Kevin Jacobs is widowed with 2 grown children Taylor (26) and Connor (22). Kevin resides in Parker, Colorado Loves to ski, bike, play softball and do anything with friends.
Kevin graduated high school in 1982 and quickly went to work for a credit union as a computer operator. Over the years that grew old and in 1986 he went to work for US West as a sales consultant selling long distance plans. Working for a company that had all their technicians on union labor did not work well and in 1990 he went to work for MCI. MCI was a very dynamic fast moving company and Kevin had several finance jobs before landing as a National Sales Account Manager working with fortune 100 companies.
2006 was a tough year for telecom because companies were not making their Wall Street projections and after all the scandals most had already filed for Chapter 13 protection. That year Kevin decided to step out and start his own Master Agency and named it Tranquility Networks. Tranquility Networks was founded in September 2006 by Kevin Jacobs and Christopher Gardiner and this business relationship lasted 2 years and it was apparent that the 2 could not work together to achieve the lofty goals Kevin had and the company was split up.
Kevin created Vos Technology but was unable to create the Master Agent contracts needed for each carrier so in 2010 Vos Technology merged with Tek Efficient. Tek Efficient is a Master Agent and IT Consultant. We are neutral, well rounded, expert IT Consulting and procurement services. We have over 100 vetted technology providers and a one-stop shop for everything from Voice Services, Hosted to Cloud. We will do an evaluation on your platform and provide you with Network Security and Public Safety Services. We deal with Enterprise, Start-ups, SMB, Government and Education markets. Our goal has always been to help IT executive’s lives easier by taking some of the administrative pressures of technology off their plates freeing them to focus on more important aspects of the business.
Shantel: Hi there and welcome to the show, thanks for joining us Kevin.
Kevin: Thank you for having me Shantel.
Shantel: Of course. And in full transparency to our guests, I'm so excited and honored to have my Uncle Kevin on the show with me today. I know I've spoken a bit about how I have amazing entrepreneurs as role models, and you are certainly one of them, so excited that you're here.
Kevin: Well thank you, thank you. I appreciate you having me.
Shantel: Yeah of course. Well we want to learn a little bit more about your journey and what inspired you to start your technology firm. Can you tell the audience a little bit about Vos Technology and how you got started?
| LEAVING THE CORPORATE WORLD |
Kevin: You bet. Basically I really got started years ago working through MCI, US West, Verizon, all of the fortune 100 carriers. Corporate America looked so appealing at the time and so great and I truly was honored to have a nice job with a company that was such as dynamic as MCI. But over the years scandals happen, and the biggest issue that I always had was your quota of course. You're only as good as your quota. So what would happen is you would literally make your quota one month, second month you make your quota, third month you don't and you get your butt kicked for it. So basically I was just sick and tired of the corporate game of okay, we have a Monday morning training, we have a Tuesday afternoon quota call, we have Wednesday this and Thursday this. There wasn't enough time in the day to go out and meet customers and sell because you were too busy with the corporate b.s. stuff. So I started Vos Technology, I mean it started out as Tranquility Networks first, and I had a business partner and that did not work out so well. So I still do have Tranquility Networks. I have Vos Technology, and basically those are agencies, and what I mean by an agency is that we do sell pretty much any carrier, telecommunication carrier product and services. So we just run those through the agency. So we contract through those carriers to sell products to businesses.
Shantel: What are some of those products?
Kevin: I mean these products can be anything from internet or voice services to the complex cloud technology. We deal with all verticals, all markets. These are anything from wide area networks, WANs, LANs, whatever you need on the technology side for telecommunications, we can provide that product.
Shantel: So it sounds like you hit a breaking point in the corporate world. Was there a definitive moment that you were like "Okay, this is enough." Or was it a series of moments that made you take that leap?
Kevin: That's a great question, and to answer that there was a definitive moment. I remember specifically sitting in a meeting, and it was a Friday afternoon at 5:00, thinking to myself, "What am I doing here?" Getting my butt kicked because in the corporate world we had a quota but it was ... We had a monthly quota, but we also had a yearly quota, and the yearly quota was the important portion of that. So I was currently at the time I think about 113%, 115% to plan, but really had a terrible month. Took a week's vacation, so didn't have a whole lot of sales going in. But it didn't really matter because your yearly quota was there. And I remember just getting lamb blasted by my boss and reminding him that "Hey, I'm still above plan. I'm 115% above plan. What is your problem?" And boy he did not take that well and I didn't take it well and ever since after that, it took me six months to plan to leave corporate America to start my own business, but that was the deciding factor.
