Pushing Outside The Comfort Zone: How Capstone IT Successfully Grew In A Stagnant Market

When you started Capstone IT, what was the big thing that kicked it off?

My husband, Mike Fowler, is the one who founded the company, and he left the MSP he was working for to start Capstone IT. I was an engineer at General Motors. My income was fueling the company and paying our bills. I was just doing stuff for the company at night, and then in 2006, the company was doing well enough that I felt like I could quit my job and join full time. I would say the next two years were probably the toughest we’ve ever had because neither one of us had an income coming in.

Even though I have a master’s degree, I knew nothing about sales and marketing. I could not get that sales phone to ring. I was thinking, “Okay, you have to be a born salesperson. It must be something that people just know how to do.” Just because you tell people you have a business doesn’t mean people call you.

And that’s when we came to a roadshow and saw Robin Robins. At first, we thought it was hokey, but we were so desperate, so her message came at the right time when we were ready to try anything.

I’m an implementer, so when we spent money we didn’t really have on this program, I was going all-in. I would stay up night and day implementing and putting a marketing plan together, and then we started to see leads come in. Once we started to see leads come in, we were like, “Okay, we’re not closing any of them.” I was basically telling the prospect, “These are all the things we’re going to do for you. This is why we’re such a great company.” But nobody was buying. I remember Robin saying, “You need to change your mindset.”

I thought no one in Rochester was going to pay this big lump sum of money every month. People would only call us when there was a computer issue. But we changed our mindset, and she taught us the value of this intangible thing. It’s a service, and we learned from her that at the end of the day, people want peace of mind that your company is going to take care of their IT so they can focus on their business. Once we got the lingo going and the sales process down, we just started to mature. We were maturing in both our service processes and sales and marketing, so when we brought them together, we really started to see our business take off.

Between the mergers and everything else, you’ve had a fantastic year. What was the big thing that happened this year?

It’s really never one thing. It’s the whole system. It also starts with the mindset. We want to think bigger, so every year, we ask, “Okay, how do we surpass last year’s goal?” And it gets harder and harder, right? For example, to get bigger, it just can’t be us out there selling. It can’t just be us out there doing all the marketing.

We hired a lot of salespeople first, but it didn’t work out. So, we were like, “Okay, it can’t just be limited to me selling. How do we scale this?” So, what we ended up doing was hiring a sales administrator who was a junior sales person right out of college, who shadowed me for nine months. Then we sent him off on his own, so that’s the model that’s been working for us lately.

What are the top three metrics you use to measure your business and why?

Early on, we decided that managed services and MRR were where we wanted to focus. MRR is the gift that just keeps giving. So, if we get a prospect that tells us about a project only and there’s no MRR potential, we actually don’t even take it on because having that laser-sharp focus on the MRR goal and what number we need to hit is really the driver in us achieving.

We are also very, very sales- and marketing-focused at this point, so we put effort into making sure we are doing enough outreach. We have been with Robin since 2009, and we’ve implemented all her marketing principles. We do some offline, online, and a mixture of both. We’re constantly putting ourselves out into the market by doing seminars, getting on boards, getting on nonprofits, and organizing things. Being out in the community has really helped us gain recognition. It’s out of our comfort zones. Most of us are engineers. We’re introverted people, so I think the more we stretch ourselves out of the comfort zone, the more we are a growth-oriented company. Our whole culture is built around growth, so I think that helps a lot.

Third, we implemented the EOS traction operating system five years ago, and we really run our entire business with that concept, including the Level 10 meetings and setting the 10-year, five-year, and quarterly rocks. We’re all aligned with it, and we know what priorities we’re working on.

We also have the accountability group that I’m in with Robin and HTG, which has evolved. It really helps us to be with like-minded business owners in noncompeting markets and share what’s working for who instead of reinventing.

Do you have an impactful business or thought leader who has influenced your style?

It is Robin Robins. We didn’t even know what managed services was when we first started. It was just break-fix. And the vendors — we had no idea who Kaseya was, who ConnectWise was, or who any of these people were. Because we started to get more clients, we needed tools to manage them. We couldn’t do it manually anymore. Then there are the speakers she brings in, like Nido Qubein. I do all my seminars modeled after the way he does his. With all these little tidbits I’ve picked up from the speakers she’s brought in, I think she’s revolutionized the whole industry.

Do you have any words of wisdom you’d like to pass on?

So, I’ve been getting out of the comfort zone and into celebrity status. A couple years ago, when I came to Robin’s thing, there was Nick Nanton and that “American Pickers” guy, Mike Wolfe. Mike Wolfe basically said he’s had his antique anthropology shop for years. No one ever came to it. Once he got his cable show and became a celebrity, there’s been a line around the corner to come into his antique store. Again, for a little introverted engineer, that was not easy for me, but I said, “Okay, these are the people who are telling us what to do.” So, I started putting a focused effort on becoming a minicelebrity in my area, and that’s when we started to see the marketing pay off even more.

I do everything from speaking engagements to this thing called RochesterRockstars.com, where I go out and interview other success-minded people for short, 10-minute videos and profile them. The local business journal picked them up. They called me and said, “We saw you do this thing. Will you blog about it on our Sunday’s business section?” So it has really grown.

The more you put yourself out there in the community, the more it all pays off. I think the big thing is that people are always looking for their shiny penny, but you should focus on what you already know (the fundamentals), put in the hard work, and go for the stuff that makes you uncomfortable. It builds a great business.

  • Company: Capstone IT, an Iconic IT Company
  • Year Founded: 2003
  • Headquartered: Rochester, New York. Iconic IT also comprises LIVE Consulting in Denver, Colorado; Choose Network in Wichita, Kansas; and Networking Results in Dallas, Texas.
  • Top Growth Indicator: Rochester is not a growing area. Kodak and Xerox used to be the big icon companies there, with any other companies around supporting those two big companies. But when they started to not do well, the small-business community held its own. So, for me, when I compare myself with other people in my accountability group and how much marketing they are doing, we almost have to do double because it’s not a huge growth-oriented area. That’s why we’re so marketing focused. We have to fight harder.
  • Recommended Readings: “Road Less Stupid” by Keith J. Cunningham and “Fanatical Prospecting” by Jeb Blount
  • Co-CEOs: Sitima Fowler and Mike Fowler