Matt Kahle sat over a steaming bowl of bulgogi in South Korea. The sensational flavors of garlic, onions, zingy spice, and marinated beef filled his mouth as he looked around at this place with its food, sounds, and smells that were entirely different than his Grand Rapids, Michigan, home.
He was seeing the world in a wholly new light – and flavor. After realizing his decade-long career as IT director for a multinational marketing and sales agency was going nowhere, he took a year off to travel the world and gain a new perspective.
Kahle spent a year scuba diving off the warm coast of Australia, hiking the lush green landscape of New Zealand, and bathing in the geothermal spas of Iceland – all in an effort to clear out the cobwebs from his mind and look at life through a new lens. But during the yearlong quest, his mind wandered to the past – to childhood memories he’d long since buried.
When Matt had been in middle school, his father was laid off during a corporate restructuring of the sales company he worked at. He struggled to find a new job, and financially it set the family back years. Instead of skateboarding or playing video games with friends on the weekends, Matt had worked 12-hour shifts from the age of 12 to help support the family.
Matt describes his school and work schedule as “soul-sucking,” and as a boy, he vowed never to be in that position again. As a child, he had no idea how he would achieve that. But as a young man, Matt realized he would do it the way his father eventually did – through entrepreneurship.
In 2006, Matt founded Real IT Solutions, a reliable IT provider that prioritizes family and being the “easy button” for their West Michigan manufacturing clients while having a bit of fun along the way.
“Not A Groundskeeper”
Before Matt jumped on a plane to cross the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans several times, he had been the midwest IT director at Advantage Sales and Marketing, now Advantage Solutions. Over a decade, the company had grown from a single office in Grand Rapids to a multinational corporation.
Matt integrated IT departments and ensured a smooth transition when a company was acquired or merged. He solved every technical and human problem, ensuring the right people landed in the right positions.
But after the company’s latest restructuring, Matt found his career at a standstill. “They divided up the country and let us each have a portion,” he explains. “They said, ‘You keep things running in that portion of the country. That’s your job.’”
So Matt traveled most of the year, visiting colleagues from regional offices, but he wasn’t interested in being a “groundskeeper.” He was tired of the dining culture and the difficulties of maintaining relationships that often came with work travel. He considered an internal promotion to chief information officer, “but that guy wasn’t going anywhere,” he says. “There wasn’t any room for advancement or opportunity.” Matt was at the end of the road in that company.
His work culture also shifted for the worse when he got a new supervisor whose style contrasted with the authority and autonomy his previous boss had given him. “He had trusted me to make the right decisions and do the right thing. When I couldn’t do it anymore, it was time to go,” Matt says.
He didn’t just leave his job – he left the country multiple times over the next year. That’s when he began to reflect on his own entrepreneurial desires. “I wanted to clear my head and get some perspective,” he says.
He didn’t have an epiphany about his future. Instead, he remembered the tumultuous years his family experienced as his father struggled to find work. When most of his friends were hanging out after school or on the weekends, Matt had been working to buy himself a new pair of shoes or glasses. “I learned a good work ethic, but it also made me a little bitter,” he says.
As his father’s entrepreneurial journey evolved into a successful sales coaching practice, young Matt discovered there was more to life than minimum wage if you were willing to work for it. While diving into a bowl of bulgogi 10 years later, that’s what he found himself thinking about. “In the back of my head,” he says, “I always thought about how boys want to emulate their father, so I always wanted to start my own business.”
But Matt wasn’t going to jump feetfirst into entrepreneurship. He needed capital – and a plan.
“Well, What Are You Waiting For?”
After his yearlong break, Matt was hired for a three-month contract to do IT work for R. L. Polk through project re-FUEL. After his contract ended, they asked him to stay full-time, but Matt knew this wasn’t the right fit long-term.
He thought about entrepreneurship again, but the move was risky. He explained this new fork in the road to his now-wife, who wasn’t surprised. “She knew that I wanted to start my own business. I kept saying, ‘Someday I’ll do that,’” Matt recalls. She finally said to her fiancé, “Well, what are you waiting for?”
What was he waiting for? For years he and his friend Adam, whom he’d known since the sixth grade, entertained pie-in-the-sky scenarios of entrepreneurship. Just two years earlier, Adam and Matt had backpacked through Europe together. Adam was also an IT professional, but he lived in California. Soon, he told Matt, he would be moving his family back to Grand Rapids. “As I was talking about starting a business, he said, ‘Why don’t we do it together?’” recalls Matt. The pair of IT professionals realized they could combine their experience and bring a down-to-earth, relatable experience to customers while ensuring they could provide for their families.
Matt knew he’d found the best people for the job. In 2006, he founded Real IT Solutions, and in 2007, Adam joined the Real IT Solutions team as co-owner.
Making The Technical Relatable
Matt knows what it’s like when a job pulls the rug from under neath its employees. That situation forces families – like his parents – to grind to a halt. Matt made a vow not to repeat that situation.
Today, as president of Real IT Solutions, he extends that vow to his clients. He knows that a business’s IT performance impacts its success and, by extension, its customers, employees, and their families. Business technology encompasses many elements that can feel unpredictable for businesses, like supply chain issues or the risk of cyber-attacks.
“Businesses today rely on technology, some more than others. That’s not a shocker for anyone. But we’re the ‘easy button’ for the IT portion of their workload,” Matt says. “Clients can focus on operations, hiring and building a team, and let us deal with the uncertainty and maintenance.”
Things aren’t just “easy” for Matt. He’s created systems and processes around prevention to reduce and prevent downtime for his manufacturing clients.
“Many companies are talking about how quick their response times are, but we know our clients can’t afford to be down for any amount of time,” he explains. “We keep things up and running, so they don’t have problems.” His goal is to give companies peace of mind that everything is working, and when it’s not – Real IT Solutions is only a quick phone call away.
When customers do make that call, Matt ensures they feel understood. “I’ve always had the ability to translate the technical into the relatable,” he says. But that doesn’t mean he’s “dumbing it down” for clients. “Sometimes it’s the opposite. The key is figuring out how to translate the technical into somebody else’s language.”
Finally, There’s An IT “Easy Button”
Matt spent much of his preteen and teenage years working, which cultivated in him a strong work ethic. Still, he hasn’t forgotten the importance of having fun. “We’ve injected a conscious culture into the business – it’s irreverent professionalism: we like to have fun, but we do it in a way that takes care of customers and gets things done.”
How does a team of IT professionals have fun while also serving customers? Look at Real IT Solutions’ series of creative and clever YouTube videos to find out. You may find yourself in stitches – while picking up an important IT tip or two.
Real IT Solutions’ quirky videos and relatable IT service remind people that IT doesn’t have to feel complicated or overly technical. For the past 16 years, Matt and his team have worked diligently to create a light and professional IT environment that balances their work and their families and addresses the challenges of modern business technology.
“We deal with the uncertainty, maintenance and cyber security,” Matt says. “Our clients can just push the ‘easy button.’”
For more information on Real IT Solutions, visit www.realitsolutions.com.