I started my business in 1996 as an industrious, yet naive, 20-year-old with zero experience in the electronic security industry. In many ways, my ignorance about this industry ended up paying dividends for our company. We were not saddled with any previous experience about the ‘way we’ve always done things.’ We had to come up with our own solutions to take care of our clients. That curiosity made it a lot easier to be innovative.
One of the best examples of that innovation was our guaranteed five-minute alarm response service. No verification phone calls. No assumption that an alarm was false. We built a company around providing a service that nobody else offered and we delivered it in a unique way.
When the time came for us to build our own central monitoring station in 2005, we again leveraged our inexperience. Without any legacy of our own historical practices and procedures, we were able to get a fresh start building our own operations center.
My curiosity led me to call upon complete strangers in the industry who were doing things I thought were innovative. I cold called Dan Reynolds at Interface Security in Missouri, John Jennings at Safeguard in Arizona and many other leaders in our industry and asked them if we could meet for a coffee or lunch. Without exception, every person I called was willing to meet with me, tour me through their operation and offer great advice that I was able to collate into a plan for our own company. Their generosity, advice and willingness to share their experiences had a tremendous impact on our business.
Getting out of our industry and seeing things through a newcomer’s eyes has gone a long way toward being able to maintain some of that healthy ignorance and curiosity we had as a startup.
Likewise, attending industry conferences, in particular shows like ESX with a significant focus on sharing and networking, has proven to be exceptionally important. But looking back on our first 17 years, I’ve realized that while paying attention to what’s happening inside our industry is essential, getting out of the industry is what has helped us retain the spirit of innovation and curiosity we had in our early days.
The most significant thing I’ve done personally was becoming a member of the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO). EO gave me access to a broad range of entrepreneurs running businesses in every conceivable industry (more than 9,500 members in 40 countries).
Shortly after getting involved with EO in 2000, I joined a ‘Forum’ group of seven other entrepreneurs, each of us in a different industry. We’ve met monthly since then to discuss business issues and to learn from one another. Several years ago, we instituted an annual learning trip to visit world-leading businesses that inspire us.
We’ve visited Dell and Rackspace in Texas, Google and Cisco in California, FedEx in Memphis, Tenn., Westjet in Calgary and most recently Toyota in Nagoya, Japan. In each case, we’ve seen firsthand how these industry leaders operate and we have immersed ourselves in their cultures. The lessons, implications and inspiration for my security company have been profound. Getting out of our industry and seeing things through a newcomer’s eyes has gone a long way toward being able to maintain some of that healthy ignorance and curiosity we had as a startup.
Watching a vehicle assembly line at Toyota and learning about the philosophies that guide its unique production system has already changed how we install residential security systems. With so many new players in our industry, especially innovative and truly disruptive companies like Google, I believe it’s more important than ever to ensure that we are not taking anything for granted, or doing anything simply because we have done it in the past.
There is always room for improvement. Getting out of the industry, spending time with entrepreneurial leaders doing something completely different or simply taking someone for lunch can all help make it easier to see where there are opportunities for improvement.
I believe that in the next three to four years there will be more changes in our industry than we have seen in the previous 17. There has probably never been a more important time to get out of the security industry.