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We are pleased to kick off this important initiative to help support and encourage more diversity in Charleston's tech community.
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HelpSystems announced today the acquisition of PhishLabs, a leading cyber threat intelligence company that protects organizations from attacks on their brands, employees, and digital assets. PhishLabs sources intelligence across the internet to find and mitigate digital risks. The team and solutions from PhishLabs will join HelpSystems' growing cybersecurity portfolio and pair well with HelpSystems' email security, vulnerability management, and data protection solutions.
"Digital transformation has made it critical for security teams to have visibility across the digital landscape and to quickly respond to both internal and external threats," said Kate Bolseth, CEO, HelpSystems. "PhishLabs' ongoing intelligence collection, curation, and threat mitigation safeguards organizations' critical digital assets and provides peace of mind for customers across the globe. We are thrilled to be welcoming the PhishLabs team and their expertise into the HelpSystems family."
Most security teams are stretched thin, and the volume of activity and data across digital channels makes it difficult to discern what needs immediate action. PhishLabs minimizes the noise and takes action to stop threats, providing more complete risk mitigation while reducing security team workload.
"We've improved our platform over a decade in collaboration with many of the world's most targeted brands, and we are excited to continue our growth as part of the HelpSystems family," said Tony Prince, CEO, PhishLabs. "Our combined resources and expertise put us in a strong position to partner more strategically with our clients and help their security teams thrive as the threat landscape evolves."
When Phillip D'Orazio started Palmetto Digital Marketing Group in the spare bedroom of his condo, he hardly imagined his idea reaching the heights it has, and in just five years. With a background in generalized ecommerce, D'Orazio saw that carrying his skillset away from the corporate world would require more than a little overhaul. He did not, however, anticipate the jarring shift he would have to make to acclimate himself to all the nuances of Amazon selling, as a globally centralized entity for ecommerce.
D'Orazio did not allow these hurdles to hinder his drive and his continued persistence has resulted in PDMG's unquestionable success. What began with an idea has manifested into a sustained 50 clients with their agency who receive full support through selling account setup and support, advertising, inventory oversight and SEO polishing for products. Through telling his story, D'Orazio expresses the dire need for flexibility, endurance and sufficient enthusiasm when nurturing one's business.
This series is brought to you by Charleston County Economic Development.
Would you like to tell me a little bit about your background? Where you grew up, went to college, what you studied, any memorable first jobs?
I grew up in upstate New York, came down to North Carolina to attend the University of North Carolina in Asheville. After that, I briefly moved to Utah before relocating to Boston where I spent much of my professional career. There, I spent most of my time in ecommerce, which is how I got the idea to formulate my agency.
How did you end up in Charleston?
A lot of things brought me to Charleston: we used to vacation in Pawleys Island, so I was familiar with the Lowcountry and wanted to try and get back down here. We narrowed it down to two locations: Austin or Charleston, and we chose Charleston.
I know that you began in ecommerce; what drew you to Amazon in particular?
Typically, my focus on ecommerce was directing consumer websites; so, managing on the corporate side. I sort of stumbled into Amazon by accident. We moved down here and I had started the agency just to focus on digital [commerce] and that turned out to be a little harder than I expected. The pivot to Amazon and the focus on Amazon was basically a point of sink or swim - so I had to figure it out. So, I attended a big conference; I walked the whole conference trying to solicit some business on the digital side. A majority of the people I spoke with said that they didn't need help with digital, but they needed help with Amazon - and that's when the lightbulb turned on. That's when I knew I sort of had to recalibrate and shift my focus to Amazon and marketplaces, versus digital marketing.
How was that shift for you? What difficulties accompanied it?
This was about five and a half years ago, there weren't many Amazon-focused agencies at the time, and it was much easier to get business then, than it is now. It was an enormous learning curve. I spent most of my time on the phone with Amazon Support, trying to figure things out.
To be as transparent as possible, I've always been one of those who subscribes to the 'fake it 'til you make it' [mindset].
I started with one client; it was a retained client over six months that gave me enough of a timeline to gather more clients. Now we're at a point where we have about forty-five to fifty managed clients, and the business started off in a second bedroom in a small, small condo. Now we're here at the Charleston Tech Center, so it's been quite a ride for five years.
