Award-winning tech entrepreneur Tom Salonek shares his secrets to business success in his new book, The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership. Salonek offers practical advice based on his experiences as the founder and CEO of Intertech, which Fortune recently named the #7 Best Workplace for Flexibility and the #5 Best Small Workplace in Tech.
For anyone who owns a business, is thinking of starting one, or simply wants to be a more effective leader at work, The 100 will help establish clear visions and compelling values. To celebrate the book's publication earlier this month, we are sharing this Q&A with the author.
Why did you decide to write The 100?
The 100 started as a guide for my employees to share how we do things at Intertech. As I started writing, I realized the concepts applied to many organizations and not just my firm. When I read a book, attend a conference, or read an article, I find myself earmarking the ideas that I want to implement. In The 100, my goal was to give readers something practical and actionable in each of the 100 sections. Hopefully, if the book hits home with reader, their copies will all have 100 earmarks.
What was your own experience starting up Intertech? What lessons did you learn?
In the beginning, it was controlled chaos. I worked insane hours, I took on any project regardless of whether or not it was in my wheelhouse, and I was so focused working “in the business” that I didn’t work “on the business.” I learned a lot of lessons starting the firm.
One of the biggest lessons I learned was that great people make a great organization. When hiring, take time, be stringent, and be consistent. When I was starting out, I was so focused on not missing out on work or opportunities that I was too quick to hire—I’d hire someone over a coffee. Today, we have eight separate steps in our interview process and hire only one out of every 20 applicants. The process is thorough, and the right employees appreciate that we set a high bar. The wrong employees are weeded out or opt out themselves.
I also learned that life is short. For clients and employees, if it’s not a positive relationship, cut bait and move on. When starting out, I would tolerate the employee who was technically gifted but who acted like a prima donna. I would tolerate the client who used berating as a tool to get more “value” out of the work provided by our team. Today, we have a thorough hiring process, but when we make a mistake in a new hire, we’re quick to fire. It’s a similar story for clients. While it doesn’t happen much, if there’s a client who sees us as a “bar of steel” and not a partner—or thinks raising his voice is a motivational tool—we’ll finish up the project professionally and pass on future opportunities.
What inspired you to write “the shortest book” on this subject?
When I attend a workshop or read a book or periodical, I’m the type of person who’s looking for the answer or core idea. Theory, while good to know, isn’t as useful to my business as practical, actionable, and proven ideas and tools are. My goal was to create a book where there were a lot of implementable ideas to grow and improve a business.
What advice would you give to someone just thinking about starting a business?
There never will be a perfect time to start a business. I started Intertech in a recession. To limit risk, ask yourself if there’s a way to dip your toe in the water without quitting your day job. Also, set it up to succeed or fail quickly. It’s not about money or significant investment. From co-location workspaces to all the resources available through cloudbased services to the sharing economy, there are a lot of ways to start with minimal expense. The amount of resources available for an entrepreneur is staggering. From books to workshops to online resources, the challenge isn’t to find resources—it’s to sift out what is practical and useful. My hope is that The 100 provides a quick read with plenty of actionable ideas for the aspiring entrepreneur.
What’s your advice for entrepreneurs whose businesses are on the decline?
Action cures fear. When you’re actively focused on the solution and working the problem, you feel more empowered. For a business in decline, remember that you’re not the first to experience this problem. Who do you know within or outside your organization that could help generate ideas to turn things around? Start with “green light” brainstorming session around the core problems causing the decline. Ask, “In what ways can we increase sales?” or “In what ways can we reduce expenses to improve profitability?” After all the ideas are on the table, sort from first to worst, and then act.
What are you working on next?
For Intertech, we’re investing in and growing our Internet of Things (IoT) consulting practice. IoT is projected to grow five-fold (from about 5 billion devices currently connected to the Internet to the 25 billion projected to be connected in 2020). The future is a world where everything has a sensor connected to the Internet. IoT consulting is the type of work our consultants love, so that makes it a win all around: our consultants get work that gets them up early and keeps them engaged; our customers get a great solution because engaged folks produce solid work; and our firm wins because happy customers and employees results in great retention and profits.
On the writing front, a couple of years ago, I wrote a children’s book. It was mainly a way to teach my then three- and five-year-olds manners. I'm toying around with another book to help with my next parenting challenge.