Stephanie: “Collaborative. I definitely prefer to mentor people rather than micromanage people. I think that we all need each other. The hierarchy exists in our company because we all need to know what our jobs are and what our roles are. That’s certainly not a reflection on the amount of respect or camaraderie that anyone is due.”
ET: What is your view on technology in business?
Stephanie: “I think that’s a loaded question. Given what we do as a company, we have to really love technology because we are early adopters in many respects. We write software for all these cutting-edge systems. For me personally, what I’ve learned is you can’t always just throw technology at a problem and expect it to fix things, any more than you can just keep throwing money at a problem and expect it to fix things.”
I believe the technology should serve us and serve the business and not necessarily the other way around.”
ET: What are the key challenges faced currently by your industry?
Stephanie: “The constant change. It’s hard to get your footing and feel like, ‘Oh I’ve got this’. Because right when you feel like you’ve mastered it, it’s already changed and become obsolete.”
ET: What are your personal challenges in the next 12 months?
Stephanie: “Work life balance, I think that’s the stock answer you’re going to get from every small business owner.”
ET: What are the key business challenges for you in the next 12 months?
Stephanie: “We’ve been able to generate a little bit of momentum. We’re starting to be able to see a return on investment with Sage Live, Krow, Salesforce and the integration between these apps. I think some of our key challenges are going to be keeping our development drive up. We have to keep disciplining ourselves to really use it, integrate with it and rely on it so we can increase that ROI.”
ET: What was your darkest business day and how did you overcome it?
Stephanie: “Our very first office had a very bad flood and we had to make the repairs right before Christmas to the tune of several thousand dollars. Being new to having an office, that was a shock to the system.”
ET: You obviously got repairs, was there a lesson learned in terms of what you did?
Stephanie: “Yes. Get an office with a full service lease so it becomes the landlords problem. Now we have an office with a full service lease. We do try to learn from those moments.”
ET: What was your proudest moment?
Stephanie: “There are many. When we know that we’ve done a really good job, seeing my husband or our other developers that we’ve worked with over the years gain and grow in their level of certification and continuing education and seeing those commitments pay off. Or the chance to get awarded a really high profile job because the manufacturer or the client, they trust us with it because of our commitment to training and the work that we’ve done. It’s those moments I think that really make me proud.”
ET: Have you got a tip to share with new business leaders?
Stephanie: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You will not have all skill sets that you need. You cannot be all things to all people. At some point, you will have to get help and find somebody that you can speak freely with. That’s critical.”
ET: Any tips for fundraising?
Stephanie: “Take the time to look before you leap and read the fine print. We haven’t done a lot of it. We bootstrapped our way up and started on a card table in a spare bedroom. Sometimes that has its challenges, but then we’re also not beholden to anybody else on how we run our business.”
ET: What was the latest business book you read or your favourite book or podcast?
Stephanie: “The latest business book I read is one called Work Clean, by Dan Charnas. The premise of the book is that we might learn the skill set we need to be an engineer or an accountant, but those industries and those jobs don’t teach us how to work. The one industry that does that is the culinary industry with chefs in a kitchen. It’s not just the fact that they have the knife and the cooking skills to be able to prepare all these meals, but that they know how to work so that they can feed all the customers that come into a restaurant.
“It was really eye opening. It was validating for me. There were some things that I read in there, that I was like, ‘Oh I do that. I figured out how to do that on my own.’ Then there were a lot of things that reframed some of our common ways of looking at time management and task management priority setting.”
ET: How do you prioritize your day-to-day work against strategic stuff?
Stephanie: “I take it day by day. There is always something to be done. If I don’t have something very pressing that has a very immediate deadline, I try to knock out a few simple things and check things off of my to-do list.”
ET: What’s the one question you’d like to ask another CEO to answer?
Stephanie: “How do you keep believing in your vision when it seems like the odds are stacked against you?”
ET: The second half of that question is, can you give an answer yourself please?
Stephanie: “For me, don’t make life altering decisions when you’re feeling really stressed out I guess is the best way to put it. Try to just breathe through it, get to a calmer place, and then see if you need to change direction, or if you’re still really committed to what you think you should do. I don’t know that that’s an entirely successful answer for myself either.”
ET: Thank you Stephanie