Did you ever imagine reaching this level of success?
You really can't imagine it, until you discover what it's like to be successful. Five years ago, I didn't even think this was possible. Once you get a taste of success, you just want to continue to hone in, fine-tune your craft, grow your business and still learn, and that's what we continue to do at PDMG.
What would you say was your biggest obstacle as you were building this?
It's always [human] resources. I can land clients, we can service clients, it's really finding people with [the ideal] skill sets, which is very hard because not many people know much about Amazon. Also, the learning curve for new employees; it is quite dramatic, it typically takes months - not weeks - to become fluent in Amazon terminology.
Where do you see this going in the future?
I'd like to get to a point where I can scale further; I think a perfect place would be a hundred managed clients. The anticipation is that I can potentially sell the agency or find a very strong executive to run the agency for me, and I can step aside.
Do your clients have varying levels of management?
Our primary focus is full service. It's typically a 360° engagement. We manage every component of their business. We do have a handful of clients for whom we do à la carte services. Additionally, there are clients that engage us who don't need full service one-time reboots, optimization or creative assets development, so those are typically one-off engagements.
We saw the impacts of COVID-19 on all businesses, including Amazon; how has your agency been impacted?
We certainly saw a bump in our revenues just because of the move to ecommerce. As soon as COVID hit, Amazon basically shut down, they just went to selling only essential items. I think our biggest challenge post-COVID is navigating all the changes that Amazon has implemented. Our biggest challenge now is warehouse space. What that means is: with everyone moving to ecommerce and Amazon, they have run out of warehouses [to hold inventory]. In an effort to make sure they can continue to operate, they have limited what people can send and that has affected our clients. Whereas before COVID, you could send what you wanted.
I would assume that it takes years to build a warehouse, and COVID just started a year and a half ago. I'm sure that before the pandemic, they had warehouses planned as part of their development plans; but they need probably another forty or fifty more to handle all the inventory and COVID threw a wrench in that expansion. That's been a huge hurdle that Amazon has had to navigate.
What has it been like building your team in Charleston?
Most of our competition outsources their work, and many of our competing agencies have a majority of their staff working remote; this is most likely because it's hard to find people who have the skills set, so workers will be hired whether they can be physically present or not. At PDMG, we are very team-oriented, so I prefer to have most of the staff working here so we can better collaborate. Additionally, I like to mentor my staff. It's more difficult to do that when team members are working remote. I've always told my team that I grew up playing team sports, so I try to bring that same team focus to my business.
What are your thoughts on how Charleston's technical landscape has grown?
It's interesting; I see more jobs posted on local job boards and pages that are more heavily focused on technology; what we've seen with the CDC is that they're very busy and there's a lot more interest in tech. I see it only growing further, especially with the migration of people from the North or higher-cost cities in the west to Charleston; they're looking for different locations, high-livability and a better cost-of-living. Charleston definitely fits that bill.
Do you see that 'migration' helping your agency at all?
I'm not sure. What helps our business is more manufacturers. Our clients are manufacturers, so more technology doesn't really help us; but more entrepreneurs coming here does: more people who are starting ecommerce businesses, more manufacturing businesses, lifestyle/wellness brands - that's where we're really going to see growth come to our agency.
A majority of our clients are out of state, a handful of local and a few international. Rather than any demographic concentrations, we have a criteria for selecting our clients: we won't work with any seller, we want the product to be strong - if it doesn't have four or four and a half star reviews, we won't take the client. It's also very expensive to sell on Amazon, so if a client doesn't have the financial backing that we think is needed to be successful on Amazon, we wouldn't take on that client. So, we don't have a particular discipline or niche among our clients, but we do really like products that fit what we're looking for. Another criteria is whether the manufacturer offers a unique product, where there's not a lot of competition but has a high practicality demand.
What level of engagement do you have with Charleston's tech community?
Well, the reason why we participate with the Digital Corridor is to stay connected with Charleston's tech community. We've been with Ernest for years, at multiple locations. We sort of followed him to this building, which has been a good steppingstone for our business to jump from that early startup with a smaller space into this later-stage startup presence with a larger office.
