Nerd Journey 014: From IT Ops to Entrepreneur

Welcome to episode 14 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two VMware Solution Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode, we have part 2 of a 2-part interview with Tom Delicati, founder of Lead Technology Solutions. We’re focusing this week on Tom’s transition from his IT Operations career to starting his own consulting firm.

Original recording date: 2018-10-03


3:21 What was the ramp-up to the decision to become an entrepreneur?

  • The E-Myth – Gerber
    • “The entrepreneurial seizure”
  • It happened at the end of summer 2016, “Could think about doing this”
  • Leadup was organic
    • User community involvement
    • Giving back to the community
    • Presentations and sessions
    • The high of helping other people
  • Tom gives the example of a Shipping & Receiving Project that made a real impact.
  • Nick  shares his memory of the projects and how the volume continued to increase as the department added value.
  • The more successful projects they completed, the more Tom wanted to share it with the community.
    • Some current clients saw him do a user-group presentation 4 years earlier
    • Those presentations were focused on merely giving back.
    • Tom presented at Epicor’s national conference for 8 years straight.
    • From time to time, he got asked to moonlight.
    • Other consulting orgs tried to recruit him
    • Tom loved his organization and had no desire to work for someone else / start over at a different org
  • Tom knew there was no “next step” for him to take in the business
    • This realization was the entrepreneurial seizure
    • Input from friends / family / trusted advisors only confirmed going out on his own was the logical next step

13:07 John’s observation about IT Operations aligning with the business and articulating impacts

  • Selling the good ideas the right way
  • Tom emphasized the person who is often hardest to convince but perhaps the biggest decision maker is the CFO
  • John thought of IT as below the line as opposed to above the line dollars
  • Tom stressed the idea of thinking like a manufacturer because of his client base

18:29 What challenges were helped by IT skills

  • Tom stresses that technology isn’t always the answer.
  • Can the organization and the people involved handle the amount of change being proposed?
  • The 95% solution might be simpler than the 100% solution
  • Edge cases can be complex
  • A business focused on process orientation is better than relying on people as experts.
  • An analog process for an edge case can be better than a tech solution
  • At the core, how creatively can you solve this problem?
  • Tech solutions can be
    • Too expensive
    • Too time intensive to implement
    • Too much of a change in process for the people involved

24:06 Knowing what you know now, what skills were you missing? “What would you do differently?”

  • Better plan for mentorship in starting a business
  • Working in a business helped with understanding how businesses work, and it seemed like figuring things out along the way was a workable solution.
  • Stepping out on his own was challenging
  • Taking on the responsibility to do all the work was overwhelming
  • Freedom in being an entrepreneur, but corresponding stress
  • He started with 2-3 big clients
  • Word spread quickly without active marketing
  • 10 years of user group involvement paid off
  • Didn’t want to say “No”.
  • The right advice would have helped
  • Did you take on too many projects too quickly?
  • Fear: What if the work isn’t here tomorrow?
  • Fear: Can I say “No” now and go back to them later?
  • Fear drove decisions that led to being overloaded.
  • Needed help
  • He needed to manage expectations with clients (especially speed) differently than with internal customers at his former employer.
  • Home runs vs. Base hits to Tom are not the same as customer perception
  • Definitions and Sustainability
  • Clients aren’t inside your head
  • He’s not inside their heads
  • Customers value how well you communicate with them.

33:50 Lessons applicable to the internal IT department

  • Communicating with a business unit
    • Scope
    • Success definition
    • Communication
  • The luxury of figuring out things as he went evaporated when making the move to his own business
    • Asking the right questions to scope the project early on are critical.
  • Tom focuses on helping clients make the right decisions to produce desired outcomes, even if detrimental to his own company’s revenue
    • The trust from these type of relationships with customers is priceless
    • Example of a client’s laser focus on process improvement for accounts payable when the data that showed diminishing returns of improvement in this area

41:23 Scaling the business

  • Trial and error and better mentorship would have helped
  • Tom started with a vision for the company and was distracted from it due to volume of work
  • The vision wasn’t a one-person, independent contractor
  • How Tom scaled the business by focusing on the end game
  • Relinquishing control of processes when delegating to others wasn’t easy
  • Tom weighs in on learning to trust
  • John’s book recommendation for Tom – Corp Business
  • Tom mentions his commitment to continued personal development
  • A popular response from Tom when asked for advice – “I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
  • Listen for Tom’s mic drop moment.  Do you agree?

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