Ty Smith is the Founder and CEO of VRS. He is a retired United States Navy SEAL Senior Chief, with 20 years of service. Prior to retiring from the Navy, Ty completed a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Management from Ashford University, and a Masterof Business for Veterans from the University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business.
Where did the idea for VRS come from?
I was sitting in class at Marshall Business School on Dec. 5, 2015 when the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif. was attacked by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik. I can still remember everyone’s phones sounding off with Google alerts in the middle of class; my phone was one of them. I remember thinking how strange it was that I had just returned from my Afghanistan tour not too long before that day, but somehow, I was seeing the same level of violence happen within American businesses. After that day, several of my wife’s colleagues throughout the medical industry called me personally asking for help. Several of them stated, “The hospital/clinic isn’t providing us with any training or planning and we are scared.” After helping several of them, I knew the market was telling me what it needed from someone with my unique skill set.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I wake up around 6 a.m. – 7 a.m. depending on the workout of the day I have planned, and also depending on how well my 1-year old daughter sleeps the night before. I try to look through my emails by 9 a.m. for anything pressing, and I respond to those right away. I try to prioritize my personal tasks within our project management platform (Asana). From there, once my personal tasks are good to go, I always go through our CRM so that I have an idea of the condition of our pipeline and sales cycle. The CRM will also let me know if there’s anyone else, customer or partner, that I need to reach out to immediately and for whatever reason. By lunch, I’m ready to move on to macro-level initiatives that will require my attention for the remainder of the day. Right now, that’s our current tech initiative. These days, I’m also spending a significant amount of time in Zoom meetings as a result of the pandemic.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I don’t really, my team does. I guess that starts with my willingness to communicate openly with my team -I openly and often admit what I don’t know. Which is a lot. I don’t know if I have good ideas, or bad ones until I bounce them off my team. I don’t make decisions in a vacuum, so bringing an idea to life takes the input and effort of our team and our advisors, not just from me.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I don’t think “excite” is the right word, but I’m definitely following the emerging threat trends that are a result of COVID-19, and their effects on conflict and violence in the workplace. For example:
i. There has been a huge spike in gun sales since the start of the lockdown
ii. The FBI has data showing that homegrown terrorist are making plans to accelerate their attack plans as a result of COVID-19
iii. Domestic violence is increasing rapidly
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I think I naturally have a habit of “overdoing” everything. It’s just who I am. In the SEAL Teams, our ethos even has a passage that states, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing; moderation is for cowards.” I think that passage exists because that’s just who we are as people, not because it’s something we technically SHOULD live by. I don’t have a choice; if I commit to something, I do it at 150% whether I like it or not.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Stretch more before and after workouts. Hot yoga is life! Also, learn to listen to understand.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
While some may agree, I find that many people question the theory that we are all connected, every one of us. So, hating one another due to our differences is counterintuitive, counterproductive and just plain dumb. And we are all connected to the earth. The earth is a living and breathing thing that we are destroying, and if we continue to do so, we will destroy ourselves along with it.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I “try” without fail. I never give up, even when I probably should. I’ve gone through all of the emotional ups and downs of entrepreneurship just like everyone else. I just haven’t quit; I try harder and harder to accomplish my goals until they are accomplished. I out-hustle failure.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Don’t tell my investors this, but I focus on people instead of money. All of my employees know that I always err on the side of putting the wellbeing of others first, ahead of making money. I believe that if you focus on growing your people, you will grow your business, whether you are trying to or not. Like I said, we are all connected. It’s time we all start behaving that way.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I almost ran my business into the ground by growing my team too fast a couple of years ago. We were working a lot, and had just signed another really big deal, and I got worried that we wouldn’t be able to keep up with the work and I grew the team prematurely. Of course, following that contract, work slowed down and so did our cash flow. We were burning a lot of money without earning enough to counter the burn and because of my decision (which was made in a vacuum. Never again.) We got down to three weeks cash, and it was the worst experience I’ve survived to date in my entrepreneurial career. We overcame it with the help of two of our advisors who are masters of ash flow. I learned a lot through the situation, and I’ve grown because of it. I never make decisions in a vacuum anymore, and I’m even tighter with our spend now. We got our operations and spend on expenses as lean as possible, and we’ve kept things that way.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’m warning you ahead of time, this is crazy, but you asked. In the event I’m no longer the owner of my business someday, I plan to build another tech business that would specialize in building the incredible knee brace that Morgan Freeman gave Batman (Christian Bale) after Bane smashed him. I’m a Brazilian jiu-jitsu nerd; it’s my passion. But I’m also a retired Navy SEAL who has endured several knee surgeries and it prevents me from training and competing as much as I’d like to. I don’t want to continue to have knee surgeries, so my answer is to build a company that could build the tech-driven knee brace that I saw in the Batman movie. It sounds crazy, and it’s totally selfish, but I’m sure I’m not the only athlete that would find value in it.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought Apple TV for our house and canceled our cable subscription. I really like it and I’m saving money.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Definitely Asana. It keeps me honest and on track. I built the Eisenhower Matrixl into my Asana platform and it helps me to prioritize and execute.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
a. Trevor Noah, Born A Crime.
What is your favorite quote?
“Hope is the destination that we seek; Love is the road that leads to hope; Courage is the motor that drives us; we travel out of darkness into faith.” – Dean Koontz, The Book of Counted Sorrows
• Success doesn’t happen by operating in a vacuum, but by including your whole team in the idea process.
• If you focus on growing your people, you will also grow your business.
• Keep a close eye on your budget and don’t overspend or be too overzealous.
• Once you commit to something, give it 150%.