The CDC has been very helpful to us: we've received PR exposure; we've given back by hosting a workshop about selling on Amazon and we've participated in some of the new CDCu classes. Plus, we've been able to mingle with other entrepreneurs and tech startups and we've been encouraged to share information and that's always good for learning. I'm still sort of faking it as I make it - I don't have all the answers about entrepreneurship, so I get to learn from other people in the industry and others in the community.
What were your misconceptions about being an entrepreneur?
It's hard. It's a lot of work. Going from the corporate environment, where there are specialists in every area available, was a major adjustment. As an entrepreneur, everyone in this office has at least two hats; I wear many more than two hats. But I don't think I was mentally prepared for how difficult it would be or the different roles I had to play.
What do you look for in people you hire?
I don't look for skill sets, I look for a mindset. I'm looking for people with the right attitude, I'm looking for people for whom average is not good enough, I look for people who have innate problem-solving skills - because that's what we typically do here, is solve problems. While hard skill sets are certainly important, it's really that mindset and team collaboration skills or ability to function as part of a larger group that I look for.
At the end of the day, if I could be surrounded by overachievers, then I would feel that I was in a good spot. That's really what I look for when I hire: who's the overachiever versus the average person or the underachiever.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs or new graduates seeking to work in the tech industry?
Don't give up. It's hard and inconvenient things can happen quickly, but success can happen quickly, too. For me, it was right around the corner, and I didn't know it. Secondly, not everyone is meant to work a nine-to-five job. Working has never been as fulfilling to me as it is now that I've shifted my focus away from corporate environments - I feel like I don't have a job.
What keeps you busy outside of work?
I like to keep active, whether that's at work or around the house. I do yard work, I play tennis, I ski, I run. If I'm not working, then I'm being active, or I'm with my wife on the porch.
- Mac or PC? PC
- Fave CHS beach? IOP
- Fave book or Podcast? On Point NPR
We are pleased to spotlight Blackbaud, whose main goal is driving impact for social good organizations.
Evolute Capital, Along With Hunt Technology Ventures, Make Strategic And Substantial Investment In eGroup
eGroup is excited to announce that they have received a substantial investment from Evolute Capital, a Dallas, Texas-based middle-market private equity investment firm focused on building a best-in-class IT Services platform. Evolute made the investment in partnership with Hunt Technology Ventures, LP, the technology investment management arm of a large Dallas, Texas-based independent family focused on transforming the technology services sector through targeted investments in highly desirable IT services companies. eGroup, a services-led cloud and managed services firm headquartered in the Southeast United States, delivers "speed and certainty" with digital transformation initiatives for mid-market and enterprise clients across the nation. Founder and CEO Mike Carter will continue to lead eGroup.
A globally recognized cloud services provider, eGroup has seven Microsoft Gold competencies including Gold Cloud Platform (Microsoft Azure), Gold Cloud Productivity (Microsoft 365), and is an "Elite" Microsoft Security and Management Partner with an Advanced Specialization in Azure Virtual Desktops. Since 1999, eGroup has completed thousands of data center modernization and cloud migration engagements and is sought for its IT Managed Services based on deep market expertise and a proven ability to execute. eGroup is one of the few companies to make the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies in America for multiple back-to-back years and is the only IT management company in South Carolina to ever be recognized on Inc.'s "Best Places to Work" list. eGroup has appeared on the Managed Services Provider 500, Solution Provider 500, and Tech Elite 250 list every year for the past decade, and was most recently awarded the Nutanix 2021 Global Portfolio Champion of the Year award – which recognizes eGroup for enabling one of the most comprehensive and digitally transformative hybrid cloud journeys for customers.
Evolute Capital and Hunt Technology Ventures sought the partnership opportunity with eGroup based on the depth, knowledge, and impressive track record of eGroup's management team, coupled with eGroup's desire to bring on a financial and strategic partner. The investment from Evolute Capital provides eGroup with substantial resources to accelerate its strong industry position in the cloud and managed services sector, which includes the acquisition of other digitally transformative solution and services providers throughout the nation, while organically building upon its strong expertise and positioning within the Microsoft ecosystem. The investment further provides eGroup with the resources to acquisitively expand its cloud services and geographic presence across the nation. Specifically, eGroup plans to expand its sales, marketing, and service delivery teams while acquiring new capabilities that enhance the digital transformation journey for clients.
