David Noël: Welcome to the Manitoba Business Podcast, featuring interviews with business leaders and entrepreneurs based in this great province. I’m David Noël.
Our interview guest today has a fascinating story. He grew up in Israel, and worked in several large consulting organizations there before ultimately moving to Winnipeg and starting his own company. He’s built up a substantial IT consulting firm in a very short time, with customers and employees around the world. In our conversation, we get into the nuts and bolts of finding new customers, pricing services, and building a team.
I hope you enjoy this episode. If you do, please consider adding a review on iTunes. I would also encourage you to spread the word about this podcast—the website is www.manitobabusinesspodcast.com
Without further ado, here is Misha Hanin:
[to Misha] So, Misha, thanks so much for taking the time. It’s a pleasure to meet you.
Misha Hanin: Okay. Thank you for inviting.
David: So tell me a little bit about yourself, your personal background and what you do, and what your business does.
Misha: I’m solution managing director of this company called iRangers International. We provide high end IT consulting services for businesses and organizations. My personal background, it’s a long story. I am 42 years old, father of two. For last seven years, almost eight, I live in Canada. Majority of my life I spent in Israel, so I’m from there. I live and breathe technology. My son calls me dinosaur. I remember stuff that many people already forget. So this is technically my background. Tell me more what you want to know about me. We can go from there.
David: Absolutely. Okay, well let’s start with your business then. What does your business do?
Misha: We provide IT consulting service, as I said, focusing on bringing value to enterprise customers. We only focus on enterprise business. We help them in IT related projects, but our vision that IT supposed to support business. So whenever IT works as it’s supposed to be, business grows. Our goal is to expand the IT capability. What IT can do for business. So this is what we do. Nowadays, as you probably know, a lot of organizations are facing IT challenges. Because they still use probably some legacy infrastructures, or they have some challenges with current infrastructure even if it is quite new. So this is where iRangers is coming into the picture.
David: Okay, when did you start iRangers?
Misha: It’s about…the company itself…is trick question. The company itself is I would say around two years, but the team, the core team, that actually holds iRangers…I know each of them on average between 10-15 years.
David: Oh, wow. Okay.
Misha: So it took me 15 years to build this team. So really professional guys. Many times we’re named one of the best in industry. The company contains worth international, right? We do business not just in Canada. The team members were involved in many, many, many projects around the globe. We’ve done projects in Europe, the Middle East, in China, South Africa, India, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, the States, coast to coast here in Canada, so it’s really international.
David: So we’ll get back to the business in a second, but now that I’ve got a bigger picture of what the business does and how old it is, let’s focus back to you. So you grew up in Israel then, and you got into technology early on. Let’s start there. Why technology? What attracted you to that path?
Misha: I started actually at age 11 with electronics. My first occupation was electronics at age 18. At age 11 I actually got first place in a provincial competition in electronics. So with computers I started as an electronic project. My first computer I built by myself. Joke by joke, it took me a year just to build it. Then I use TV as a monitor, and it was no connection video input on this TV so I needed to build this video input. It’s technology, right? I consider computers as a hobby. At some point after my military service in Israel I was thinking like, “What should I do?” I have seen some tendency that in the future, robots will start building robots. We will change the way how electronics works on the planet. So I decided that I will do some shift, and I will take my hobby, and I will make it as my primary occupation. So I started as a technician in some small lab, and it was really interesting job. Everything new for me. Started work as technician. After a year, I managed to build a reputation that everybody knew me in my city.
David: In your city?
Misha: Where I used to live, right?
David: Was it a big city?
Misha: I would say it’s not as big as Winnipeg, but in comparison if you will consider Tel Aviv as Toronto, my city that I used to live in is a Winnipeg.
David: Okay. What was the city called?
Misha: So and after a year, year and a half something like that, I got a position in one of the best IT consulting companies in the Middle East. It was amazing position. I started to grow there. I really count my career as starting point there, from this position. It happened that I got involved right away in really big projects for universities, for health science, for factories. One of my mentors there, down the road this guy became owner of this company. One of the owners. He was mentoring me really interestingly. When I started, he said, “Okay, Misha. For now, maybe for next few months,” and apparently it was almost six months, he wanted me to be his shadow. Shadow for everything. He took me to the meetings. He took me to the lunches with the clients. We worked together. We spent nights in the lab when we were doing some projects together. So I was really his shadow.
