News and Events
BrightWire Celebrates 15 Years of Service!
I recently sat with co-founders Todd Whitley and Gordon Carlisle to learn more about the growth of the company, their unique experiences and the key to their long-term success.
Shelley Freed: So how did BrightWire get started… why did you two decide partner in a start-up business?
Todd Whitley: Well, I had recently relocated back to the Pacific Northwest and had worked for a similar company in California for a few years. I had run start-ups before and was relatively new to IT.
Gordon Carlisle: I was working for a Fortune 50 corporation as a Windows Platform Engineer. The company had recently announced they were relocating my division back to Virginia. My wife and I decided to stay here in Olympia, and I had an opportunity to start a new business.
Shelley: So how did the two of you know each other?
Gordon: (laughs) Well, that’s the funny part. We had never met before. Our wives met a volunteer group and got to talking. The conversation led to what Todd and I did for a living and they found out we were both in IT, and that we were both planning to start a business so it kind of got started from there.
Todd: Yeah, my wife came home from the fundraiser and she was pretty excited. She said, “You should call this guy!”. I recall that I called Gordon that evening and we agreed to meet. It quickly became apparent that this would a be a good fit because we filled in gaps of experience the other didn’t have. I had almost 20 years of business management experience that included the start-up of a retail coffee business. Gordon had a ton of enterprise IT experience that would prove invaluable to BrightWire as we geared up the business. I suppose that we were a unique combination of talents and experience.
Shelley: What would you say is the WHY of BrightWire?
Gordon: For me, the “why” of BrightWire is really all about helping people. Whether that’s our clients, or if it’s someone on the team. When I decided I wanted to start an IT business, the real motivator was I had grown really tired of being just a cog in the machine, which is kind of what my career at that point had become. I really liked working with small businesses to help them improve, and to show them what technology could do for them. I had landed a couple of clients prior to BrightWire and that was much more rewarding to me personally than the corporate day job.
Todd: The reality is BrightWire is a service business first and foremost. Clearly, we work with technology constantly, and I know we’re among the very best when it comes to technical competence, but that’s not at all why we’re successful. We do our best work when we are of service to our clients in a way that helps them elevate their day. Our entire team is motivated to help people and we put a great deal of effort into hiring empathetic people that enjoy helping people. A lot of technology companies take an opposite approach in that they hire for technical skill set first, but often completely miss the mark when it comes client services. Sometimes that problem is described as “Geek Speak”. We’ve found that hiring for service aptitude makes a huge difference for the benefit of our clients. I’m also known for “Short story, long” so I’ll stop talking now, but that’s our “WHY”!
Shelley: Business partnerships can be difficult. How do you two resolve differences and find success?
Todd: I think the last time we had a dispute, it was resolved by a vigorous round of Rochambeau! (rock-paper-scissors). We were at a conference in Orlando and had rented a nearby condo instead of staying at the hotel. I think we went almost 20 rounds before Gordon finally crushed my scissors with his rock. He got the room with the private bathroom and shower. Other than that, we typically agree to work in the best interest of the BrightWire and our clients. There’s not a lot of conflict day-to-day.
Gordon: One of our colleagues once said, “Partnerships are best in odd numbers less than three”. I think for the big picture things we’ve typically seen eye-to-eye on most things. We’ve worked to separate our roles recently and that’s helped with who is responsible and ultimately accountable for specific goals of the company. That’s been a pretty significant change in the way that we manage the company. That being said, we’ve had several of our colleagues remark over the years how well Todd and I have worked together in a partnership to find success. Apparently, that’s pretty rare.
Shelley: What would you say is your biggest challenge going in to the next 2 or 3 years?
Gordon: That’s always a tough question to answer. Running any business is a constant challenge. We see a lot of pressure from larger companies trying to capture business in our market space. That’s not really a new challenge, and typically it’s a price battle that they eventually lose because they can’t deliver the level of service expected by local small businesses. Our best clients really value the close relationship we’re able to build with them. We are still working with quite a few clients that go back to the very beginning of BrightWire. We also recognize that IT professionals command high wages, and the best of them are restless in their pursuit of new and exciting opportunities. Our goal is to build a great company where everyone wants to work and build a rewarding career.
Todd: I would say our biggest challenge is getting the message out to businesses that may be behind the curve in terms of technology adoption. Ultimately this has a direct impact on their ability to grow, remain competitive, and avoid significant disruption to their operations. As a company, we really enjoy helping others improve their business capabilities. We often do that through technology, but it’s really more about helping people get better at what they do.
Shelley: Thanks for your time today gentleman, and your thoughts on what makes BrightWire successful!
Shelley Freed is Chief Learner & Strategist Restart Smart, a small but mighty strategic research firm that brings curiosity, authenticity and creative thinking to businesses that want to grow. She can be reached at http://www.restartsmart.com/