Mike Carter, Founder and CEO of eGroup, noted, "At eGroup we love working with smart people who know how to get things done. It's energizing to work with a team that has intentionally and successfully grown companies while fostering a culture that puts the customer first, rewards team performance, and encourages and recognizes individual success. As we turn our attention to expanding the world-class capabilities that keep our clients at the center of the outcomes we deliver, I'm thrilled to work alongside new team members who appreciate what it means to be 'part of the family' while creating growth opportunities for customers and team members."
Brendan Achariyakosol, Founder & Managing Member of Evolute Capital, commented, "eGroup is a true market leader in complex cloud transformation, managed services, and data center services, and has built a tremendous reputation of supporting their customers in whichever stage of IT modernization they are going through. Furthermore, we feel eGroup's most impressive achievement is the tremendous team they have built and we are proud to be their partner and to support them through the next phase of their journey."
Hunt Allred of Hunt Technology Ventures, noted, "Prioritizing the client and work quality, Mike Carter and eGroup define every quality that we look for in a business partner. We look forward to helping them grow their capabilities and product offerings to better serve their clients globally."
eGroup, a national IT services firm delivering speed and certainty with digital transformation, announced today that during the Partner Xchange keynote session at Nutanix's Global .NEXT Digital Experience conference, the eGroup team was awarded the 2021 Global Portfolio Champion of the Year Award.
Nutanix recognized eGroup as the sole recipient of the 2021 Global Portfolio Champion of the Year Award. eGroup was specifically recognized for elevating their customers' hybrid cloud journey with the use of Nutanix portfolio solutions including Frame, Flow, Files, and Calm as extensions to the core Nutanix platform. For more than seven years, eGroup has steadily expanded their focus, reach, and partnership with Nutanix as a Cloud Champion partner and has built a world-class digital transformation and hybrid cloud team that includes multiple Nutanix Technology Champions.
"We're thrilled to have honored eGroup at Partner Xchange this year for their continued success with our customers," said Christian Alvarez, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Channels at Nutanix. "As Nutanix continues to strengthen our hybrid multicloud product line, which nicely complements eGroup's strong on-premises and Microsoft Azure public cloud capabilities, we've been able to design and deliver meaningful solutions to their customers that rapidly advance the continued hybrid cloud journey as part of their digital transformation. As customers continue to migrate to and innovate with hybrid multicloud solutions, we're excited to recognize partners like eGroup for their outstanding efforts."
"By leveraging the full solutions portfolio from Nutanix, eGroup has been able to deliver operationally powerful solutions that enable our clients to achieve speed and certainty with digital transformation across their organizations. Our professional services teams, equally fluent in advanced data center and cloud solutions with Nutanix, enable organizations to accelerate groundbreaking transformations with relatively simple solutions – a critical need in today's volatile and uncertain business landscape – and especially across the challenges of the past 18 months. From cloud-first VDI with Frame, to database management with Era, and built-in microsegmentation with Flow, eGroup is proud to put the promise of the Nutanix invisible cloud into practice for our many mutual customers." said Mike Dent, Director of Datacenter Architecture, eGroup.
With Nutanix's continued investment in a hybrid multi-cloud strategy, especially around Microsoft Azure and critical Microservices platform architecture, eGroup will continue to deliver advanced solutions that secure, simplify, modernize, and transform organizations for future-proofed, digital-ready business.
Jackie Kohlhepp is one half of the two-woman team who founded the REZREV, LLC, a Software as a Service (SaaS) interface that serves to streamline standard talent acquisition, while humanizing both candidates and employers in the process. Kohlhepp and her co-founder, Brittany Betit, are the first recipients of support provided by Charleston Digital Corridor's recently launched Diversity Initiative, aimed at cultivating a more inclusive tech community in Charleston. Amid a global pandemic that has forced most hiring processes to be conducted entirely virtually, Kohlhepp provides a valuable perspective about keeping hiring humane through an exponentially growing inter-connective technical infrastructure.
This series is brought to you by Charleston County Economic Development.
Where did you grow up?
Mint Hill, NC (suburb of Charlotte)
Where did you attend college and what did you study?
UNC-Chapel for Undergrad. Studied Psychology. UNC-Charlotte for grad school. Studied Social Work.
