The wheels are constantly turning in my head on why something is right or wrong and although I can’t put it into words – in my gut I know what to do.
Robert Deignan is the Co-Founder and CEO of ATS Digital Services, a digital support company that helps consumers all over the world with their technological concerns. Whether it’s connectivity issues or general troubleshooting, ATS Digital Services aids customers with a wide variety of concerns remotely.
Robert was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and attended Purdue University on a full football scholarship. He graduated with a degree in Organizational Leadership. After brief stints with the Miami Dolphins and the NY Jets in 1997 and 1998, Robert co-founded Fanlink, Inc, the first of his entrepreneurial ventures. Robert did not leave sports behind, and currently competes in offshore fishing tournaments as well as leading ATS Digital Services. He lives in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area with his wife and son.
Where did the idea for ATS Digital Services come from?
The idea for our business was spawned from another company that I used to work for. Prior to starting ATS Digital Services my business partners and I worked at an Anti-Malware Software Company and we were having technical issues with getting our software installed on user’s machine. We had a trial software strategy so if the users were happy with the software, they could purchase it after 15 days of free use. In 2009 we started having trouble getting our anti-malware product installed on the user’s machine so we put a phone number up at the download page so we could communicate with the users to figure out what the problem was. Through these conversations with those users that tried to download our product, we learned that Malware products (the bad guys) were blocking the installation of our Anti-Malware product. So we came up with a solution which was to have one of our in-house technical support agents remotely connect to the users machine in an effort to help them remove the Malware that was blocking our installation. Through this strategy we were having great success keeping the customer happy and increasing trust from the consumer. In addition, we realized that we could start charging a fee for the efficacy of the remote service. We recognized that it was a very successful method to remove Malware from the machine and also an effective way to optimize the computer to keep it running efficiently. When it was time for my partners and I to move on from the Anti-Malware company, we felt that utilizing these remote connection technologies was a great opportunity for us to help consumers fix their computer and also a great opportunity for us from a business perspective.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
A typical workday for me starts off with the alarm going off at 5:15 AM. I’ll stumble around for a few minutes and then brush my teeth and get into my gym clothes. At 5:45 I meet my buddy at the gym and we work out for close to an hour. The work out is a combination of weight training and cardio activity. The gym is around the corner from my house so I’m home at about 6:50. I’ll start to brew some coffee and I help to get my young son fed breakfast and ready for school. My wife leaves to take my son to school at 7:15 and at that time I take my cup of coffee outside to enjoy some fresh air. I spend about 20-30 minutes in my outside gazebo organizing my thoughts for the day and think about different opportunities for our business. I then get ready for work and drive to work and get settled in at my desk at around 8:20 (depending on traffic). I spend the first part of the day analyzing numbers and assessing how we performed the day before, answering any emails and knocking out any task(s) that I left unfinished from the day before. From then, it’s a crap shoot. From putting out fires, to strategizing with my partners about new opportunities to spending time talking to our employees, business partners, accountant or lawyers – you never know what direction the day can go in. If my son has a baseball game I’ll try to get out of the office around 6:30. If not, I get home around 8 PM and have dinner with my wife and son. I then put him to bed and get in bed myself and watch a sporting event or a show and then it’s time to hit the reset button do it all over again the next day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Most of my ideas are born when I’m outdoors when I am disconnected from the phone and computer. Whether I am sitting in my backyard with a cup of coffee, on our winter snowboarding trips to Colorado or summertime trips to Costa Rica, most of the time the ideas are formed when I’m outside enjoying nature and thinking about creative ways to enhance our business. I’ll take notes and then when I am back in front of my computer, I’ll make some assumptions and create a spreadsheet to see if the idea has legs. If the idea looks promising, I’ll do some more research and once it’s more than half baked, I will talk to my two business partners about it. Each one of them is brilliant and bring a different perspective to the table so they look at the ideas in a different manner than I do. Both of my partners are also very operationally sound and if the idea makes sense to all of us they will assist getting the idea launched. After we implement an idea, we will review it and make the necessary adjustments. We have a unique way of doing things which doesn’t require a lot of meetings. Most ideas are based off an initial gut feeling. From there we try to carry it out in the most efficient manner to give it the best shot of achieving success.