Misha: Yeah, it was almost six months. After six months, he came to me and said, “Okay, Misha. Now you’re on your own.” I stayed with this company for three and a half years, almost four years. Then actually any new guys that were hired there for consulting purposes, they were my shadows for two, three, four months. Some of those guys actually with me right now, here in iRangers.
David: Oh, cool. Very cool. Okay, so you got the opportunity to work on big accounts with this established consulting firm, and you had a really beneficial mentor there that kind of showed you the ropes. What were some of those early lessons that maybe surprised you from your mentor? What were some of the things that stick with you now that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise, you think?
Misha: I would say relationship. How you deal…consulting business is relationship business. There is many rules in a business itself. It can be like really genius, brilliant guy. He can know everything about technology, but you are unable to build relationship, you are not needed. So it was probably the lesson number one. He showed how he did it. I was really absorbing even the way how this guy was communicating.
David: What were some of those keys? What were some of the relationship tips that you learned?
Misha: It’s hard to say now, you know? It was while back ago, but it’s hard to say that I really learned this from him, or like in general. I’m really proud that I had really good mentors during the course of my life. I still have mentors. We can talk about this. What I learned from this guy in particular, like, fight for your people. Okay? I remember he was willing and he was ready. He almost did this. To drop one huge project because one of his team members was really frustrated on this project. The project sponsor, from the client side, was really pushing one of the guys and it was really unethical. When this guy, my mentor, discovered this I was sitting in his car when he called the client and forced him to apologize for this guy. “Otherwise,” he said, “we’re cancelling the project tomorrow morning.” So for me it was like, huge.
David: No kidding. Really putting his money where his mouth was and showing you that he was willing to do anything for you guys.
Misha: I actually learned that money is not an issue at all. Money will always come. Be direct. Don’t try to work on people. You know what I mean, right?
Misha: Treat them as you wish they will treat you, and money will be as a side effect.
David: So your mentor, was he actually doing sales for the company as well, or was he a bit further down the pipeline?
Misha: It’s interesting. When I came to this company he was the senior technical guy, and he was also team lead with the company. As I said, consulting is a really interesting business. Actually, we always sell. It’s not exactly sell. We showing opportunities. We sharing the knowledge, and then client decides if he wants this. When he trained me, then this guy moved in the corporate ladder, and he became mostly like CEO. He became real manager. Big manager in this organization. Of course he was selling majority of products.
David: I guess that’s my understanding, of especially the big consulting firms, is that in terms of chasing new business…I understand what you mean about constantly selling by growing your existing clients and suggesting new opportunities for them, but in terms of finding new clients. My understanding is that it’s usually the principles of the firm that are largely responsible for that. Was that kind of the case at this firm?
Misha: Yes and no. For example, I can talk about iRangers now, and to be honest I’m trying to replicate a lot of things that I learned there in this business and other companies. We actually don’t really chase clients. Majority of our projects, they came to us by themselves. You need to just build and protect your reputation. We actually don’t sell, even, projects. When customer comes to us with a question, we sharing our knowledge. Then we even don’t need to push them to buy anything from us.
Majority of times, they have some challenge, or they have some desire. We want to move to the new technology. We want to optimize our infrastructure that our help desk team will spend less time. We want to have this capability that all our users will be mobile. Many, many things. They coming to us because of reputation. We really proud that we manage to gain reputation that whatever happen, we will always deliver successful project.
For example, we don’t charge any customer on any project on hourly rate. We have no hourly rate. We only provide fixed, big projects. Because the team is so, so experienced…as I said, on average we have about 15 years of experience, each of us. So we know, plus minus, how much time it’s supposed to take. How much effort we need to put to deliver successful project. So we building a scope, and we coming with the scope, what we expect supposed to be done in this project. Then we provide the price, and that’s it. This price never changes. If we did some mistakes in any estimations, we eat it. We cover it from our pocket. We never come back to client, and we never ask for more money.
