[quote style=”boxed”] I would hire people right from the beginning that are experts in their particular area as opposed to me trying to save a few bucks and wearing all the hats in the early stages of building a business.[/quote]
Dan Abbate is an entrepreneur who is well versed in all things technological. As Ari Meisel of LessDoing.com says, “He is an automation ninja.” Dan has spent most of his professional career examining business processes for a variety of industries and then using a combination of custom software and hardware to make them as efficient as possible.
He is the owner of several companies and has bought and sold countless others. After relocating to Florida from Chicago in 2013, he started his most recent business, Robotaton Corp, which automates company-wide business processes for mid-market companies. Robotaton focuses specifically on event-driven automation, meaning computers talk directly to other computers to accomplish day-to-day repetitive tasks with little to no human intervention.
Dan greatly enjoys public speaking, and has presented his popular talk “Automation & the Death of the American Job” to countless trade, networking, civic, and creative organizations. Past engagements have included the American Society for Quality, Vistage, Entrepreneurs Organization, DePaul University, Creative Chicago Expo, as well as a variety of local Florida Kiwanis and Rotary groups. He has appeared on Kevin Price’s “Price of Business” talk show, the History Channel’s “Modern Marvels,” “The Steve Harvey Show,” was a guest on the popular radio talk show “The Mancow Experience,” and studied improvisation at Second City in Chicago, IL.
Dan spends his free time thinking of how to make things run more efficiently; riding on his golf cart with his little boy, Winston; reading The Economist; and complaining to his long-suffering wife about the state of the world today.
Where did the idea for Robotaton come from?
I’ve been buying businesses, making them more efficient through automation, and then selling them for over 15 years. Robotaton comes directly from this. I realized that I enjoy setting up a business – I like the part where I get to go in and figure out how to make things run most efficiently and make that happen. Once that’s done, I prefer to move onto the next project rather than participate in the day-to-day operations. So I created a business that would let me help other people’s businesses in this way. We get to go in, examine processes and how things are put together, automate them to make things run more efficiently and effectively, and then the business owner continues to work on the business using the new system we’ve given them. It’s a win-win.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day is all over the place. I typically get up about 6am to get in a run before I begin the day. Then at 7am, after a quick shower, I read the economist and various tech blogs and news sources to stay current, before everyone else arrives at the office at 9am. After that, I generally have meetings with my Executive Assistant, or my Marketing & PR person, or my IT director, or my sales director, or a potential client – there are always tons of things to do and everyone wants a piece of me. The best way I’ve found to make my day as productive as possible, is to tackle the hard stuff first. I resist the urge to do the little stuff and instead try to accomplish whatever is the most important first. Often, doing the most important things will make the other little things either fall into place, or make you realize they weren’t necessary to begin with.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I need help to do it, for sure. I have a solid staff of support people who help me take an idea and bring it to life. The thing to remember is that no one person is going to be good at everything. You need to surround yourself with people who can help you. As Woodrow Wilson so eloquently stated, “I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.”
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m really excited about the trend in businesses to automate back-end processes. More and more companies are realizing that technology isn’t just about digital tools and data storage. It’s about business intelligence, real-time views of company health and performance, and eliminating the possibility of human error by removing as many “hands” from the process as possible. Repetitive tasks of any kind, including those that seem to be complex, are at the core of business process; human error in these areas can hurt a company both financially and from a reputation perspective. With this in mind, organizations can now automate back-end business processes on a companywide scale. The real goal in a fully automated company is to make the most efficient use of human labor as possible, permitting humans to do the creative, strategic, and analytical thinking – ‘cause that’s what we do better than computers.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am always thinking about my businesses. Always. It’s an obsession because it’s what I love. That makes me effective and productive as an entrepreneur because I spend most of my time working – in some form or another – on my companies. My wife gets annoyed however. Ha!
