Q. 1. Kindly give our readers an introduction to your business. Please include what your business is all about, in which city you are located and if you have offices in multiple locations/ cities.
Ans : The Flying Locksmiths of SW Connecticut is a full-service mobile locksmith business serving all of SW Connecticut. Everyone knows to call a locksmith when they are locked out of their car, but that represents less than 1% of the work we do. We like to say, “If it’s on the Door, we handle it!”. We repair or replace doors and door hardware like hinges, door closers, panic bars, door alarms, etc. We are experts in Safes and Vaults, and of course Locks and Keys.
The Flying Locksmiths started in Boston in 1946 when William McMenimon returned from World War II. He wanted to start a business that could fund his passion for flying, and started a locksmith business. He was immediately tagged as “the flying locksmith”, and adopted the name for his business. Today, The Flying Locksmiths is still a family owned business operated by William’s grandsons. Last year, they began expanding The Flying Locksmiths neighborhood approach across the country opening over 50 new offices, one in Orange, Connecticut. I am so proud to become part of The Flying Locksmiths organization.
Q. 2. Kindly give us a brief description about yourself (it should include your brief educational or entrepreneurial background and list some of your major achievements).
Ans : I have a very nontraditional resume. When I graduated college, I really did not know what I wanted to do with my business degree. I was always entrepreneurial, so I purchased a ServiceMaster franchise that I successfully operated for 17 years. Along the way, I realized that I wanted to be a mechanical engineer when I grew up, so I enrolled in the community college and started taking engineering courses at night. When I graduated, I sold my business and went to work in healthcare developing medical devices. This experience allowed me to work on an artificial blood substitute, Alzheimer’s Disease, and type II diabetes. It was a great experience and I have had multiple patents issued.
Q. 3. What inspired you to (start a new business venture) or (to make significant changes in an existing business)? How did the idea for your business come about?
Ans : After many successful years performing R&D on a host of different ideas and technologies, I reached a transition point in my career. This gave me the opportunity to think about working for myself again. With both short term and long term goals in mind, I began researching businesses that I could buy or start. I found myself attracted to the locksmith industry. I recognized that this very old and well established industry was starting a transformation. Digital technology was disrupting the traditional way of securing a door with a lock and key. This was attractive to my engineering personality. As I looked deeper, I saw the commitment by the McMenimons to stay current with technology and to drive out the unsavory players who take advantage of unsuspecting customers by establishing the highest level of professionalism and integrity in the market. I realized then, that the Flying Locksmiths was for me!
Q. 4. What three pieces of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Ans : In my experience, there is nothing more difficult to do well than to start your own business. Entrepreneurs have to change hats constantly to get a business open. One moment you are the accountant, then customer service, then a lawyer, then in charge of marketing, then operations, etc, etc. How you perform in each of these roles determines whether or not you succeed or fail. To boil it down to three things is not easy, but here goes.
The most important advice I can give an entrepreneur is to never go into a business under-capitalized. To succeed in any new venture, you must not be relying on business growth to fund the capital you should have acquired before starting the business. Second – Create an extremely detail business plan and proforma. A good one can take a month to create and it is well worth your time. As you gather research, continually update the plan to make it as accurate as possible. There are things that you will not know about a new business until you are in it, yet you will still react to it when it is discovered. You want to minimize the number of unknowns, while understanding the knowns well. Lastly, make an impartial assessment of your own strengths and weaknesses. If you are weak at accounting, do not assume that you will somehow figure it out. Put into your plan to acquire the support you need for areas that you are weak in.
Q. 5. What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Ans : You must have a marketing skills. Without marketing skills, your business will not generate enough money to be sustainable. You must have organizational skills. If you are disorganized, opportunities will be missed. And you must have strong people skills. Dealing with unreasonable customers or employees who make bad decisions occur every day in business.
Q. 6. How many hours do you work a day on average?
Ans : It ranges from 14 -18 per day, with a little less than that on weekends, and quite frankly, it’s not enough. Every day I get to the end of my day and realize there are things still looking for my attention. Working hard is also part of the investment that must be made to grow your business.