What did you find most valuable about studying Psychology as an Undergraduate
Just having a greater understanding of what motivates people and understanding how to recognize people's needs and address them. I think that's been valuable throughout my career, and as we develop our software, thinking about motivations and needs of users when they're using our app.
For example: one thing that we've found is that video can be intimidating for people. So, we think about how we can design our app so that people can feel confident throughout the process and when they submit that video, they feel that they've sent in the best version of themselves.
What drew you to your current business, or inspired you to start it?
Coming from a background in nonprofit leadership and talent acquisition, I started my own company, JTK Consulting, LLC, in February 2020 to help organizations, particularly nonprofits, build sustainable talent solutions to find and keep great people to carry out their mission. My current business partner at REZREV, Brittany, founded her own company the same month, Cornerstone Career Solutions, with the intention of offering career services to help job seekers find great work. We decided to peer mentor each other as Woman-owned and Military Spouse-Owned small businesses. Through this peer mentorship, we frequently discussed the deficiencies in hiring and job search on both sides of the process.
One of the biggest deficiencies being a reliance on the traditional resume. Through our work with clients and our own research, we started building our software. Our goal is to save everyone time, money, and frustration by helping qualified candidates hone and showcase their value proposition to get hired and help talent seekers connect with qualified candidates faster. We officially founded our company in December 2020. We believe REZREV is a tool that will enable so many people to get hired and to hire better.
How do you feel that your background in Psychology has helped you with REZREV?
It's helped us tap into understanding the needs of our users: what are the things they're going to be concerned about? What are their fears? What are their hopes? Strengths? And how do we support those? Especially the strengths: how are we bringing that to life using our app?
I know that can be sort of broad; the way we define that is someone who doesn't necessarily fit the mold: they might have gaps in employment, they might be someone who's a transitioning service member, maybe it's a stay-at-home mother who's returning to the workforce. And how do we help them showcase all the amazing skills they've gained throughout their experience and help them to put their best foot forward to get a job? This is especially important when considering how we support our target customers, non-traditional candidates.
Have you had any personal experiences that urged you to fix the canonical hiring process?
Brittany and I both got tired of seeing clients, colleagues, friends - even we at one point - spend hours writing resumes, tailoring resumes, submitting job applications, and then sometimes not even hearing back about the status of a candidacy. It felt like this code that people were trying to crack; so, we started out by helping job seekers write traditional resumes. That experience helped us to understand what that code is that you must crack. We kind of hacked around that system to get people's resumes through the applicant tracking system, where we found ourselves asking: "Well, what are the most important components of a resume?" What do employers really need to see, and why? And how can we pull that out a little quicker so that job seekers aren't having to spend all these hours rewriting and talent seekers aren't having to spend hours and hours looking at resumes?
That was my main experience doing talent acquisition. I looked at so many resumes and it was interesting because I knew to be careful not to make snap judgements about a person's resume; I tried hard to focus on that. But some recruiters, if they can't quickly find what they think they need to see on a resume, will keep it moving. Or it won't make it through an applicant tracking system if people have those automated readers, or the keywords aren't there. It makes sense because they're trying to find someone with a specific skill set, or specific experiences, but there are still flaws there. That's why people will still pay us to write their resumes, so it will make it through the system. Even if you have an actual live person looking at your resumes, the system is still flawed. It's not that the recruiter is 'bad' or they're trying to do it; but if they don't see those keywords, it can be a challenge. So, how do you help people on both sides to get what they need faster?
Do you feel that people should be able to be more vulnerable in their applications than what is the standard right now?
I think the trend is moving more in that direction and was sort of catalyzed by the pandemic. I think people, especially employers, are realizing that people do have lives. There were a lot of work-from-home struggles. Employers are learning to be more empathetic and flexible because we want to make sure we're there for our employees: making sure they have what they need to do their jobs, while keeping the ship afloat. But people do have to watch kids, or they have health concerns to be worried about, so there is this shift to be more human in the workplace. I was actually interviewed for another article this year about having more awareness of mental health in the workplace, providing more social and emotional support to your employees, how important that is and how it's only going to continue to matter with everything that's been going on.
I like that you view mistakes as an opportunity for growth, how helpful has this been for you, as you build your company?
