Ken Smerz had a brilliant idea for a company. What if you could take highly detailed laser scans of a facility and create a 3D digital twin so that contractors and developers could safely and quickly plan out upgrades and renovations.
“And who wouldn’t want to do that?” Ken thought. It turned out, nobody wanted to do that. At least, not at first. Ken learned the hard way that succeeding in business takes so much more than an awesome idea.
Eventually, they learned to demonstrate the value of their product and how to communicate it to contractors and developers. And now, ZELUS is working with clients on projects around the globe.
More information: https://teamzelus.com/
Ken Smerz is the CEO of ZELUS, a leading provider of Virtual Design and Construction (VDC), Building Information Modeling (BIM), and 2d and 3d digital documentation services. Their mission is to bring efficiency to the construction process by providing an accurate dimensional understanding of the physical world.
They do this by integrating technology into the design and as-built process, enabling owners, architects, contractors, and engineers to reduce costs, improve schedule performance, and enhance collaboration among all shareholders in the construction process.
DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!
Ken Smerz 0:00
And you might be in the tech business, but you need to have I said this earlier value propositions, but you need to come at it from a business perspective. If you don’t have it, then go find somebody to mentor you, that give you the business perspective. Otherwise, you’re my belief is you’re likely to fail.
Alexander Ferguson 0:23
Welcome to UpTech Report. This is our apply tech series UpTech Report is sponsored by TeraLeap. Learn how to leverage the power of email@example.com. Today, I’m excited to be joined by my guests. Ken Smerz is based in Phoenix, Arizona. He’s the CEO at Zelus. Welcome, Ken good to have yo on.
Ken Smerz 0:40
Well, thank you out appreciate it.
Alexander Ferguson 0:42
Zelus is a professional services provider, you’re in the construction, architecture, owner space, providing services to them with virtual design and construction help me understand Ken, what was the what is the problem that you guys see and and solve every day.
Ken Smerz 0:57
So the problem we solve is, whether you’re an owner, whether you’re an architect, or contractor, there is a lot of inefficiencies in the construction process, either from a new build perspective or from a renovation perspective. So what our company does, we take new technology, typically three dimensional digital technology, and we incorporate that into the construction process, thereby adding much greater efficiencies into, into the construction application from all those different shares, again, owner, architect or or contractor.
Alexander Ferguson 1:31
So let’s take a moment and go back in history here, help me understand how zelis got started?
Ken Smerz 1:39
Well, it probably shouldn’t have gotten started. I am a recovering general contractor that escaped California about 18 years ago. And I became aware of a new technology called laser scanning. And that technology allowed you to take very, very fast laser scans of an existing conditioning existing environment without having to touch it. And it could shoot a distance as far as maybe, I don’t know, 1000 feet. Having been a general contractor, I also understood the value of measurement. And then this technology of scanning to then go back and create a highly accurate as built, or 3d, a digital twin of your existing facility. Who wouldn’t want to use that in the construction space. So we started a company and I was incredibly wrong, I wrote a 65 page business plan that I thought was amazing, that would probably be better suited for the bottom of a birdcage. Nonetheless, we forged on, we started on almost zero money, a very, very small loan, and we didn’t have enough money to make rent to pay for an office space. So we started the company with his idea in mind that we could go out there and convince, you know, contractors and owners and architects on the value of measuring noncontact incredibly fast to create this digital twin. And who wouldn’t want to do that? And the fact is that, that almost nobody wanted to do it, because it was a threat to what they already knew. And I completely missed that, right? So just because you have technology that can solve a problem doesn’t necessarily mean you want to change your ways.
Alexander Ferguson 3:17
The what, when you started with this idea is like, man, everyone would want this. This is great. I feel like it’s actually a lot of tech entrepreneurs, this technology is awesome. Why does everyone want this? And then you start to sell it and people like, No, no, that’s that. We don’t want that. What did you do? What did you do?
