Happy 9th Birthday lyonscg!!
Monday, March 12, 2012 marked the 9th anniversary of Lyons Consulting Group being in business. These days, that is an accomplishment for any company. This week, I sat down with the founders of the company, Rich Lyons and Dave Barr, to discuss their thoughts on starting, growing and maintaining a successful organization.
Where did you come up with the idea to start your own company, whose idea was it, and were you scared?
Rich: The crazy idea happened when I had gone through the SECOND bankruptcy of a major consulting firm. marchFIRST was the first bankruptcy, and then divine. I started out looking for a job, but when all the jobs where basically to start a new office in Chicago, and build a business in Chicago for someone else, I decided to do it for myself. I had some existing clients and a lot of contacts, knew a lot of consultants, and just started placing consultants at clients. I think AON was my first client. And the rest is history. I definitely was scared, and didn’t feel like I was ready. I kept telling myself that I would be ready after one more corporate job. But things just fell into place. And then I went after Dave…
Dave: I’ve always been attracted to entrepreneurial opportunities. Whether it was starting a Chicago-based office for an east coast technical staffing company or sitting in Rich’s green Volvo over lunch discussing starting LCG, I’ve always liked the risk, reward and opportunity to build and grow companies. Starting something from scratch was much scarier, and felt very risky at the time, when compared to helping larger companies grow.
What was the initial plan for lyonscg?
Rich: The initial plan was to sell like crazy, and then find consultants to deliver what we sold. We started out using outsourced recruiting and using consultants that we knew. Over time, we started to hire more and more employees, as it gave us much more control.
Dave: In addition to that, early on we struggled to describe and “bottle” what it meant to build long term relationships with customers and be customer centric. We eventually figured it out and today, 9 years later, it’s the core value system of lyonscg that I attribute to much of our success.
How have the last 9 years treated ya?
Dave: Awesome! I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. It’s not all been easy, but when you look back over the years the challenges have always lead us to come up with newer, more innovative solutions. The market crash of 2008 required us to rethink everything and was ultimately the push we needed to develop our Magento-based offerings that are critical to the company we are today. Over the longer haul the memory of the successes and good times are much stronger (thankfully) than memories of the tough times.
What have you learned about growning a successful company?
Rich: It is harder than you think! And it is always changing, we have to continue to reinvent ourselves, and it can be lonely at times. I am very grateful to have very dedicated and loyal employees and friends and family, and an awesome support network. Many people have held the vision for me, as it is easy to get lost in the weeds and forget where we are going and what we are doing. I/we need to continue to transform, as the market is constantly changing. And I am very proud of our culture and our integrity as a firm.
Dave: I’ve also learned that people are attracted to and appreciate an honest, often selfless, approach to business. Our customer centric approach is a direct reflection of this ideal in action. Challenges are a part of the journey. Without them we become stagnant; our best ideas have come from problems we’ve encountered.
Were there days when you said, “what the heck were we thinking?”
Rich: Yes – when we had a very difficult early Magento launch, and rolled back to their old site. Living up to our money back guarantee, I FedEx’ed a $30k check to the CEO. Now that was a tough week AND it happened right before the IRCE show. So we spent the whole show talking about it. I thought that we would not recover, as I was so upset to have let a customer down. We ended up getting screwed by the customer in the end, as he never let us fix the site as he promised to me. He just kept the money. But our integrity was intact, and we gained a ton of respect in the marketplace.
There were also times when we first moved onto the third floor, and I would be sitting there all by myself in this huge space and wondering if we would ever grow into it… Kind of funny now as we have just reconfigured for the second time to get us through this year…
What do you consider your biggest success with the company, both from a personal standpoint and as an organization?
Rich: Our people and our culture. It is so gratifying to me that we are starting to win deals based on our culture. I expressed this at our company meeting in January, but I am most excited by our growth and transformation as individuals and as a company.
Is there anything that you would change, any decisions that you regret?
Dave: There are many small decisions I regret. We learn and get better everyday. In particular, we had a tough period in 2009 after the 2008 market crash where I don’t think we handled some key decisions as well as we could have. It was a tough time and we had to get through it, but it lead to a few decisions I’d take back, or at least handle differently.
Rich: Hindsight is always 20/20. Our decision early on to outsource all of our support overseas was a very costly and painful decision. We had many unhappy customers and had to field many calls from upset customers at all hours of the day and all weekend at times. I guess we should have learned from the Dell experience, but we had to learn this lesson on our own. Now one of our local competitors owns the company that we fired. Good luck!
What do you see for the next 9 years for lyonscg?
Rich: More of the same. More great clients, more great employees, more great launches and more great sites. I am excited as we continue to strive for excellence, as I see excellence as not a destination but a commitment, every day, to be better. I think it would be boring and depressing otherwise, to say that we have reached our potential and are done? Never. I am sure that we will add other offices, and other services – all based on our customers’ needs. As long as we remain customer focused, and continue to have happy customers, and continue to have fun, I think the outcome is assured.
Dave: I see an awesome company full of very smart, passionate and capable people coming together to deliver solutions for customers. I see employees becoming increasingly empowered to live to our core values and make smart decisions with our customers, but with less and less need for approval or direction. I see customers pushing us hard to evolve our offerings and our team taking the feedback and responding positively with better and better offerings and capabilities. I see continued fun and excitement at what we get to do every day. I see many people joining our team to each achieve something for themselves that helps us all learn, grow and get better. I see that we’ll continue to adjust as we go and change what we do to address customers’ needs, but always with a set of core values that ultimately guides our decisions and course. And most of all I see that we can’t predict what will happen over the next 9 years just as we could not have predicted the past 9 years. The journey is as exciting as the destination!
Do you guys have any other fun stories that you would like to share about our company history or each other, preferably embarrassing ones?
Rich: Ask Dave about the event we went to at the Metropolitan Club….
Dave: Rich reminds me of this all the time… We were at some sort of entrepreneur’s cocktail reception where everyone (20-30 people) stood in a circle and gave a short description of their business. It wasn’t unlike our Monday all-hands meetings, but with strangers instead of employees. My turn came to describe what we do and I totally botched it. I babbled on and on, made no sense at all, felt sweat beading up all over my body as I kept saying words that honestly made no sense to anyone who speaks English. I’m not sure if it was the setting or what, but I gave the worst, most incoherent elevator pitch in the history of the world. I know Rich remembers it well…I’ve worked on my presentation skills ever since that day. Anyone who was in that room that night would be shocked to hear that I’m still with the company, and even more shocked to learn that I’ve had any success at all. Seriously. It was terrible, and quite embarrassing.