Having started his first business in fourth-grade programming bulletin board systems, working for Apple Computers as a college freshman, and then founding a computer networking services company employing college classmates while in college, Dave Stamm has been has always been passionate about implementing technology and serving people. Dave is currently the CEO of two technology companies, Stamm Technologies and Stamm Media, and a partner at No Small Magic.
Can you just tell us a little bit about these three different companies that you have?
So the first company that I started in college was Stamm Technologies and we provide outsourced IT services to small and medium-sized companies in Metro Milwaukee and Chicagoland areas. Then we later started Stamm Media as an offshoot. It was a client that we had been working with for years in the IT company and that is Stamm Media and we provide technology services and equipment, to large trade shows and corporate events throughout the country. So we rent audiovisual and IT equipment to mostly fortune 500 companies and then we provide the labor and services to set that stuff up at their various events. So that's the event company and then the third company, No Small Magic we started about five years ago and that is an interactive studio, providing primarily custom boutique software written for these corporate event clients that we've got throughout the country. During the pandemic, we wrote a virtual networking platform called Showboat, which has been our big focus over the last year.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background as it relates to networking and technology?
You bet. So both are passions for me. I started out, I was the geek in grade school before you know being a geek in programming was cool, right? This was in the 80s, I started out programming in grade school and was kind of self-taught, but was smart enough. My dad was a salesman, so I was smart enough to realize that at that time, again, being a geek wasn't cool so you had to kind of keep a lid on it. While it was fun to do, you also had to be social and network which is really kind of the function of early selling. So my first job was when I was 14, I started as a Subway sandwich artist at New Berlin subway and actually, it ended up being that the couple that owned that Subway owned another business, which was an audiovisual event company that served big companies nationwide. So I started working with them when I was young and they taught me the ropes and as I grew, having that networking background and being able to be connected to them and their network, and just working hard and networking with people from when I was young really paid off for me. It's one of the big reasons that we are where we are right now with the three companies.
How is technology enabling networking today and what could be better?
I think over the last year as the pandemic happened, we've all gravitated towards it. All the platforms existed prior to the pandemic, we had zoom, and we had teams, and sure they've added some features, but for the most part, those platforms existed prior to the pandemic. Now we're all using them in our daily lives, whether it's for work, and you're on multiple zoom meetings in a day, or it's kids doing virtual school, or get-togethers or virtual birthday parties, or what have you. We're all living in these new technologies and they're second nature and because of the event business we had, we serve a lot of clients nationwide, we were using these tools prior, but for the most part, we were only ever using audio. Everybody would get into a zoom meeting and shut off their video. Now what's been fun is just the way people are using it and it's the authenticity of being able to use these tools. If your kids are running past or your dogs or your cats are in the shot, nobody cares and everyone is authentic. They're themselves in doing whatever they need to do using these tools and so we realized with No Small Magic, one of the things we realized when the pandemic happened is that we couldn't find a platform aside from zoom or teams that really handled networking well. Sure, you can jump into a virtual happy hour and zoom or teams, but it's all in 2D and you all see yourself in like Brady Bunch view and it felt like there wasn't really a great way to have good networking events. That's why we ended up creating Showboat, which is a 3D environment where you can walk around but you still have the audio and video that you're used to in zoom or teams.
How can businesses better leverage what we see as meeting and networking technologies to better serve existing and reach new customers?
What we're seeing right now is as the world reopens, everybody's trying to figure out are they coming back to the office or are they staying remote? Are they going to be permanently hybrid, and if so how does that work? There are pros and cons to any of those three scenarios so it's kind of figuring out what your own company strategy is. If you go purely hybrid, then people come into the office on Sundays, and then they expect that they're going to come in and see their co-workers and maybe have a pick up meeting in the hallway and then they realize the people they want to see aren't there because they're at home. So it's kind of navigating this new world and so we're seeing technologies being able to improve that and blending the face-to-face in with the virtual, and how can people have that office co-presence between virtual and face-to-face using the technologies that are out there.
Can you share one of your most successful or favorite networking stories?
