The best solution isn’t always the right solution. In the workforce, problems are not solved in a vacuum and there is always more than one right solution. The best chance of success is to maximize the number of actors that are bought in and establish a shared sense of ownership of the chosen solution.

 

As Co-Founder and Partner, Brian is a part of the executive leadership team and has primary responsibility over the Digital Services organization within the company. With the launch of Avatria in 2015, Brian brings over a decade of experience focused on the enterprise-class commerce and content space, working with companies in the manufacturing, supply and distribution, apparel retail, pharmaceutical retail, and telecommunications spaces. Prior to launching Avatria, Brian was a Senior Architect at Razorfish and before this, a senior consultant with Acquity Group. Brian holds a Bachelors, Computer Science from Purdue University and resides in Chicago with his family.

Where did the idea for Avatria come from?

My Partners and co-founders (Zach McMahon and Harry Thakkar) and I have spent our entire careers in the eCommerce Digital Services space. During that time we observed that eCommerce platforms did some things well, but left a lot of gaps. We saw this as an opportunity to design and build our own software that filled in some of those gaps and complimented eCommerce platforms in an agnostic manner.

At the time we wanted to build our own software, but we all agreed that we didn’t want to take outside investment and risk someone else prioritizing our product roadmap. So, when we founded the company, we decided to bootstrap ourselves by first starting with a Digital Services business. The Digital Services business was aimed at Enterprise-class eCommerce strategy and implementation that focused on helping our customers design and execute their long-term eCommerce roadmaps. Over time we used the revenue from the Digital Services arm to develop our Digital Products business, which led to the launch of our first software product, Avatria Convert, earlier this year.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

The other Partners and I are strong believers in ensuring that everything we do has a value-added purpose, something we have instilled throughout our culture. A couple of the added benefits of our mantra is that it allows us to maintain fruitful careers and effectively balance our personal lives. This is a principle that my Partners and I diligently embody to set a positive example for the employees in the company – that we can have a desirable work/life balance with an eight-hour day, 40-hour week, not 12-hour days, every day. So, I start my day at 4:45 a.m. with exercise, start work at 7 am., and am home by 4 p.m. in time for daycare pick-up. When I’m home, my phone is down and I am focused on my family. I’ve found that there is usually nothing so critical that it can’t be handled the next day.
The other Partners and I are involved in the day to day operations and not just high-level strategy. This means that I have leadership responsibilities as well as clients that I consult for, along with teams that I manage on the ground. So, to establish the balance of running the business, servicing the clients and helping innovate, I prioritize my time, delegate what I can, and rely on the capable employees that Avatria hired. Ultimately, I don’t micromanage people.

How do you bring ideas to life?

At Avatria, we don’t do anything in a vacuum. We engage our employees to come up with ideas and then execute against them. At its core, we aim to hire people smarter than us and then enable them to do their job. We encourage them to be part of the ideation process, so that they have a shared sense of ownership in the solutions and are then able to execute them with our leadership. We are also methodical in how we evaluate our options by choosing the one with the lowest possible opportunity cost.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

See my prior answers for questions one and two. 😊

What advice would you give your younger self?

There are two pieces of advice:

• Embrace change – Human nature is resistance to change. In the fast-moving digital world that we live in today, people who resist disruption and change are only going to be left behind. Even for younger professionals, this a good concept to keep in mind otherwise they will quickly find that their skillset is no longer relevant.

• The best solution isn’t always the right solution – In the workforce, problems are not solved in a vacuum and there is always more than one right solution. The best chance of success is to maximize the number of actors that are bought in and establish a shared sense of ownership of the chosen solution. After all, there’s no value in having the “best” solution when it is never implemented.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

The one thing I practice and preach is that if people commit to something, they need follow through with it. I have found that failure to do so quickly causes others to view one as unreliable which is a huge career staller, particularly for folks early in their careers.