We have learned a lot along the way and made a lot of mistakes and will continue to do so. If Brittany or I called the other out for that, we wouldn't be able to continue. You've got to give each other grace, especially when you're doing something new - I mean this app doesn't exist. So, there isn't really a roadmap for it; there are best practices for being a start-up founder - in particular, a tech start-up founder - and we can follow those, but not a roadmap to build this new app. We're going to make mistakes and that's okay.
What has it been like building your team in Charleston?
We have enjoyed building our team and many team members are here in the Lowcountry. One strength that Brittany and I have is that because we don't come from a technical background, many of our contacts come from other fields, necessary to helping us build our business. For example, members of our Advisory Board have legal, financial, and business backgrounds (just to name a few). It's been great to leverage our network here in Charleston to help us ensure that our business will be successful.
Interestingly, while our company is based out of Charleston and I currently live and work here, Brittany lives in Columbus, OH. Her husband is in the Airforce, active duty, and duty took them to Ohio. We work virtually together every day and have found an effective routine. In fact, many of our meetings with team members, investors, Advisory Board members, etc., typically take place virtually. We consider this flexibility in our approach to work to be something we plan to continue as we grow.
What are your thoughts on how Charleston's technical landscape has grown?
I've noticed that the tech landscape in Charleston has become more inviting. There's an interesting emphasis now on skills and knowledge sharing with individuals throughout our community that's encouraging. It opens doors, inviting anyone interested in any aspect of the tech industry to become involved and gain the experience and growth they need to participate in and contribute to this industry.
What do you see as some of the challenges recruiting talent to Charleston?
Available skilled tech workforce; while our community has made strides when it comes to opening doors for more individuals to learn technical skills, there is still a skills gap to be filled. I would also add a lack of awareness of what opportunities are available. I think we could provide more education around informing individuals about the opportunities in tech, including business and operations positions, to encourage emerging workforce and career transition-ers to consider working in the industry.
How do you feel about the business resources and support available to you?
One of the best things I did when I first started my entrepreneurial journey was to sign up for a SCORE mentor. Having a SCORE mentor helped me create a roadmap to understand the potential pitfalls and learn about best practices in starting and running a business. I am a Volunteer Community Organizer at 1 Million Cups, as well. Being part of this community has been a truly incredible resource for me as an entrepreneur because it gives me the opportunity to build relationships with other entrepreneurs at various stages in their business journeys.
Now that REZREV is based out of the Tech Center, we have access to so many incredible resources. I recently attended a course about social media basics offered by CDCu at the Tech Center . I'm woefully behind the times when it comes to social media and it was great to have a class I could go to, taught by an expert in the field, to learn and ask questions (some questions I had been afraid to ask before), and push myself in this way. There is a lot of talent at the Charleston Tech Center and it's great to know that if you have a question about some aspect of tech or your business, there is probably someone down the hall who has some insights to share.
What do you look for in the people you hire?
I look for diversity of thought and skill. When making hiring decisions, especially when you are building a new team, it is important not to replicate skills or to hire only people who share the same approach to solving problems as you do.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs or new graduates seeking to work in the tech industry?
Begin having exploratory conversations. There is so much power in claiming out loud what it is you're interested in doing and how you want to help the world with your talents. Having conversations with people in the tech industry, who hold the same role you are interested in, can help you unlock answers to a lot of your questions
Outside of work what keeps you busy?
I love being outdoors. My husband and I enjoy riding our bikes, going on long walks, or just having a couple beers on the back porch.
What is one thing about you that people would be surprised to know?
I'm pretty risk averse. Even though I am very adventurous, I'm cautious when it comes to the way I make business decisions.
- Mac or PC - PC
- Favorite Coffee Shop - Muddy Waters
- Favorite Charleston Beach - Folly Beach
- Favorite App - Duo Lingo
- Favorite podcast - How I Built This
- Favorite Restaurant - Fat Hen
This morning, the American Idea Foundation, a non-profit organization headed by former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, released a video entitled: Lessons from the Frontlines of South Carolina. The video highlights the transformative work being done by a Nurse-Family Partnership in Manning, South Carolina and by job-creators and community leaders in an Opportunity Zone in Charleston, South Carolina.
