By Brian Lucas
George Santos is the epitome of the rising tide of executives leaving the large corporate world. They are striking out on their own to become the foundation of a new emergent business economy. They represent a new breed of entrepreneur. In many ways, they are returning America to its roots of small business founded in the colonial era directly driven by empowered customers. In his own words, Mr. Santos says, “At Gogiro we have a vested interest in your online business success and are passionate about making sure that our solutions deliver results… that make you and your business work smarter.” He is true to these words and it shows in his business results. In 2012, the Eastern PA Gogiro was honored as the first winner in a monthly competition between 27 regional Gogiro offices. Gogiro offers small business owners internet solutions and support. Gogiro strategy is to get to know their customers through local market service and support.
George Santos is the Principle-Owner of Gogiro of Eastern PA at #233 1886 Leithsville Road, Hellertown, PA 18055
LUCAS: George, you were a very successful executive at a Fortune 500 company for many years in the Pittsburgh area. Recently you decided to return to your roots in the Lehigh Valley and start a small business. What prompted you to do that?
SANTOS: One consideration is my wife, who was my high school sweetheart and still the one and only love of my life. We are both from the Lehigh Valley. While we had many friends in western Pennsylvania, we have such fond and romantic memories of our beginnings in Easton, Pennsylvania. It was a wonderful and rare opportunity to revisit where we both began our life’s journey. It is also something we wanted to share with our daughter. We felt this was the right thing to do for us as a family. From a business perspective, I wanted control of my career. I wanted to guide my own future. I felt the need to direct my own efforts and not be limited by any rigid structure imposed by an organizational hierarchy. More fundamentally, I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to make a difference to my customers by providing them the best possible product and service at the best price without the overhead and inertia of a large organization. I also wanted to make a contribution to American business and create employment for others. Strange as it may seem, I also wanted more job security. I feel more secure relying on my own abilities and my faith, than in trusting the good will and sound judgment of an executive team that is several levels removed from their customers. I learned a great deal in my years in the corporate world and I am grateful for that but it was time to put those skills to use in an environment that was free of its many restrictions. Finally, I love a challenge.
LUCAS: Do you have any fears of failure?
SANTOS: Only a fool doesn’t consider the possibility of failure. I don’t however, FEAR failure. Success is built on hard work constantly striving to work smarter and learning from each customer. So many people would be more successful and happier if they just went out each day and tried “chopping-the-wood” as it were.
LUCAS: Now that we know what you think about failure; what is your formula for success?
SANTOS: Trust and long term relationships established by being and keeping relevant with your customers. This is one aspect of what I understand you to mean when you use the term “agile”. It is important for customers to know that I am responsive. On occasion, it will happen that I don’t get something right – no one is perfect. I need my customers to know that I will make it right when that happens. Being hands on and responsive to clients is what develops strong long-term business relationships. Choosing the wrong service providers can be disruptive and costly. I am very sensitive to that underlying fear in customers. We are in a rapid evolutionary environment with rampant change being the norm.
LUCAS: You often mention that word – evolutionary. It seems centric to your thinking. Can you expand on that?
SANTOS: Your blog, which I enjoy reading, addresses this well. To me, we are living in an evolutionary era. It is a time when businesses and organizations constantly need to evolve, quite rapidly at times, to meet the changes in customer needs and deal with rapid technological advances. Whether your market is an end customer or you have a business-to-business model makes no difference. The need to constantly and economically evolve to meet the changing demand remains the same. The point is that EVERYONE has to evolve! You need to have a relationship with your customers where they are comfortable sitting down with you sharing their knowledge and concerns. If they don’t feel the direction you are taking them in is right, you need their input to correct it.
LUCAS: You are talking about customer empowerment. Is that correct?
SANTOS: Yes, in this era we have a wonderful technology called social media where current and potential customers can have direct and rapid input into product and service formulation. Information that took a great deal of time to gather previously and was costly to obtain is now available at our finger tips. You won’t be successful indefinitely if you don’t leverage this.
LUCAS: Can you give some specific examples of how customer empowerment has helped you?
SANTOS: Probably the most significant aspect is that with empowered customers you don’t waste time and effort building something or supplying a service that the customer does not want. You referred to it as the “Pareto Principle” in one of your interviews, I believe.
LUCAS: Yes, it was in the A Natural Agilist finds a cure for the Pareto Principle at a hospital post.
SANTOS: Well, it is an acknowledged factor. I cannot tell you how many times I have observed companies building something that customers did not want or adding features to a product that no one ever used.
LUCAS: Was it about 80% of the time?
SANTOS: Yes, (chuckling) that is about right. Seriously, all that waste is overhead. It costs money and these costs are in turn passed down to the ultimate consumer. If you eliminate this waste, you can reduce cost, improve product and services and provide them faster. All of which are attractive to the customer. As a small business entrepreneurship, if you are not following this model today, you are dead or dying, even if you don’t know it. It’s that simple.
LUCAS: You mentioned in a previous conversation we had that you always like to work incrementally, doing a little at a time and constantly getting feedback. How did you develop your business plan?