Networking, for me, has been huge. The quick, broad-brush for me is a lot of the contacts that I made when I was really young, 14 to 18 are a lot of the reason that I'm here where I am today. I had no idea at that time that that would matter. Right. Growing up, you just were taught to treat people well and not realizing that it could come back a decade-plus later and benefit you. You're not doing it for that reason, it's just being kind and genuine and taking care of people and doing what you can to help them as people reciprocate that. A lot of those lessons I learned when I was younger came through and then even when I was starting the IT company, a lot of clients were built upon networking. I joined the MMAC in Milwaukee which is the business Chamber of Commerce and got in there and kept going to meetings and meeting people. At first, it was different, it was kind of like stepping out of your comfort zone and going to networking events that they had and meeting people and starting to work with them and landing a client or two and then leveraging the client network to get other clients. I honestly think that the majority of the reason we have the clients we do and have the three businesses is all related to big networking and small networking. What I mean by that is, a company when I met somebody that was running a business when I was 19 and then approached me in my 30s and asked me if I would acquire them, and we did and helped kind of grow the business. On to the small, when I say small networking, it's the little interactions that you have in collisions that you have at some of these local networking events that you never realize will become a client and potentially your best client that you've ever had over time. It's so interesting to me, if I look back at my 25 years in business, and so much of what I have is from that networking piece. So I mean, of the three companies, I probably wouldn't have two of them if it wasn't for big networking that I was doing when I was young and having no idea that that would pay off later and we wouldn't have the number of the clients we have if it wasn't for going to and still going to the networking events locally and supporting the local networks and being a part of those teams.
How do you stay in front of them best nurture your network?
I think for me as an owner of 3 companies, it's evolved over time. But realizing that honestly, where it started still makes sense. So for me, some of my specifics were, back to the MMAC, which has been phenomenal for us as an organization. My whole thing with networking is, is you get what you give and you don't want to count ships. So, for instance, when I got in there, originally, I had five clients to my name. When I started out, it was getting into just going into the business after hours, getting into a networking group, and I got into a CEO Roundtable, and I got into all three things, and those three things I just kept going right even a year in. It's not that the results come quickly, it's a year or two in and people get to know you and trust you, and someone works with you and then they spread that you're doing great so it kind of helps your network grow. That was like in the beginning and so then as organizations grow, and some other people on the team pick up some of those pieces of the network and fill those in which we're still involved in those same things that we were involved in 20 years ago, then you find other networks, and it's not always that you're intentionally networking. I might join a tech or a Vistage business group, or other CEO coaching or peer group and inside those peer groups, you start networking. Again, you almost see networking as second nature, you're in a business owner’s peer group to learn from each other. So you're sharing financials, and you're talking about your highs and your lows and challenges you're having, and in the process of doing that, you get to know each other so well, that you're just inherently networking with each other. So you may refer business to each other, you may become a client-vendor relationship, or may even be an acquisition merger type of relationship. Those have all worked for me over time. Our business operates through the traction process, and one of my traction to-dos right now is to rethink my personal networking, because we realized that a lot of what drives us to work with is not just getting clients, but also getting good employees and getting great vendor partners. So I mean, I'm in the process right now of reworking that for myself and figuring out where it makes sense to spend my time.
I would tell myself to move faster, be less concerned and less worried, and just take bigger leaps in general. I started the IT business in college and so aside from a job at Subway and a great job that I loved in college, I never actually had a real business job. The IT company was my first real job and so I never really worked at another company to learn from. So in the beginning, I moved a lot slower just because I was nervous that I was going to screw it up and have to start over. Looking back now I wish I would have just moved a whole lot faster. So that and I also get too deep in the weeds. I'm a tech by nature and I love networking with people. So I love people, and I love technology and I'm often getting too deep end account management on some projects, and I'm getting too deep into the engineering of certain things. I love both of those things, but sometimes when I get too far down the path, I realize that I shouldn't have gotten down there and my team, thankfully, is smarter than me and I should have let them handle it. So there's a bunch of stepping aside and moving quicker.
A person that I really love in business is Richard Branson. I just see all the different companies he's grown to large sizes. He's got a collection of companies, most of them are well known by us and a lot of them even operate outside of this country. I follow him a lot on social media he's also using a lot of the wealth that he's gained from running these companies, which he has tons of fun with. The marketing is totally funny, a lot of guerilla marketing that he's doing, whether it's airlines, or liquor, or music, or what have you and he uses a lot of the wealth for good. Whether it's environmental good or social good, he's just a great person and I would love to somehow network with him and learn more from him than just standing from afar.
Any final words of advice you'd like to offer our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
I think just to reiterate that it's all about giving as much as you can. If you're going to get involved in a networking group, or like a chamber of commerce organization or anything like that, for networking, I think the big piece is not to worry about receiving right away. That will come later, it might even come much later, but it could come big so just focus on giving and being involved. You'll look back over time and realize that it paid off, and I don't think that's ever failed me.
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