Nick Kozak for the Toronto Star
Case Studies

Entrepreneur seeks top executives as clients

Vital Stats
Name:
Executive Vision
Owner:
Kamil Kowalski
Address:
6300 - 2100 Bloor St. West Toronto, M6S 5A5
Contact:
info@executivevision.ca, 1-877-357-9779
Active:
11 years
Offering:
Custom enterprise web software and infrastructure solutions to established businesses and startups.

When his first business crumbled in the wake of the recession, Kamil Kowalski learned a valuable lesson — sometimes it takes being at the bottom to know what the top looks like.

“I was broke — completely out of money — and had to close down the shop,” says the Polish-born, Toronto-based entrepreneur. “My own creation had eaten me up.”

Now his IT and marketing consulting firm, Executive Vision, is on its second leg of life, and Kowalski has no intentions of squandering his chance to try again.

That is if he can surpass the usual recruitment channels of potential clients and connect directly with upper management to convince them of his value.

Initially launched in 2003, Executive Vision capitalized on the upswing in the tech world led by social media and the growing need for companies to have strong online presences.

His business grew rapidly, with massive clients like Rogers Wireless hiring his company to develop custom web-based software. But the growth came at a cost. He had a hard time saying no to added services without upping his fees. Struggling to manage client’s expectations, the IT consultant’s health was deteriorating and buckling under the strain of the stress.

“I was overweight and very unhealthy,” he recalls.

Then the recession hit and his customer base dried up, leaving him on the hook with high overheads and no clients in sight. He considered going back to Poland but knew the challenges with starting from scratch would be the same, so he stayed put.

“I ended up at the very bottom and had to rebound,” he says.

Over the next few years he focused on personal growth, health and fitness and slowly started edging his way back into the IT world. He re-jigged his model to focus on providing high-level IT and marketing services as opposed to web design and social media.

“The new approach involves talking directly to executives, understanding their goals and brainstorming to develop their IT architecture, products, connectivity and software,” says Kowalski. “My service isn’t ‘call a number and get a job done in a couple of days’ — it’s working with the CTO, seeing what they need and making it happen.”

Contracts can last anywhere from four months to over a year and are highly intense, with Kowalski only taking a few projects on at a time. He pulls on contractors as needed for services like developing apps or graphic design.

“At the moment I have a total of three active clients — one large corporation that is deploying a state-of-the-art data center with extreme speed fiber network and high availability redundancy,” he says. “The other two are small businesses, one requiring online brand management and the other assistance with the office computer systems.”

But the intensity of the current projects means finding the next contract creates a lot of downtime.

“Sometimes I am blessed with a great referral from my previous clients or my growing network, but more often it requires me actively seeking one via standard sources,” he says. “This takes time and resources.”

The challenge is further compounded by the fact that his services are geared towards the upper echelons of companies.

“Once a client is found (I need) to get in front of higher management where I shine and establish a rapport by addressing specific business needs and demonstrating my company’s fit,” adds Kowalski. “This requires some good, old research into each company of interest and navigating past doorkeepers with a witty, beneficial offer… where luck varies.”

Pursuing business development while in the midst of an intense contract is a major challenge says Brynn Winegard, principal at Toronto-based marketing consultant Winegard and Co.

“He is also going to be a bit more limited because he only has proper capacity for one or two and I’m sure in many cases the types of categories or industries interested in his services are going to have competition issues,” she says. “You wouldn’t want somebody working for a competitor in a similar category.”

She admits that his model is certainly attractive, especially in the tech sector where using contractors is becoming the norm, but if he wants to work directly with upper management he’ll need to demonstrate his expertise and build brand value.

“He can’t do that when he’s there in the weeds day in and day out,” she says. “He needs to start look at himself and his business with more of a macro view.”

In the meantime he plans to focus on interacting with his current high-profile clients and professionals to help build his network and establish connections. He also says he has gotten better at establishing a clear scope and deliverables for contracts — an element that crippled the first incarnation of his business.

But one thing’s for sure the road to the top will include both personal and professional development, says Kowalski.

“My restarted business is technically still young, but perhaps the solution to (my) challenges is to look into spending some time at golf courses,” he adds.

EXPERT VIEWS

As Interviewed by: Rosemary Westwood

Kamil is thinking big, and he says so himself. He needs to focus on the big accounts. What strikes me is that he appears to be a great salesperson, but he admits he doesn’t have the skills to pull everything off. Assuming that he continues to bring in the sales, he has three choices regarding delivery: make, rent or buy. Make means that he does it all himself, sales, design and installation with limited support as needed. Rent means contracting out all pieces while he focuses on sales only. Buy means you bring someone on board to implement. To grow this business, he really needs to bring in a partner. Accounts will see that there's someone behind him. Contracting is nice, but it’s not always reliable if your contractors can’t dedicate themselves to you, which leads to multiple suppliers and potential inconsistencies. Ideally Kamil should continue targeting the strategic management in larger accounts. To establish your brand at that level you need to have the resources, a partner who can come on board to deliver the goods as Kamil sells.

by Steve Tissenbaum Ryerson

Kamil cannot continue to be a one man show, and also expect to scale up. If he wants to grow, he should standardize what he’s doing, then leverage that and expand. He doesn’t have to hire people as full-time employees, he can hire them on contract as projects come in, as most senior consultant do. He should do most of the client development, but the delivery can be done by others. Standardizing his work will require an investment of time. He needs to step back, look at his processes and write them down. Then bring people in and give them basic training to deliver the projects. The other option is hiring employees, and assuming all that risk. Freelancers will expect to be paid more but they add few fixed costs if there are no projects, so that is another consideration. Someone is going to have to do that client facing and upfront work. The prospecting and selling. The question is how much of his time does he want to spend doing that. And what does that mean for the kind of lifestyle he wants. When he decides that, he can build the team around it.

by Theo Peredis - York

Kamil seems to fall down during the period of rapid growth, but there are some things he can do to avoid the same mistakes. People are passionate about their business, and sometimes hang on too long. Kamil can’t be generating new leads while working non-stop on contracts that have already landed. He needs to be involved, but he doesn’t need to do everything himself. The important thing is to identify his crucial assets. Where does he add the most value? Then concentrate there, and hire people where he is weaker. I would say he should hire a high-end sales person, someone with a track record selling this kind of product to executives. He needs someone to make those introductions. As soon as there are serious meetings, he should be there to seal the deal. He seems to be strongest at creating marketing and web strategies. He can focus on that, and then also hire people to do the nitty gritty of implementing those ideas. Then he should continue to evaluate and eliminate tasks that he’s doing that could be done better by experts.

by Deirdre Fitzpatrick - GBC

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