00:00:05 Joe Barhoum
Hello everybody, thank you for watching today's podcast. My name is Joe Barr, who man I am with my new friend Charles Swatzell, the CEO of foremost Charles. How are you?
00:00:15 Charles Swatzell
Oh, I'm good. I'm good. We've been really busy lately, so it could be a lot worse, right?
00:00:21 Joe Barhoum
Busy is a good thing. Absolutely. Yeah, I'm really impressed. I'm not sure if you've observed this as well, but you know we're in October now. It's been, gosh, six months that we've all been learning to live around kovid and figure that stuff out, but I'm really impressed with how the business world, you know by and large they've really adapted.
00:00:40 Joe Barhoum
And found ways to continue to get business done. If you observed anything similar.
00:00:45 Charles Swatzell
Yeah, we were in a weird situation where we have a we have a globally you know dispersed workforce right? So we have our office here in Vancouver, WA. We also have our offices in Ho Chi Minh City and then we have an office in denying Vietnam and then Quito, Ecuador. So we had we got really good at working.
00:01:01 Charles Swatzell
You know via Skype calls or zoom meetings, or you know all these other other attributes for us, though we also have an in office kind of rule. We love to collaborate face to face. We think that that's a really great way to get engineers to to communicate about what they're doing and to expand, and so it was. It was an interesting kind of hurry up and figure out how to do a lot of what we were doing really well. But do it just slightly differently.
00:01:24 Charles Swatzell
So it was a challenge at first to to pivot and to make that all work. But again we had the places, the things in place and we were already technology technically advanced enough to make it work, so it could have been a lot worse. And you know, we've seen you know our production quality and just timelines in general.
00:01:44 Charles Swatzell
I've not really been affected at all by by kovid, and so again, we kind of think are lucky stars that were in the space we are. And you know, there's a lot of other industries out there that are a lot harder, hit, you know, then then what we've built.
00:01:57 Joe Barhoum
For sure, well, I definitely want to talk more about foremost, but if you don't mind, I want to get to know you a little bit better. So tell me about who you are.
00:02:05 Joe Barhoum
Your childhood, your favorite answer uncle just help us understand who you are a little bit better. And then of course, we'll talk about the company too.
00:02:14 Charles Swatzell
Yeah, OK, so I don't know how far back I'll go, but I'll start. I'll start somewhere, probably around high school, right? So I started as a as a young person I I worked as a as an actor as a stage actor doing mostly musical Theatre. If you think about like every Great American musical like Oklahoma, Sound of Music or South Pacific, there's always some little kid running around and so that was me. It might be growing up.
00:02:34 Charles Swatzell
And you know, in high school I I would sit in my my high school classes. Just dream about what it would be like. You know to be on Broadway or to spend the rest of my life doing this. So you know, literally like a week after I graduated high school, I moved to New York. I studied musical theater, thought that this was it and and just loved what I was doing. You know, the first business I ever started was a dinner theater.
00:02:55 Charles Swatzell
I was asked to come back to California from New York by a producer of mine. A friend of mine that was my producer when I was younger and he asked me if I'd be willing to open a theater with him, so I did it. I got on the plane. I flew back and met him and he's like great. We're here now let's find a building and I was like, wait, isn't that the first rule of theater like you gotta have a space first and then we figure out how to fill the space.
00:03:16 Charles Swatzell
And so we did, uh, just, you know, with like $400 in my pocket, starting a dinner theater in in a local restaurant, it was in this huge Victorian mansion that was rented out of the restaurant and we converted it into a dinner theater.
00:03:30 Charles Swatzell
And then while we were running our first season there, we ended up opening a bar and then we ended up opening a coffee shop. And we're like this is what success is, right? This is great and I very quickly realized I think this may have been like my first real adult lesson was that you can't own a coffee shop and a bar and a dinner theater and sleep. And so I just I. Luckily I met my wife.
00:03:51 Charles Swatzell
Through that endeavour. But you know, we I very quickly realized, OK, I gotta transition out. And so I started to look for other things to do I had. I had sold my shares in in that venture.
00:04:01 Charles Swatzell
And I fell in I, you know, when I was young I we just got just got married to my wife who I met. He used to run my office and my dinner theater and perform with me and we had no small family and I was like OK Now it's time to be an adult. What're you going to do and all the skills that I had or that I thought I had? You know, just didn't seem to transfer anything like well what could I do?
00:04:22 Charles Swatzell
So I fell into a sales position with a large national phone company.
00:04:27 Charles Swatzell
And very quickly realized that what I spent my whole life as an actor studying you know what makes people pick? You know, what are people thinking when they say this and you know what's under the surface is the exact same thing you use in sales, right? You you look at people and you try to really understand what the need is. You will try to understand what they're saying, even if they're not really saying it in words.
00:04:47 Charles Swatzell
And you figure out how to fill those voids and how to how to you know meet people's needs.
00:04:52 Charles Swatzell
And so I just kind of found myself being successful and and and using all these skills. To do that, I went back to school, got a business degree, went back to school, undergraduate degree in business, went back to school, got my Masters again in business and they got moved to Portland to do sales training for a national company up here. And I thought that was great, that that was it.
