In late 2005, I was employed by a mechanical engineering design firm headquartered in Bartonville. As you might expect, locally this company supported Caterpillar. But regionally, we worked with larger companies (such as Ford, General Motors, and Boeing) in many different industries, supporting off highway, automotive, aerospace and defense projects.This firm employed more than 250 engineers, ran three shifts per day, and consisted of four regional offices.
I started on third shift in that engineering firm’s Peoria office in May1998. Shortly thereafter, I was moved to first shift project manager, and later into a sales management role. It was then that I connected with the company’s IT Director, and my management peer, Don Dawson.
Don hired on with the engineering firm in June 1997 and led a traditional IT department that you would expect for a company that size. They provided help desk, project support and road mapped the future to limit downtime and plan for company growth. Like many companies, it was critical that our systems and network were readily available so the employees could remain productive (and more importantly, billable).
Like many IT professionals, Don supported a few smaller local companies on the side. But he soon realized that he could not provide the level of support that they needed and work a full-time job at the engineering firm. So he helped those companies hire his replacement. He and his former clients realized less than six months later that it wasn’t working out as they’d hoped, and that there was a gap in the market for small business IT support. Don walked into my sales office and asked if I’d be interested in starting an IT services business with him. Not knowing much about IT, I naturally said ‘no,’ but Iquickly realized that he’s a better sales person than me, too.
We met frequently after work (typically at Kelleher’s) and began writing our business plan. We identified many of the same ideas and concepts that worked for the engineering firm and applied them to the needs of other small businesses. A few months later, on Monday, February 6, 2006, IT360, Inc. was officially in business.
Our first office was located above the former Illinois Antique Center (now Running Central) on Water Street in Peoria. It was a 600 square foot, loft style office space and we had amazing landlords. The office spacewas previously used for storage and had no windows, but it provided us a centralized location and we could get around the Peoria area relatively quickly.
One of our first purchases was a foosball table. I’m not sure if we were any good at foosball, because we only played each other, but we played frequently – mostly because we would play each other as a tie-breaker on business decisions. And we celebrated all of our small wins – phone calls (and one or two wrong numbers), meetings, proposals, presentation opportunities, etc. You name it, we celebrated it.
It was several years later when we realized just how loud we (and the table) were… but that is for another time.
Our first year revenues were not overly impressive and Don and I remained as the company’s only employees that first year. But we had the confidence (and some naiveté) that we were laying the proper foundation. Plus, we had a small but supportive client base that included the three original businesses that Don previously helped on the side – Brimfield Bank, Harvey & Stuckel Law Firm, and Custom Underground. We thank them for their willingness to take a chance on us and we’re proud to say that they are still clients today!
Watch for our March Newsletter to hear all about Year 2 at IT360.