Shantel: Wow. So I guess rewinding and thinking through some of those emotions and the six months leading up, were you scared? Were you excited? I want to kind of tap into kind of how you were feeling in that time frame.
Kevin: Extremely scared. I mean at that point I have a wife and two kids. What am I going to do? You had the safety and security of health insurance, dental insurance, 401Ks, a salary, all of that stuff, and now I'm going to jump out and be 100% commissionable. My first pay check was $10, so we've come a long way since then, but definitely I was very scared to step out on that plank and jump off.
Shantel: Did you have a non-compete in place or were you free to kind of just stop what you were doing and start your own thing?
Kevin: Did not really have a non-compete because in the telecommunication world, anybody that leaves one company stays in that industry. I mean telecommunication has always paid very well. So people don't just go from a telecommunication job to some other corporate America job, usually.
Shantel: And so you kind of touched on you initially had a business partner. Can you talk a little bit about that and if you're open to sharing some of the lessons you learned?
Kevin: Absolutely. Business partner was a gentleman that I had worked with at Verizon for several years. So I had known him. I know what he was about. He was the most intelligent person that I worked with at Verizon. He was an extremely, extremely sharp person. But he also had a downfall in that he didn't know when to shut up, and it's not necessarily that bad. But we would be sitting in meetings and we would ask for a sale. That is a very important thing in sales, is you ask for that sale. And we received that sale and he still wouldn't shut up. And so meetings that should have taken 45 minutes to an hour would take two hours, and customers were starting to get irate over it. They're looking at their watch going "Hey I gotta go, I gotta go." And this guy like I say, very, very smart, just wouldn't shut up so we've had to have many conversations about it. And let's face it, if you're spending twice as much time in a meeting as you need to, your sales are going to start shrinking a little bit. So we just had to come up and develop a plan and could not really come to a plan. I felt like I was doing the selling and he was doing the talking and it just doesn't work that way.
Shantel: Was it a peaceful goodbye or did it sever the friendship?
Kevin: No it was very peaceful. We're actually still friends today, still have business together today. It's just we decided that any new business going forward was going to be separated, and that works out for the best for both of us.
Shantel: Well I hope he's not going to tune in and hear how he talks too much, but I do appreciate you sharing that piece. So it kind of sounds like there's a theme, or at least some personality traits that you find important in running a business. You touched on how the corporate thing was so meeting heavy and so many things to report. And then even the time, with the example of the business partner. Do you find that being kind of nimble and very time conscious and aware of how you set the agenda for the day is still very important to you?
| HOLD YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE |
Kevin: Yes and no. I'm open to changes always, but yes I think you have to have a structured day and what I mean by that is you need to, I make a task list every day, and I check that off and mark, cross that out whenever that task gets completed out. And I think you have to have that otherwise you forget things, you don't do things, you get complacent. I work out of my house, so it's very easy for me to just say "Hey, 1:00 in the afternoon, kind of a slow day. Let's go screw off somewhere. Let's go do something fun." But, and occasionally I do, I'm not going to lie to you there. But I think by making a task list I stay a little more structured.
Shantel: Yeah I mean find that as a business owner there's really no one holding you accountable, so you have to be pretty, regiment yourself to set those boundaries.
Shantel: So how long has Vos Technology been around?
Kevin: Vos Technology has been around for ten years now, and I guess I should explain a little bit, Vos Technology is and always will be part of me. But what I've done also is I have partnered with another company called TekEfficient, and the reason being is I lack the back end support that I needed. So instead of me hiring somebody personally under Vos Technology, now I share that person using TekEfficient if that makes sense. So I utilize other people's resources because I don't need these three full-time people for 40 hours a week by myself. But out there, there are other people that do what I do, so we share these back end office people. So it really helps to do that, and that's the difference why I reference sometimes TekEfficient versus Vos Technology.