00:05:14 Charles Swatzell
Yeah, lo and behold, I was sitting at a trade show working with some of the the people I managed and this guy was following us around one of those reverse trade shows. So it's like speed dating, but for business, so speed dating without any of the fun. You're just there trying to go through and talk and this guy was falling behind us and he had a pitch that was a lot like the company that I was representing.
00:05:34 Charles Swatzell
But just slightly different and a little cooler. And so I listened to it for like 3 hours, 1 evening, just every time I create heat pitch and I'd be like, oh, that's fascinating. So after everybody that was working with went home, I went and and and went out for a couple drinks with this this gentleman and what he had pitched to me was this concept of I was working in the apartments based in multi family housing and marketing sales that.
00:05:58 Charles Swatzell
He said, hey, I really I came up with this idea that if you could pull 1 background check and instantly screen it against every vacant property in a community, then I could tell you where you qualify instantly and the the real heart behind what I do is I was homeless. I was in the fire Academy to be a firefighter. I fell I got injured. I end up in the hospital for months when I got out I was evicted.
00:06:20 Charles Swatzell
My car was repossessed. Everything was in storage. It got repossessed because I literally was just on a park bench and I had couch top. Then I could find nobody and then I got picked up one night and taken to a shelter and the shelter gave me a voucher and six months later I would still on that caught in that shelter even though I knew I could pay rent somewhere but I couldn't find someplace I qualified for.
00:06:42 Charles Swatzell
And I was like, oh, this is makes perfect sense like you could put us all out of business. Anybody doing marketing in multifamily this thing is huge and so I spent the next two years of my life here in Portland. Building that company with a good friend of mine and it's now called 1 app and we we spent about a year and a half of that two years trying to build the software.
00:07:03 Charles Swatzell
And we did it in India first. I I bang my head on the wall. I wasn't a technologist. I was trying to make it work. You know, trying to figure out where the shortcomings were and they did an amazing job on the 1st 80% of the software, which also was the easiest part of software. And I was going for money. We were trying to get money from some of the local Angel and venture groups.
00:07:24 Charles Swatzell
And one of the the guys doing due diligence for one of the Angel groups came up and put his arm around me after looking at the software. He goes Charles. I'd love to invest but I can't like you have nothing here like it's just there's the idea is good that the concepts go. Do you even have traction? But everybody is using error, right? There's there's the hard stuff not done and I said, well just you know that's why I need your money.
00:07:45 Charles Swatzell
Part of the use of funds, and he said OK, but you can't spend that money back where you were. I'm not going to throw good money after that and I said OK, but I don't know anybody else like like how do I like everybody else. I know I worked with a couple of technology firms now, but they're all scattered. You know, around the world and none of them have had a history of performing.
00:08:05 Charles Swatzell
And he goes, will talk to my buddies at four months.
00:08:08 Charles Swatzell
And I said, oh, that's that's that's interesting. I don't know who these guys are like, like where they don't have to be in Vancouver. Looks like there's no software companies in Vancouver. And so Matt, who's the owner here? An Andrew came over. They looked at everything that I had spent, you know, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars on an A year and a half of my life trying to build. And they said, yeah, this is this isn't usable.
00:08:28 Charles Swatzell
We're going to start over. We're going to build it from scratch and we're going to do it in 3 1/2 months and it's going to be about 2.
00:08:35 Charles Swatzell
00:08:36 Charles Swatzell
And I said, you're lying, that's not how this works. I spent 3X at to get to where it is and you know you're not going to hit these deadlines so please don't go back to my board and tell them this. I'm going to double the timeline. I'm going to double the budget and then hope and pray that that's what it ends up being.
00:08:50 Charles Swatzell
And they ended up doing it. They end up signing that build. They finished at 15 days early in $15,000 under budget, and were my heroes right. I finally had a product to market, so once we got the market we did 27 iterations of the software while I was there and then I took my, you know, that was my moment that company got in the point to where I I had the skill set to do it. I knew that that would.
00:09:10 Charles Swatzell
Point is, I was like OK guys time for me to take a back seat. I was gonna go home and hang out with my wife and kids and Matt who's the founder here for most called me and said Hey Charles I really would love for you to do for foremost what you've done for all these other startups and all these other companies. And and what that was is foremost has been around since 2002.
00:09:30 Charles Swatzell
And we it's a team of engineers. It's about 100 people globally but, but most of them are engineers. Nobody is out talking about what we do right. Nobody is out looking at the business side of what our clients needed and and how to meet those needs, and that that kind of the only skill set. I feel like I have anymore. And so I said, you know what you are one of the few software companies that has a product that I'm actually passionate about.
00:09:52 Charles Swatzell
Like I didn't know I could be passionate about it, but I am because you saved my you know rear a couple times and so you know came in first as Chief Strategy Officer and then then quickly you know ended up taking over as CEO as we grew our global presence a little bit more but it is nice to be, you know, at the helm of a company that I just have personal experience. I can sit down and talk to our clients and be like, wait.
00:10:14 Charles Swatzell
I know that story because it's my story and this is, you know, this is how I want to at least approach this. And if it doesn't work, if we can't offer what you need then that's great. But you know it is. It is a really interesting thing to to end up at at the helm of a software company. I'm not an engineer, I have engineers that help me turn my computer on some days, but you know, it's it's really nice to be able to lead this.