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Regarding our industry, one trend that really excites me is the fact that more and more home users are embracing remote technologies to help them fix their computers. Many home computer users get frustrated with the slowness of their home machine, when the printer is not working properly or when the machine gets infected with Malware. More and more users are starting to realize that you don’t need to take your computer to a big box retailer to get it fixed and you don’t need to hire a local technician (a stranger) to come into you home to fix the computer. By utilizing remote technologies, home users can have a certified technician remotely access their computer to fix whatever issue they are having and they are in control. The home user can disconnect the remote session at any time if they feel uncomfortable. Time flies so it’s great to see that home users are embracing remote technologies to fix their issues in the same amount of time that it would take to unplug their machine and all their peripherals, drive to a big box retailer, tell them the issues, make payment and drive home. What a waste of time. It is not necessary and the same result can be achieved in a more efficient manner. It’s great to see that people are adapting to this trend.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Other than fully believing in what it is that I am doing, I think the number one productive habit that I have is analyzing the numbers. I always try to give ideas, test cases, etc, sufficient time to establish a strong sample size to make determinations on whether it makes sense or not. Time is the most valuable resource that we have so if we are going to spend our time on something we need to fully believe in it and we need to maximize the revenue opportunity for that time frame. Of course we have to have some ideas and some assumptions to get the ball rolling but the numbers don’t lie. We need to pay attention to the numbers to either make adjustments, pull the plug on something that is not working or put the throttles down on something that is working. One can learn a lot from looking at the numbers and if you know how to read him properly, you can make sound decisions.
What advice would you give your younger self?
There is a lot of advice I’d like to give my younger self across various topics! From a business standpoint I think the number one thing I have learned is that working or employing family and/or friends can be extremely risky and should be avoided at all costs. Now this does not pertain to friends that you have made at the workplace. Sure it’s nice to see your family or your friends every single day at work and when everything is going great, it’s a blessing. However, business can be tough and adjustments constantly need to be made and feelings can get hurt. Having family relationships or personal friendships get in the way of being able to make sound business decisions is not conducive to running a business. In addition, if there comes a time where you have to make a hard decision and let either a family member or personal friend go or reduce their salary or move them into another position, it never seems to end well. The end result can be the loss of the relationship with that family member or friend. To me that is just way too risky and I have learned my lesson the hard way on multiple occasions. So I would tell my younger self to avoid putting yourself in that position at all costs and hire another qualified person to get the job done.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I make almost all of all my decisions based on a gut feeling. Sometimes I know something is just the right thing to do and I can’t put it into words. I can just feel it. The same goes for something that’s not going well or doesn’t feel right. I try to follow my gut and avoid doing those things that don’t feel right. The wheels are constantly turning in my head on why something is right or wrong and although I can’t put it into words – in my gut I know what to do. Over the years I have trained myself to go with my gut feelings. It takes discipline to not ignore those feelings. It’s a process because there’s times you have that gut feeling that something is wrong and you do it anyway and then sure enough it turns out to not work out. It may not happen the next day, it may not happen in the next month. You could be a year down the road but that gut feeling that you had initially can turn out to be true. The same thing for when you feel something is good and you decide not to do it. There has been many times where I’ve said to myself I should’ve listened to my gut I knew this was going to happen. Nothing makes me more upset than when I ignore my gut feelings and they turn out to be accurate. With that said, over the years, I have become more controlled with relying on my gut to guide me in the right direction and because of that, I tend make pretty good moves and decisions.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
One thing I do over and over and recommend everyone else do is put your idea in a spreadsheet to see if it makes sense. Find a way to make create the spreadsheet with the soundest assumptions possible that are either obtained from personal experiences or from comprehensive research. The numbers don’t lie and time is limited as the business day tends to go very fast when you’re busy. That said, by analyzing the numbers and creating a spreadsheet, you can make thorough decisions on whether something is worth pursuing or not.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