Shantel: Do you ever anticipate hitting a point in the business, with maybe too many clients that you would need those in house resources or would you like to keep it where it is?
Kevin: You always want to grow and prosper in your business. More customers means more revenue, which means more commissions. So to answer your question, absolutely yes. But I'm also at a point in my life where I want to relax and have a little fun as well too. I've paid the price. I've done many 16 or 18 hour shifts and I'm kind of over that so to answer question, you bet, you always want that but are you willing to put forth the effort to get there? I don't know yet.
Shantel: Yeah, no that's a good perspective I think, and I'm struggling with that a little bit with that right now. Not that I'm not wanting to put in those 16 hour days still but, but really trying to ask myself why do I want to continue to grow? And is it important to continue to grow so quickly and where do I want to be? And I think those are all questions, as you're kind of running and running and moving forward I haven't set as much time to be a little more intentional about that, and think through the why piece. But it sounds like you've gotten to a good point where now you can look back and say "I've been there and I'm comfortable where we're at."
Kevin: Yep, absolutely.
Shantel: So I imagine your day has completely shifted from when you first got started. How do you continue to stay inspired?
Kevin: That's a great question Shan, and a very difficult one to answer as well too. I mean I try the normal read a great book, podcast, do a little research things like that, but ultimately I think at the end of the day, I do it for me. I stay motivated for me. I stay motivated because I want to do things. I want to travel. I want to see the world. I want to discover and explore. And I know if I don't stay motivated, I can't have those long term, short term, trips, plans, things like that. So I think you do things to inspire yourself but at the end of the day I already know what I have to do.
Shantel: Well in those tough days do you have a group of entrepreneurs that you're surrounded by? Or people that you turn to when kind of business gets tough or you have a bad client day or conversation to kind of continue to help stay motivated a little bit? Or really does it all come internally?
Kevin: No must definitely, my very best friend does the exact same thing that I do. He is the other part of that TekEfficient company that I referenced before. So it's very enjoyable having your best friend doing the same thing that you do. His wife is involved in the same business that I do, and then I have many friends. I mean working in the telecommunication industry for 30 years you develop a lot of friendships, so I do have many friends in the state of Colorado, outside the state of Colorado, that I truly cherish and enjoy and when I have those rough spots, pick up the phone and call somebody. Tell somebody about it. It is easier to talk through what you would do or what a friend would do in that type of situation.
Shantel: Do you ever turn to your brothers and family in that sense? Or do you like to keep the two separate?
Kevin: If it's a work related issue I don't only because none of my four brothers have been in the telecommunication industry and I'm not sure that they would be able to help me that much. But as far as general questions just in life, in business, not necessarily in my industry, absolutely, they're a wealth of knowledge. Both your father, your uncle, they're all in the real estate business, and it's a fun business to be in. And I kind of wish I was in that business some days but you kind of stick with what you know more I guess and what you want, and I kind of went a different direction. But yes indeed.
Shantel: Thinking about kind of the ten years, is there a big challenge or maybe ... I don't even know if mistake is the right word, but anything that comes to mind that you think of or you turn back to "Thank goodness I learned that then so then I could make the business better."?
Kevin: The biggest mistake I ever made is when early on when Vos Technology was in it's first year of operation, we had a carrier, Verizon, who I worked for, for many years. So I knew the systems, the product, the people, everything. They wanted me to sign an exclusivity agreement with them that I wouldn't sell other carriers. And that was the biggest mistake that I had ever made. It took me a year and a half to get out of that agreement, and I abided by it but it cost me severely not being able to sell other carriers. And I say that because each customer is different, each customer has its own set of issues, problems, concerns, and I have to have a portfolio to be able to offer that customer not just a single carrier. And that's the issue with the inside sales person working for that specific company. Is they're pushing and selling the flavor of the day, not the actual application that the customer really needs.
Shantel: Do you think you could have won that Verizon account if you had pushed back a little bit and said you wouldn't sign a non-compete from multiple carrier?
Kevin: Yes, most definitely and I think it would have been a better fit for the customer as well.
