Focus on the most important things first.
Jeff Day is the CEO of Bluewater Technologies, a company devoted to creating live events and AV technology experiences for strong brands. Jeff’s professional passion lies in helping individuals and organizations achieve maximum collaboration value through fostering innovation, developing winning partnerships, and enhancing people’s skills and productivity.
Where did the idea for Bluewater Technologies come from?
Bluewater started for the sole purpose of a family taking care of each other. Entering the audiovisual rental market was an easy decision as, in the mid-‘80s, there was significant demand for the local automotive companies and their suppliers to support live meetings in hotels and ballrooms on a regular basis. Eventually, companies wanted permanent installations for those AV and technology needs, and that’s where our permanent integration/installation business started.
The name “Bluewater” is a great descriptor of the places throughout Michigan that we love — our Michigan roots are loaded with lakes and water scenic byways. The name has evolved over time to include far more than that. We think of it as our opportunity to stand out and be different from others in terms of the fluid and ever-changing needs of technology, our people, clients, and communities. Like shifting waters that can be still and moving, so it is with us!
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
Bluewater races into each day with excitement! A typical day may begin with teams’ crafting new creative strategies with clients to create exciting moments that move people to action. These ideas are transformed into working experience blueprints that are executed to perfection.
A huge part of our culture is to create an incredibly positive and creative environment. We do this through fun and engaging activities, including mock Grammy Awards where music videos are created and a company “professional” bocce ball league. These fun and engaging events help build a positive company environment.
The company has also embraced the motto of EPIC as an illustration of our culture:
E – Excellence
P – Passion
I – Integrity
C – Collaboration
The test of our team’s approach and our output deliverables relate to it being our best work (and one at the same level we’d expect if the activity, installation, or event been our own). In other words, we put ourselves in the seat of the brand’s consumer, and we design great moments from that perspective.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Our team moves quickly from concept to the test development phase. Ideas are hatched in tight collaboration with clients and team members. We like to call this collaboration our “Go Team,” where we put fresh and innovative ideas on the table that achieve the mission and objective of moving people through amazing moments.
The real test is taking an idea from a concept into reality. We do this by first creating a story track. The story track is told in “comic book” fashion so all parties involved get a good sense of the flow and the emotion connected with the story. After, we create a visual and/or hands-on display to help bring the story to life. This helps illustrate the “wow” moment we’re looking to create. Lastly, we sometimes build a small-scale model to demonstrate that the idea is functionally possible. These models may be physical or virtual but, in all cases, they achieve the objective of validating that an idea works.
Once an idea’s been validated, a robust and iterative process begins of intense innovation. Building out never-been-done-before ideas creates new approaches, new tools, and new ways of seeing things. This is one of the great hallmarks of not only our style, but also of what makes us super pumped about bringing cool things to life.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Consumer demand for amazing destinations that use highly interactive moments and experiences gets us fired up. We are consumers of great brands and experiences. From movies to sporting events, we consume things in a way that reflects an intense desire for connected, “techified,” and emotional moments. People geek out and become the best promoters of experiences through new and innovative ways of sharing what they feel and think — in real time.
Strong brands and organizations are focused on creating immersive experiences over tech. The future of retail is less about transaction and more about winning hearts and minds. This shift excites us as consumers and as a business because we provide so much in these areas.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Dreaming daily! I like to think about what’s possible without restrictions, not so much because it’s a more productive way of doing things, but because it creates new opportunities for broad future innovation.
I wake up every day at 5 a.m. and allocate ritualistic time to personal reflection, spiritual and physical development, and prepping for the day’s opportunities. I love coming into the day with high energy, as it sets the tone that I am completely in control of how I choose to respond to the day. This has an impact on me, as well as those I work closely with.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Challenge yourself to play at the highest level you can! We call this playing up. You will perform at the level you choose, so choose to do your absolute best. Too often, I found myself losing confidence in my abilities to make amazing things happen. The more I played up to my surroundings or changed my surroundings to do the same, the more I found myself achieving far more than I thought I could.
I would tell myself to be confident and go for it with deep humility and passion. Cocky attitudes and stubborn personalities don’t work here. But daring big and being willing to get out of the comfort zone makes a tremendous difference. Comfort in discomfort!