SANTOS: I think it is important to think your business plan through as thoroughly as possible. You also need to be able to implement it in small stages. Each stage should show success and profit. Each should help you build your knowledge. At the same time from a planning perspective, if you cannot explain your strategic plan simply to another person on a single 8½” by 11” sheet in 30 minutes or less, your plan is too complicated or you don’t understand it well enough. To give you an example, when I started this business, I had plans for building a virtual corporation. I wanted to grow the business by offering superb fulfillment. These plans are now well underway and my virtual workforce has become a solid reality. I started small however, doing all the jobs myself so I could get an appreciation for each role. This helped me tremendously in my search for the right persons to become a part of my service offering.
LUCAS: What was the hardest thing for you to do?
SANTOS: Funny as it may seem, it was the business 101 stuff – setting up the accounting, billing, etc. I always had someone else to do this for me in my previous work life. You need to get these things right however, and be very professional about them. Learning what it took to get a customer and take them through to fulfillment and reflect this accurately in my back office processes accurately was a fluid process. Discovering hidden costs can be particularly vexing. It is important that you really understand the business and are in tune with how it operates in an organic function.
LUCAS: You mentioned virtual workforce as being a core part of your fulfillment strategy can you tell us why you decided on that strategy.
SANTOS: Quite frankly, it made the most sense. I need to offer superior, high quality service, as issue free as possible. Also, I want to be absolutely fair to my customers by having them pay for exactly what they get. Going with free-lanced, top quality professionals, who I have long term relationships with but use their services on an as needed basis, met this need. A more experienced team means that we are able to bring valuable and diverse skills and experience. This fosters a learning environment and process improvements that could not come from using lower cost and less experienced people who I would have to train. More importantly, using interns or less qualified full-time employees would not have given my customers the best experience and value.
LUCAS: You have really done a phenomenal job establishing the foundation for and building out your virtual corporation including your relationship with corporate Gogiro. So many fail at this; what is your secret for success?
SANTOS: You spoke about it in one of the presentations I heard you deliver on Mind Mapping. You said that it was important to envision and draw out our virtual corporation from a function, business and income flow perspective and identify the qualifying elements. Then once we found the suitable elements, it was just a matter of good relationship management. That is what I did. Drawing it out helped me concentrate on it and make it real. It provided a focal point for my efforts. Identifying the critical communication points using the mind map helped me establish my relationship management strategy.
LUCAS: How did you find the right people, the free lancers or other small businesses to partner with?
SANTOS: The biggest tip that I can give others is to get out into the community and meet with as many people as possible. Use social networking with people who share your values. It will help you psychologically and is a great way to establish your brand, particularly early on. The most important thing is to establish credibility first. If you don’t do this, networking will backfire on you.
LUCAS: Everything you mention revolves around the concept of customer value in one fashion or another with a heavy emphasis on quality. Is this a business differentiator for you?
SANTOS: Absolutely. Far too many in this area operate with inexperienced people. They do just enough to get by. Sometimes, if the customer is not particularly computer savvy, they are taken advantage of. My ethic is to reach beyond even customer satisfaction metrics and measure my success based on how much I have both directly and indirectly improved my client’s business and profits. For example, I measure this by looking at things like traffic before and after our services, seeing what the actionable lead rates are and then following up with their conversion rate to business. I provide my clients with a laser-like focus for their activities. This enables them to maximize their effort, just like I do mine, to offer the best service or product at the best price. Just throwing things against the wall to see if they stick is not smart.
LUCAS: That is remarkably like the mantra on your website. It talks about having a vested interest in the customer’s business success. You are passionate about delivering results for the customer’s business. You aim to do this in an affordable and effective manner. You want to make the customer’s business work smarter. You are not selling website design or email based marketing. You are selling your customers, increased business success.
SANTOS: Yes, I have boiled down the marketing message to, what do all small businesses want? The answer is more successful business! That is what I am offering. The products and services I am offering today are just the beginning. Call this my beachhead. There are more GoGiro of Eastern PA services to come and so many businesses that don’t leverage what I have to offer. It is amazing just how much business potential there is out there.
LUCAS: You don’t ever use a hard sell philosophy do you?
SANTOS: NO! I actually despise the word. I have a different attitude than most. I don’t go into a business to sell them something. I go in to help them grow their business any way I can! I have to be as agile or more as I am asking them to be.
LUCAS: What is the mistake most customers make with websites?
SANTOS: Far too often, whether they have built the website themselves or had it done for them by others, the website is about themselves and not about their customers needs. They are showcasing themselves or their business and leaving it to the customer to figure out why they need their service or product. I always tell them that the website that we will build will be about their customers. A great website is a solution to a need and talks to the customer directly in a profoundly compelling way.
LUCAS: I noticed that your customer satisfaction and retention is almost 100%. How have you managed that?
SANTOS: In a word, by being “agile” and getting my customers to be agile. When I do work for a client, I encourage them not only to provide me with feedback but to show initial drafts to their trusted clients to get their opinion as well. We share at times both work and responsibility. Just as I partner with my clients, I encourage them to practice customer empowerment. I stress to them the importance of involving their clients in their success. In many ways, all success now begins and ends with customer empowerment.
LUCAS: Thank you George, you would have made a splendid colonial tradesman with pride in your work and a close relationship with your customer base.
SANTOS: As I said in your post, Is Agile a Return to Common Sense? Your perception of Agile as retro is very insightful and almost liberating. Being agile equals survival.
Note: At the time of publication the author never worked for nor had any financial interest in Eastern PA Gogiro.