00:10:35 Charles Swatzell
This company with a passion that I think you may not. You may have a hard time finding in in somebody who didn't get here in the way that I did right. And and it it is a really fun creative experience for me.
00:10:47 Joe Barhoum
There's a lot to unpack there, so yeah, a lot, and there's probably three or four things that I want to dig into, and I hope I don't forget all of them.
00:10:56 Joe Barhoum
So let's start with one thing that you said. He said. I sort of fell into sales.
00:11:02 Joe Barhoum
That is very common, right? That's how most sales people end up where they are, right? I had a different path. I was a computer science major. I was doing computer science, technology work and then I put two and two together. Oh, if I sell I make more money. I'm gonna go sell but for a lot of sales people in the 15 years that I've been at this, I've trained salespeople. I've worked next to salespeople. I've been.
00:11:25 Joe Barhoum
Obliterated by amazing sales people in competitive landscape an the thing that seems to be true is that no one is getting degrees in sales right. They're just yeah I don't know what else to do. I'll do sales there's money in that the harder I work, the more money I make great.
00:11:41 Joe Barhoum
So there you are, falling into sales and then you had mentioned that there's some skills that you didn't know you had that were valuable, like, what can I do with you? I thought I was a stage actor in a in a bar owner and a cafe owner. What could I possibly do with my life? And then you end up where you are. So I think when you put that stuff together, how do you be a good salesperson?
00:12:01 Joe Barhoum
Who doesn't just fall into it, so I said I'm doing one thing I want to do this now. Go make more money, but for some people who are watching this podcast, they might be thinking themselves, well, am I? Do I have what it takes to be a salesperson even though I may not know what those skills are. So you had mentioned that sales people know how to listen and ask questions and trying to figure out what the need is.
00:12:22 Joe Barhoum
Tell us a little more about what you think qualifies somebody be a good salesperson.
00:12:27 Charles Swatzell
Yeah, yeah, you know, I think that to backup one step I think in in your lead up to the question is that I think one of the reasons that people don't think about being a salesperson when they go to school is because when we think of self people, it's still negative, right? We we think of you know. And I I have some friends who are amazing used car salesman so it's no offense to them. But you know we think of the used car salesman or we think of the guy that showed up trying to sell a vacuum at our door.
00:12:49 Charles Swatzell
Because growing up, that's what we see. We don't get to see you know the the corporate executive level of sales, and it's just. It's not something that did most of our purview. So you know, that's why we all grew up thinking we're going to be police officers or firefighters, or airplane captains or teachers, because that's what's in front of us. And so you know, I think a big thing for people who are in sales roles who have found success in it.
00:13:09 Charles Swatzell
Success meaningful success? I mean not just out to earn a dollar, but you know it's important that they play a part, right? Get out there Talkin School, show up, be the role model and then you know even to my kids, like when my kids ask me what I do everyday, I'm like that's actually really hard to describe. I know that the core function of what I use both as a manager and as as a leader. And now as you know.
00:13:30 Charles Swatzell
Even a consultant, when it comes to building software, a lot of that is just.
00:13:34 Charles Swatzell
You know things you learn through the sales process. You know their pieces, that you put together by by understanding how to describe a need.
00:13:41 Charles Swatzell
00:13:42 Charles Swatzell
But it it's also the idea of how we approach sales, right? I think that.
00:13:49 Charles Swatzell
I'm very lucky because and I I I think I'm lucky because I don't have a product right? I have a solution that's all I have is I have. I have a suite of solutions an and I'm able to come and I'm able to really identify what you know what the problem is and it's an interesting piece because sales. Fundamentally, if you're going to do it for a long time.
00:14:11 Charles Swatzell
Have to be driven by a really strict, I think moral compass to some extent, because if not, you just get burned outright. I've been in those companies where you get out there and you make a great living selling a product that once you get it out there, it's not. It's not holding up right. You get the customer service calls and you're like, oh man, this is so tough and it just eats at my soul to be here. And you know?
00:14:31 Charles Swatzell
For me it's always fight for that company that a year later your clients are going to come back to you and they're still going to say thank you for showing me this. Thank you for this opportunity, and if you don't have that move on right, you may have to start in cell phones so you may have to start selling back you because you're going to learn these skills. You're going to learn these these abilities, but the idea is.
00:14:52 Charles Swatzell
Find that place. You'll find something you're passionate about. You'll find something that you can feel good about, and also you can make a lot of money, right? If I outside being an engineer, right or or something else, I would have probably never found this path financially outside of anything but sales right? The other part is is what most people don't, I think recognizes most CEOs.
00:15:12 Charles Swatzell
Are reformed salespeople right that they their job is to get out there? Talk about the company? Talk about what they do. You know really get out and and sell the value behind what all this is. And so a fundamental understanding of how sales works. What makes people tick, all of those things is so important in being a CEO.
00:15:32 Charles Swatzell
And it's not because you just out there trying to sell smoke, it's because there's going to be a day you're going to have to sit in front of a board room and and sell them on. The idea of you need to get another couple $1,000,000 right? You somebody else needs to invest. You need to have follow on money even though you're approaching this down round. Or you know, whatever those things are, you have to be able to get out there and understand that. So I think when you look at a career in sales.
