By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Listening to both customers and employees, offering insights and education, and staying ahead of the competition were among the success factors that local honorees who made the 2022 “Inc. 5000” list (see August 16 teknovation.biz article here) shared with attendees at an event Monday evening.
It was the fourth year that the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) has hosted a celebration honoring the Knoxville area companies that made the ranking of the fastest growing privately held enterprises in the U.S. Of the 14 on the list this year, eight showed-up at Monday night’s event to share their insights in a fast-paced, energized Q&A with KEC’s Chris McAdoo.
The highest ranked local company in 2022 was StoragePug, a first-time honoree ranked at #575 among the 5,000 companies nationally. As such, Co-Founder Tommy Nguyen got the first question from McAdoo, and it was about user experience.
“It started with speaking the language of our customers,” Nguyen explained. “(We) are using the words and phrases our customers are using.” That approach is obviously working. StoragePug, which is primarily focused on independent operators of self-storage facilities, has grown to 25 employees since its founding in 2017 and will be adding another five or more employees in the near future.
For Abhijit Verekar, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Avèro Advisors, “It’s important to be in front. We do a lot of knowledge sharing . . . educating our clients.” Those activities include a podcast named RethinkIT. “It’s important to be genuine and work on behalf of our clients.” Avèro is a Maryville-based company working with government agencies to build smarter communities that empower their citizens while also enriching lives.
Dylan Jones, one of the Founders of Boldsquare, a strategic communications practice, offered a slightly different take on the matter of being out front with insights. The company asks, “What is one of the biggest things we’re not thinking about? There’s no one solution to the problems people face. We take a listen to what people are saying and don’t presume we know the answer ahead of time.”
Later in the program, Tommy Smith, Vice President of Marketing at Avertium, a cybersecurity firm, offered yet another thought on the overall topic of insights. “We spend time researching things our customers don’t know yet.”
For Ben Moser, Vice President of Operations at RCN Technologies, said much of the focus is on those companies for which it is a reseller. “Where can we help our partners?” The company specializes in 5G and LTE (long term evolution) connectivity solutions.
Harry Boston, Founder and President of Oak Ridge-headquartered Boston Government Services (BGS), said, “We try to take our customers’ toughest missions and provide the best solutions.” To do so, BGS relies on having the type of workplace and opportunities that attract people because of the environment, not necessarily the compensation. The engineering, technology and security company helps government programs, national laboratories, national security facilities and those involved in nuclear operations and environmental clean-up advance their missions.
Charlie Bible, Vice President of KaTom Restaurant Supply Inc. in Kodak, talked about the challenges of scaling a business. With 250 employees, he noted that the process is different from a two-, five, 10- or even 25-person start-up.
“Our philosophy is to grow from the inside,” Bible explained, meaning a strong focus on the existing team and promotion opportunities. “On the customer side, we are hyper focused on providing a legendary experience. (We) use customer feedback to drive process improvement, and that is what has allowed us to scale.”
He also offered this useful suggestion: “Make one percent improvement every day,” and it will add-up.
Another fast-growing company – 400 people since its founding 11 years ago – is Axle Logistics, a non-asset based, third-party logistics company focused on facilitating safe, reliable, advanced logistics services to a wide variety of customers throughout the continental U.S., Canada, and Mexico. “People are at the forefront of every decision we make, said Amie Cohorst, the company’s Corporate Recruiter.
Near the end, McAdoo opened the discussion for questions from attendees, and Jay Cobble, Principal Broker with Providence Commercial Real Estate, created a good deal of discussion when he asked, “What can we do to keep you in Knoxville?” One of the most popular answers was to continue investing in the community with Bible adding, “We need to make it more fun to live here.”
An individual who relocated to Knoxville from Los Angeles about three months ago and said she loved the community, offered this important reminder: “You to need to minimize the cultural shock.” She noted that she grew-up in St. Louis and previously lived in Chicago. All are clearly bigger and more diverse communities.