Tell us something that’s true that almost no one agrees with you on.
Massive business benefits can come from meaningful playfulness and community volunteerism embedded within the company’s culture. We refer to it like a palindrome: “Doing well so we can do well.” If we prioritize both of these aspects, business benefits follow.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Establish a “purpose” compass in which everything you do can be tested against. For me, this compass relates to “bigger” purposes in my life. My life’s ambition — beyond personal development and being a great husband and father — relates to helping people get to where they’re going. As I evaluate professional opportunities, I test those ideas against my bigger purpose. If they align, great. If they don’t, I re-examine why they don’t.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Focus on the most important things first. I wouldn’t claim perfection on this, but I think our ability to pick key must-win battles and tackle them has helped us prioritize and simplify the work to be done. Lately, we’ve adopted the Covey leadership term, “Wildly Important Goal,” or WIG. This entails focusing on a specific goal, task, or initiative and re-evaluating the goals often, replacing them with fresh WIGs; this develops a cadence and pace of growth and innovation.
Another strategy of equal importance is to continually try new things. We also evaluate ideas based on seven critical measures:
1. What is the big idea or solution?
2. What is the market demand for the big idea?
3. What is the current competitive landscape?
4. Can we generate a reasonable, sustainable profit doing this?
5. Does a brand exist for this? How much time and effort will be required by us to develop it?
6. Can we generate innovative intellectual capital for this?
7. Does this fit with our culture and values?
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Fear of failure. My father worked for the same employer for more than 40 years. I learned very early in my career that a 40-year stay anywhere not only wouldn’t be realistic, but it would also be detrimental to my career. Yet in the early years of my career, I was lulled into working in large organizations with a degree of so-called security. Security comes in many forms and can lead to apathy in personal crisis and disaster scenario planning — particularly in personal and financial matters.
To me, creating a comfortable lifestyle early in my career bred a degree of fear in risk-taking. This has taken considerable time and effort to overcome as I took more and more calculated and planned risks through my journey.
What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Will somebody build an experiential car wash? It’s painful to give this one up. 😉
It’s one of the most captivating and frequently visited destinations in the Midwest that lives far below its value. Enhancing the problem of keeping your car clean, the experiential car wash creates unique and immersive experiences based upon a user’s profile. From the time a car checks into the bay, the person’s vehicle can be transported virtually to the Swiss Alps, sandy Fijian beaches, the prehistoric dinosaur era, or the Amazon jungle. The immersive car wash would create physical and digital activations that excite and delight patrons. Experiences not only show content, but they also create opportunities for patrons to interact with the experience and earn points through participation in those activations. The car wash would cost much more than your average wash, with season passes rivaling those of permanent theme park destinations.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What, and why?
Each month, our company recognizes one employee as an outstanding illustrator of our company’s cultural values. We call it the Bluewater Royal. In a company meeting, that person is knighted and given a crown, robe, and a royal scepter. The Royal receives the royal treatment during the month. He or she gets to choose a special lunch item on a day that we provide lunch for employees. The Royal also chooses a “meritorious” act that others in the company can do in honor of that person, as well as the culture we are building.
Our last Royal invited us to make a donation to Doctors Without Borders. She believed this was a worthy cause to donate to, so I followed through and donated $100. Charitable giving of not only money, but also time, is a key part of my personal belief (but also of our company’s culture).
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Wunderlist is a great tool for getting tactical. I spend so much time dreaming that I sometimes struggle getting stuff done. Wunderlist allows me to task out activities and share it across all my digital access paths. It integrates perfectly with Outlook and Evernote, two of my other favorite tools.
Doodle is a group scheduling platform. Finding the right time to get meetings set for a quick call between small and large groups is tough, but Doodle helps make that happen.
What is one book you recommend our community read, and why?
“Leading at a Higher Level” by Ken Blanchard. I love this book and everything it hits. It addresses the concept that leadership is really about understanding people, their needs, and how to help them succeed. Leadership is not about the leader and his smarts, talents, and skill capabilities, but rather, leadership can be learned and developed and exercised at many levels. You don’t have to be the CEO or the person in charge to be a great leader.
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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.