00:15:54 Charles Swatzell
You may again you don't have the idea of the CEO being a salesperson. You don't know where it goes. You think you just sell 'em? Sell 'em sell? What's the career path and the reality is there are there are vital roles within organizations that are are based around a core function of, you know a sales acumen.
00:16:11 Joe Barhoum
That's a great answer, so it's something that we talked about a month ago. Is that I do sales training and development, but in particular I do it with students at the University. So I have 30 ish impressionable youngsters that are, you know, young adults that have that same pre predisposition. Oh well. Yeah, preconceived notion. Rather that sales people are.
00:16:32 Joe Barhoum
Slimy, dishonest. You know they're not only out for it, for the they're only in it for themselves. And when you say moral compass, I think that's a great way to talk about it. One of the things I will train on is honesty and I do it with the students as well as with grown adults that are active sales people. To me, honesty is one of the biggest things and we can dig into that.
00:16:52 Joe Barhoum
Quite a bit, but you can't represent yourself or your company in a dishonest way and expect to be successful. Eventually it's going to turn around and bite you, whether it's it's in a, in, in your quota, your Commission, your relationship, or even just in how you perceive yourself. And that's I mean this is something that can take a long time for us to unravel and to change that mindset.
00:17:14 Joe Barhoum
The one the good things, I think is happening is that more people are finding an interest in sales because they can just run off and do it. They don't necessarily need to have a big corporate entity that's teaching them, you know, at eight week in eight weeks, teach them how to sell widget, then off they go with a big old quota and they burn out in six months, they're gone like they're actually. People are selling things online on their own. They're learning how to negotiate.
00:17:37 Joe Barhoum
With other buyers and they're doing it, whether it's through Craigslist or other similar sites, or they're just spinning up a website, I can't tell you. Every year, every semester I have more and more students that do online sales, so this ecommerce thing they just picked up a Shopify account and I'm selling this stuff. It's pretty cool. I don't know if you've observed anything similar.
00:17:57 Charles Swatzell
You know it.
00:17:57 Charles Swatzell
It's a it's a different world than when I think, probably even you and I, you know, look at at what it took to start a business. You know when we first first set out, you know constantly I look at it, you know. Even I started a business for my with my with my wife. She did with 84 employees serving mainly the US government in 33 States and she rented out of my living room and we built it based on a website that I created in about 45 minutes, you know?
00:18:20 Charles Swatzell
During one of my weekends and and I looked at that I was like, wait, this is there's millions of dollars in this and and and we ended up selling that business. You know, in a potential exit.
00:18:30 Charles Swatzell
In that business.
00:18:31 Charles Swatzell
And she ran it by yourself with these employees out there. But I was like, wait, you couldn't do that 20 years ago like, I don't know that I don't know what the comperable would have been.
00:18:41 Charles Swatzell
You know, in the Wayback Machine to what that was. It is a really exciting time that you get out there. That being said, you also have to be really good because there's a lot of noise, right? There's a lot of people out there that have their, you know, their their different ecommerce platforms. Or, you know, selling their soaps on Etsy. It's really hard to stand out above above the rest.
00:19:01 Charles Swatzell
But that being said, you couldn't do that before, right? You may be the equivalent was you could go to a farmers market and sell to a couple 100 people in eternity over a weekend, but you just couldn't do that. And now there there's ways to do this in a really meaningful way that's quick, and so it is. You know, I have a good friend of mine who has a degree in entrepreneurship. And I said, wait, who did green entrepreneurship like? I think I got that, but that was because I've just failed so many times, yeah?
00:19:24 Charles Swatzell
And and I you know, we talk about the things that he learned. And I I, I'm constantly impressed with what he picked up in math and just the resource fullness that he was able to learn. It's like I didn't know you could learn that stuff and and get out there and do that. But I don't know. I don't know that we had those degrees. You know, when our parents are going to school, right? I don't know that that people were were taught how to be resourceful in that way.
00:19:44 Joe Barhoum
Yeah, so my parents are immigrants and like my mom never finished junior high school and my dad. Yeah he went to college. I think for a semester maybe 2 and then life circumstances. He'd been here for four years. It's like. Well now you gotta run the family business so he started doing that and he actually after 50 years he just retired a year and a half ago and I tell you that was my I didn't even know it until.
00:20:06 Joe Barhoum
Recently I had already started my career in sales. Before it even dawned on me that Oh my gosh, I learned so much from watching my dad so much. You know, just being a kid. It was a garden center so just being there, moving plants around forum, watering trees, or even just when I was even smaller and I was just there. Kind of sitting on the chair while you behind the counter while he was working and just.
00:20:27 Joe Barhoum
Watching the way he approaches people and builds rapport with people and he maintains those relationships in many cases where people walk in, he knows exactly who they are. It's really something else, and I think that is there too, right? If you're paying attention and then you recognize what you're learning, you might be able to take that. Take out those learnings and turn it into skills.
