What is your official title?
We kind of pick our own titles at Newmind Group. Sometimes I get called CEO by people who like to use that word. I think on my LinkedIn profile it says Founder, so either of those work.
What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?
I try and avoid average days. I don’t like things to ever be the same, and as soon as I get into a routine I try to switch it up. I’ll tell you what days have been like lately. We have a lot of cool things in the works at Newmind Group that will be announced to the public early next year. Right now, we are laying the groundwork for that. There’s really cool stuff happening, some of it has already happened, which affects people inside Newmind, but people outside of the company will find out probably the first week of January. We are really excited about all of the announcements coming.
And that’s the phase I’m in currently. I’m spending time mainly with Newminders and partners planning and putting the final pieces in place. And once all of that’s done, I’m going to be on to something else. That’s the way I like it. When it gets to the point where I feel like I have to do something at a certain time too much, then I know it’s time to change it up.
What does Newmind Group do?
In short, we help IT departments in other companies. IT departments are under appreciated and almost always understaffed. It can be hard to parse through all of the stuff out there IT-wise and with that, it’s tough for people in IT to find out what’s best for their company, so we come along side of them to find out what they do and where we can help them out; we are filling in the IT function that is missing.
A lot of the time what we end up doing is influencing their culture. That’s not what we sell, but it’s something that ends up happening and it’s something our customers really appreciate. It’s not just about selling a product or technology for us. We want to develop a relationship with our clients, and as our people and their people interact, everyone’s minds open up, and we all learn from each other.
We have around 800 different clients right now, and we see so many different things, that we are learning from clients and being able to share that experience and that knowledge with others. Unfortunately, IT folks just don’t have time to be out and network to figure out what’s what and what could be the best option for their business.
We do some consulting; actually, we start out consulting, but ultimately we might end up taking over a certain part of their IT responsibilities, like their help desk or their security. We have the capability to do the entire IT function if that’s what our clients need us to do. If someone was starting a brand new company and were in need of a full functioning IT capabilities, we can do that, and we can do it for clients anywhere in the country.
How did Newmind Group start?
I’m kind of a squirrel as far as my attention span goes. There’s always a cool idea or interesting thing, kind of like this calendar idea I have going right now. It takes a lot of discipline to not just split my effort off into 20 cool things. I have these cool things that I’m interested in that I could really go after, but I have to limit myself to a few things where I can make a dent.
My natural tendency is to be all over the place, so before Newmind, there were a bunch of different ideas. I’ve probably started six or seven businesses; five of them failed fast and cheap, one of them failed slow and very expensive, and one of them succeeded.
I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. It all started when (so cliché but honest truth) I was in the grocery store checkout lane with my mom and wanted a candy bar, and she told me if I wanted it I would have to work for it. I thought if that’s what I have to do to get what I want, then alright! I’ve always wanted to expand on ideas; it’s like I was born with it.
What kind of projects are you working on?
Aside from the planning around the big announcements we are making in January, I am working on some projects relating to things that I’m interested in outside of Newmind. One of the main things that I’m really interested in is how people spend their time.
Basically, the project I want to do is to interview several people and talk about how they spend their time during the day. I want them to walk me hour by hour through their days, and then I want to take the data from their calendars and put it through a script to easily visualize it. From that data, you can see things like of the time they are spending with people, how much time is spent with a team, how much is one on one, etc.
I want to look at different use-cases. I’m interested to see what people decide to schedule on their calendars, and whether or not they stick to those plans. Some people put everything on their calendar; that’s one side of the spectrum. The other side is that people don’t use their calendars at all, and through the interactions I’ve had with various people, I’ve started to see some trends over time, which has made me interested in digging deeper into the question.
The other thing I’m interested in is looking at the data within scheduling to show people that their work/life balance is going to be out of whack based on what they have planned in their calendar. What if data signs could look at patterns within your schedule and project out that you’re planning too many work-related things that you will be stressed out that you don’t have enough time with your family.
All of these ideas are just the starting point. The idea is to create a website, a blog, about interviewing people about how they spend their time and how that effects their life. I’m calling it the 30 Calendars project. My hope is that I can start this project with my friends – the people I know – but by the end interview someone really high profile. It’s something I’m really excited about looking into.
Any upcoming events that you’re particularly excited about?
In January we do a leadership retreat with our internal leadership team. We do them twice a year, and in the summer we went to New Buffalo. We try to eat nice meals, relax, and just spend time together for a few days; the rule the first day is no work talk. We get to know each other and connect on a different level to build a rapport and a dynamic between us.
What do you love most about Kalamazoo?
I really feel like Kalamazoo is an optimum size of a place for me to live. I like running into people. I really like film, so there’s the ability to see the non-mainstream movies; it’s one of my litmus tests to see if a town is livable. You can also see really interesting music and a large variety of it. On the surface it may not look like it, but there’s around six or seven house venues in Kalamazoo where interesting music is really happening.
Kalamazoo is big enough for all of this cultural awesomeness, but small enough that I can go out to eat something nice and run into two or three friends. I want the action and adventure of a bigger town, but I can get that through traveling. I have a place where I’m not stuck in traffic, and there are lots of great people I know – really smart talented people.
Kalamazoo is the right mix of all those things for me. And all of the people I really like are right here. Any place can be great as long as it’s the largest concentration of people you want to be with.
What can be done to improve our beloved Kalamazoo?
I think there’s a lot of people in Kalamazoo, probably more than we realize, that are really passionate about making it a better place, which is one of the things I love about it. But for me, I like what Startup Zoo is doing, and I think there needs to be more events and bigger events, that are encouraging people who have ideas to pursue them.
