Inspirational Women Leaders Of Tech: Jeri Morgan of Code Blue Computing, On The Five Things You Need To Know In Order To Create A Very Successful Tech Company
Do not change course for one client. Technology is all about the ability to scale. Once you start tweaking changing one thing here, there is always another thing for a client to water down your solution. Stay steadfast in your vision; it can be easy to become distracted by a large client.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeri Morgan, a common-sense leader with a multi-faceted background in Manufacturing, Operations, and Logistics, is the CEO of Code Blue Computing, a Security First I.T. Support organization headquartered in Denver, Colorado. Jeri has a knack for meeting business owners exactly where they are to help them build the best business practices related to operations, security, and utilizing technology to improve their bottom line. She is co-author of the books Hack Proof Your Business and Adapt and Overcome.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I worked for five different versions of the same company for over 23 years. I felt stuck as I had gone as far as I was going to be able to go in that organization. I knew in my heart that I was capable of so much more that I would never be given the opportunity to do there. My husband had a similar journey at the company he was at, and one night over dinner, we talked about it and came up with the idea that would three months later become our first baby, our company, Code Blue Computing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
That is tough! I do not think that I can single out a sole story as the most interesting. I believe that is because when we approach our clients, we concentrate on learning the business’s story — not just educating ourselves about the company but the people that make up the business. Entrepreneurs, in general, are the most exciting people you will ever meet. From attorneys to manufacturers, doctors to pharmaceutical research companies, each has a unique path that took them to exactly where they are today.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I always tell people that when we first started our company that we went to the Field of Dreams school of marketing. Our company was slated to open on January 1, 2010. We were building our website, and we thought it was terrific. It was done, but we kept holding it back, not releasing it.
Why? Well, because we were not ready for the onslaught of phone calls that would come as soon as we pushed the website out. Of course, once we did push it out, we were saying, “Is this thing on?” The phone most certainly was not ringing. If you build it, they will come. Not so much in the world of brand-new businesses and websites.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I will not lie. Our first few years in business were rough. Really rough. My husband and I had lucrative corporate jobs, so we had started our business part-time while working full time. In year two of our business, we became parents to our twins Zoe and Zachary. The entrepreneur’s path is hard enough, add to it working full time and add to that two tiny humans depending on us. Rough. In general, the path of a business owner is such a roller coaster. I cannot tell you how many times that I thought we had gone under, dipped to the point of no return. Every single time I felt that, somehow, we would emerge from the other side. As hard as it ever got, this business is my dream at the end of the day. It is an extension of my family, and giving up, walking away just never was an option. It never will be.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mother, who died in 2018, was the single most amazing person I ever knew. She was wicked smart, hilarious, and wise. Growing up and even up until the last few years of her life, she always made me feel like I could accomplish anything in life that I wanted to. I am Type A, truthfully type A+. I remember having a long conversation with her when I had once again said Yes, to another project that I probably should have said NO to. I remember she looked at me and said, “Jeri, you can accomplish anything; you can be anything. You can. The thing that you will need to remember is that you cannot be all the things, to all the people, all at the same time.” I was irritated at the time, but she was right. She was.
We try to be all things to everyone, and it just does not work well. I try now not to be perfectly balanced but to create blocks of balance. Sometimes the scale tips towards the business, and sometimes it tips towards the family. In the long run, it evens out.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is by Helen Keller. “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” This rings true to that way I try to live my life and lead my business. I feel strongly that nothing of value can be pulled from negativity. Every experience, even the worst ones, will have something valuable, something positive that we can learn from it.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
60% of small businesses that experience a Cyber Attack will go out of business within six months of that attack. Most businesses are literally doing nothing. Hope is not a business strategy. This is what most businesses are doing, though. Literally burying their head in the sand and just hoping it will not happen to them. We save small businesses. We go in, and we look at exactly how the business is run from top to bottom. We identify RISK for the company and create a plan to help them mitigate that risk.
Security boils down to creating layers around your business that make it more challenging to access client information, employee information, and bank accounts.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I have had customers tell me time and again that we are different from other tech companies that they have worked with. Tech firms, in general, are all about bits and bytes, right? As a woman-owned, family-run tech firm, we lead from the heart. In tech firms, that is different. We bring our clients into our family. We are invested in the success of the businesses that we work with. We are not outsourced support; we are an extension of the team — part of the family. Clients have told me many times that they literally never saw their previous tech partner again after the agreement was signed. That will not fly with us. We are team members that are in contact regularly both on the phone and in person. You cannot be part of the team if the team does not even know who you are.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I have co-authored two books in the last few years. The most exciting project that I am working on right now is that I have been working on my first book as the sole author. It tells my story as a woman-owned tech firm and the struggles that come right along with that. This has been a pet project of mine for many years, but it looks like I will finish it in the next few months, and it should be published in 2021. Stay tuned!
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
By no stretch of the imagination am I happy with the status quo regarding women in tech. I will tell you from the conversations that I see on the tech boards online; we have a long way to go. Two things need to occur. We must foster girl’s interest in math and technology at a young age. My daughter is nine and let me tell you that girl has an engineer’s brain! My job as a Mom is to help her hang on to that as she goes through her education. The other thing that we need to do as business owners in tech is to clarify through our words and our actions that diversity and inclusion will be happening in this space.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
In larger tech organizations, there is a massive disparity in how women are treated. At one time or another, most tech women have felt excluded from social and network opportunities simply because of their gender.
