The best strategy to take for any business is to become customer-centric.
Scott A. Smith was always creative and ambitious, and he jumped the gun like a rocket out of the starting gate.
Scott Smith, owner and founder of Cobra Firing Systems in Saratoga County, New York, began his career long before he graduated from college. Scott was born in Ithaca, New York. He attended college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, New York. He earned his dual degree in both computer systems engineering and computer sciences. Not allowing the grass to grow under his feet, Scott Smith launched his first business during his senior year in college. The company provided a web-based mid-level enterprise multi-channel retail management software.
In 2009, while continuing to operate his web-based business, Scott Smith was inspired to pursue his passion for shooting fireworks. His talent in engineering provided him with the ability and skills to begin playing with his hobby. He built a system that would electronically shoot fireworks. This was where his passion and business acuity met. The result of this joining gave birth to the launch of Cobra Firing Systems. He has grown Cobra Firing Systems to a thriving business of 12,000 customers serving 100 countries around the world.
In his spare time, Scott Smith enjoys his spending time with two children, his pets: three dogs and two cats. He is an avid outdoors-man who takes pleasure in scuba diving and sailing. He lives in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Where did the idea for Cobra Firing Systems come from?
I loved shooting off fireworks with my family. My parents have a lake house. Being an electrical engineer, I began creating my own fireworks systems as a hobby at the lake house. I built a system that would electronically shoot fireworks to music. From there, I posted some YouTube videos and started understanding the market. I started researching the concept of firing systems. I was hungry for starting a new business. I started Cobra Firing Systems in 2009.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I straddle my time managing operations with my leaders in product development, business development, and marketing. I am also very heavily involved with customers. I am quite often emailing or speaking with customers regarding all different facets of the organization.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I bring ideas to life doing a lot of strategy calls with individuals within the organization. We brainstorm new ideas. Once we settle on an idea, it has to translate into the execution of the idea. It could be for a new product that we’ve engineered or a marketing concept, or a different area of the market that we want to explore. We do our due diligence for each step required to be able to make any adjustments and bring the idea to fruition.
What’s one trend that excites you?
One of the trends that excites me within the industry is a trend that has its origins in Europe. In Europe, there is a lot of space restriction with what you can do with pyrotechnics. It leads to a lot more creativity using different types of systems, such as laser systems, lighting systems, flame projectors, and cryo-jet systems. There is a lot of innovation around pyrotechnics. It is very exciting because all of these innovations can create spectacular pyrotechnic shows.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
One habit I have is my understanding of how my time should be spent without getting caught up in the weeds. I understand where I should delegate time within the organization. I know where I have to spend my time for the best growth of the organization. I try not to micro-manage every aspect of the business.
What advice would you give your younger self?
One of the biggest things that I would advise myself is to trust my gut. In the beginning, there is always that could have been done differently, especially when you have business partners. I would tell myself to push harder when you really believe something is right. Don’t assume that everyone else knows better.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I believe that the importance of visibility in any product is absolutely critical because it makes every process after that, whether it is selling the product, supporting the product, or implementing the product much easier. Often, visibility was not emphasized powerfully enough when I had my software company, much to our disadvantage.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I don’t get discouraged if I fail. I am an engineer. I don’t have an MBA. Perhaps I have a street MBA. Everyone falls down, everyone makes mistakes. Learn the path that you should not take from mistakes. Embrace mistakes for what they are worth and don’t get discouraged.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
The best strategy to take for any business is to become customer-centric. Listening to your customers is critical. You have to have a clarity of exactly what your customers’ want. Misunderstandings can happen if you do not have a clear perspective of requirements. I think one of the strategies that have helped my company grow is paying attention to detail with our customers.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Surrounding yourself with the right people is critical in business. I did not always do that. There were some people in my life with very good intentions, but not always the right answers. Not all of them turned out to have everyone’s best interest in mind. When I first became an entrepreneur, I was 20 years old and more easily swayed. I am now much more confident and well-practiced. It did not come easy, but I have a great group of people now.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Regarding the fireworks industry, I think that on the consumer side of the business there is a need to merge the technology and firing systems with music when they are looking to make a purchase. They should be able to put on a show using music. I think it is a huge area of opportunity.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best money that I spent was while in D.C. with my children. We met a homeless person who happened to be from our hometown. We bought him dinner and I gave him money. It was a good learning experience for the children about being humble and thankful for what you have. Not everyone has the same opportunities that you have. The money helped my children and we were able to help the gentleman.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We just implemented Freshworks for customer relations management. We use MS teams for internal office communications. Both applications are great for managing our business.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Rather than books, I gain my experience from other entrepreneurs. I belong to an organization called Entrepreneurs Organization. We meet monthly and discuss business challenges and solutions. I network with other entrepreneurs and finance groups. We do a lot of brainstorming and it has helped me immensely as a business person.
What is your favorite quote?
“Brilliance is sterile without a passion”
• Embrace mistakes for what they are worth and don’t get discouraged.
• The best strategy to take for any business is to become customer-centric.
• Surrounding yourself with the right people is critical in business.
• It did not come easy, but I have a great group of people.
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.