The value of Straight Talk

“People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.” Lewis Rothschild – “The American President”

The value of straight talk is unparalleled. I know people who want to look savvy, and they come of as cagey; people who want to look powerful, and the silence is deafening. Nothing is motivating about being coy with your vision and your plan for the business or for your people.

With that said, it’s not necessary to “open the kimono” about all matters, especially stressful ones. If you’re a manager or a leader, you have to deal with a number of stressful issues daily. Odds are, you’re calibrated emotionally and psychologically to handle these stresses, and telling everyone the world’s problems is a fast way to create alarm and cause undue harm.

So there is a balance – people need to know what is going on, and where they stand, and they need to know that you are thinking about these two things all the time. It’s the fruit of wisdom to know what to say and when to say it.

MJF for the win!




Introducing a New Blog!

2015 here we are!

Yes, it’s almost February, but here’s a quick blog post.

Some major news: Our Director of Operations Timothy Daly is launching his blog called Employee Seven. It’s a great perspective from the only non-entrepreneur/sales/technical leader we have on the team. He’s OPERATIONS!  The backbone of all companies – great and small.

Here’s a snippet from his blog post “UNKNOWN UNKNOWNS”

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

– Donald Rumsfeld, Former US Secretary of State (Wikipedia)

The first thing an Employee #7 needs to recognize is that there is a *lot* of information out there. No one person can know all of it. Just off the top of my head:

  • Federal Employment Laws
  • State Employment Laws
  • Business Licences
  • Tax Law
  • GAAP Accounting Standards
  • Financing options
  • Budgeting
  • Recruiting
  • Renting Office Space
  • Buying/Leasing Furniture
  • Cash Flow
  • Securing Credit
  • Collections
  • Vendor Management

You cannot know it all.

read more @

I love cold calls

I love cold calls. I love going in blind, seeing if there’s a live pulse on the other end, and seeing if there’s a way to move forward on your agenda.

Odds are, if you call my office, and I pick up, I will listen to whatever you have to sell for at least 5 minutes.

A good salesman will create the most engaging conversation you will have all day, I guarantee it.

Now, I understand that a lot of people don’t like being “sold.” To those people I say “it’s not selling if there’s no need for the services or goods.”

One of my best, most reliable vendor generates six-figures in sales annually. He came from a cold call. I guess he got me on the right day. The truth, though, is that there was no “right day.” What got me intrigued was more about him than his services. He was honest and forthright, and he made himself available several times. I canceled on a few meetings; he was flexible. I was rude and too busy – he was cool and accommodating. No, I wasn’t intentionally rude, but it’s hard to be civil 100% of the time and not de-prioritize a sales meeting vs your day-to-day meeting.

Oftentimes my company gets business through word of mouth or referrals. In that world, you’re eating whatever comes through the door – whether it’s dog food or steak. In cold calling, you have the opportunity, however slight, to seize control of your destiny. And that’s true for your business as well as your new clients.



Completed my first 5K!

Hey, I just did a public race, in November, in CHICAGO, at 6AM!

Some personal accomplishments

1.) I never stopped running throughout the 5K

2.) This was the first time running outside, in a crowd

3.) this is the first time Julie and I ran together and my time was WAY up because of it. (By WAY up I mean I averaged a 10:15 mile rather than the codgerly-run of 12 min-miles  I normally stumble through).

Some fun after-effects are that I want to do a 10K; my irrational fear of running outside is lessening, and I somehow feel like I’m a better person for doing this. I still hate running, and it feels silly to feel like I accomplished something simply by running a certain distance, but given the amount of pain incurred for running a 5K, I can rationalize both away. Have no fear, folks…



Those days…..

I will tell you now, as a business-owner of 5 years

There are those days

those days that you do not live for

those days that are painful, brutal, the ones you do not want to show up to the office for

the ones that are above your paygrade

you don’t get to avoid those days

those days come and you deliver

there are those days that are crucial

painful, brutal

they make it all unworthwhile

they make it open, and they are bleak.

those days are the days you recognize that you are doing something bigger, and probably making a big mistake

those days are very very difficult, and it’s your best to make sure you leave with dignity intact.

I believe we live for, and hide from, those days.

Today was that day.

I hope to never have another, but I know if I don’t I’ll never fulfill the promises of this company, the people here, and to myself.

Public life blues

So there’s a small problem with running a company with your friends and family.

Friends, close friends, know a lot of intimate things about my life whether I want them to or not. For one, our Operations guys know my salary. They know the salaries of my brothers. Heck, I know THEIR salaries. Also, because I work with my brothers and my dad, there’s a lot of ::ahem:: “Family Dynamics” on display in the company. Basically, a lot of airing out of the dirty laundry.