Ken Smerz 3:33
Well, we panicked a little bit. Because we couldn’t understand that, nonetheless, we were sincere, we guaranteed our work. And he provided a really quality product. And we did everything we could to tell stories. A lot of times the best way to change behavior, or get people to understand something is to is to tell him the story. So he had one or two great success cases out of the gate. We had those clients then do some testimonials for us. And we found new markets and we told stories and and we would then come in and sit down and also set metrics. So between storytelling, and then the metrics, so we would offer our clients an improvement between nine and 13%. On their reduction in construction costs. That’s very significant. And once we started talking metrics and start talking to ROI, again, in combination with that story, people started to listen to us. And I think honestly to some of it was the fact that you know, I say I have blonde hair, right? But the fact that I’m an older guy, they took a little bit more trust in us, maybe me initially just because I was a seasoned guy and I understood the construction process having been a contractor. And I could speak in their language in their terms. But I mean, there was some wild misses along the way too, so it kept growing.
Alexander Ferguson 4:56
If anything, it’s a note for other tech leaders. That too Look at the industry and potentially pair with someone if you’re not that person that can has that experience and have that face that others can connect with. What what year again, was this that you first set out?
Ken Smerz 5:10
This was five years ago, about five and a half years ago, actually six years ago now? Yeah,
Alexander Ferguson 5:14
six years ago, and and you just get a small loan and do this on your own, you just you just have this drive to delete it by yourself.
Ken Smerz 5:23
Yeah, so the difference for us is we have an amazing technology, we use laser scanning with 3d modeling, and a lot of really, really cool stuff. But what we did, I think that was different than a lot of other companies is we weren’t just a technology in search of a problem, we had to articulate what our solution was, and come up with value propositions where others could benefit in focusing on that, and not just the sexy technology that is scanning and modeling and providing amazing as built and advanced clash detection, and on and on and on, we would just slow that roll. And we took it to one or two great value propositions focused heavily on that, and actually tried to, you know, share that journey with our clients. So the client would have us come to the workforce. And we would set metrics and expectations. And along the journey of say the job lasted six months, we would continually check in with the client to make sure that they were satisfied. So the retention rate of those who started to use us was incredibly high. But again, Alex, to really frame this right technology we use, there’s only about 30% of time we’re ever even in competitive bid situation. It’s that new. So we’re really, truly creating our own market. And to other people and technology companies. I think it’s really important to identify what are your value propositions? How are you going to benefit somebody else, and not just get all buzzed up on the technology itself?
Alexander Ferguson 6:47
Were you relying on your existing connections to get into the first couple bids and stuff?
Ken Smerz 6:53
Yeah, we did rely on existing conditions and some of those turned out to be nightmarish. One example is we we pursued and had no less than 33 meetings with one of the largest retailers in the world based in Arkansas, so you can figure out who that might be. And we walked in there and we thought we had it all all down and we focused too much on exactly what I’m talking about with technology and how quick we could go create these models these retail stores we didn’t focus as much on the value propositions and the truth is was epic failure. After those 33 meetings we still did almost no revenue So Alex a lot of what we did was you know just we had some wildness but what we really smart about I think and I worked with a great bunch of people who I care and love them all we were open to ideas from anybody in the group and even that company because I’m wrong a lot and and by doing that and having a team approach to who will adopt this technology who will adopt these services it became it became easy when we had a win to leverage that winning to something bigger and so the company started to grow so the original you know nine people that we started with off you know picnic benches because we couldn’t afford rent you know it’s now evolved in about 140 so full time employees so that’s that’s a pretty significant growth curve and obviously some people got it but there was a lot of crash and burns along the way.
Alexander Ferguson 8:20
Obviously every individual you hire is has importance and value but are there any key hires that really helped you grow even further or helped you scale faster?
Ken Smerz 8:31
Yeah, so our early on so I would suggest any entrepreneur or upstart tech company is you have to get people to really really high character and a great work ethic and that’s not always easy to do. But you know, Ted is our Chief Innovation Officer Laura is our HR manager, Randy marks Sean spees bo Hatfield some of his original team members that were that we all work together we had a common respect for each other I use the word internally love I don’t mean that in a romantic sense but I mean in a love of what we do a very much a family and like a family we fight and we argue with each other too. But at the end of the day, we all right, we’re going in this direction. And that makes us it separates us I think from a lot of the rest of the people out there and a lot of other companies it’s
Alexander Ferguson 9:21
this mentality of creating the right right culture, so that you’re able to find these people is there any like things that you look for in someone of Okay, this will fit well with us this this this character trait a what’s your hiring process and looked like for you as a leader?