Shantel: That's interesting. We really have in our business one, pretty loose non-compete. But I always think about how every business that we represent has a different target market, a different voice, a different brand, a different identity that ... And I think there's always so much business to go around that it shouldn't matter. But it was interesting to kind of work through that and think through how we want to handle that situation in the future. And I think just by giving a little more push back we probably could have still won the business. But yeah definitely a good lesson.
Kevin: Yes indeed.
Shantel: And is there a most valuable piece of advice you've received in your years of business?
| FOLLOW UP & FOLLOW THROUGH |
Kevin: I would say the most valuable piece of advice I can offer for somebody new getting into any business is follow up and follow through. Is if somebody leaves you a voicemail, somebody sends you an email, I think in business it's safe to say 24 hours is sufficient. Meaning you either return a voicemail or an email within 24 hours or don't own your own business. It's very simple. I can't stand the fact that I do business with other companies and get terrible customer service. It's the one thing that I pride myself on and one thing I have to as a small business.
Shantel: Speaking of that customer service, and I think that's a great example. Are there other things that you, or ways that you surprise and delight your clients through that customer service?
Kevin: I touch base with each one of my clients at least every 30 to 40 days if I don't hear from them. In my world of telecommunications we sign three-year contracts, and I know a lot of people that do the same thing I do, they sign a three-year contract and they don't talk to their customer again until two years and six months down the road when they have to renew that contract. Well what kind of a business rapport do you have with that customer if you don't know their problems, concerns, things like that? You can always open you up a conversation with "Hey, I'm just checking in with you. I don't have anything for you. But how are things going?" Customers appreciate that type of concern.
Shantel: Well and you're staying top of mind. So when they're up for renewal in those three years I'm sure they appreciate and look back on "Oh he's stayed in touch and made sure that he was helping solve the problems."
Kevin: And bigger customers you have to touch on a weekly basis. It's just there are so many action items and things going on but some of the smaller ones you don't have to touch for a year or two years even. So it is important even no matter what size the customer is. They're all important.
Shantel: Do you have a program or process that you put in place to keep track of when you're touching base with these clients and at what frequency?
Kevin: I don't, and that is a very good question because I need to have that. So I mean I have an excel spreadsheet but I wouldn't really say that is the best way of doing that. We do carry an RPM, which is a program, a CRM basically, but that is only for the order processing, not the continual tracking of "Hey what have I done with this customer? Do I remember this?" Most of it is just that I still have a good enough memory where I remember the last conversation I had with a customer. But I shouldn't rely on that as well too.
Shantel: Yeah, I'm glad that you brought that up. We had a similar ... Well you didn't get fired, or you didn't mention this, but we had a client we started right at the beginning of the business and got all the information we needed and didn't talk to them for a month because we thought we had all the information. We ended up getting fired because we quickly realized it was more important for us to be integrated on at least a weekly basis with what's happening in their store and what's changing. So we had to put a process in place to kind of track our client touches. And although it's pretty rudimentary with an excel sheet that's broken in rows with the clients and day to day, but it is valuable and extremely important to provide value and stay in front of that way. I agree.
Shantel: Have you heard of Contactually, the program?
Kevin: I'm sorry, say that again.
Shantel: Contactually. Have you hear of that program?
Kevin: No I have not. Tell me about it.
Shantel: Yeah I'll have to send you the link if you're interested or we'll link it in the show notes, but it syncs with your Gmail or Outlook, and essentially you can categorize your contacts into buckets. So you may have a clients bucket, you may have a past clients, or a prospects bucket, and you can say "I want to touch base with everyone in this bucket every 30 days," or every 5 days or every 40 days. And then it syncs with your calendar and your email to then send you notifications of "Okay, you hit the 30 day mark, you haven't touched base with this person." And there's a whole dashboard to see when you need to touch base with everyone, but that's a, if you're looking to really refine the process that may be a neat program to explore.
Kevin: I would love to take that off line and talk to you about that.
Shantel: Yeah, absolutely. What are some of your hobbies and things that you enjoy when you're not working?
Kevin: Well I love the outdoors. I love to ski. I love to bike. I love to play softball. Pretty much do anything with friends. I think that's the key is just being with other people you enjoy, whether it's having a cold beer on a Friday afternoon, or hitting the slopes. It's just I'm pretty much sports oriented. I love, I'm very competitive. My two boys I still like to think that I can kick their butts in anything but as I get older I have to realize reality also.