As I get older I think more and more about how valuable it is to have privacy for me and my wife. Which is why it’s ironic I write this out in a public blog post. Loss of my privacy came gradually as the company grew. At some point, it was more valuable for me to manage than to run payroll, so now we got a guy to do that. At some point, I stopped doing HR activities. Now someone handles my 401k and investments. The list goes on and on.

This trend of “more people know my life” is only going to pick up steam as the company grows. Nuthin’ to do about it.

Nothing really actionable about this, just griping.


How DOM & TOM Inc accidentally ended up on the INC 500 list, and why we placed #382

Hi everyone,

Whew – guys, D&T is in the INC 500 / 5000 fastest growing companies.

Not just “in” the grouping, but we’re ranked #382 overall. #40 in our category – IT Services

Not bad for a few guys from the Chicagoland area, eh?

So what’s the secret to our fast growth?

No clue.

Well, seriously, there’s a few clues. When Dom and I paused to reflect on the core reasons for success, we realized that it came from a lot of wrong-minded decisions early-on.

1.) We never thought ourselves as a start-up, we always thought ourselves as a small business

Start-ups are organized experiments of a theoretical businesses or products. If the experiments produce a successful product or business model, you have a winner. Oftentimes, it’s a null result.

DOM & TOM, in contrast, has more in common with a pizzeria or law firm – we offer services to clients in exchange for payments. It’s a model that’s been working since people were swapping livestock. Yeah, not as sexy as using your data in exchange for “free services” but probably a bit more upfront on the trade-off.

While most of our clients are start-ups, which we love because we get to do a lot of fun and wacky experiments, we try to keep our business extremely boring on the day-to-day operations.

2.) We hired friends and family

This company was founded by Dom and I.

Dom and I were running a business for the first time, and we made a lot of mistakes. A LOT OF MISTAKES, and having friends and family work with us gave us the relationship latitude to bounce-back from those mistakes where complete strangers probably would have quit a long time ago.

Moreover, it allowed our new employees to grow and take on way more responsibility than they ever had, and in doing so they “proved themselves” able to tackle the massive tasks in a growing company.

In the end, this company’s foundation is based on friends and family coming together, and the new folks who join us experience that sense of camaraderie and friendship. It’s not Michael Scott, but it’s close.

3.) Business is Personal

Dom and I have a thin skin on client’s moods and their needs. We never built up a sense of entitlement that we saw a lot of our colleagues had in the space. Every criticism was a personal wound to us.

We knew that we were new, inexperienced, and needed to prove ourselves, and to a certain extent we never quite lost that sense of anxiety when a client is upset or frustrated, or a project is going side-ways. As Andy Grove from Intel said, “only the paranoid survive.”

Those are the things I think helped us get here. They’re not magical – honestly #3 is a little trite and I’ve seen it written dozens of times somewhere else. But that’s part of our motto – “Do Good, Be Good.” When you do good work, you are being good – to your people, your clients, and yourself.


Feel free to hit me up anytime. I’m hanging out mostly in the Tribune Tower these days, so come on by.

The Myth of the Underdog

So I’m going to talk about Underdogs in the digital industry.

Lets imagine there is a team that is diligent, hardworking, and a bit intense. This team drills to be disciplined to push through their failures and rise to successes. And failures abound for all aspiring teams. The flush of initial success can embroil a team into petty quarrels as nascent egos flare. Or stability in growth or lifestyle can create complacency, and allow teams to stagnate.

Imagine this team sees these pitfalls, and through sheer grit and discipline, pushes through to the other side. The side of glorious victory.

Imagine this team is the villain in the story.

The “underdog” are any one of those other fools who didn’t have the wisdom or the discipline to hold it together and push through, but by sheer luck or last-minute drama, they catch a lucky-break and beat out the “villain” who did. This is my take on just about every underdog story I see. I don’t care if it’s Bad News Bears or Hoosiers: whenever we’re presented with the “villain” of the plot, we’re presented with a well-oiled, confident team that is ready to compete. End of discussion.

I’m going to tell you something, something that no one really likes to say aloud:  in real life we’d all prefer the villain to “win.” Let me put it this way: do you want an “underdog” to be your heart surgeon performing that risky operation, or would you rather have the guy that has a winning track record? C’mon, when it’s your life on the line you want the guy with the track record. You don’t want an underdog making your car. You don’t want them building your databases, or launching your digital product. You want a tried and true winner. That’s the bottom-line. The only, only, only time you take the risk on the underdog is if there’s a sense of trust and confidence there that is lacking in the other competition. Or you’re strapped for cash.