00:20:48 Joe Barhoum
Which could then of course help you be better prepared for a career in sales or anything that requires face to face. I shouldn't say face to face anymore, but interpersonal communication that you know those could be critical things. But OK, I want to jump towards foremost now. So tell me more about the organization and then as you're doing that, I want to talk about your leadership within the organization as well. So please go ahead.
00:21:10 Charles Swatzell
Yeah, so for most. Like I said earlier, based here in Vancouver, WA is a team of about 11 here in the US. But globally we have. We have about 100 employees and we specialize on enterprise software development for mainly business back end systems. Things and feels like construction. We've done a lot of construction software over the last 18 years. We've done a lot of stuff to run, like back ends of medical practices.
00:21:32 Charles Swatzell
All the way through to, you know, modern mobile apps. We have a number of different tools out there. One in the construction sector to help you know contractors connect with with skilled labor in order to be able to pick up more jobs and things like that as well as my start ups and stuff with them have been mostly in real estate and kind of consumer facing Internet listing sites and just not everything in between.
00:21:53 Charles Swatzell
Right, so it's it's a kind of different, mostly business, but some to consumer software and mobile apps. We do that in a very unique way in that we have this offshore office, so we have a large office in Ho Chi Minh City. It's it's beautiful five story building at the rooftop barbecue, a port for ping pong, another floor where we just have a yoga instructor come in. I mean, it's just this this phenomenal office.
00:22:15 Charles Swatzell
In in home and then we have a smaller office in domain which is in this amazing French Villa that that demands a beautiful beach city. And so it you know it. One day I'll have a wonderful beach house that's just like where office in today, you know. And then we have. We have our new software switches down in Quito, Ecuador and one of the unique things about how we do this. 'cause there's a ton of companies out there.
00:22:35 Charles Swatzell
Large companies, small companies that do offshore development, but one of the things that makes us unique is our level of oversight. So we own everything. So Mac, who's our owner here who's actively in the office. He was the only CEO of this company for 16 years. He moved to Vietnam for three years and he he lived there and he started the company there and ran it like.
00:22:55 Charles Swatzell
He knew how to run a company which is based on how we do it here, and so we worked really hard to have what I think would be classified as a more Western approach to both business as well as how we treat our employees. You know, just the stuff that we do as a company and our role overall culture, and it allows me to have amazing oversight over what we do. For most has been on time and on budget for.
00:23:17 Charles Swatzell
Every project that we've done for like 9 years now and the reason that that is it's not because we were really good, but it's not just because we're really good. It's because we care, right? We, we stand behind our word and if there is an issue and it's going to take some extra effort, I know that I can get on the phone and then Igor Skype, not the phone, but I get on Skype.
00:23:37 Charles Swatzell
And I can reach out directly to our GM in Vietnam, who is who who's a dual citizen? He actually used to work at Clark College here in Vancouver, who lives there? He's he's Vietnamese native born but came here for education. Worked here for most of his professional career and then wanted to go back. And so we got super lucky and so he runs at office. But also, you know I'm there.
00:23:57 Charles Swatzell
Multiple times throughout the year map there are CTO Andrews there all the time as well as all of our offices. So you know we do things like we take our our entire team in Vietnam, their spouses and all their children. We go to the beach or to some resort somewhere. This last year was up in the mountains, but you know some resort for a number of days and so they get to know us and we get to know them right? They're not just.
00:24:18 Charles Swatzell
Names on a spreadsheet that I can kind of pronounce their. You know real people and they know that when things get serious, Charles is gonna show up or when things when a project needs to be done. And and you know whatever it's happened and we're behind.
00:24:31 Charles Swatzell
Somebody's gonna get a Skype call.
00:24:32 Charles Swatzell
For me, Andrew, our CTO from Matter owner, if it has to and we're gonna get it done and.
00:24:38 Charles Swatzell
That's a level of care. It's a level of true transparency through the organization that I think most people in software development don't have. There's often a cousin or somebody else who runs the offshore entity and they run it culturally within that space. Now we do some some cool cultural stuff as well, but you know it's just very different and I've never seen that and I.
00:24:58 Charles Swatzell
I love being in my seat, being able to just show that level of care all the way down to organization, right? If if I have an employee that's been with me for seven years, who is who is, you know, there's there's talk of them moving on when I call them from the US. And I say, let's talk about this. Let's actually let's actually sit down and talk about it, because if there's an opportunity that's better for you, I want I want you to take it.
00:25:20 Charles Swatzell
But you've been here for seven years, like what, what, what can we do? What is it that you need? What are you looking for an for? Specifically, somebody who's in one of our offshore offices to have us care that much here on the US and to our hope? My hope is at least is that it really translates, and it really helps them know. Like wait, I may go work for a Japanese firm somewhere else.
00:25:40 Charles Swatzell
Or I may go work so you know and and even even start my own thing, but it's hard to engineer I that the care that we have for these employees and it shows most of our toys. I think it's close to over half now. I build this for five plus years in our officer office. The majority of our leadership in our shops is actually female in tech leadership like that's unheard of.
00:26:01 Charles Swatzell
Uh, you know and and we consider giving out. We do a five year trip where we send them their family on a on a vacation when they've been with five years who do a large like financial bonus when there was for 10 an I just nothing makes me happier than showing up in Vietnam and giving out those awards because I don't. I don't think many people have offshore offices get to have that opportunity. They just don't. People don't stick around that long.