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
The worst job I ever had was the one that I put myself into. I was running one of my businesses – an arts venue – trying to grow the business and work some of the day-to-day tasks as well. I came to realize that you cannot work IN your business and ON your business at the same time. I would put in ten hours of day to day ‘maintenance’ and feel like, hey, I’m done. I worked. When in reality I hadn’t yet spent any time on trying to grow the business. So I was getting further and further behind and more and more frustrated.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would hire people right from the beginning that are experts in their particular area as opposed to me trying to save a few bucks and wearing all the hats in the early stages of building a business.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
“Fake it until you make it.” This is something I have done all my life but had no idea it was a bona fide way of improving one’s individual confidence and status within human society; it always just sort of worked for me. People believe you to be what you think you are, so if you don’t quite feel up to snuff, just fake it and you will find that you fit into whatever situation you are intimated by. Whenever I feel small or insignificant in a new situation or meeting new people I remember this mantra, and act accordingly.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
We have found that a strong PR and Marketing strategy is really useful. This is illustrated by this article – we reach out in the form of interviews, podcasts, and articles to try to connect with businesses and people that are seeking to improve their internal operations. We talk about ourselves and what we do and how we can help. We use PR to establish ourselves as what we legitimately are: the leader in our growing industry.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
This ties into a lot of the other questions I’ve responded to in this interview: trying to do it all myself. The more businesses I own, the higher up in the business echelon we get, the more I realize that one person cannot do it all and you have to get other people to help you. When you try to be everything to your business, you fail.
I realized I needed to get top people working on my projects. I also realized this would cost me something, but it was a price I was willing to spend for the advantages it gave me and the company; it wasn’t an expense but an investment that would pay back tenfold over time. Often when you are starting out, it’s hard to make that commitment, but if you have a project you really believe it, you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to make it as successful as possible.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Here you go: robots (vending machines) that dispense frozen yogurt. They have to look like little robots complete with arms and heads that turn. The yogurt would come out of their belly. They would hand it to you. You could call them Yo-bots. They would say funny robotic things while they were giving you your yogurt like (use a robot voice, please) “Here is your yogurt. Thank you for spending money with me today,” and “Hey buddy. You look hot. Come have a tasty treat.” Who wouldn’t want frozen yogurt from a Yo-bot? “Hey mom! Can I go ask the Yo-bot for yogurt?” “Yes, yes you can Jimmy. But be polite. He doesn’t give frozen treats to rude little boys.” I would love to see that. Someone, please make it happen.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I have two tube socks balled up inside another tube sock (on In Living Color I think it was called a Homie Sock) and I walk around the office with it and occasionally hit people. All in good fun, of course…
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
We don’t use outside software or web services, really. We customize our own stuff to accomplish the same thing because I actually DON’T love any stand-alone tool that is not integrated. There’s always an issue – one program or service won’t “talk” to another program or service, you have to enter data into several systems so you are duplicating effort, a portion of the task which SHOULD be automated still requires a human, etc. That’s why we do what we do. Robotaton works like an umbrella and sits over various systems and programs. It’s a many-armed umbrella, like an octopus, an Octo-Umbrella. Our “Octo-Umbrella” moves information automatically between systems so that humans don’t have to – all information is in one place accessible from one platform – and then takes it a step further and ENTERS IN NEW INFORMATION independently of any humans, improving the functionality and speed of all those modules, systems and programs.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
David J. Friedman’s book, Fundamentally Different. It’s all about creating a corporate culture that is based upon executable behaviors as opposed to corporate ideals which are difficult for the average person to manifest in their daily activities. It’s about building high functioning world-class teams from the bottom to the top of the organization.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I am very influenced by Amy Cuddy. She did a terrific Ted Talk called “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”. I believe the universe to be predictable and orderly; even if at times it appears not to be. I am constantly searching for meaning and objectivity in everything because I believe the more one understands the true nature of how things work, the better one can use that knowledge to reach desired goals. Amy Cuddy speaks about non-verbal meaning and provides an objective view of our subjective interpersonal interpretation of others and ourselves. As her theories are explored, they create a complete objective framework from which to focus every human interaction and interpersonal behavior. Since reading her articles and seeing her talk, I now try to see people in this objective way so I might better communicate with them, feel less intimated in situations where that might be my natural response, and realize that all people – regardless of status – are having these same feelings and reacting to these unspoken “truths”. It’s super useful information for anyone who has to put themselves repeatedly into new situations where you are meeting new people.