I had the pleasure of sitting in on Geek Squad Founder, Robert Stephens’, keynote at CompTIA’s ChannelCon conference this summer. Stephens quit school and started Geek Squad by himself in 1994 with $200 and a bicycle. Now, Geek Squad has over 24,000 employees and is owned by Best Buy. As I was listening to Stephens share insights on the evolution of his business, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between his challenges and what many MSPs face today. Below, I’ve summarized a few lessons that stood out to me. I’ve also included a fun fact; a joke and Stephens’ final words to the audience.
Lesson 1: Details, Details, Details
I think any IT business owner would agree that growing a company is hard. It’s especially easy to overlook details that could improve the customer service experience. Stephens makes the argument that not paying attention to detail is the downfall of most companies. The simple things such as, responding quickly, setting expectations, and not making customers feel stupid are critically important. Stephens also gave credence to the importance of uniforms. He didn’t want to be like other companies and make employees wear a polo (he compared a polo shirt to a minivan), so instead he went for a short sleeve, white button up with a black tie. Stephens stole his uniform idea from the Apollo 13 movie, but we’ll get to that in a minute. The uniforms help define the employee and he believes they increase efficiency as well. Now his staff has a functional outfit and does not have to worry about what they are going to wear every day.
I’m not suggesting that every MSP throw out their polo shirts or make their employees wear uniforms, but try to find some time this week to think about what you’re doing and why. Pay a little closer attention to the details that can make you stand out above the fray. Your customers will thank you for it, and probably your employees as well.
Lesson 2: There is No Need to Reinvent the Wheel
This next lesson hit close to home for me. In college, I majored in public relations and went into the program thinking that I would learn how to develop the most brilliant and original PR campaigns anyone has ever seen. My freshman year, a college professor burst my bubble by sharing some truth with me. No matter how smart or creative you think you are, someone, somewhere, has probably had the same idea before you. Stephens echoed this sentiment in his keynote by stating that he thought it was actually really smart to leverage others great ideas. He said, “All the problems you’ve ever faced have already been solved, in disguise”. He didn’t mean that businesses should become “copycats”, but instead, find the universal truth within an idea and use that to your advantage. Don’t copy, or steal (as he put it).
For example, when Stephens was designing the first Geek Squad car, he didn’t want it to look like other service vehicles that are covered with text and colors. So instead, he looked to successful companies like UPS and FedEx to see how they branded their vehicles. He liked the clean, simple design FedEx and UPS used and decided he wanted to model his car after them. In this case, he saw how successful companies were branding their trucks, found the universal truth that a simple and clean look is better, and used that truth as inspiration to brand his Geek Squad car.
On a side note, another motto I learned in public relations class was KISS (keep it simple, stupid). This is a good mantra to keep in mind when creating marketing & PR campaigns. Concise and simple messaging is the best way to sell your services. Can you clearly summarize you’re company’s value proposition in a sentence or two? If not, stop reading this blog, do that exercise and then come back. I’ll wait.
Lesson 3: Your People are Your Product
Finding and hiring talent is something a lot of MSPs struggle with. Stephens suggested that he doesn’t have to find his “people”, they find him. Lucky guy, right?! The Geek Squad brand and culture seems to naturally attract the kind of people that Stephens wants working for him. How did he do this? I believe it stems from consistent messaging, branding and service. He was daring to be different and was building something great. He was out in the community, letting people know Geek Squad was there to help. And he took care of his people. He created a culture that fostered the exchange of ideas, collaboration and social unity. Stephens encouraged his employees to create their own social network and arrange activities outside of work with each other. Employees receive official Geek Squad badges and they are called “agents” instead of customer service reps. This is all part of building culture. If you are serious about growing a great business, these are the kinds of things that matter. Your business hinges on your people. How long has it been since your last office party? If you can’t remember, it’s time to organize a social outing of some sort.
In summary, Stephens was an incredibly thought provoking speaker and I would watch another keynote of his any day. I’ll wrap this blog post up by sharing a fun fact, a favorite joke of Stephens and his parting words to the audience.
Fun Fact: Geek Squad is a LogMeIn Rescue customer!
Favorite Joke: Q: What is the difference between a geek and a nerd?
A: A nerd doesn’t know he’s a nerd and a geek doesn’t care.
Parting Words: Stay curious.