Q. 7. To what do you most attribute your success?
Ans : I worked very hard to understand intimately the brand that I wanted to create for my business. I knew, given the long history of locksmithing, that I needed a business of incredible professionalism with high integrity and reliability. At the same time differentiating my business from the competition. I then took a fearless assessment of what my brand was (how people thought about my business). Then every interaction, every decision I make during the course of the day, is made to move my brand to where I want it to be.
Q. 8. How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?
Ans : I have a multi-pronged marketing plan designed to differentiate my business from other locksmith businesses. Internet and social media is one prong. Everyone has a website, but to succeed you must go beyond the website. Customers need to be able to find you on the internet and on their social media sites. However, finding my business isn’t enough. Success comes from developing a business relationship with the customer. Customers deal with impersonal, transactional businesses all day long. I want my customers to know that I care about them, and the security needs. When a customer knows, you care about them, they will refer you to everyone they know. It is about relationships.
Q. 9. Where did your organizations funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? How did you obtain investors for your venture?
Ans : I funded my business entirely myself. Having investors isn’t a bad thing, it’s just one more thing. And what I mean by that is you have only so much time each day to build your brand, satisfy your customers, and grow your business. Investors want progress reports, which take time out of your day to produce and present. Not everyone can fully capitalize their own business, but there is advantages, if you can.
Q. 10. What is the best way to achieve long-term success?
Ans : I believe that to achieve long-term success, you have to be consistent in operating your businesses. I try main align my values to the business and consistently operate from that perspective.
Q. 11. Where you see yourself and your business in 5 – 10 years?
Ans : I see myself as the most successful locksmith business in Connecticut in 10 years, satisfying each individual customer along the way. Goals are extremely important. Without goals, you are guaranteed not to succeed.
Q. 12. Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Ans : Most people would be expecting me to reply with companies like Apple, Amazon, and the like. Tremendously profitable success stories no doubt. But my answer is very different. The company I admire most is Interface Global. This is a company you probably have never heard of, but everyone should know them and their story. They are a very large manufacturer of carpet and flooring materials. Interface Global was started by the late, Ray Anderson. As CEO, Ray was running a very successful and profitable company, when he had an epiphany that even with all that success, his company was at risk – It was not sustainable. Ray understood that being profitable wasn’t enough. What good is it to have tons of money while living on a dying planet? Ray immediately turned his company on its head by demanding that the company change it operations so that they contributed zero emissions to the environment. Today, Interface Global is the best demonstrated example of how to run a company profitably without damaging the commons. I share many of the values that Ray had.
Q. 13. How important have good employees been to your success?
Ans : Good employees are critical to success. They are the biggest investment in your business, so if you get a bad employee, your investment is not producing. I want to hire right the first time, and I find the more time I spend in evaluating candidates, the better the hiring decision. I want employees who believe in the mission of the company, and the values that I operate by.
Q. 14. How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
Ans : It depends on the idea. As an engineer, I tend to be more data driven. If my metrics show that the idea is producing, I will stick with it. If I learn something that might make the idea valuable in time, then I’ll work the idea longer. Some ideas reveal unknown elements that make them terminally bad ideas, and they get dropped immediately.
Q. 15. What motivates you?
Satisfying my customers is very motivating. I love to see and hear how delighted by customers feel because we are unlike any other locksmith they ever experienced. I love to hear, “Wow, you guys are great. I am going to tell everyone about you!”
Q. 16. What are your ideals?
Ans : I believe in doing what I say I am going to do. Integrity in business builds strong relationships. I do not want my business be just transactional. Transactions, while necessary are not sufficient. I want my business to build long term business relationships where transactions will occur.
Q. 17. How do you generate new ideas?
Ans : Ideas are like flowers – They bloom when the proper environment is created. I tell my employees that they were not just hired for their hands, but for their minds. They are empowered to find solutions to problems without me. I dispel the notion that I know everything and that what I say goes. I encourage all of them to offer their ideas on the problems we are trying to solve because diversity in thought generates really creative ideas.
Q. 18. How do you define success?
Ans : Obviously, profitability is a requirement to success, but it is only one element to success. Success is also defined by what my customers feel when they think of the Flying Locksmiths. Are they telling their family and friends about us? Success is defined by how my employees feel about the business. Are they excited to come to work each day?