00:26:23 Charles Swatzell
Yeah, and so it's it's it's. It's really exciting.
00:26:26 Joe Barhoum
Well, I I a lot of what you said is resonating with me. There's one in particular. So you talked about how you haven't been. You have been on time and on budget on every project for 9 years. I get that right? Well, you know earlier when you were talking about how you tried to build this software application.
00:26:44 Joe Barhoum
And it was 80% done.
00:26:46 Joe Barhoum
And you spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in a year and a half. That doesn't sound to me like on time and on budget. Of course, I don't know the scope of work in the terms, but.
00:26:55 Joe Barhoum
Does that you think about that? Sometimes you're like look, I'm running this organization that has onshore and offshore components to it, but we're actually hitting the mark. Do you think about that past experience?
00:27:07 Charles Swatzell
I think about it all the time. It's been probably the the it's, it's the cornerstone of my foundation here, right? And it's it's where my passion about being here right? I I I started life as an artist and so to take an artist and put him in front of a software company. I think that could be difficult, right? And so you know I have this foundation of true passion about what we do.
00:27:28 Charles Swatzell
And that comes from my past pain, right? My understanding of what, what the? You know the other side is is not necessarily greener in this case. It's most definitely not greener, and I've paid for those consequences with other firms, right? And so that that passion comes into what we do. It's interesting because.
00:27:46 Charles Swatzell
I think most firms in engineering could have a delivery history like we do. I think that you know it takes a certain amount of discipline. There are proprietary things that we have in place to manage manage you know every project down to the 15 minute increment. It's the benefit of me taking over the helm of a company that was run by engineers, right? They know how to track. We can spreadsheet with the best of them, right? And so.
00:28:08 Charles Swatzell
We know when things are going South, but the one part that done quantifiable and that I I I think has been been huge. Here is the level of care is that it's more than can we manage this project? Well can we put the nuts and bolts in the right place? Like can we write good lines of code? That's all really important and that foundation was here when I came.
00:28:29 Charles Swatzell
Most of the foundation was here when I came I I don't want to take credit for it, but you know specifically when you meet when you ever talk to our owner Matt, there's a level of passion that he brings to this and just care and just an understanding that most of the business we do is face to face. We or zoom at least today right? We show up and I want you to know that. Hey, here's my cell phone number.
00:28:49 Charles Swatzell
And I I can only do so much because I'm not developer. I'm not the project manager on your thing, but if things go sideways, if you feel uneasy, call me. Let's get down. Let's talk through this because I want to make sure that that I understand it and that I can drive my team in the right way. There are times just like with anything where we quote a project, most of what we do is fix bid. Somebody asks for a project to be done. They need an app to do something.
00:29:11 Charles Swatzell
We say great. Gonna take three months and X amount of dollars and those are. Those are things that will hit.
00:29:17 Charles Swatzell
But there are times just like with any firm, whether it's a contractor building your house or a software development firm. Building your software where will get in it and it will be something will be more complex. There'll be some skeletons in the closet, or they'll be something that you run into, right. It just happens.
00:29:32 Charles Swatzell
And we will at foremost we will use brute force in many cases to make that happen. To make that work. And I know that there are fixed bid projects here that we lose money on that we we get, you know, 80% done and all the easy tasks are done and that last 20% looks like Everest. And I'm like crud. How are we going to get there? We've already burned all the hours and the way we get there is by.
00:29:52 Charles Swatzell
Putting in the hours we get there by just driving our team and saying hey guys, I I don't ever want to have to show up to a meeting somewhere and say hey guys we've been on time on budget for one year instead of for nine years right? So we will move mountains to make that happen and I think our clients know that right? Most of our clients have been with us for years. I don't even know the last client we worked with where we did like.
00:30:15 Charles Swatzell
An iteration of software right where an iteration like 47 with a good chunk of our clients, and it's because they know that that we're going to stand behind what we say and that you know we're just. We are also really disciplined and, and that tends to help people manage projects as well.
00:30:31 Joe Barhoum
So what is the project management structure look like? You have about 100 employees.
00:30:36 Joe Barhoum
And if I recall correctly, the large majority are engineers, is that correct?
00:30:41 Charles Swatzell
That is correct.
00:30:42 Joe Barhoum
Yeah, So what is? If I've been a customer for two years, what is my it probably varies quite a bit, but just on average. What does the accountability structure look like?
00:30:52 Charles Swatzell
Yeah, so I know all of our clients. That's important to me.
00:30:56 Charles Swatzell
I I know that it's not sustainable right? At some point, we're going to go to the point to where I just like Charles is going to be in meetings all day, everyday and just talking to clients. But right now and for the foreseeable future, it is maintainable and I love it. I just love that level of involvement with me on my team. I have Andrew 48 who's our CTO and president and.
00:31:17 Charles Swatzell
He's been with us now. I think it's close to 13 years. He has a really cool crystal trophy on his desk. I'll look at it after this and I can tell you exactly, but you know he's been with us for a long time and he is a wizard. He he truly is a Unicorn of of an engineer because he understands both sides. He's been at this game long enough. He's worked with enough companies to understand most of the business practices that need to be.
