How My Career in Technology Influenced My Fly Fishing Business
I spent nine years working for a Customer Relationship Management software provider called Onyx Software. Our CRM systems were (at the time) largely implemented and run on-site at our customers’ locations. I ran the Professional Services team for the Americas—we were responsible for aligning business strategy with our software implementations, conducting business modeling, installing and customizing our software, performing training, and supporting our product.
Today I run Deneki Outdoors, a company that owns and operates fly fishing lodges in Alaska, British Columbia, the Bahamas, and Chile. We’ve got six year-round employees spread across those locations, and 40 folks who work for us seasonally.
What in the world could you learn at an enterprise software company that also applies to a fly fishing lodge business? Here are three big lessons.
—As a small business in 2009, you probably don’t need to own a single server.
Just a few years ago, running sophisticated business systems like CRM, financials, document management, and heck, even e-mail and calendaring, meant buying enterprise software packages, installing them on servers that you own and maintain, and paying a person or a team of people to keep things running smoothly. In 2009, the vast majority of small business functions can be supported by hosted applications that are simple, cheap, and close to zero maintenance.
Our business runs on Google Apps, Salesforce.com, and hosted Quickbooks. Other modern productivity tools like Skype help too, but our ability to run our core business functions on hosted platforms leads to a huge savings for us in terms of time and money. We don’t own a single server. We’ve never had to perform an upgrade. Customization is a piece of cake. Our “core systems” have been down for all of about three hours in the past five years combined.
If you run a small business, let the SaaS [software as a service] folks do the dirty work for you! Kill your servers, get those applications off of your internal network, and focus on running your business instead of running your software systems.
—Managing a far-flung team takes work.
As was the case at Onyx, my team is spread across cities, time zones, and even countries. When you don’t see your team in the office every day, you realize that managing a far-flung team takes some additional work.
Communication needs to be made a top priority. Regularly scheduled team calls (we do one weekly) can seem like a chore, but making consistent live communication a priority works wonders for keeping folks up to speed and providing a more casual format for questions and issues. Regular one-on-one talks with key team members (I keep track of when I’ve talked with each member of my team) remind your team of your interest and again provide a forum for issues that they may think “don’t warrant a phone call.”
That being said, there’s nothing like actual in-person face time. Getting your team together regularly pays huge dividends. At the very least, spending time in person with key employees is an absolute must-do. No amount of e-mails and phone calls can replace a handshake, a look in the eye, and a simple “thanks for all your hard work.”
—In software and in fishing, there’s no substitute for an A+ team.
I was incredibly lucky at Onyx to work with an incredibly talented, driven, fun group of people. Having consulted to a bunch of other businesses during my time at Onyx, and having looked at a lot of businesses in the fly fishing industry, it’s clear to me now more than ever that in a service-oriented industry, your people are your product.
When guests return home after a trip at one of our lodges and I contact them for feedback, nine out of 10 comments can be traced directly back to my team—guides that made a slow day enjoyable, hosts who dealt with off-hand requests, kitchen staff who delivered coffee in the morning, and mechanics who made sure that motors ran smoothly.
When looking in on a small world like the fly fishing industry, it might be tempting to draw the conclusion that delivery of product can become “mechanical”—that you don’t need to worry so much about a quality team. If your product involves any degree of personal contact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Your people are your product!