I think that’s probably one of the biggest things. And it’s not just tech stuff. That’s the world that I know, but Kalamazoo will get better with all types of ideas; people just need to be comfortable sharing them!
What has been one of your biggest learning moments?
Wow, there’s a lot of them. This week? Ha.
I think my most impactful learning moments have come from listening. I don’t think listening before talking is a strength I was born with, and I’m learning a lot about how much better I am when I listen more, and have been for a long time.
I’m learning about how to be a dad. My daughters are at an age where stuff gets a little bit challenging. After they were born, there was this lull, and now it’s challenging because they’ve discovered their wills to a greater level. They are figuring out when is it appropriate to engage my will to get something they want. Is it every time, or should they choose certain situations that are important to them. I’m always going to be learning from them.
I would say from a business perspective, I’ve learned to not put all of my eggs in one basket. It was about two years into the business, and we had a customer who was about 80% of our business, and they ended up going bankrupt. My wife saved the business with her words of wisdom, pretty much telling me that I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else, and that I should just keep going with this idea and make it work.
And that’s the business lesson learned. Now we are diversified in our clientele, and one client having trouble won’t hurt so much. You don’t really learn unless things hurt a little, and going through that definitely made me more aware of how we needed to run Newmind.
What is your educational background?
I was home educated. When everyone else was in 6th grade, I started taking college classes. I wasn’t allowed to take the classes due to my age, so my dad sneakily got me into these college courses. He knew I was interested in programming, so he enrolled in a Quick C class (a programming class), and brought me with him and asked if it was OK for his son to audit the class.
The professor said no problem, and saw that I could keep up, so she started to let me do projects separate from my dad. And at a certain point, my dad stopped coming to class, and I kept with it. The professor was so sweet; she made me this little certificate saying I completed the courses, since I technically couldn’t receive credit.
Home education gave me a bunch of opportunities. My family traveled and did mission work, and I had internships basically from the 6th grade on. I interned for the company where my dad worked, and that’s where my IT career started. Back in the day there weren’t CRM packages you could buy off the shelf, or they were really expensive. So, my dad and I, which ended up mostly being me, wrote a CRM package for his company, and that was my first major business project. Because of my home education, I had the chance to have this great learning and working experience.
What have you been jammin’ to recently? What’s on the iPod?
Recently, I’m really liking, well, actually I’ve always liked David Bazan, who’s coming to play at my house soon. I like the singer/songwriters. Charles Bradley is another favorite; he’s a soul singer similar to an Al Green type.
I like hip-hop; there’s this group called Das Racist that my wife and I really get into. We just went and saw a group called Active Child. They’re really cool, but hard to pin down genre-wise; it’s a harp, a really high falsetto, and sounds a bit etherial. Mix all of that with R&B, and that’s them! There’s a band I like called Daughter; they have a female singer, and it’s kind of moody music – very Feist sounding. My music taste is like my personality; it’s all over the place.
What is next up on your reading list?
I’m very interested in behavioral economics and just found out about this book called Nudge by Richard Thaler. From what I understand, it’s about how psychology and economics work together; the “nudge” part is the small ways that you make things just a little bit easier – one click vs. two clicks, for example. And as it turns out, the small things make a huge difference.
I also like to read and write poetry. Billy Collins, who used to be the Poet Laureate of the United States has a selection of poems coming out called Aimless Love. He released a few of the poems early on Facebook, and they’re just incredible.
How do you take your coffee…or do you?
I do drink coffee and my favorite is Black Owl Cafe by far. I take my coffee with one sugar – one spoonful, or cube.
What is your favorite app to use?
Right now, it’s my FitBit app – love that thing. I can’t wear the device on my wrist though; I tend to lose things easily. So, it’s on my keychain.
Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?
That’s difficult. I don’t like to get in patterns, so I don’t do the same thing all the time. There’s a set of spots for me, though, and it’s like, ‘which is the one that I haven’t been to in awhile.’ I really like Bells and Black Owl – those are the definite places. Bells beer garden, in the summer, on a Sunday; you can’t beat it.
What is your dream for Newmind Group?
The reason I founded the company was because I wanted to do what I loved with people I like to be with, and I wanted people to have that same opportunity; it was nothing more than that. I never had this “I gotta get rich and famous” deal, which some people get. It was never about having these crazy goals and if it doesn’t get to a certain level I’m going to be disappointed. For me, it’s great if it’s big, or it’s great if it’s small. We are focused on growth for the reason that it provides more opportunity.
That’s where it started. That guiding principle. The dream is just to continue to try to grow at a manageable pace. It really started out about me and the people who work here. Now, it’s the clients, and making sure their needs are met.
I believe that making work really enjoyable and satisfying is at the heart having a successful business. I want Newmind Group to make work more satisfying for more people; simple as that.
What do you look for in an intern, and what do you hope to give them?
We want to give them an opportunity to see how a real, functioning company works; for some of them, it’s going to be their first work experience. We want to give them really meaningful, challenging work that the business needs to have done. No one is getting coffee or organizing files. We want our interns talking to customers about their tech needs. We want them doing things that are stretching their knowledge and skills. We want it to be challenging enough where they feel like they grew a lot.
What the interns will offer Newmind Group is a fresh perspective and fresh energy. We hire for attitude, and train for aptitude. When you look at the application, it’s aligned with our values. We’re trying to figure out if a person’s natural attitude aligns with our culture.
What made you decide to invest in this space downtown Kalamazoo?
It was a lot of practical stuff, actually. One thing was the density of all of the other people that we interact with are downtown. We really like that there’s a culture here of going to eat together, grabbing a drink after work, and being able to just get up and walk to do that. There’s something to the energy of a bunch of stuff happening in a close space that we like, and there is a great deal of that downtown.