They ask ‘When seconds matter, can you protect those who matter most?’ SWIFT Weather joins millions in their quest to secure themselves against natural calamities, unsought and unpredicted. Weather Defender is a leaf off the software solution firm SWIFT Weather, run by Rory Groves, a former storm chaser and software engineer. This initiative vows to protect you and your family with second-by-second real time weather updates in critical risk zones along with a range of software products to trace harsh weather conditions, services that are vouched for by countless citizens.
eBrandz gets up close with Rory Groves, founder of SWIFT Weather & Weather Defender for a bout of business tete-a-tete where he shares with us his entrepreneurial ideals and insights.
Kindly give our readers an introduction to your business.
SWIFT Weather builds software that is used by hundreds of commercial, residential, and governmental organizations across the United States to track weather in real-time, pinpoint where severe weather will strike, and make better-informed decisions.
Weather Defender®, our flagship software solution, delivers critical, up-to-the-second weather data directly to your desktop, e-mail inbox or mobile device. Our award-winning products are proven, field-tested, and trusted by hundreds of users, coast to coast. Counted among our valued customers are city governments, public safety and emergency response agencies, construction and roofing contractors, sports and recreation facilities and organizations, and many other businesses, as well as private citizens – anyone who needs reliable weather data at their fingertips.
SWIFT Weather is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
Kindly give us a brief description about yourself.
SWIFT Weather is managed by myself, Rory Groves, a software entrepreneur, profession which led me to establish multiple technology companies in the past decade. After experiencing the devastating effects of severe weather first hand, I devoted my energy to finding ways to give communities and families more time to prepare and a greater chance of survival.
Previous Companies founded or co-founded:
Groves Internet Consulting, Inc.
Eden Systems International, Inc.
Breaking News Video Network, Inc.
What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture? How did the idea for your business come about?
Back in the late 1990’s I was a hobbyist storm chaser and used to travel hundreds of miles to see tornadoes and other extreme weather in the Midwest of the United States. In 2001, I created a prototype application that would combine real-time weather data with street-level road maps, using GPS technology. This allowed me to get turn-by-turn navigation to the severe thunderstorms, both increasing my chances of seeing a tornado and increasing my safety while doing so, because I could see every weather threat in my path.
During one of my storm chases, I followed a tornado into a small town that was directly hit and badly damaged. Several people died and many more were injured. I found out later that the tornado sirens were not working that day and some residents had no warning at all.
I spent the next several years perfecting the technology and released the latest edition of Weather Defender in 2009.
How important have good employees been to your success?
Good employees have been absolutely essential to our success. I always look for self-starters who demonstrate ownership in their work and have a strong work ethic. In my experience, hiring one peak performer far exceeds two mediocre ones.
What three pieces of advice would you give to college students who want to become entrepreneurs?
Do what you love, and never give up. In that order. You need the passion to carry you through the hard times. Money alone is a poor motivator, there needs to be a deep passion for what you do.
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I would spend much more time networking and getting to know professionals in my industry. In my experience, people have been extremely generous and willing to help when I approach them with humility and ask for advice.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
To be a successful entrepreneur you need first to be humble: most of what you try will fail. You also need to be comfortable with risk and have an unstoppable dedication to your work.
How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
Most of the time you don’t need to give up, just modify your approach. The market, your customers, will tell you what needs to be done. Listen to them.
How many hours do you work a day on average?
Starting out, when I was the sole employee, I worked 10-12 hours per day. Now I work 8-9 on average. There is nothing noble about more hours. More hours can also mean you are less effective. Many successful entrepreneurs run very large corporations on 40 hours per week (or less).
How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
My family life has been positively and negatively affected by my entrepreneurial aspirations. But on the whole it has mostly been positive. At first it was very risky to leave a full time job and live off savings. I took part-time consulting jobs to help pay the bills. But now I have more freedom and financial stability than I ever had as an employee. I have control over my profession and can work on projects of my choosing.
What motivates you?
Creating. I am motivated most when I am turning ideas into reality.
How do you generate new ideas?
They mostly come to me from personal experience, if I see a better way to do things or think of a solution to a problem I’m experiencing. It’s critical to stay up to speed on trends in your industry, especially tech. That means reading a lot. But that can be difficult when you are focused on your business and time is your most scarce resource.
What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
On the operations side, I worry about major technical problems disrupting our business, such as server failures or network outages. We monitor everything 24/7 and have redundant equipment on standby. On the financial side I think it is important to keep your overhead low and spread out the risk by acquiring a large quantity of customers (as opposed to a few very large customers).
What are your ideals?