As a leader delegating tasks to individuals, I feel that leading by example is critical. I always ensure that I have done something myself before committing others to the same task. This allows me to serve as a support system for my employees and increases the chance of a positive outcome.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Ever since Avatria started, the main strategy that has helped us grow by reputation is delivering high-quality solutions for our customers where others have failed. For us, this is only enabled by hiring the best and brightest talent while growing responsibly to meet demand. Unfortunately, the tech market is diluted and most often, there are very few talented people we can hire. To combat this problem and respond to market demand we established a network of partnerships with other small, boutique companies that had a shared vision for quality. We utilized some of those organizations to augment our staff – namely to help us fulfill work needs for non-critical roles, as the company grew. This allowed us to maintain quality, but still scale without being forced to slow growth due to a lack of qualified candidates.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

This is related to the prior question because the failure was to realize the best way for us to grow and handle our HR situation was to seek partnerships and outsourced services. Instead, we got to this conclusion the hard way as we went through screening hundreds of candidates initially. Then we figured out we had to do this a different way if we were going to close our skills gap and grow at the same time.
Over time, we developed a partner network to accomplish this goal while maintaining the quality work that we hold ourselves. We, as an organization, self-actualized and we learned what we do well and what we don’t and for the latter, we tapped specialists for these needs (both long term and temporary). Conversely, there are a lot of companies that do not do this, as they try to hire individuals in-house to do everything themselves. Anytime they need to scale, they go out and hire. This is often forces others to settle for lower-quality talent at a higher long-term cost.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

My idea is for a business to come up with a way to reconcile the programming labor needs for companies in the U.S. with the education/workforce needs in rural America. Due to the cost pressures of a globalized economy (e.g. less expensive labor costs for software engineers in Bangalore, India v. Chicago), U.S. companies have looked to the other side of the globe for lower-cost labor without realizing that they can achieve the same cost reduction by employing folks in rural America. The primary gap is that other countries are educating their labor forces in a way that is tailored to this need, so they are not just offering traditional, four-year college education options, but trade schools focused on specific subjects (like programming). Even though there is a rural community in America that would be eager to do this kind of training, it is easier for companies to tap a seemingly established resource in other countries because the educational infrastructure has already been put into place.

If an entrepreneur can figure out a software trade education system that not only trains people in rural America but works with them like a staffing agency to connect them with U.S. tech companies – that’s your winning business idea. If a rural workforce has the same programming training as an outsourced international staff and without the financial demands of elite city workforce (think Silicon Valley), then it would be a no brainer for companies to work with Americans in the same time zones. The biggest obstacle, however, is that in the U.S. the ingrained tradition is that you must go to a four-year degree to get ahead with white collar positions, while trade school is associated with blue collar jobs. I am confident that this will change in the next generation.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Anything that makes my life easier for raising my kids. Recently I bought a Baby Bjorn to help carry my daughter to a Cubs game. That fits!

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Skype and Microsoft Teams. Without access to either, I can’t communicate with anyone in the company. We have resources based all over the world and without these tools, there would be no way for me to communicate with them.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

If you’re interested in the global economy, go back and read “The World is Flat” by Thomas L. Friedman. Think about how many of his predictions came true 15 years later. Now think about how the we’ll respond to that change in the next 15 years.

Key Learnings:

• Avatria was founded with the idea that the best way to move the eCommerce industry forward is to bootstrap our own software that compliments eCommerce platforms in an agnostic manner…enter Avatria Convert.
• Avatria optimized operational efficiency while maintaining quality by developing a network of like-minded, boutique software firms that we utilized to help bring our product and services to life.
• Avatria’s internal mantras are to grow responsibly and ensure that everything that you do has a value-added purpose.
• The Avatria leadership team believes that it is their mission to hire only the best and brightest talent and then enable them to realize their full potential.

Connect:

https://www.avatria.com/
https://twitter.com/avatria
https://www.linkedin.com/company/avatria/
https://www.linkedin.com/in/brianwballard/