Joe is a Wisconsin native with a long history in the Milwaukee SMB community who owns a local tech company for 20 years. After divesting that he invested in a couple of startups. One of them is security-related and the cool one is Lite Zilla, a Milwaukee manufacturer of jumbo lite brites, yes, just like the ones you played as a kid. His day job is Mother G, a compass MSP that goes beyond offering managed services. They're 100% dedicated to providing lightswitch dependable technology to Wisconsin SMBs.
What would be your number one technology tip for small businesses?
My number one tip would be to check your security settings. If you don't know what that means, find a partner or a vendor who can help you check your security settings. A lot of small businesses, when I say confused, they feel like they're small so nobody wants to hack them. The reality is, it's all automated, it's all a business. In 2020, for the first time, the amount of money flowing through cybersecurity hacks exceeded the amount of money in the illicit drug trade in the world. They're not picking on you, because they want your secret widget designs, they're picking on you because you have an IP address, it's that simple. Look at your security, look at your vendor security. There been a couple of vendors in town, who you know, have been exposed, who've been hacked and once they get through there, they've got your keys to your kingdom. So be really, really careful, only the Paranoid survive.
Can you speak a bit about how COVID impacts SMB technology?
One of the big ones is the whole work from home thing and the whole remote connectivity, but that certainly ties back to the security factor. Those are all entry points into your company network. There's a lot of great tools out there. We use a lot of Microsoft Teams, and I've been using it for a couple of years since I joined Mother G. Probably the biggest impact of COVID is that a lot of those remote communications, remote collaboration, productivity tools have pushed down into the Small Business space because people couldn't come to the office. By the same token, on that security side, the bad guys are certainly taken advantage of people's uncertainty, people's conductivity, and frankly, people's people's goodwill, in terms of sending phishing emails to make a donation or support people who are out of work, that kind of thing and it's the bad guys trying to get your credentials and empty your bank account. So the security risks have gone up in the last nine months since everything shut down last March. So those are the two biggest impacts is the connectivity stuff and the security risks.
What are your thoughts on the future of SMB technology?
Not to beat a dead horse, but security is only going to get bigger. The other big thing that we're seeing with a lot of customers is looking at the productivity factors. One of the hidden benefits, if you will, of the whole experience of the last nine or ten months in terms of SMB technology is people starting to think differently. A year ago, there were a lot of small business owners who would think that everybody's got to be in the office and they can't be productive if everybody's not in the office and that's not the case. Now, at the same time, there are better and less good ways to do it. I think one of the biggest things looking forward to the future is how do we, as business leaders, and as business owners, you know, you own your business. You've got a staff of X number of people, you want to keep them both happy and productive, you probably have an entirely new appreciation today than you did a year ago, in terms of the struggle that some of your employees have. What does that mean to them on a day in, day out, based on how can the technology help to bridge those gaps, keep them productive, while helping them to balance the very real, very distinct responsibilities between the work in their family, between their job and their kids kind of thing. So I think the biggest way for small companies is looking for ways to leverage those tools to maintain that productivity to maintain that balance. So whether that's Teams, Zoom, or SharePoint, cloud-based MRP, and CRM systems where you don't have to be necessarily tethered to a local area, wired network in an office, you can access things remotely.
Can you share with our listeners one of your favorite networking experiences that you've had?
So here's my all-time favorite story. There's a guy, his name is John Mariano and he's an exceptional business banker here in town. So my friend and I were in a group together for a long time and he had his 25th-anniversary party. I'm standing at one of these high top tables and this guy walks up, you know, mutual friends, and there's probably three or four of them standing there. On the table in front of me is a glass of wine, and I'd never met this guy so he walks up to the table, he sets his drink down and he extends his hand to shake mine and then in doing so, blows a glass of wine all over the front of me. The look on his face is mortified, beyond mortified. I just started laughing which sort of breaks the tension. We got to be really good friends, that was several years ago. That's my best intro and we still laugh about it every time I see him now. You know it happens, we're all human. Right?
How do you stay best in front of or nurture these relationships that you've created?
I think the most important factor there is just to be intentional about it. I have been doing this a long time and you do learn things over the years. Sometimes it's digital stuff, sometimes it's in-person stuff. Having heard some of your conversations with other folks, certainly, it's been more digital stuff in the last 9-10 months, and a lot of people are missing that personal connection. But the way to stay in front, and the way to nurture and stay connected, is just to be intentional about it. Make sure that you do it doesn't have to be a big production. If you're on LinkedIn, and somebody posts something it strikes you as cool, share it, if it strikes me as important, chances are a good enough segment of the people that I'm connected to are going to agree, and they're gonna have a look. Whether it's a personal story, or whether it's somebody's success or their new job, or whether it's a cause worth supporting, or a business pivoting to a new market, share it and share directly with that person. We all appreciate the acknowledgment and affirmation, but I think the biggest key is to be intentional about it and make it part of your normal routine.
What advice would you offer those that are looking to grow their network?
My biggest bit of perspective beyond to be intentional about it is seek first to help, seek first to give, to be useful. Don't go into it with the perspective of asking for something or looking for something, but being real is incredibly important. Lead with being real in terms of how you can help. A long time ago when I was just getting started in sales there was an in-person networking group I was in. Remember those days when there were actually in-person networking groups and groups of people would gather for breakfast and coffee and they would stand up and do their networking spiel in person? Those were the days. But the whole model of the group was givers gain if you give you will gain and I think that's really important. I think that's arguably the single most important thing. I'm a firm believer in it goes around and comes around and do the right thing and that would absolutely be my first advice to somebody looking to grow their network.
Back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?
The one thing that I would tell myself is, when I was in my early 20s, my first job out of college, I had a dear friend, and I'm old enough that back in those days, we didn't have email to send memes round. So she actually faxed me. between our offices, we work for the same consulting company, a poem or whatever you call it, it's called The Station by Robert Hastings. It's basically about life being a journey and the joy is in the trip kind of thing, right? So it struck a chord and if I could tell myself one thing it would be to internalize that even better than I did. It's just a really good reminder and it's that lesson of doing the right thing, enjoy the trip and live every day. But by the same token, don't get too caught up in the minutia. That certainly goes for the business world where you're gonna have victories, you're gonna have defeats, you're gonna have successes, you're gonna have challenges and, you'll learn something from the things that go wrong which you'll apply to make more things go right. Focus on the fact that it's the journey, not the destination that we're looking for.
What would be your final words of advice to our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
Keep it real. The easiest way to turn somebody off is to pretend to be something that you're not because the truth always comes out. So keep it real, be who we are, if it's not a fit move on, and if it's not a relationship worth continuing then move on, another bus comes along every time every 20 minutes. There was always another chip in the bag, reach in the bag and grab one. So be who you are, be real, try to help, what goes around comes around, and be intentional about it. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago and the second-best time is today so get after it, and be yourself and go have fun with it.
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