This interview is with Greg Paonessa, also from JMG Systems.
This interview is with Greg Paonessa, also from JMG Systems.
I always intended to start my own business and work for myself. I had plenty of role models who told me through their actions, “Hey, you can do this, too.” Both sets of my grandparents were small business owners. One owned a small grocery store. The other owned a sawmill. And my dad started his own electrical business after he got laid off from the steel mill. I was always talking to my wife, to my fiancee, and to my girlfriend in high school (who are all the same woman) about starting a business. So for a long time, I had a vision of helping people through some kind of business. And I thought very seriously about creating a business that focused on teaching. In college, I studied Computer Science and my wife studied education. So I was thinking it’d be great to have a business both of us could work at together.
Obviously, my vision didn’t materialize right away. In college, through a series of intricate events, I was able to slip into an internship that led to a job that lead to a career that enabled me to get married and start a family. However, even when I was concentrating on supporting my family and raising my kids, I was still actively picking up skills necessary for running a business. The place I worked at didn’t really encourage entrepreneurship, so I mostly kept quiet about my aspirations. However, I paid close attention to the all the different roles in the work environment around me: project managers, project leaders, and other specialists. And during my down time, I read as much as I could on how to start and run a business.
Unfortunately, it was becoming clear to me that my original business idea of teaching people about technology would require investing heavily in expensive hardware and software systems that were/are constantly changing. To make that vision a reality, it was going to be very costly. And once my wife and I started having kids, we were not in a position to be taking on high-cost risks. However, as my kids got older, my aversion to taking on new risks started to recede. Eventually, “the” opportunity came, and I finally ventured into the realm of small business ownership with my brother. It wasn’t exactly the opportunity I thought (or hoped) it would be. But it was a good opportunity, and I went for it.
Now that I’ve been involved in small business ownership a while, I don’t think my experience is all that atypical. I’ve met many other people whose first idea didn’t work out they way they planned. But things can often work out even better if you allow for flexibility. For example, one of our signature products/services here at JMG is our Website in a Week Workshop. We didn’t have any intention of launching this initially, but it resulted from a need, and it’s a really good product. Matt and I had created our business to help solve comprehensive problems within other business’ systems and operations, but the opportunities to attack those larger problems weren’t piling up on our desks. So we developed the Website Workshop to help bring in revenue while we were waiting for these larger projects. Now our Website Workshops have turned into one of our company’s premier products.
And that’s fitting, because whatever the problem is, we like finding solutions. If the problem is that businesses are having trouble building and maintaining their websites, then we’ll put our heads together and resolve this problem. I don’t like it when people run into a problem, and then give up. And I really dislike hearing the excuse, “I can’t do ____ , because I haven’t been trained to do ____ .” I say, if you don’t have a satisfactory answer to a problem, then keep going until you find one. Of course, this worldview isn’t universally held. In the past, I myself have been accused of being foolish for turning down “good” opportunities to make a quick buck. I’m perfectly content to stay on the road leading to meaningful results rather than heading down a path that only leads to money.
After the first project Matt and I finished under the flag of “JMG Systems”, more work began trickling in. However, we were occasionally being handed projects that didn’t feel quite right to us. Even though we needed work, and even though our own business identity wasn’t fully articulated yet, we knew we weren’t looking to turn our business into a get-rich-quick scheme. We’re doing this work because we really want to make things better for people. Based on experiences we both had, we knew that the best results always came from having the end user’s experience in mind. Whenever people are ignored and the emphasis of a project is placed on profit, then the end product is never that good. And we wanted to avoid that.
Helping people is the core of what we do. We’re building systems that people need. And we like doing this. I definitely like doing this. I like to explore. I like to create. I like to solve problems. I like to teach. And as far as our own business is concerned, Matt and I are working to find ways to connect to people who can grow our business and make our own systems better. Because as we connect to people who can help us grow, we are learning. And as we learn, we can develop the tools to educate other businesses on how they can grow too.
But in order to grow, you have to rely on people. And whenever people are involved, there are always layers you have to get through to achieve understanding. And I have have found that observing and listening helps people establish trust and open up to each other. People release knowledge through talking, but that knowledge can only be absorbed by listening. So I make a point to constantly observe and listen. I regularly read headlines, listen to the news, and observe trends. There are plenty of interesting ideas rolling around out there in world of technology. But I think observation and listening are the keys to being able to move any idea forward.
At any rate, if/when society transitions into exploring open minded concepts and open engineering projects more deeply, I think we’ll need to make sure we have a way to keep our egos in check. We have to make sure that overarching objectives can be understood and agreed upon by a community. Good listening and communication will be imperative. But, if a community of professionals can self-regulate and successfully define and accept goals as a group, then that will help reduce infighting and influence real progress. That’s the challenge, though. It’s already incredibly hard to create an environment of unity and sharing, because everyone wants to possess their own creations. However, if we’re able to make this whole process about the end user, then I think this concept really has a chance to thrive and do some good.
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