Q. 19. How do you build a successful customer base?
Ans : It sounds corny, but it is true, “One customer at a time.” Every time me, my locksmith, my office manager are in front of a potential customer, we are building that customer base.
Q. 20. What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Ans : Having started several businesses and worked in corporate America, I really enjoy the freedom of being an entrepreneur. The larger the company, the more bureaucratic it is, the more political it becomes. When I worked for large corporations, the path to success was completely clear in my mind, yet because of corporate politics, I could not execute what I knew the company needed to do. So much time was lost, and so many amendments added to what I knew we had to do, that in the end I was unable to do the bold things I envisioned. The original vision was watered down and made generic. As an entrepreneur, my vision is only limited by me. I can take the organization exactly in the direction I know it needs to go.
Q. 21. What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Ans : I love to mentor employees to be more than when they first came to me. The more successful they turn out to be, the more satisfied I feel having guided them early in the careers.
Q. 22. What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?
Ans : There are few differences really, except one. Entrepreneurs are more comfortable with managing risk. People often say that I am a risk taker. I am not a risk taker. I am a risk mitigator. I do not go to casinos and gamble. That is risk taking. As an entrepreneur, I fearlessly look at the risks to my business, evaluate the impact those risks could have and the likelihood of their occurrence. I then take action to mitigate the impact of that risk and the likelihood of its occurrence.
Q. 23. What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?
Ans : I want a collaborative, respectful, mission focused culture. One that empowers every employee to help create our brand. As a small business, I cannot succeed by myself. I need very one contributing to the overall goals of the company.
Q. 24. In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.
Ans : Sublime
Q. 26. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Not a thing. Every experience I have had has shaped me for who I am today. Positive experiences brought me joy and negative experiences allowed me to learn. I needed ever one of them.
Q. 27. How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
Ans : Believe it or not, even with my crazy long work days, I see more of them because often I am working from home. When I had a corporate job, they needed me in India for 3 weeks at a time, and those trips were tough. I really missed being with my family. Now, I am working even more hours, but get to be with them far more often. When I put the laptop away, I try to make our time together really meaningful.
Q. 28. What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
Ans : Fear is your minds projection of what may happen in the future. I have confidence in my abilities to shape the future.
Q. 29. How did you decide on the location for your business?
Ans : The Flying Locksmiths is a mobile business, so office location from a marketing perspective is not as important as from an operational perspective. Our office also stocks a broad inventory of parts that my technicians can access to restock their vehicles.
Q. 30. Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Ans : I do not believe there is a pattern or formula that works, there are many and each one produces different levels of success. The most important characteristic is persistence to keep driving the business model consistently.
Q. 31. If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?
Ans : Thomas Jefferson has always been my favorite President. He was a brilliant, yet incredibly flawed, human being. Yet he stuck to his values and laid the foundation for this great country that we have the privilege to live and work in.
Q. 32. Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Ans : I have been inspired by many people over my life. Teachers, ministers, bosses, and peers have all contributed to what inspires me. But my wife inspires me every day and greater than anyone else.
Q. 33. What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?
Ans : Luckily for me, while my mistakes have been many, none of them have been big impactful mistakes, knock on wood.
Q. 34. How can you prevent mistakes or do damage control?
Ans : Fortune favors the prepared mind. For me, thinking ahead and preparing in advance makes things go smoother.
Q. 35. What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
Ans : I brew gluten free beer. Our family has to avoid wheat, but my wife and I both enjoy a good beer. I few years back, I started a hobby to brew gluten-free beer, and I really enjoy it. It is a combination of science and engineering mixed with the creativity of art, and then I get to enjoy my hobby with my family and friends. How awesome is that!
Q. 36. What makes you happy?
Ans : People coming together in community makes me happy. This can occur in the many different environments, not just at work. After hurricane Irene and Sandy hit, my neighborhood came together to help each other out. I believe that people can accomplish anything when they come together. Every man for himself does not work.
Q. 37. What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
Ans : I have had to step back from some of my volunteering, because there is just not enough time in the day. My goal is to grow the business to a point where I can get some of that time back to continue volunteering again.