David: So that’s already a huge differentiater for clients that are used to paying consultants…that are used to getting nickled and dimed by consultants.
Misha: I don’t believe in system like when company should pay on hourly rate. I think it’s even…it could be unethical. Contractor in this case will stretch the time. It’s best interest for him to stretch the time.
David: The incentives aren’t lined up properly.
Misha: Even some companies charge on kind of per diem structure. Okay, we charge this. Like $2,000 today, for example, for our consulting. I also believe it’s not really ethical. It could be considered not ethical. Because if I come and deal with some work, and company sees that I manage to do it really quick but I still charge per-diem, many questions get raised, right? On the other end, I spent 20 years of my life to learn how to do it in one hour. So whenever we come to the client, if it’s new client or our old client, we never talk about money.
We talk about value. If client sees that we bring value, then we go with it. We just recently had a project. Potential project, and with really, really good value on it. The project cost was estimated for more than $300,000. Apparently client wanted to do it in his way, and we didn’t believe that it’s the right approach. We spent about two weeks. We tried to explain to client. Listen, this is not the right way for you. He didn’t listen. My feeling was that he didn’t see value that we bring to the table. Long story short, we walk away. I don’t want to say iRangers name with a fail.
David: Right, and you also…it’s just not a fit. If the client doesn’t want what you’re selling, then it doesn’t make sense for you to twist what you’re selling into their preference.
Misha: It’s quite simple, right? If you hire the best consulting company in Canada, you believe that they’re the best, right? So listen to them. They bringing value to you. They fighting for your interest. If you don’t see this, why would you hire this company? So we walk away on this project.
David: Circling back to what you said about fixed bid projects as opposed to charging based on time. When you guys are putting together your estimates for fixed bid projects, are you still itemizing estimates or the proposals in terms of days, or in terms of hours, or some time amount? Is that how you break it down for the client? Because I know that consulting clients like to see sort of an itemized breakdown of what they’re paying for, right? Do you do that or you just say, “This is the project price, and we’re going to do it for you or not”?
Misha: The way we structure it, we have a scope. Actually scope just describes on a high level what should be done during the project. We are really motivated to deliver a successful project.
David: Of course.
Misha: Many customers, and probably this is why they also love us, whenever we were on the projects up until now, whatever is in the scope is just printed on the paper. Ideally I love to say “Underpromise, overdeliver.” And we do this. We believe this. Many, many times we deliver much more than was in the scope. As example, we have right now a project. We put a scope and we know what going to be measurement criteria of success. During project we discover that some additional task has to happen. There is no way that we can deliver successful project without taking care on this task. For me, it doesn’t matter. iRangers will go and do it, and we will not change the price on that, because we focusing on successful delivery. Otherwise, how you going to deliver it? How you will keep your client happy? Of course you can stop, and start another negotiation for about a week or two or three sometimes. You slow down the entire project and then your client will just see the frustration, not the value. For me, it’s even not a question. We are going to do it.
David: Right, but when you’re defining the project scope. When you’re getting that written scope, how are you pricing out the components of the project if it’s not time based?
Misha: On the value.
David: I understand it from the client’s perspective they want to buy something where the value they receive from it is more than they pay for it, but from your perspective to the client, are you just saying, “Okay, we’re going to build this component for you,” or “We’re going to configure this system for you, and it’s going to cost X.”? And that’s all you say?
Misha: Technically, yes. Of course, it’s compound. It’s not just one measurement. For example, if you will just see how much time it going to take us, I think is useless at all. For example, we can do sometimes some tasks that others will spend probably weeks, and we can do it in one day. But as I said, we spent 20 years studying on how to do this, and learning, and testing it. On another end, if we do a project that saves the company…like one of our last projects, we saved to the company $120,000. It was total savings and customer saw this savings. We charge based on the value. We didn’t charge $120,000 because of that extra, but then customer believed that we really bring value to the table. Of course we know how much time it’s going to take on average, plus minus, from a task that we expect to do. But if we discovering that, oh, additional tasks should happen, by doing it mainly.