00:31:38 Charles Swatzell
You know quantified when building software for business, and he's also a really sharp engineer on modern frameworks, right? He's he stayed active and in the code this whole time, and he manages some projects for us. Sometimes those are those really thin margin projects. I'm like this has to be really close, or sometimes they're extremely technical, and occasionally they're just really fun.
00:31:58 Charles Swatzell
Right, just like I want to do this, I'm going to, you know, have some some nerd time and just get through this and then under him here in our US office we have a group of solutions architects. All of our projects are managed by a technical lead here in the US. This is somebody who has been a developer in their life. Most of them have just, you know, been in the industry for for.
00:32:19 Charles Swatzell
You know half of my life and they they know what they're doing. They get it and we have those solutions. Architects work as our our front face to the client. They're the ones that interact with the client on a daily basis here in the US as well as they are the ones that do most of the architecture and they drive our offshore team. So the unique thing about what we do is that we try to give an offshore value.
00:32:41 Charles Swatzell
Without getting all of the offshore shortcomings, learning how to translate what you want to do in your American business to an offshore team is really difficult. I remember when I started my real estate startup. This was all based on Social Security numbers and you had to pull people background checks and I'm working direct to India and they build out what I thought was like 2/3 of the platform and then I get an email that says hey, what does Social Security number?
00:33:02 Charles Swatzell
Lego crud this isn't.
00:33:05 Charles Swatzell
Good like wait wait, that's the foundational piece about how we get all this data is from a background check that based on this and they're like, oh, we don't use that. We don't have that. If I need an apartment, I talk to my uncle. He talks to a buddy and we have an apartment that's like OK, I gotta start over. Let me start to do this translation that happens with anybody globally, right? When you're trying to bridge.
00:33:22 Charles Swatzell
This cultural gap.
00:33:24 Charles Swatzell
Here at foremost that is the job of our solutions architect here in the US. They are very skilled at that and we don't ever put that on the client. We put that here in the US and say hey, if this person is working in construction, you need to take time to really understand beef. be OK asking the dumb questions 'cause you're not a contract like get to the bottom of this and then you have to figure out how to translate that to the team in Vietnam.
00:33:45 Charles Swatzell
And manage that project all the way through.
00:33:47 Charles Swatzell
In Vietnam War in Ecuador, all of our projects are run by a project manager there. That's also technical. I'm sorry I think every single one of those in our company right now has been promoted up. They started as either a QA engineer or a software engineer. They moved their way up into being a lead in that in that sector and then they became a technical project manager and they'll manage a team of.
00:34:08 Joe Barhoum
Team of developers, normally with a lead developer and then multi other developers with that person are average size of a project is about 3 to 10 developers. We don't tend to get a lot bigger than that because we can do a lot with that. Normally our clients have a hard time testing. We have that many developers are they aren't testing you keeping up with what we deliver and there's.
Also, I think at diminishing level of return we can really manage that bucket of developers very very well and efficiently.
And then so those developers are writing code constantly based on the direction of both their PM local E and the PM. Here in the US. And then there's a QA team that's separate from the dev team that does all of our testing, and they're constantly just feeding feedback as codes being committed. They're constantly through, which is making sure that that our developers in living up to our coding standards, about half of our clients don't have technical staff.
Right, they have there an entrepreneur. There's somebody who ran a, you know, a manufacturing company and they know that they need better software to run their manufacturing plant and they they come to us and we build it and we maintain it and they have that. You know, they never talk about what stack is this built in right? What is your preferred stack? They know that we're going to approach this in a modern framework and we're going to deliver for me.
And will maintain it as, as you know, life goes on.
So I didn't hear anything about sales people, so it's really you.
That's right, yeah.
That's right, there are no sales people in foremost. Now the hope is is that that will change. That's part of the growth strategy here for most, but it's also part one of my Achilles fields is I. I do like to be involved in just about everything, right? So I I wouldn't call it micro management, it's just attention to detail, right?
So yeah, let's call it micro management.
We're not gonna ask that, but if it's you know it's one of those things that I like to have a stamp. I like to be able to go through and just sit down and look at it. The other part of it is that, you know, I I for years spent a lot of time working with companies, just developing ideas or getting things to market, and so it's kind of my my drug of choice. I love to be out there and talking to clients.
The real reason that that is is the majority of work we have here for most is from referrals, right? We have we have 18 years of happy clients and we have 18 years of consultants who, you know, go out and they do tech consulting on businesses and they say hey, here are the 12 things off the shelf that you should implement in your in your software suite.
To fix all the problems I saw, here's the here's the three problems that there's not a solution for, like go talk to foremost and they'll invent that for you and get that. If you get that out production and so with that. With that we don't really need somebody out there dialing for dollars, right? That's not our model. I want to know these people if we have a sales person or when we have a sales person in the future, that person is not a salesperson.
That person is somebody who really should care. You know it's not. It's not some young person that doesn't understand the industry. You know what we want to do is we want to go and find a trusted advocate in the space and have them go out and and just help talk about what form of the more than Charles again, by himself, right and Shepherd these projects through the the the.
