Planning is important and necessary, but it has to be balanced by listening to what people’s needs actually are and responding and adapting well.
Adam Levy is the founder of Magnet Solutions Group, an IT company that helps businesses implement secure, agile, and scalable technology solutions. Adam and his team are passionate about continually learning how new technologies and software can be successfully implemented to work in the real world for their clients.
Adam is the author of two books on business and technology: “Healthcare and Technology Today: A Guide for Providers and Practice Managers” and “Avoiding the Ransom: Cybersecurity for Business Owners and Managers.” Outside of work, Adam enjoys rooting for the Washington Capitals, exploring Texas with his wife, and playing hockey.
Where did the idea for Magnet Solutions Group come from?
It really evolved naturally from customers asking us for technology services. We actually started out as Magnet Sites, focusing on developing great websites that attract (like magnets) visitors. Over time, some of our customers started asking us if we could help them with other technologies, like their computers and networks.
As we looked at what was motivating these requests, we really felt like there was a pretty fast-growing space to fill in technology services for these businesses with the same approach that we were taking with web development. In other words, be responsive to clients, communicate regularly and clearly, leverage the best technologies, work with experienced, talented employees and partners with a common focus, and recognize that people only invest in technology in pursuit of their true business goals. Technology is never the end in and of itself.
When I step back, I realize there are a lot of businesses run by people who are tech-immersed in their own lives and know what a strong, elegant technology solution feels like on the consumer side in making them more productive. And they not only want that same experience for their organizations as they use the cloud, but they also want to trust that it is secure, business-ready, and going to cover their needs fully as they evolve and grow. And they want a trusted technology partner to work with them on this.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
I like having as much structure as I can in my schedule because it feels like there are always unplanned things popping up, and that’s never going to change. I usually answer emails and other messages for a half-hour after I wake up and then head to the gym for a half-hour.
Once I get to the office, I’ll knock out urgent items for an hour, and then — usually — I have regular meetings and handle ongoing projects for the rest of the day. After things have settled down at home in the evening, I’ll answer emails and messages that have come in through the day, just for an hour or so around 11 p.m. People who work with me regularly are pretty used to getting late-night emails. It lets me avoid getting caught up in unending email during the day because I know I’m going to have a chance at night to make sure I’ve responded to everyone.
How do you bring ideas to life?
By trying to avoid perfection (at least at the outset). The biggest thing to decide is whether an idea is worthwhile to implement (which you’re never fully sure of at the outset, anyway). But once you’ve decided it’s something worthwhile, just acknowledging that there are unknowns and that things are going to have to be figured out and get better as you go is important. Not being honest about that and trying to figure every detail out before you get started is the biggest killer.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Honestly, data backup and business continuity are pretty exciting to be part of right now. We’re just at the beginning of this. The amount of data that’s collected by businesses in all industries is growing fast, and storing all of that information — and the effort to make it secure and retrievable when people need to access it — is going to be full of interesting innovation.
Obviously, right now, the persistent headlines about ransomware attacks have made a lot of business owners more interested in the backup of their data and whether that data is really going to be there when needed. Managed data backup is going to become an increasingly core part of doing business — an item that simply needs to be checked off.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Regularly reading about the technology industry is a big help. I have a regular set of about 20 publications and blogs that I’m always reading when I have some spare time, and I’m always looking for more good resources.
Things change so quickly — and there are so many people and vendors making contributions in this space — that it’s important to immerse yourself in it. If somebody else has taken the time to share smart or hard-earned insights, it’s a natural time-saver to have at least some awareness of those ideas to pull from. This also speaks to the idea that it helps to be passionate about what you’re doing.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
I was a waiter for a short stint during college at a restaurant that didn’t treat its waiters well. That wasn’t fun. What else can you say? Everybody wants to be respected and appreciated for their contributions.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
If I were starting again or launching a new venture, I would devote less time to planning and more time to meeting with people and potential customers. Planning is important and necessary, but it has to be balanced by listening to what people’s needs actually are and responding and adapting well. Internal planning only goes so far once you get a question about a need you hadn’t considered before.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I’ll ask to have lunch with people I’m interested in talking to pretty regularly. There’s almost always zero intention of doing business with this person. That’s not the point — it’s not prospecting. It’s finding out what interesting people are doing and what they’re interested in. I think it’s a good habit, and it’s also just fun. Most people are flattered to have someone express interest in what they do and will try to accommodate with lunch or at least coffee.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Not hiring too quickly. It’s so exciting when you have enough business to start hiring people, and when those times come, you also usually have enough on your plate that you’re really eager to hire somebody to ease the burden. But taking the time to make sure that person is the right fit is huge. There are so many costs to poor hires that are hard to track but are very real.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
See above! We’ve hired the wrong people at certain points. The way to overcome that is to be honest about what mistakes were made in the hiring process and address those going forward. Not shying away from mistakes or letting them persist is really important.
What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think a personal digital article curation service would be interesting. This would be a manual service where people who like to read broadly pull together interesting articles for busy people to read from a wide variety of publications, based on their interests and reading styles, but also pushing outside those a little. People would be exposed to articles they wouldn’t normally find — there’s so much interesting writing out there. This business might exist already, but I haven’t seen it.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? On what, and why?
A barbecue dinner for a group of friends.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I use Microsoft OneNote on my Surface Pro. I can’t survive without taking handwritten notes, and this lets me store them and organize them without having stacks of old notebooks at the office.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?
I have a lot of books I love about business and entrepreneurship. Since I was a kid, I’ve always thought it was really exciting to read about the adventures of people creating businesses and defying odds.
One book in particular I really like and recommend is “Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You” (http://www.builttosell.com/) by John Warrillow. The premise is a little different than most business books — it’s written as a short parable about a fictional small business owner who has a going entity that isn’t thriving, and he isn’t getting the rewards he wants from business ownership.
The author, I think by virtue of his background in speaking to small business owners, does a great job of explaining the traps owners fall into that prevent growth and satisfaction. I think the lessons about what makes businesses ultimately valuable are probably applicable across the board.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I got a chance recently to hear Gen. Stanley McChrystal speak about his military experience and read his book, “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.” I think his thoughts on identifying complexity (versus a situation that is simply complicated) and the capabilities needed to respond to that are very interesting.