As the video shows and as Speaker Ryan heard firsthand, the Nurse-Family Partnership is an evidence-based program that is transforming lives and improving outcomes. It is making a difference, helping mothers, their children, and entire communities.
Later that day, Ryan was joined by Senator Tim Scott and Representatives Ralph Norman and Joe Wilson for a roundtable discussion with community leaders in an Opportunity Zone in Charleston, South Carolina to learn about efforts to expand economic opportunities. A summary of the site visits is accessible here.
Founded by Ryan in 2019, the American Idea Foundation works at the intersection of grassroots, community-driven efforts to reduce poverty and national policymakers who can implement change. The Foundation takes a non-partisan, evidence-based approach to identifying real-world initiatives that are achieving results, arming policymakers with the information they need to improve the efforts of the federal government, and linking practitioners with elected officials to replicate those success stories in other communities in need.
For more information please visit: https://americanideafoundation.com/.
A matching funds program to move South Carolina companies into commercialization of products has launched in the Palmetto State. Read more:
Jordan Berry is co-founder and chief technology officer of Interloop, a Charleston-based startup that helps midsize companies utilize their data for decision making. Berry founded Interloop with his father, Tony Berry, in 2016. The company is located in theFlagship @ the Charleston Tech Center.
This series is brought to you by Charleston County Economic Development.
It's a classic tale of a startup pivot.
Artificial intelligence captured the interest of Jordan Berry and his father, Tony Berry. Both were business consultants, and on the side, they envisioned a way to help businesses improve their sales processes using predictive models.
The father-son duo built a prototype that paired AI with customer relationship management software. That was the start of their company, Interloop.
"The idea resonated with people, and we actually sold it to a customer," said Jordan Berry. "But as soon as we got it to the customer, they were like, 'This is great. Can you set it up?' We were like, 'Absolutely. The only thing we need is your data.' And they said, 'Whoa. OK, we don't know where our data is. It's disorganized.'
"We kept trying to sell this, and we heard that pain over and over again: 'I want the AI, I want the predictive models, but my data is a mess. Can you just help me with that first?"
They listened, and they pivoted.
"We said, 'Hey, while this shiny new ball of AI and machine learning is cool, the real pain is just, 'How do we get access to our data?' So almost three years ago, we shifted the company toward that," Berry said. "We've seen much better traction in that world than we have in the AI predictive-modeling world."
Interloop combines a data platform and consulting services to help midsize companies become data driven.
"In today's world, if you're not using data to make decisions, you're really behind the curve," Berry said. "But it's hard, candidly, to get that data. So we like to call ourselves data plumbers. We come in and we essentially do all the hard, messy work to make sure you can get access to your data and use it for reporting and decision making."
What does it look like when a company cannot access its data?
A lot of times, we'll come into a company and they'll just have monster spreadsheets, where it's 50 tabs and they're blowing out Excel. It's literally crashing on them because that's the only way they know how to analyze their data. If you're doing that, you're probably not doing it correctly.
We find that a lot of companies, especially post-Covid, bought all these systems. They have a system for marketing, a system for accounting, a system for sales, but none of the systems talk to each other. They can't get that holistic view of their customer.
They get to this point where they've got good operational analytics, but if I am an executive or on the board and I want to know what are our key accounts or who are my best customers, it's really hard to answer those questions. So that's where Interloop comes in. We can help them plug the pipes together so they can get access to the whole picture.
You are from Fort Mill, S.C. Why did you locate Interloop in Charleston?
I was in Chicago when we started. My father was living in Fort Mill at the time, traveling to New York, where he was working. We just started doing pros/cons lists. We said, "Do we go to New York? We could, but it's a little too maybe unwieldy. Chicago is great, but we don't have a ton of roots there." We checked out Nashville, Tenn.
We actually came down to the DigSouth Conference in Charleston, kind of on a whim. It really opened our eyes. I say this kind of jokingly, but I was walking down the street in Charleston and I saw people with tattoos, cool architecture, a cool place with energy and culture, and I was like, "We need to start a company here. We need to embrace everything Charleston is about. Something that's just a little bit different." We'd both been in the straightlaced consulting world for so long.