Ken Smerz 9:37
Yeah, we hire only about 3% of the applicants, which is a really really low number considering you know, the need that we have for hiring talented people and quickly, the process is multi level, it focuses a lot on internally backup. A lot of what we do, there’s not a labor pool out there for if you wanted to hire an accountant, there’s a lot of accountants or an electric There’s a lot of electricians, there aren’t a lot of people like very, very small, very, almost non existent labor pool of people who are doing 3d modeling in the construction process. So we first of all want to identify, do you have the skill set a basic skill set to understand 3d modeling? Do you understand the world in 3d? Do you have some basic aptitude, but the more important thing I think, is, is hiring the right character. And that sometimes is difficult, but a lot of our interviewing processes, and Laura, our HR director, does a great job of this is based upon who is the person is this the type of person that has good character, and we formed the interviews that way that a lot of questions are asked about character and about, you know, your life experience. And, and we want to really bring people on. And that doesn’t mean that they’re all like, we have an incredibly diverse population of our employee group, all sizes, and shapes and backgrounds. And I think at the current time, I think we have people from nine different countries working here. So we’re also open to that to the really big thing, though, Alex is, is the retention part of that, right. So if you don’t fit kind of our culture, you’ll find yourself not being comfortable not wanting to stay because you don’t fit in like the others. Because we’re highly transparent in our communication, in our in our performance standards, and what we want internally, and at the end of the day, we still want to have fun. I mean, this is not science, we should enjoy what we do. We want to create an environment people come to work and um, you know, Sunday night, they’re not dreading having to go to work on Monday. They’re like, Hey, this is fun. I can’t wait to go see those people.
Alexander Ferguson 11:43
For having the right people on the right team. That’s, that’s essential. And you try to deciding to bootstrap or in some ways we’re getting a loan and be able to grow that way. means it’s a slower growth, maybe then if you just get a big VC funding or something. Did you ever get more funding? Or is it always been just continual bootstrap growth?
Ken Smerz 12:02
Yeah, finger group we’ve been not bootstrap the whole time, and which has been really good. And were really good financial position. But there were not, you know, there were definitely some days that we were struggling to make payroll, and I was just going to work Do I need to go to the bank? We considered the VC option, it wasn’t right for us, because I didn’t want to be leveraged in beholding in this something else I didn’t need to be so. But there were definitely some moments we had to ask a few people, hey, nobody, how can we skip a paycheck this week? You know, and they said, Yes. And we made it right. But there were nights I didn’t sleep. So good, for sure.
Alexander Ferguson 12:40
Fast forwarding so that I was saying six years ago or so that that really taking off 2015. Fast forward? Has the the market in the construction industry adapted to technology more like readily interested in it? Or is it still the same, they don’t care, they don’t want to just show me the problem that’s being solved.
Ken Smerz 13:05
So there has been a slow adoption, is it people are talking about it, what I think are bigger challenges is there’s not a clear definition of what VDC is a virtual design and construction. And so there are many different people with different definitions. It also is different if you’re an architect, and you just want to design building, if you’re a contractor, you want actually you want to be able to fabricate off of these 3d models, the architect doesn’t care about fabrication. So there’s also then aligning what we can offer and the technology we use to the right mission for that right product type, or that right end user. Another way I would answer your question, though, too, is the pandemic has actually helped the acceleration of the adoption of our technology, in that people were forced to go digital, if you weren’t before, you’re forced to see things differently in a workflow in a work process, especially within the construction process. It’s completely changed because of remote workers because of prefabrication off site, because just communication change. So there’s a it’s been easier post pandemic, I think, for people to want to, you know, in our space, want to want to try new things.
Alexander Ferguson 14:19
The adoption of technology because of COVID. There’s been huge push on many levels. What What have you found, though, that when it comes to helping with marketing and adoption of that, is that that relationship? Is it most you guys mostly do through sales? It’s just like a sales like person has to sit down and walk through the entire process? Or is it more like they are able to look at your marketing materials and make sense of it? I’m just going to kind of curious of your communication method.