Sales role at foremost is vital all the way through all of us because that person is also going to hopefully add some business acumen and some value to that through that. We're also going to help set expectations. You know, our engineers are constantly trying to talk about, hey, you really need to sit down and you need to. We're going to do really good QA on all of our software, but if this is your baby, you need to do user acceptance testing for at least 30 days.
On this, before you go live and they'll say, Oh no, I you guys, I trust you the day after you demo for me. Let's just hit go. And so this this salesperson has to be able to sit down and say, wait, let's really talk through the business use case of this and I get it. If you have your biggest client is saying you have to have this will make that happen, but for the most part, let's talk about the damage that that could cause your business if you take some of the market situation.
And most salespeople they they can't or won't have that conversation right? Because it's it's just. It's a little counterintuitive. Get this into production so I can close the next one and and build my funnel. And that's so far from our DNA here and the way that we approach business. It's the reason we're the size we are right? I believe we're good enough that we could have.
You know 203 hundred 400,000 employees, right? But we and there are companies that do exactly what we do that do, and and probably I would think, and I've worked with some aren't in my opinion is good, but we won't get there today or tomorrow or even six months or a year because that level of care is hard to duplicate.
It's hard to grow, and so we've been successful at going from a shop that had, you know, a handful of people here in Vancouver to having a shot that a handful of people here and a handful of people in in Vietnam to. Now being the size that we are slow and steady because we want to make sure that we don't lose those core attributes as we make that growth. It's just not worth it. I'd rather stay the size we are forever.
And perform for the amount of clients we can help at the level we are because I sleep well at night, right? My engineers go home at 5:00 and they're not. You know, they're not all you know, losing their hair and addicted to energy drinks, right? They they really have an amazing life. I hope Ann and it's because of this level of care that we put in all all the things we do.
Yeah, well I could just.
See it now right, you bring on a.
Hot shot salesperson and they bring in some deal.
And it's not the best deal, but you guys win anyway. And then all of a sudden it's like, yeah, we gotta really crank this out and just it can really harm the culture that you've created with 100 people. That's it's a lot. And congratulations for sure, but it's not.
You can't Bury a bad deal when there's you know 100 people in the organization. Everyone's going to feel it.
That's right, you know. One of my favorite tells you know, like like anecdotes, is great. We hired a VPS sales. He went out and close more business than we've ever seen in our revenue. Is is lower than it was two years ago, right? Or or? He he figured out a way to also second all the profit out of all of these things. And you know, we the first. I mean in my origin story here at foremost, right, Matt.
Told me no, he said I don't. I'm I'm not gonna take your business when I was at my startup because he looked at the way we approach this and said they're so undisciplined in the way that they're going to approach this is they're gonna run over by double or they're going to make it cost twice as much and he's not going to quote it to cost twice as much. And so he would end up losing money. And so there's a. There's a handful. It's not, you know.
I don't even know that I can put a percentage on it, but but it often will sit down with the client and will say hey, it's not the right fit. It's it's not about personality, it's not about anything like that. It's about hey a lot of times that you only have X amount of dollars and you're trying to build a website we don't really build websites, we will on occasion, but we build enterprise software. You don't bring a tank to a knife fight.
So it's not the right fit, right? L or or, it's just a matter of hey, this is a vertical that you need somebody who's a specialist in X or Y right? Go do that. We know our Lane. It's a pretty broad Lane. In general. We built a bunch of stuff, but we know when it's not right an an we in our game we have to stay price competitive and so we're not going to bloat these.
A blow to quote in order to make sure we can make ends meet. You know, in case it goes South, we're going to come in and give you the best honest approach. We can do this, and if we can't put that together because there's too many unknowns, will walk away and it enables us to be really stable, right? It enables us to have employees that stay because they're hopefully not getting burnout on us, taking bad deals and saying, oh, but you have to be on time and on budget so.
Just do it an an so yeah.
When that falls right into what I said earlier about one of the rules I lecture on is be honest. If you're going to be a successful salesperson to be honest, and I think for your organization you've taken that on as a company cultural stance, right? We're going to be honest, and if this isn't something that we're comfortable doing, we're not going to do it. But we're going to tell you why.
It's not just like ignore those guys. Yeah that's right. Yeah, well Charles. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. Maybe if you don't mind spend a minute telling us what the future for most looks like.
Yeah, so we're getting into Kobe, decide to some extent, but we're getting into this growth season for for most.
In general, right part of that is is that we know that we know how to manage an office with a certain amount of people in it, right? We've done that really well. We have that quantified we've been in which immensity for 13 years and we know how to manage a team. That team still are getting close to 60 employees. I take out there, and we know how to do that. And so one of the things that we did is we opened, demanding.
Which has a smaller amount of people, but it's a growth center and we opened to Quito, Ecuador because that's also a growth at the center, and we know that, like hey, we can double in size, but by doing exactly what we know how to do right, we're not going to go out there and try to reinvent the wheel. We we have a management structure that works. We have a project team size that works, so we're getting ready to grow. And that's really exciting.
For us here that took a lot of time right when I joined. Foremost formals had had a great revenue portfolio but it was condensed to a few projects right? It was a few really large projects and I came in with my sales. Had on it said Oh no like this this this is wonderful. You have an amazing company, an amazing product but let's let's change, let's diversify a little bit.