Lessons from 21 years in business

This week Zerowait is celebrating its 21st year in business and we have been looking at where we were and trying to figure out what we can do for our customers over the next 21 years.  A lot has changed in the international business environment over the last two decades, and Zerowait has changed along with it. We have operations world-wide now, and have developed our own storage product, SimplStor.  Some might say the key to our growth is the ubiquity of the Internet. That might be part of it. However, the real key to our success is our Zerowait team and our customers.

Throughout  Zerowait’s history we have kept our commitment to providing our customers the best service and support that we can. My feeling is that our customers should be respected and treated the same way that we want be treated by our vendors.  As an example, when a customer has a technical question they are able to call a senior engineer and get an answer without having to go through an IVR system. When a customer wants a quote, we try to get them one within 1 business day. It seems our customers like the individual service we provide them and they recommend us to their peers which has helped our business grow into the international business it is today. Lesson learned – Companies are made up of people, and personal relationships and memories last many decades.

The toughest part of growing a business is finding, hiring, and retaining great employees. As a privately owned, entrepreneurial business in an industry dominated by Venture Capital backed start ups it is difficult to compete with the packages that these companies offer. However, we have found that the great folks that join our company do so because they see the personal and career growth path we offer, and see that they have tremendous independence performing their jobs and helping our customers. Every Zerowait employee knows that their primary job is to keep our customers happy. Our employees can see what they have accomplished every week when we do our wrap up report, and it helps the team see how each person and department is critical to our customers’ success and ultimately our own success. Lesson learned – you need to build a great team to provide your customers the best service, and your team must understand that the success of the company depends on satisfying the customers.

Outsiders may think that the complexities of our technology business are some of the most complex things we deal with but the reality one of the most time consuming aspects of business today is dealing with the different and often contradictory rules and regulations by the different government agencies we deal with. There is not a week that goes by now that we are not working with our attorney to figure out what some agency rule that a Federal, state, county, or city government has done and what we have to do to comply with the new and inane rules. Currently we are working with our Attorney to figure out what to do since the State of Delaware has created a rule which conflicts with the New Castle County rules on essential personnel driving in a weather event (Thank you Hurricane Sandy). As we have grown into an international company we have had to retain Attorneys in other countries where we operate to make certain that our contracts are in compliance with their Governmental rules. Since we have no common knowledge of the laws or accounting rules of other countries this had led to some very funny conversations & misunderstandings. The frustration of dealing with all of the governmental regulations is getting worse and the costs of compliance in time and effort are a very big impediment to business today.  Lesson learned – The costs of regulatory compliance are similar to storage requirements over time – they both grow more than you expect. My suggestion:  Relocate to a place that has less onerous rules and regulations, as it is better for everyone—you, your employees and your customers.

We have been working with some of our customers for over two decades. I was in California a couple of weeks ago and one of the engineers we have worked with for a very long time told us that whenever he changes companies he tells them that Zerowait always provides outstanding, service and support and the best solutions available.  This is best advertizing we could wish for!  In our opinion, success in life and business depends on personal integrity. Sometimes it is hard to do the right thing, but in the long run it is always worth it.  Over the last 20 years we have dealt with several vendors and companies that have had difficulty living up to their end of a contract, and we have learned that it is better to work with folks that you can trust for the long term than to chase the new hyped solution that has no history of integrity or the staff with integrity to support it. Lesson learned – repeatedly over time – If the employees of a new hyped company will do wrong to a customer to keep their jobs, find another vendor.

Corporate success of 21 years owes a lot to the fact that we listen to our customers. Our customers told us that they wanted us to help them with an independent service and support solution for their NetApp equipment. We listened and did what we were asked and that business grew into an international business. In 2008 our customers asked us to work with them to create an affordable, reliable, big storage alternative and that led to the creation of our SimplStor product line. SimplStor is an international success story and it continues to grow as corporate IT budgets tighten. Lesson Learned – Our customers know what they want; our job is to help them.

Forecasting the future is always difficult, and in today’s globally integrated economy it is getting harder. We are optimistic about the next 21 years and what Zerowait can help our customers accomplish. For example, as the proportion of corporate budgets increases to pay for onerous governmental compliance costs our customers are asking for Zerowait’s help to control their acquisition and management costs of their expanding storage infrastructure in their shrinking IT budgets.  Lesson learned – Profitable companies create jobs by being efficient. If our company can help a customer’s company become more efficient, then both companies have growth potential.

Zerowait has grown from a small town business in a small state into an international company by staying true to our small town values. As the internet has grown it has created an international small town atmosphere in our storage niche. When we get together, the air is filled with folks gossiping and telling the same familiar and funny stories from years ago. Everyone knows who the go-to guy is for this or that, and with Linkedin you can see how closely related we all are in this business niche. After 21 years everyone in storage knows our name and reputation, and that speaks to the quality of our staff, customers, and friends.

Thank you all for 21 great years.

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