One strategy that is helped me grow any business that I have been a part of is by being very strategic about who you raise money from. If you’re going to look for an investor don’t just try to find one that has money, try to find one that may also have some influence on another business or own another business that can help to feed or generate leads and/or sales or make your business more efficient. They can invest in the business and help to generate sales or reduce costs from their influence. In addition, both parties will actually feel more secure in investing or receiving the investment because all will feel good about how their outside influence can help to assist the company in being successful.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One failure that I have had that I have had to overcome was hiring people that were qualified for the job but did not fit the company culture. As owners, we let you do your job and try not to micro-manage. It someone needs to be micro-managed they probably aren’t a good fit. Although we expect a lot and will ask a lot detailed questions, we let people do their job. The people that we surround ourselves with in our organizations are positive, go getters that want to make a difference. They all work hard and will do what they need to do to get the job done. That’s our culture. However, we don’t always get it right. We have hired some people in the past that were qualified for their respective position, but they did not fit the company culture. Some sprinted for the door at 4:55pm even if there was something important that needed another 15 mins of focus. Some walked around with their nose in the air like they were better than their peers or the people that worked for them. Some barked orders and would not roll up their sleeves to do the dirty work alongside those that they were asking to do the task. Again, these were qualified and smart people, but they did not fit in and the majority of their peers did not like them. It created a sometimes uncomfortable atmosphere that needed resolution. Whenever we see that one person that does not fit the company culture, they need to be removed, terminated, fired….whatever you want to call it. I’ll take a hard working good person that has the companies best interests at heart over a stuck up, task master that does not lead by example and doesn’t fit in. I don’t care how smart they are. If they don’t fit in – they are out.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’m skipping this one!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best one hundred dollars I spent recently was for a new baseball bat for my son. In the most recent Little League baseball season he was swinging a bat that was too small for him but like most kids, he simply would not listen to his dad/parents. His coach told him he should try a bigger bat and he finally did and was hitting very well. So, we went to Dick’s Sporting Goods recently to pick him up a new bat… and he’s been ripping the ball ever since. That makes me happy. I’ll spend a Benjamin on that any day.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
A few different software and web services come to mind that I love and use each day. The first is QuickBooks Online. I can update our books or run reports from anywhere as long as I have Internet access. I try to stay on top of that is much is possible to make sure the business is healthy. The second is Slack. It’s accessible either from the computer or via mobile app and it’s a great way to keep all communication organized and efficient. You can have individual communications or team communications with several members all centralized in one location. Number three is Trello. It’s a great way to keep ideas and thoughts organized. In addition, it’s a wonderful way to prioritize thoughts, ideas or tasks and easily gives you the ability to re-organize them on the fly as business is ever-changing.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
My favorite business book is “Rework”. Business can become complex if you let it, but Rework presents a great approach to keeping business as simple as possible. In addition there’s a section in Rework that talks about meetings being toxic and that meetings should have as little people in them as possible and be as short as possible. I love that. Nothing is worse than having long drawn out meetings and then they have follow-up meetings to talk about where you stand with the action items from the first meeting. I believe that with too many meetings things don’t get done as you eat into the precious time needed to roll up your sleeves and actually do the work required. Short “I have an idea” meetings are great especially when followed up with action. However, those long and drawn out conference room meetings where everyone is invited for a half a day tend to be a waste of everyone’s time and are the very toxin that Rework talks about.
What is your favorite quote?
I’ll give you a few of the standard and popular answers which are Steve Jobs and Elon Musk for all of their accomplishments. I tend to think of Elon on occasion when our company is having trouble doing something or the people involved say we can’t do something. Elon created an electric car that’s faster than some Ferraris and Lamborghinis. He also shoots rockets into space that successfully land back on earth. Now I get it, I’m no Elon Musk – but he is showing that some pretty amazing things can be done if you believe in them. Another guy that I really enjoy listening to is a guy by the name of Andy Frisella from The MFCEO project. He’s the rough and tough CEO of the 1st Phorm supplement company. He’s got a potty mouth that helps him get his point across and he doesn’t care and I love it. His message can be distilled down into the strong yet simple message – be honest, work hard and get ready to get punched in the face and keep going….Don’t quit. I also like his unapologetic approach to wanting to make a lot of money and to work hard at doing so. It took him a long time to get where he was and had a lot of failures along the way but he stuck it out and he’s killing it today. I like him a lot… he’s a winner.
– When you have an idea you’re excited about, it’s important to check the numbers, both to maximize the potential for success and to assess the feasibility.
– Taking time away from your phone and other electronic devices can be beneficial not only for your own well-being, but for brainstorming and how you approach your work.
– Being able to do the tasks of a job is not the only requirement for success. There are several factors that inform whether or not someone will be a good fit at any job.
Robert Deignan on Linkedin:
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.