Ken Smerz 14:51
Yeah, no great question. Because it’s another thing that we screwed up. We would our sales team or the back in the days when I was selling, we would make a mistake. Want to come in and and I call it figuratively vomit all of your shoes with a benefits, we can do this, we can do that look at us trust us use this in and it works sometimes. But what we had to do when we made the kind of the pivot towards is come in and ask questions, come in and position yourself as a consultant. And once we started doing that, then we were on the same side of the table as the client. Again, focusing on our value propositions. There’s about 18 of them that we have, we’ve identified them, but we focused on maybe one or two, but we would ask the client at the end user, what’s important to you, what do you want, I know that sounds really simplistic, but once we started doing that, and seeing ourselves as a consultant, oh my gosh, that things get better and revenue went up. And then the retention, once you use what we provide, and whether it’s from us, or if somebody we compete against, you’re gonna want to do it again, because you see the value, and then you really get to export and then you really see the value. And so it kind of goes and grows, it’s getting over the hurdle. That first time by again, having trusting you know, client relationships, and then making them making them see you as a consultant.
Alexander Ferguson 16:10
Let’s take a second just talk about the tech for a moment that there’s a lot of buzz around digital twins. And this definitely fits fits within there. So how would you define a digital twin.
Ken Smerz 16:24
So digital twin is typically a term used when talking about an existing condition, right? So let me back up anything that has been built since almost, you know, the beginning of time, is never really built to the actual design intent of the building, I’m talking the floors are not level or maybe there’s a wall, nobody knew there was a wall, or a pipe runs through something that wasn’t there. It’s egregious, in fact, and even the newest buildings that we know they’re not built exactly for the design plan. So when you go to that, and to make a renovation not understanding or column is or how flat that floor is, or whatever you want to understand that existing condition. So you want to then create a digital twin. So the way it works in the digital twin space is is we’re building a highly accurate digital computer model in 3d of your building of your airport, of your hospital of your hotel, your Stadium, whatever that might be. Having that information then allows for advanced planning, so that you can you can reduce costs by understanding the dimensions. Before this technology existed, you have people out there pulling tape measures, you’re taking a laser DISTO and doing that. So the digital twin helps accelerate the construction schedule because we know what it is. It’s highly accurate allows for again, I’ve mentioned prefabrication. It allows for coordination amongst the trades. So the digital twin has multiple meanings to different people, depending on where you’re where you are as a stakeholder. A digital twin is relates to new construction, it’s hard to have the twin if you don’t have the structure built correct. So the VDC application, creating a digital twin is more for to make sure we build it right the first time. So then you’re mitigating what I spoke spoke earlier about having it built incorrectly or inaccurately. So the digital twin can focus both on the new build side. And on the renovation side.
Alexander Ferguson 18:20
I was speaking in a previous interview with another tech leader around this construction and BIM models and having digital twins and one of the comments that came up in that conversation was around the different contracts and stuff may not want this to exist, because that shows potentially that they messed up.
Ken Smerz 18:41
Yeah. What do you think is that you’re right? That’s exactly right. And there has to be an appetite because especially if I’m being prepared are being paid on performance, and I’m a contractor, and they are as the building is built, you get paid along the way? Well, if it’s inaccurate or wrong, oh, that could slow me down. And and so what you’re talking about is exactly why so many owners are starting to incorporate our technology so that they can hold the trade contractors that they hire accountable. They want to hold the architect accountable. And then the really good owners I say good, more sophisticated ours will take that hold their trades hold their their team accountable that built their new thing or made the renovation then they turn it off into facilities management as well. So let’s say we build a hospital right that trade package is built by an architect, engineer and contractors. They use our technology the owners were but the owners verifying that they built the hospital correctly. Then the hospital can also use the digital twin to measure monitor their building for space planning for security threats, perhaps for just you know how many, how many bugs can we get and chairs in this auditorium. There is a lot of multiple uses downstream.