Shantel: Speaking of my two cousins, and I kind of may know the answer to this already, but succession planning for the business. Is that something that they've mentioned an interest in? Or something that you'd like to pass down to someone or what are your thoughts there?
Kevin: I have never had that conversation with them and they've never approached me about it either. Taylor's gone on to get his PhD so he wants to rule the world in metallurgy, and Connor wants to do something in finance with Charles Schwab. So I'm a lucky man that both kids are off the payroll now, so that's always a good thing. But you know someday down the road that could change. The business is always there. I don't really have an exit strategy at this point, and that's shame on me for that, other than selling the business or letting your contracts run out, which is a pretty piss poor way of doing business. So that is definitely something on the horizon that I have to think about.
Shantel: Well kind of on a different topic, is there anything that you'd like to take off your plate today?
Kevin: Not really, I mean yes I should say. There's a lot of order tracking beating people up for having them do their job. In other words we'll get an order in from a customer. We pass that order on to the carrier and then the carrier does nothing for a week. And so we're constantly emailing, saying "Hey, where we are in the status process of this?" So it boils down to if everybody that I work with does their job, that answer would be no. But in reality, they don't do their job, and so we have to get involved. So I would love for someone to come in and do that task for me of beating people up every day, saying "You didn't do this. You need to do this. Get on this. Where's this at? Where's my information that I need?" Meaning IP information, order status, everything like that. I enjoy talking to people. I enjoy talking to customers. That's what I want to do. I don't want to do the back end stuff.
Shantel: Isn't that always so surprising that there are so many companies that don't do what they say they're going to do?
Kevin: Yes, a lot of it is employee based. I mean you're dealing with people that have their own set of issues, problems, that sometimes they don't care. They're making $12 an hour or whatever that rate is at the carrier and I'm a number, I'm not somebody that they care about. And it's reality and you have to deal with it.
Shantel: Have you always had three year agreements?
Kevin: Yeah that is standard in my industry. Sometimes you can get customers to sign five year agreements. Sometimes if they know they only have a situation for a short term, we'll sign a one year agreement. But things change in the telecommunication world so fast that three years is ... The carriers need to make their money over that term, and so they're basing their monthly price on that three year term. And the customer likes that because of the ever changing technology. After three years something else is bigger, better and badder.
Shantel: And is the sale cycle pretty long because they are such long agreements?
Kevin: It depends on the product and it depends on the size. Everybody needs internet as an example, so if you came to me and said "Hey, I just need a bigger, badder, fatter pipe. Make it happen." Well that's a pretty easy sale. We can give you four different proposals from four different carriers. What's the most important thing for you? Is it price? Is it service? Is it can I keep my same IP address? Things like that. So it depends, but some products are just very fast selling. Other cloud type products or data center services, things that require a lot of time and effort, the sale cycle is much longer. Typically, and it depends on how fast the customer wants to move as well too. Sometimes a customer wants to dive in and say "Hey, okay we're interested in this but we don't necessarily want to buy this. But my budget for next year is going to include this so let's talk about this now." So it's based on how fast the customer wants to go I guess.
Shantel: That makes sense. Well look Kevin, I just have two more quick questions for you. And first being what is next on the horizon for you and do you have any big trips planned?
| NEXT ON THE HORIZON |
Kevin: I have a couple of big trips planned. I'm taking a couple of cruises. I'm doing a Greek island cruise. I'm doing an Alaskan cruise. I'm taking my boys on a scuba diving trip to Belize. So those are the major trips that I have planned, and I'm very much looking forward to that. What's on the horizon? I guess keep plugging away on what I'm doing now and just trying to enhance, improve any way I can. I always pick up a new customer here and there and do the best I can for the existing base that I serve.
Shantel: Well that's great. Sounds like some amazing trips. And how can people get in touch with you if they're interested in your services or learning more about your journey as an entrepreneur?
Kevin: Well they can always, the best way is to go to the website, and the best website would be the TekEfficient, and that's TekEfficient.com, and can always fill out a script if you need services, product, help questions, we're always here for that.
Shantel: Great. Well thanks again for carving out the time. We really appreciate it.
Kevin: Thank you Shan, I appreciate your time too.