My Top #5 Rules for Managers

Here’s the short list

#1 – Your health is your responsibility.

You can’t manage if you’re constantly sick, unhealthy, or rundown. Period.  It’s very easy to eat poorly, work long hours, sleep less, and develop nasty habits. Personally, I’ve gained 35 pounds since I became a manager and I’m taking actions to deal with it. I am keenly aware that if I’m rundown, I stop being an effective leader.

#2 – Get Funny.

As a manager, it is your job to have a relationship with the people you’re managing. A few gifted devils can walk into a room and instantly connect with half the world. The rest of us are stuck as wallflowers. As a manager, you can’t lead without having a good relationship with your team. The problem is that you and your team come from very diverse backgrounds, and most likely have nothing in common other than you all decided it’d be great to work in the same proximity to each other daily.

But don’t worry, I’ve found a hidden buddhist koan to help people connect:

“Jokes – especially bad, corny jokes – are the common denominator to all people and cultures.”

Once you become a manager, go out to your local bookstore, dig through the $.99 bin, and buy the corniest joke book you can find. The cornier, the better. How do you know if it’s a good joke book? Here’s a hint – if your 5-year-old nephew likes the jokes from that book, it’s a winner. Memorize as many of those jokes as you can, then slather your team with them like mustard on a hotdog. I guarantee this is the bedrock to forming a bond, and from there forming a working relationship.

(Oddly enough, pickles are also a common denominator to all people and cultures.)

#3 – Your boss’s solution is horrible.

If I am your boss, and you come to me with a problem, I promise you that my solution will be horrible, unfair, probably vague or complicated, but most importantly, ineffective to solving the problem. Odds are you are closer to the problem, so you are closer to the solution.   Now, that’s not to say that your boss is useless – on the contrary! Your boss is an excellent sounding board for shaping ideas, he/she is a sympathetic ear, and he/she can walk you through the ramifications on strategies that you might not see. Your boss is your advisor and trusted confidant, but you are the manager and your job is to at least present some solutions to problems as they arise (hence, why you’re a manager!) If you’re looking for your boss to magically and neatly solve your problems, you’re setting yourself up for failure and disappointment.

#4 – The job is hard enough.

“The manager’s function is not to make people work, but make it possible for people to work.” – quote from Peopleware. ‘ The job is hard enough, you don’t need to drive your employees mad by overloading them on status reports and random acts of micromanagement.  ‘Nuff said.

#5 – The work is the work.

If you are at work, you are working. You are the first one into the office, last one to leave, and if your team is in another physical location your skype/hangout/cell/email/pager/carrier pigeon is open to receiving communications. “Offsite meetings” does not mean “I get a half-day!” “Traveling long-distance” does not mean “vacation.” “Drinks with clients” does not mean “we’re getting bent on the corporate card.” “Work-From-Home “does not mean “I’m doing chores and checking my email every hour or so.”

Bonus rule – If it’s unclear who’s at fault, then it’s definitely your fault. You can’t have responsibility without accountability!

These rules work. I know, because I’ve broken each rule during in my career and I’ve suffered the consequences. Feel free to add on to your own personal rules as you go, but this should get you started.

PS – if you’re not a manager, do #2 anyway. The world needs more corny jokes spoken out loud. Pickles are a bonus.

PPS  – This guy came up with 101 rules! What…the…heck?!


I’m confused about mentors

So it seems that every tech entrepreneur has a mentor, is looking for a mentor, is a mentor, or all the above. It’s freshman year dating season all over again.

I might be crazy, but I’m not doing any of those things. I have good friends, trusted colleagues, confidants, but there is no sage person in the background offering up advice when the tough choices come rolling in.

Frankly, I wouldn’t know where to start looking for a mentor if I wanted to, and I wouldn’t know who to mentor (or what to mentor on) if asked.

But maybe it’s not really necessary. The business of DOM & TOM is pretty straightforward – you offer hours of services in exchange for money. In many respects, it is the same business as an accounting firm, or a law firm, or any other service-based business. It’s not exactly kungfu…

There’s desire to be mentored and to mentor others in the tech culture.  I don’t know where else to attribute it to other than Silicon Valley, which sets the standard for all other tech cultures in the US. Part of that mystique is the mentor-student relationship that seemed to promulgate heavily in the late 90s and early 2000s.

In any case, I’ll reserve judgement on the topic of mentorship for another day. It’s been 5 years toil on this business, and I haven’t had the support of that sage person in the back room for guidance, but that doesn’t mean he/she isn’t worthwhile.