We wanted to find a place that's both super livability and where we could build the company. We were seeing the rise of the tech scene here with the Charleston Digital Corridor and the Harbor Entrepreneur Center and some of the other support systems. So we felt like, hey, this is the place.
We did go through the Harbor Accelerator early on. I was still commuting from Chicago for that. At the end of that, it was an easy decision. Charleston just had the best of both – the lifestyle and the ability to build a big company.
What do you see as the future of your company?
What's nice is we're getting to a point of repeatability. We're seeing the same patterns of different customers and different industries.
There was this big push where technology should be SaaS – software only, subscription licenses, let people download it on their own. And I think, after the pandemic, the market is realizing that it's OK to be a tech-enabled service. So we're really a tech- enabled consulting company.
The vision for me is growing to 50 employees and servicing customers across the country. Hopefully, at that point, we have enough recurring revenue with the software that we maybe go raise a round or do something of that nature.
How many employees do you have now?
We survived during the pandemic, and then out of that we were able to start thriving. So we are at seven full-time employees, and we have several contractors we work with, too. But after being two and a half people for almost five years, it's nice to finally grow and get some energy around us, some new ideas.
**What was the pandemic like for your company? **
We had an office on King Street. During the pandemic, we decided to go virtual. So we were working from our kitchen counters, like everybody else. We had to adapt to that. A lot more Zoom meetings, a lot more calls. A lot of check-ins, making sure everyone is moving things forward. What was nice is we had been sort of hybrid before that, so it wasn't a huge shift in the day to day. It was more just what's ahead, how do we prepare for the unknown?
March to late spring was definitely a nerve-wracking time. People pulled back. Budgets were frozen. A lot of customers just weren't making moves. Thankfully, we were profitable and had some cash in the bank to get us through. Honestly, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was definitely was a big help.
It was a scary time for a lot of people, and it was one of those situations where, depending on the industry you were in, you either did well or poorly, due to issues beyond your control. That's a hard thing to swallow. But I think we got lucky in that a lot of people went digital, invested in systems, and needed help. So, in some ways, the pandemic was a positive thing for us.
What do you look for in someone you hire?
One thing I've been asking a lot is, "How do you learn? What's the last thing you learned? What are you reading about now? What are you curious about?" The No. 1 skill is can you learn, can you adapt, can you think critically? The technical skills can come. That, to me, is not the issue. It's that core desire to get outside your comfort zone and try new things.
Outside of work, what keeps you busy?
Recently, I've been swimming a bit more. I swam in college. I kind of hung it up for six or seven years. During the pandemic, I said, "I need to get back in the pool." So I go swim most mornings. It's just a nice, calming, sort of zen experience.
Also, going out with friends, just enjoying the city. Charleston is super fun. I love trying new restaurants and that sort of thing.
How do you find fulfilment in both work and life?
I like technology in general, so I think that helps in that mental world of work fulfillment. I would probably be doing something similar, regardless.
On the other side, with personal fulfillment, I'm very much about human connectedness and getting to know people. I really thrive at networking events and meeting people. So I just always try to carve out time to go meet with people, explore, see what's out there.
I try not to jump too far ahead, either, but enjoy right where I am and what's happening. A lot of times, especially in startups, [you think], "When we get to here, we'll be so much better." Or, "When we get to here, my life will be this." I think you cut yourself short when you're jumping like that. It's OK to have a crazy work life, but also important to grab some time for yourself because building a successful company like Interloop is a marathon and not a sprint.
Upcoming Classes & Events
October 27, 2021, 9AM - 12PM
Presented by Tom Hashem
Value Stream Mapping (VSM) helps you to understand the steps in your work process so that you can see the Big Picture. In this workshop, we will evaluate each attendee's existing product or organization to understand value delivery flow and bottlenecks and identify opportunities for improvement.
October 28, 2021, 6:00PM
This CharlestonJS presentation is held at the Charleston Tech Center. Free parking on the adjacent surface parking lot on Conroy Street. Learn more about this free event and register HERE.
November 10, 2021, 9AM - 12PM
Presented by Tyler Hall
Learn the basics of consuming and building GraphQL. GraphQL is a query language for building APIs and a runtime for fulfilling those queries. Originally created at Facebook, GraphQL was the internal data-fetching API that powered hundreds of billions of Facebook API calls a day.