On top of that, they have felt they do not receive the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Finally, and this is a big one, a considerable majority have seen or experienced sexist behavior during industry conferences. As a community, we must do better. Including more women in planning these events and valuing their feedback will allow women to be heard and represented in our industry.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
That is a great question. All businesses experience hills and valleys. When we have experienced this in our business, it has been because we had become too complacent. We took a step back and looked at what was and was not working in our company.
What customers were profitable what customers were not. We looked at where we had toxic staff members that were affecting the business. We looked at where we had failed in not being 100% clear in what our mission was as an organization and making sure that everyone was on the same page with us. Once we had all those pieces in order, we set specific intentions with measurable goals in 90 days chunks to get our business back on track.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
The key to creating a high performing sales team starts with making sure that you are hiring first to your company culture. Many of us do not take the time that we should when it comes to adding to our team. Take the time to make sure the applicant is the right fit for your organization’s role and the right fit. Make sure that you have a clearly defined sales process. By their nature, those drawn to sales can tend to be a bit of a shoot from the hip. You must have controls in place to help them follow the process. Make sure that you have a sales process. You can easily manage that through your CRM if you are using one. If you create the goals with your team, you must be able to buy in from them and use them as their key metrics to judge performance. When they understand the accountability, the team will be more likely to strive to meet those goals. Finally, make sure you have built out your training and onboarding process. More than any other area in an organization, people tend to want to hire and throw them out to the wild in sales teams. Stop.
If you want a high-performance team with longevity, invest in them. Make sure they understand the company, the product, or service, and the sales process. If you do this, it will pay dividends in the long run.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
The most effective way we have attracted the right clients over the last 24 months has been through LIVE video. I go live five days a week (that is the goal anyway) with my Talk Nerdy to Me video series. I usually will talk anywhere from 3–5 minutes on a Cyber Security related topic. It is not an opportunity for me to sell; it is an opportunity to educate my ideal client. The best leads that come into my company are from folks that are watching the videos.
I had a new client send me a message through Facebook. This individual had been watching the videos for about six months. They had never engaged, we did not know each other, and we were not aware this person was even watching. They booked a full Cyber Security assessment. We did not even have to go out once. This person had gone through the entire process and decided ever before contacting us. That is the power of video.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
I.T. companies are notorious for having less than stellar service and being less than skilled at communicating with their clients. Customer service, this is our superpower! We have a clearly defined customer experience roadmap that every member of our team is well versed in. We strive to create an emotional connection with our clients from the beginning. We take the time to connect with them, get to know them, their staff, and their businesses. We schedule onsite visits with our monthly support clients every single month. You know why? To connect with them, make sure they are not having any difficulties they have not opened a ticket for and to provide them with fantastic support. Many of our competitors never take the time to build a relationship with their clients. We believe in support made personal.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Customer churn is a real problem in our industry, and it is something that we focus on in our management strategy sessions and our weekly staff meeting. Communication and relationships are the two things that will help you cut down on churn. Utilize some of your automation tools to keep in regular contact with your clients. Schedule face to face time with your clients at least once a quarter. Find out what is happening in their business, any significant changes that are coming, growth plans, and be a resource, a real partner in their business.
I think the best tech companies do well at combining many different business philosophies or styles into their operation.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Solve a problem. I have seen a lot of tech companies come and go. The ones that have longevity have found a problem that many people struggle with and have built a tangible solution through technology. Figure out what you are going to help people with and put all your focus into filling that need.
- Do not change course for one client. Technology is all about the ability to scale. Once you start tweaking changing one thing here, there is always another thing for a client to water down your solution. Stay steadfast in your vision; it can be easy to become distracted by a large client.
- Hire the right people. Our employees are our most vital asset, but they can be our biggest weakness as well. Take the time to get the right people in the right seats. If you take the time to hire well, you will be able to control your labor costs. People who share your vision, who are excited about the same end goal, will be the people who are driven to provide a great customer experience.
- Figure out marketing. Most people who start a tech company are not marketing experts. Some are, but most are not. In the beginning, you are going to be the Chief Marketing Officer. Immerse yourself in the world of digital marketing. There are many ways to get the word out about your tech company, such as social media, SEO, email, and content marketing. There are organic and pay per click options, and it will be imperative to get this piece operational as quickly as you can.
- Be a leader. While it is essential to know who your competitors are, please do not spend too much time focusing on them. When you focus on what others are doing, the ability for you to innovate, do something different, and be special may go away.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
It would have to be a movement of giving others a little grace. My son is on the autism spectrum, and so often through his life, we have heard or felt people judging things about him that they know nothing about.
We come across many people in life that we do not know their story; we don’t. They may have just lost a loved one, have a disability, or just had an all-around rotten day. In 2020, so many people around us are struggling. We are facing problems that just a year ago, we could not have even imagined. Suppose we would show each other grace, a moment of kindness, and offer to help even. That would impact a lot of lives in a significant way.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
I have so many people that I would like to meet. For me, the top would be Gary Vaynerchuk. I started my company when I was 40. In those first years, we worked full-time jobs, which meant coming home and then working our business from 5 pm until 2 am. There were some great Ask Gary Vee shows that I watched at the time that resonated with what we were doing, with our story. It helped me to keep pushing, focusing on the vision. I still am a big fan and will slow my scroll when he shows up in my feed.