My ideals proceed from my belief in God and that, principally, I’m not Him. Humility, honesty, generosity and love of family and friends are most important to me.
How do you define success?
To paraphrase Michael Gerber of E-Myth, business exists to serve your life, not the other way around. So I define success as marked improvement in the quality of life of the owner, employees, and clients.
What is the best way to achieve long-term success?
You need to figure out what you’re good at—what you can be the best in the world at—and focus your energies there while finding people or partners to fill the gaps of what you’re not good at.
Where did your organization’s capital come from and how did you go about getting it? How did you obtain investors for your venture?
I started this business on the side and grew it organically while working full-time elsewhere. Before leaving permanent employment, I had a small income stream and knew I could grow it with dedication. I received a small investment a few years later to help me grow and take on my first employees. The important thing to realize is investors typically need to see results before they are willing to invest. They tend to invest in people over ideas.
How do you build a successful customer base?
Every customer is hard-won. Broad and efficient marketing techniques are critical, but at the end of the day you need to have a solid product and a good reputation. That means serving your customers like you would want to be served.
How did you decide on the location for your business?
We are a virtual company with staff all over the world. That being said, we are headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota which has special advantages. Minnesota is both technologically advanced with great universities and technology companies while maintaining a Midwest culture of generosity and a strong work-ethic. Wherever you happen to be located, it is important for the owner to have networking opportunities and be able to make an impression on the local market.
Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Yes: Do what you love and never give up.
If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?
The Founding Fathers of America: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, et al. These were brilliant thinkers and masterful innovators of their time. Their work led to freedom for millions and continues to impact present generations. It has been said that the greatest force against tyranny in the world is the Constitution of the United States.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My father. Family was always his priority, and I am a beneficiary of that. I simply wouldn’t be the person I am today without his guidance.
What book has inspired you the most?
The E-Myth by Michael Gerber
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Freedom to innovate and pursue interesting work.
To what do you most attribute your success? What would say are the five key elements for starting and running a successful business?
Seeking advice from other entrepreneurs who have achieved success was critical in helping me transform my business and stop wasting time on things that weren’t working. The sooner you can find people to surround yourself and guide you, the sooner you will find success. At a minimum, you will need advice in: legal, accounting, hiring, investing, and marketing. Combine that with your own motivation, willingness to work, and determination to finish what you start.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
The day when your first customer pays you his hard-earned money for your product. It’s a very rewarding experience.
What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?
I think in general entrepreneurs are more comfortable with risk and willing to sacrifice in the short-term for the long-term payoff.
How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?
Hands down, the most effective marketing is online advertising. That includes Pay-Per-Click like Google AdWords and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It’s relatively inexpensive and you can track everything. After getting prospects to your website, it is then necessary to have an effective web presence to build trust and attract buyers.
What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?
e are a small company, so there is a lot of ownership and participation across departments. But we also have a disciplined culture—everyone is responsible for delivering results, and they know what that number needs to be. We use a Balanced Scorecard approach to measure numbers and track progress. I think there is a certain freedom in knowing exactly what is expected of you.
In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?
My biggest mistake was getting too distanced from my customers and what they needed. We spent two years developing a product that had all the features we wanted. After the product was released we realized some of the most complex features were irrelevant to our target audience and we could have shipped a whole year earlier if we had left them out (and been a year ahead in improvements). We now have a policy to ship all first-version products within 6 months, and then work with customers to improve continuously.
How can you prevent mistakes or do damage control?
You have to realize that people only buy from people they trust. You have to remember that your customers are real people who have taken a chance in trusting you. So honor that trust with honest communication about difficulties you may be having. They will respect a personal message from the CEO far more than a nameless form letter from the customer service department.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
I am from Minnesota, so I enjoy the outdoors a lot. We have lakes, rivers, running and bike trails within a block of my house in Minneapolis.
What makes you happy?
My family. My beautiful wife and newborn son.
What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
The main sacrifice was the drop in pay in the early years. I went from having a lucrative computer programming job to barely being able to pay the bills. But I was so much happier to be doing what I enjoyed. There was no comparison.
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
There is not one company I admire most so much as every successful entrepreneur who has walked this same road before me. This path requires more than you think you have and I welcome the chance to meet those who choose it.
Where you see yourself and your business in 10 years? 20 years?
It is hard to say where we will be in 10- or 20-years. In my experience that sort of long-range planning is a waste of time. Things change so rapidly and to be successful you have to adapt constantly. The most I am willing to plan is three years out. In three years I would like to see a 5X growth in the business.
If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask?
I would ask what associations/networking groups the owner belongs to? It is essential for entrepreneurs to be regularly meeting with other entrepreneurs to share challenges and advice.