Hemispheric change good for Northeast TN entrepreneur
By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Imagine uprooting your family and literally moving from one hemisphere to another to start a new company based on the fact that you had visited the community once, and it was the place where your sister lived.
That’s exactly what David Temple, President of Saratoga Technologies, Inc. did almost 11 years ago when he and his family moved to Johnson City from their native Cape Town, South Africa. His sister moved away two months after he arrived, but David and his new company have thrived in Northeast Tennessee.
I first met Temple in 2006 or 2007, roughly five plus years into his assignment to start a new subsidiary of South Africa-based Saratoga Software. The company has expanded considerably in the ensuing period, and I had a chance to reconnect with Temple during a recent visit to Johnson City.
In a follow-up interview with teknovation.biz, Temple described in more detail how he chose Johnson City and the strategies that have driven Saratoga’s growth since it was founded.
“The board of Saratoga let us select the location to start the U.S. subsidiary,” Temple said. “The area (Johnson City) just appealed to us. We had vacationed in the Great Smoky Mountains in the late 1990s. We did not want a big city; we wanted one that was family-friendly.”
The Temple family arrived in Johnson City on July 24, 2001, and the head of the new subsidiary immediately started building a five-year business plan.
“The core reason for coming (to the U.S.) was to get more into software and create the equivalent of a cloud – centralized IT,” Temple said, adding that “it took a lot longer than expected,” because the bandwidth needed was not available in the region.
Armed with that reality, Temple focused the company on the needs of its customers which meant 80 percent of the activity in those early years was information technology services while 20 percent was software. The software side is now growing as was first anticipated.
Much of the company’s growth has come from an initial strategy to acquire businesses. After some 15 acquisitions, the company has grown from a handful of employees in 2001 to more than 70 today following Saratoga’s June 1 acquisition of Bridge Computer Systems expanded its offerings into local government software and services. Saratoga specializes in website design, computer networking, computer repair, computer consulting, printer/copier repair, telephone systems and IT services. It has dedicated divisions that provide each of these services and four locations serving Johnson City, Knoxville, Morristown, and Abingdon, VA.
Temple describes his key markets as “very different” with Knoxville being the most different from either Johnson City or Abingdon. “Cisco is more prevalent in Knoxville,” he says.
“We do supply the same overall products in all of our markets,” he adds. “The mix is just different.”
Like other technology companies, Saratoga has faced challenges in finding qualified workers locally.
“We have tried to bring talent from other places, but that typically fails,” Temple says. “We try to create a stable work environment so they will stay.”
Eleven years into his entrepreneurial journey in a new country, Temple cites four lessons learned that could benefit other entrepreneurs.
“Never give up,” he says. “It’s tough; it’s not about luck.” Temple uses the word “perseverance” to underscore this point.
“However long you think it’s going to take you to be cash positive, double it,” he says in citing his first-hand experience with the impact that the September 11, 2001 events had on a less than two months old Saratoga. “You have to have enough cash to survive.”
During a start-up’s early period, Temple says that the founder “has to be willing to do anything and everything in your business – from answering phones to cleaning windows and bathrooms.”
He quickly adds the corollary to this lesson as his fourth point. “You have to be able to ‘phase’ – to change your mindset as the business grows,” he reminds entrepreneurs. “All staff do not understand, but you can’t afford to wash windows at some point. You have to be very focused on adding value.”
With a core philosophy based on outstanding customer service, it’s clear that this transplanted South African has made a difference in the city that he chose to start a new businesses.