I like to make sure every day is at least a baby step in the right direction, or at least in the direction of completion.
Brian Gill holds a B.S. degree in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is a software architect and perfectly-seasoned medium-rare entrepreneur. Brian is the founder of Gillware Data Recovery, Gillware Online Backup (recently acquired by StorageCraft Technology Corporation) and Gillware Forensics. He also co-founded Phoenix Nuclear Labs and served on PNL’s board from inception to when it decided to spin-off SHINE Medical Technologies. He also previously served on the board for the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps.
Brian co-authored the first edition of the WebLogic Server Bible, published by John Wiley & Sons in 2002. He was named one of Madison’s 40 under 40 by In Business, even though sadly he is 40 now. His employees, to his face, tell him he doesn’t look a day over 39! He and his wife Kara have 3 sons, Charlie, Tanner and Eli. He is an avid but terrible fisherman and has never participated in even a single session of CrossFit. As CEO of Gillware, Inc, Brian oversees and assists all aspects of the business.
Where did the idea for Gillware Data Recovery come from?
My younger brother Tyler had a hard drive crash. He was an undergrad at UW-Madison at the time and I was a software architect. He called a few places to try and get the data recovered, but he could only find a few companies and they all wanted north of $3000, which would have been a good chunk of his tuition. Our roommate at the time was pre-PHD Greg Piefer, who is a genius and is the current CEO of Shine Medical
Greg is a physics wizard and had undergrad degrees in physics/electrical-engineering as well as a Masters. At the time, he was in the middle of his nuclear engineering PHD. My other brother Wes was a double major in ME/CS. We asked ourselves if we could reverse engineer and repair these complex and undocumented storage devices and set out to prove that we could. Super-duper complicated electromechanical devices with zero owner’s manual? Underserved market with zero affordability? That sounded difficult and the kind of challenge we thought was worth pursuing.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My morning consists of ideally waking up around 4:30AM to get a little exercise and do a little work before getting my three young sons ready for school. I don’t set an alarm, it usually just happens. I work until about 4:00PM, at which point I transition back into Dad mode and feed the family, or coach baseball. Usually the family is asleep by around 9:00PM and I can either relax or finish off anything on my stack. During the work day I will typically have one or two items on my personal plate that I must get done and I’ll try to accomplish those before I open myself up to distraction. This is usually followed by dealing with my 100+ emails, which I only touch once. I let let my staff know not to email me on a subject that does not require my direct input. I don’t want to be kept in any loops that don’t require my direct attention. I try to burn through all email in about 45 minutes. Then I’ll have one daily meeting with either my recovery engineers, software product people, sales staff or marketing staff on different days of the week. When I’m not doing the above, I’ll take time to train, do project or product management, or speak directly with actual clients about their needs and concerns. I never check email on my phone because I like to live my personal and professional life in separate compartments. I’m always brainstorming about new products and services and trying to see ahead about 3-5 years.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Grind, try… rinse and repeat. Hire autonomous people and delegate. Try to sell a small version of the idea to see if you can bootstrap. The hardest part for me is not spreading too thin. I’ve got a list of about a dozen concepts and products that I’d like to pursue someday. They are always people annoying and pestering me and reminding me what a jerk I am for not pursuing them. In the last decade I’ve played a large role in small teams that started seven companies. Five of them are still in business and most are thriving. The other two were minor investments in time and effort that didn’t appear to be worth pursuing. If I didn’t covet my family life and my time with my wife and young children I’d be even busier.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The automation of the mundane. Artificial intelligence should make everyone’s lives better and more meaningful, if we do it right. Or murderous autonomous space robots will take over and we won’t have to worry about anything at all. It’s a win-win situation.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I will focus on a core task daily that I am best suited for or that is critical to something very important. It will be broken into something that will take me 2-3 hours, even if the overall project is much larger in scope. I will not burden myself with multiple 50+ hour projects that will eat at my psyche and fill me with dread when it’s time to be Dad. I like to make sure every day is at least a baby step in the right direction, or at least in the direction of completion.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I was a third shift janitor at a candy plant before I attended college. I used to have to lay on my back and scrape chocolate onto my person as a chocolatey belt moved above me. Seeing the clean belt at the end gave a tiny sense of pride and accomplishment. You can find pride in just about any task even if you end with a nasty mix of chocolate and soap in your hair, as long as you are doing it for the right reasons, tuition money in my case. One of my buddies at that plant ended up becoming a Clerk for a Supreme Court justice. Talented people are everywhere.