Alexander Ferguson 19:55
Is there a standardization in this technology across the industry of digital twins In both capturing it as well as reviewing it,
Ken Smerz 20:03
there’s a little bit there’s some initiatives underway, you know, AIA is leading the way. That’s the American Institute of Architects. The AIA is leading the way I would say AGC. You know, General Contractors Association Associated General Contractors, they’re leading the way. But there’s not truly a standardization. I do believe that’s because it is so new the technology, the adoption rate of this is less than 10% on a national basis. So you take all commercial construction, industrial construction, where I would argue vehemently that this technology should be used, it’s still the adoption rate is still significant, less than 10%. But people are talking about other thinking about it. And that’s also being driven candidly by the trade, labor shortage, right, so there is a massive trade labor shortage. I’m talking electricians, plumbers, mechanical, structural, you know, steel erectors, that’s not sexy anymore for the younger generations to want to get involved with. So the adoption of our technology helps you mitigate that problem of having a trade labor shortage, so that you can construct and build your building. I think I kind of screw up any other question. But
Alexander Ferguson 21:12
But yeah, but actually, let’s take a for a moment there because a couple pieces one is still very new. So it’s it’s the standardization isn’t quite there, you say some of the trade industries are working on it. But the last piece, you said there, why it is pushing more as you because there’s a labor shortage. And I remember, hearing this somewhere in multiple places, it’s just there’s less people that are wanting to go into these. So how then, is this technology helping that fact.
Ken Smerz 21:44
So this technology helps it by reducing the amount of people that are required to do the building, in the simplest of terms, this technology, what we do and having the digital twin, let me go back to my hospital example. That hospital would have contractor show up and they would be out there and they’d go in the building and pull the tape and pull measurements and cut the pipe to then install the pipe and, and work on that. We have a client that is in Salt Lake City, Utah, and we went and provided them a digital twin. The digital twin was for mechanical. So there was there was stainless steel pipe involved. That stainless steel pipe was made in a factory controlled setting in Kansas City, not in Salt Lake, it was made to exact dimensions down to millimeters, it then had a barcode put on it, they then tracked it when it was made manufactured in a in a good controlled environment, not on the job site, in the snow in Salt Lake. And then they put a barcode to it and they scan it, they knew when it left, they drove it across over Salt Lake, right, they drove West over Salt Lake, the guy in Salt Lake, then instead of taking time in the field, they have to manually cut that and figure out the space, whatever, he grabbed that scan that they knew was on site, he installed it and just clicked it in place done, the screwed the ends up. So the efficiency that we can bring, and we just took out on that whole process three or four jobs that would typically be on site, let’s mobilize let’s get on site have our chop shop on site for our warehouse here that we’re building in Salt Lake, you eliminated all that. And so you’re able to prefabricate is one example of how we’re helping to mitigate it. And you couldn’t do that without having
Unknown Speaker 23:22
a digital twin. Yeah, to be able to track it from from Yes, yeah, the entire entire process
Ken Smerz 23:28
was IKEA furniture thing if you could build a building the way IKEA furniture does, you know A to A and b2b. And that’s essentially where we’re trying to go. And the entire construction industry is the whole prefabrication it is next to impossible, I would argue probably is impossible to do any sort of prefabrication without the without the ability to have that digital twin.
Alexander Ferguson 23:49
Would you see that a a large growth in in new industries have the pre fab preparing, ending it?
Ken Smerz 23:59
Yeah, that the pre fabrication is going to be huge. As you know, you hear about how buildings are being printed in 3d. That’s not really what I’m talking about. But the fact that it’s super close, you’re going to have to find ways to find compensatory strategies to build an erector facility, whether new or renovation using technology. And there’s multiple ways of doing it. But But right now, I think right now the industry, the construction industry is in a bit of a it’s in a bit of turmoil, right? So they’re adopting technologies stuff that we offer, but there’s also massive supply chain issues, as we all know, you know, there’s shortage raw materials. So it’s a really unique time right now, I think, and I don’t see it getting any better. For several years at least.
Alexander Ferguson 24:46
Let’s just take a second have an pontificated. Imagine with me if you could guess on where technology innovation will take us five even 10 years from Now in the in the construction space, what do you what do you see happening what technology see coming forth.
