I have a new business card again – this time it says Partner, instead of “Owner”… If you recall, In June of 2011, I decided to explore the world of independent consulting and see what it had for me. I made the move for a few reasons but primarily – 1.) I wanted to manage my time and workload more directly, 2.) I wanted to cut my own path in the SQL Server world and 3.) I wanted to be able to give back to others in different ways. You can read more in that announcement. But yeah – I’m going to work with some great SQL Server people in a neat new venture called Linchpin People. Here’s a reflection on what that looks like and what that change means.
What Is Linchpin People?
Friends and SQL Server legends Andy Leonard and Brian Moran have been working hard starting a SQL Server professional services company with a twist. Around the time I was contemplating going off on my own I had a few conversations with them about what they were starting. I told them it sounded interesting and we talked about maybe someday somehow working together. Well that day has arrived, we’ve been talking, praying and chatting about the decision for since August – carefully making the decision. Along with Robert Pearl, I’m one of the first two partners in Linchpin People.
The chief concept of Linchpin People is great – It’s a philosophy that actually finds it birth in a series of Bible verses (Matthew 22:37-40) – that portray the concept of our relationship with the Lord but also our relationship with each other. That we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We call this principle applied at Linchpin – SERVICE 22:40… This was one of the motivators of me going into business on my own to begin with so this resonates with me. You can look at it a few ways but the ways I think this makes this professional services organization different:
- We realize there is more to our careers than billing high rates for as many hours as possible – which has many side effects, but two I like:
- Everyone grows or no one grows – As we build to the model we are creating – our staff will be committed to a culture of growth. The senior people (call them Master Craftsmen, if you like) will have a large part of their time focusing on investing in a team. Investing in folks just starting with us (call them Apprentices, or even a bit further up – Journeymen) When you talk to Andy, Brian, Robert or I (or really anyone who has been doing technical work for awhile and is successful and advanced), you can see that we grew because people chose to invest in us. We had mentors along the way. It’s time to give back. A Linchpin People person invests in mentoring and developing skills. We all learn together.
- Clients win – We want to put our money and our approach where our mouths are. We can say that we put people first, that we love our neighbors as ourselves – but that has to look different. Our clients should (and already have – I’ve done some work with Linchpin for a bit now before announcing and making it official) feel like they are dealing with someone different. We are not here to put our foot in the door, up-sell an entire bench of people waiting for work and nickel and dime the client. That model works great for a lot of companies but it isn’t where we want to go. Sure we want to make money, and this model allows for that, but we want to solve problems. We want to be there for a customer and mentor them, share with them and deliver what is needed, not what we can “sell” them. Our value is going to be felt as we help equip our customers to solve problems, not stuck in meeting rooms planning more meetings for more consultants.
- Knowledge will be a shared resource, not a weapon – We won’t have the “my client” or “my department” attitude. We will openly discuss and share our knowledge and work within the company to help solve a client’s problem. When a client engages with us, they may have one or two specific points of contact but they are really paying their rate for access to the collective knowledge at Linchpin. They pay for a resource but get access to the hive mind and experiences that our teams bring to bear.
- We want our customers to help each other and even bypass us – Not sure how this looks in implementation yet, but we don’t want to hold our expertise over a client’s head. If it takes us less time to point out a good resource than engage on a specific issue, we’d rather get our client help and not worry about billability. We are talking about private social media opportunities for anyone currently engaged with us to access answers to their questions while respecting their privacy. Potentially even opening up cross client communication channels. If we can put a customer in one vertical in touch with another having similar questions and they can help each other, why do we have to stand in the middle and bill for that information sharing? We want to add value – whether or not we directly bill for it each time.
There are many other appealing principles and business opportunities that are born from Service 22:40 but these are the things that come to mind right off.
Partner? What Does That Even Mean?
So I’ll be working with the other partners to help setup and maintain a couple specific practices where I have expertise. Performance Tuning, DBA related services (HA/DR consultation, Health Checks, DBA Mentoring, etc.). I’ll currently be heading up the principle Linchpin People New England region presence and will help facilitate client and business partner relations and conversations in that region. I’ll be helping to build up the right staff both in the region and in the practice areas I’m focused in- looking for apprentice & journeymen resources looking to expand their skills, try out consulting (either full time as we grow, or part time in addition to work for their own anchor clients or full time jobs) or other master craftsmen looking to work with us in some manner of relationship.
Being a partner doesn’t mean I “own” the business or have a direct claim to its equity, but I share in the profits and business decision making as we go. I’m emotionally invested in the growth, I’ll be spending my own time growing the business model and working with Brian, Andy and Robert to shape our future. I’ll be an individual contributor on many projects but over time, I’d like to focus even more time on business development growth and mentoring others and advising/consulting to our own internal teams to help them help our clients. The goal is to give back more and to eventually help encourage and equip other master craftsmen to spend less time directly billing and more time growing the culture and bring up the next “batch” of technologists.
What About Straight Path?
To sound like a bank after a merger, “The same great Straight Path Solutions that you’ve grown to know and love will still be here.” It really will. Most of what I do for Linchpin will probably be through the umbrella of Straight Path. I’ll even continue to work with, and possibly still grow my own direct client base at Straight Path IT Solutions. I love working for myself and I love the flexibility of helping direct. Partnering with Linchpin People will give me access to more resources easily and a group of partners for advice and tips on business development. I think over time, I’ll push more new clients (if it makes sense for them) towards Linchpin because of the ability to better serve them with a team approach instead of having me as a single contact, but even my partnership with Andy, Brian and Robert is an entrepreneurial endeavor – I still get to exercise that creativity and love of making business decisions but now I have an “executive team” helping me out and advising me as I go! Through Linchpin, we will be exploring other areas where we can provide value and have passion – areas like Leadership, Employee Growth, Professional Development and helping companies solve the team struggles that sometimes end up masking as technical problems.
So Straight Path will still be there, I’ll still be working on working to live instead of living to work and I’m really hopeful that this model of “people first” professional services does for our partners, staff and clients what we are hoping and expecting it to do!