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. Any small change could have caused a ripple effect to not accomplishing what I have and meeting who I’ve met. If you could guarantee me that nothing would change significantly I’d ask myself to have a little more fun and enjoy the day to day accomplishments. But that lack of enjoyment and fear of failure are powerful motivators. I’m content to exist in this copy of the multiverse.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Say no, a lot. Smashing that little urge to commit to anything and make other people happy when it undoubtedly will waste my time and make me a sad panda. Asking myself if being involved in an activity or relationship is actually in my best interests has saved me from a lot of wasted time. No, I don’t want your financial advice, your insurance, your timeshare, your lead generation, your website help, your business consulting or any of the other dozen things that are proposed to me every week.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
I expect every department to get a little better at something every month. Accountability is key to everything. If nobody is accountable for a department getting better then it probably won’t happen. So that means we need to be able to measure whatever the heck we’re demanding as well. It can take a lot of effort to craft and measure the stuff that a department head is responsible for. I want a department head to spend 80% of their time on their core objective and have a voice in what that 80% is. I also don’t want to overburden them with the other 20% because I want them to have time to play with other concepts and surprise me from time to time. Ideally, we can remove as much subjectivity as possible. Did we add 20% more blog subscribers or not? Did we have zero customers complain about turnaround time this month? Did each sales rep add at least 10 monthly subscribers to our service? These are good questions and if the leader agreed with me that the goals were fair, then we have the foundation for accountability and success.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Just one? So many to pick from. My most recent failure (so far) is I spent a fair amount of time and money on a web crawling and indexing concept. It worked and we got some value out of it, but we overestimated the value that the product generated and underestimated the amount of chatter in the sales-cycle. Even though it worked and generated incredibly valuable data, there’s too much noise in the channel to have a good ratio of marketing dollars to sales. I overcame it by stopping! A guy goes to a doctor and says it hurts when I do this… so the doctor says stop doing that. Another example of saying no, but this time to myself.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Something I was considering lately but will probably never get to… I think there’s a small hole in the gift market, specifically with high-end gifts for wedding anniversaries. I recently had a 10 year anniversary. There’s a metric ton of crappy gifts out there, hundreds of websites selling $80 trinkets for the 10 year anniversary. I took a peek and you can buy clicks on Google for less than a buck (because hundreds of sites are selling $80 junk). After 10 years of marriage there’s a decent chance folks are in their late 30’s these days. Plenty of time to have successful careers, make partner at a law firm or whatever. They also have given each other 50+ gifts for 10+ years of birthdays and holidays and they want the 10th year to be memorable. It’s also a goofy tradition that involves aluminum and tin, so it’s hard to deal with if you want something special (expensive!). So I was going to find a bunch of custom jewelers to make some cool stuff that we’d sell for thousands of dollars and abuse the low Google cost per click, even though the insane mass of stuff would make it difficult to achieve natural search rankings. It’s low risk, and with a couple grand to spend, you could test it out. This is the kind of low-risk venture I generally like to play with. Of course, if two of the readers do it the math changes.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought my son a $80 Mako little league bat on Ebay. It was last year’s model (cost $300 last year). My son was incredibly excited and loves to smash baseballs with it daily. He’d probably sleep with it if I let him bring it in the house.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Without touting any of my own companies stuff? I love HxD and Ultraedit. In my opinion, they’re the best hex editor and text editor, respectively. Lots of high end features and shortcuts I can use to slice and dice whatever I’m up to. Clef is a super sweet, 2-factor password-less authentication that is actually easier to sign-on.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I just bought #ASKGARYVEE. I haven’t finished it yet but it seems like he’s at least trying to bring some current and practical advice to the table and there’s some value there for sure. He’s out there grinding and some of his takes are making me rethink a few of my habits.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Gary V, who I just mentioned, but that’s probably enough in the realm of obvious internet celebs. Greg Piefer (CEO of Shine Medical) is the smartest guy I’ve ever met by a wide margin. I’ve been in the same room with plenty of incredibly rich and hyper intelligent people, but Greg is on another level and he’s going to change the world. Without putting too much pressure on the guy, I’d have to say he’s the next Elon Musk and I’m pretty sure he will invent shields like they had in Star Trek someday. He doesn’t put himself out there much on the internet unfortunately.
Dr. Peter Nichol is also an amazing guy that is trying to pull medicine into a more modern future with lower costs, less reactionary medicine, more aggregated research and more disease prevention.(https://www.medawaresystems.com/scientific-advisory-board/)
I also spend quite a bit of my free time following Lehman astrophysicist Matthew O’Dowd on PBS Spacetime.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.