Ken Smerz 25:05
Boy, you’re asking the guy that wrote a horrible business plan and barely pulled this thing out of the fire to start a company. Um, so that means my opinion means I don’t know how much traction is worth, you’re going to have the adoption of technology prefabrication is going to happen, but I believe that the owners are going to want to control their assets, they’re going to realize that that hospital or that stadium has a life. And that life will be not just in the build side of it. But as the lifecycle of the building goes, will be renovations of that building. But the owners are going to drive the integration implementation of technology. And they’re going to drive it the same way we have smart houses now you can control your, your temperature on your phone, and all that you’re going to see hospitals, hotels, airports, all become smart become intelligence, they’re going to have built in metadata, that allows them to take the operation of that facility of that asset back to a set of financials, you’re going to be able to understand the computational fluid dynamic flow that it takes to air condition this room or this hospital or this airport, and your take that back and how much we’re spending, how the sunlight hitting the building is warming, there’s a cooling, and you’re gonna make forecasts. So if I’m looking ahead five years, you’re gonna have significantly more owner involvement, that are putting the ownership putting pressure on all the trades and architects and engineers that created my building and or renovated my building to use this technology because they’re going to see their structures as assets. And it’s going to be a financial measurement.
Alexander Ferguson 26:32
owners will be the the pushers of the technology. Yeah, they’ll they’re the ones that will benefit the most.
Ken Smerz 26:38
And having said that, I could be completely wrong. But that’s where I think, you know, I’m doing that. I’m just one blond haired guy. You know,
Alexander Ferguson 26:46
I’m curious, just on a personal note, I mean, did you always like technology? Because it You said you you’re a general contractors, how do you go from that to Dell in the technology space and applying that,
Ken Smerz 26:59
you know, I’m blessed, I have an outstanding team. I like I said earlier, I’m not a tech guy at all. I’m a team builder. And my goal is to build a try to build business and build a team. And I get I think that makes us unique, because a lot of people we do compete against are more, you know, excited about the technology. And that’s not how we started this, that’s not our thing. So what I did to answer your questions not being a technology guy, which I’m not, at all i truth is I couldn’t do a 3d model, we sell 3d models, digital model, I don’t know how to do it, that, how bizarre is that. But what I didn’t understand is the value of it. And I had the ability to, to assemble a small group that then is turned into a much bigger group. And my job is the skipper of the ship from the business side of things. So I get a lot of credit, people often say to me, you must have an engineering background, or you must know, I started in the field, I was a contractor, you know, I’m an I’m a knucklehead, and I shouldn’t be here, but I am, but I can build a team. And that’s really an important thing, I would suggest anybody in the tech business, you might be in the tech business, but you need to have I said this earlier value propositions, but you need to come at it from a business perspective. If you don’t have it, then go find somebody to mentor you, that give you the business perspective. Otherwise, you’re my belief is you’re likely to fail. Because it just it doesn’t take off.
Alexander Ferguson 28:24
For you to recognize the opportunity. I think that’s that’s a big thing. Because you said you’re not a tech person. But you saw it. What What did you see I’m kind of going back into our history. But I’m just curious to hear like, what did you see that picture your brain into seeing?
Ken Smerz 28:40
What I saw was literally the fastest measuring technology known to human beings, is what I saw. And it legitimately is that and I used to do a lot of public speaking. And I would say that I’d open up about I’d say, I’m going to demonstrate to you, which was the wrong approach. By the way, I shouldn’t talk about technologists, these are the problems we can solve. And I should have had that. But I would get up there early on when we’re selling technology. And I was having to demonstrate to you the world’s fastest measuring device you’ve ever seen in people? Oh, sure, right. By the end of the demonstration, they’re like holy smokes, he just measured that entire back wall down to four millimeter accuracy in under 30 seconds. And it was a giant back wall in an auditorium or wherever I was speaking. So they got it. So what I did see Alex was applying this new technology, I understood the value of measurement in construction, it’s everything right construction is, is materials that labour is putting together. It’s that simple. If you can understand the measurements, the digital twin that we keep talking about the dimensions between things, all my gosh, that was that an amazing thing. So that got me really excited. And then I was able to recruit some people who who are technical who do have fun with this and we kind of came together and that’s where we are today.
Alexander Ferguson 29:58
I’m curious for Because it’s, if anything maybe heartwarming or nice to hear for those business leaders out there that aren’t tech people, but to know that they can still build a team to be able to grow company and and serve probably serve in need. What did you do? What did you look for? How did you build that initial team with the tech individuals? How did you find that you already have those relationships? Walk me through that?
Ken Smerz 30:25
Yeah. So it was a challenge. candidly, we, we, again, we try to hire people based upon the character. But how we identified it, once we kind of got over, you know, got over that 50 and say, 35 to 50, employee headcount range, what we did is we started talking about it differently, we started trying to do social media stuff, we would try to do the 10 conferences and presents, and we would get people excited about it. And that led to one thing, and then on, on and on. But honestly, the single biggest, the most direct and blunt answer I can give your question is, the people that we hire, tend to refer and tend to hang out with other people who have their same skill set. And our greatest way to find those people is from internal referrals, you know, this guy’s work out really good, and his cousin is there, or his church group or his little league Association. And it’s been we’ve grown the company a lot through referrals, I don’t know if there’s a magic out there, I again, I just really want to really hammer home, just because you have a great technology does not make you successful. And and you need to figure that part of it out. Too many people also in the tech industry, and technology and businesses in general, have this have this bad habit because they’re so romanced by the technology, but they work in the business, instead of working on the business. And you need to have both, and you need to recognize what you’re good at, because there’s some that are really good at working in it. And some that, you know, are good at working on and so know those lanes, and then you can help kind of grow your company.
Alexander Ferguson 32:01
I kind of close in on this question here. Can as the leader, building the team, what’s an effective use of your time in a week? Maybe you just take me through maybe a usual day or a week? Where are you spending your time and energy?
Ken Smerz 32:16
Yeah, so my is the CEO, my job is fist switch from, you know, in the early days, when I was the only sales guy, my job is switched, I’m looking now more at strategic relationships with other business partners, other business enterprises, more an enterprise level where we want to come in and partner longer term to other customers, maybe not customers, but maybe it’s an engineering company. And we get tied with an engineering company or a surveying company, where we can bolt on our services to help us both have wins and create growth. So I spend time doing that. Because we’re early stage, I’m also spending time as the as the head coach here, of looking at merger and acquisition. So there’s a lot of smaller companies that do we do all around the country. And one way that we can grow and help them and they can help us is by adding them and making them part of the family. So my week is spent doing those things, I then also have my direct reports. There’s about seven right now. It’s just checking on them and making sure I’m doing everything I can to provide them resources, whatever that might be. And that’s ever changing, whether it’s training, whether it’s a hard asset, whether it’s, you know, whatever that might be emotional support, leadership support, just another, you know, sounding board. So that’s sort of how I spend my time is, you know, is the head coach of the team? Err,
Alexander Ferguson 33:33
you gave mentioned to moving out of a sales role. How long were you then this the main salesperson? And like, when did you hire your first salesperson?
Ken Smerz 33:43
I don’t even remember, the first couple salespeople didn’t work out, because that’s probably on me for not having a good training plan. That’s probably I’m guilty, I’ll accept accept that responsibility, you know, the first few years. And so I also want to distinguish one thing, well, we have a sales team, we have five people on our sales team right now. My mission within the company and I talked about this a lot of our events. We’re all in sales. So the field technician that is out there, he’s in sales, he has face to face contact with the client, the data processing person in the backend is working with the client and delivering the model, that person he or she has relationship. In many times your best salespeople are not salespeople. Many times are your project manager, your assistant project manager, the people, you know who who just are in client contact, and we asked those people on our team to help step up and provide leads sometimes in the beginning they got a little bit hesitant on that because they you know, nobody wants to be the sales guy, or at least the technical people typically don’t want to be the sales guy. They all make fun of each other in a very nice way. But the truth is a project managers already working with you has a relationship and we like to do business. We as humans, I believe, like to do business with people we like. So that pm actually has a substantial opportunity. To develop further out that relationship, that architectural firm, so we’re all in sales as the sort of the short version of that.
Alexander Ferguson 35:09
All in sales. Can you’ve you shared with us a wealth of information both from from the journey that you’ve been on and some of the struggles that are the realities to the beginning of business, the technology of what how it works, and the future really of where this is going with digital twins and prefab, as well as just some lessons learned as a leader. Thank you so much, Ken, for for sharing.
Ken Smerz 35:32
This has been awesome, Alex. Thank you for having me on. I appreciate it very much. Thank you.
Alexander Ferguson 35:35
And we’ll see you all on the next episode of UpTech Report. Have you seen a company using AI machine learning or other technology to transform the way we live, work and do business go to UpTech report.com. And let us know