David: Right, right. Okay. All right, so then let’s circle back a little bit to your own trajectory. You were in this big firm. You worked there for three or four years, and then did you move on to a different consulting firm, or what happened next?
Misha: Next was really amazing project. One of the biggest companies…businesses, in Israel, offered me really interesting position. They decided to go and implement their ERP system. ERP and do implementation of SAP. They had eight sites in Israel. It was manufacturing. They had 23 branches around the globe. Actually the company number one in the planet now deals in irrigation system.
David: Really? Okay.
Misha: And the task. Actually the manager that hired me there, he became one of my best friends and mentor for life. I remember when he invited me for conversation, he said, “Don’t look on what we have now. Think about what we want you to build for us.” When I started there, they had one server. They had one router that connected this head office to internet. They had one database server, one mail server, and one file server.
David: That was for their entire global operation?
Misha: No, it was the just head office. All manufacturers, all offices were kind of independent, and they were not even connected to each other. The project was, “Okay guys, we want you to build entire infrastructure. Architect and design it, and then build it.” How we connect each location to the one global network? How we manage this, and how we control all this? In the first year we spent $6.5 million on the hardware, on the software, on connectivities, licenses, and in less than one year we connected all eight sites in Israel into one big network. Then we started to expand. And this company had four manufacturers in China, so it was a big, big project how to build it and connect it. Actually…
David: How long ago is this, by the way? What year, around?
Misha: Actually I stay there almost for four years, and I was treated as internal consultant for this company. The moment I left, it was really interesting moment. When I felt that, okay, now there is no challenges anymore for me I came to my boss and said, “Okay. I am done. I am leaving.” He couldn’t believe that I will do this. He said, “Okay, Misha. I want you to go for three months on vacation fully paid. Go, relax. You’re probably tired. You worked for a few years nonstop.” And I used to travel a lot. I’ve been probably in any location in this planet. Any decent location. And I said, “No. I’m done. I am leaving.”
So after one month, I left this company, and really interesting situation. This guy said, “Okay, Misha. I will hold your position for one year. I want you to come back.” After one year and three months he called me back, and asked me to go for a few drinks that evening. Then he said, “You know what? The guys need some help. I want you to come back.” I said, “No. I’m not coming back. I am moving on. I need challenges.” This is the beauty of consulting. You always learning something new. I would say if anybody wants to have constant challenge, go and then take local consulting business. So when I left, actually, this company, just in my responsibility was more than 50 servers. Connectivity to about 12 or 14 sites around the globe. The main messaging infrastructure. It was a big, big, big project.
David: Wow. No kidding. So at that point when you were…the reason I was trying to get sort of a sense of when that happened is because the global networking infrastructures has changed so much in the past little while. But I imagine that the time that you were doing that…I’m placing that into the early ’90s, is that too late? Too early?
Misha: No it’s actually…with this company I started in 1999.
David: Okay. Early 2000s, okay.
Misha: I left them in 2003, 2004.
David: Yeah, that was still…those are still very, very early days for the internet. Facebook didn’t exist yet, and doing a global network like that would have been a pretty significant challenge.
Misha: A lot of stuff that we’ve done there, and now I’m laughing when I see some news about technologies, a lot of stuff that we implement and build by ourselves…we developed a lot of things there by ourselves. We starting to see, now.
David: Oh, absolutely. The thing is the market has advanced so much now that a global manufacturing company that grew up today, and didn’t have any legacy baggage, could leverage all sorts of existing technology that you wouldn’t have been able to use back then.
Misha: Our first container…like, IT data center in a container, and i’m talking about literally a container, we built in 2000. When we needed to build like first manufacturer in China. We built everything in head office. We put everything in container, and we shipped container to China. Then some local technician just needed to connect a few cables, and turn the plug on. Then entire infrastructure, entire data center, get operated.
David: Whereas now people build data centers that are filled with shipping containers like that. Interesting. Okay. So you had had…this is the second consulting firm you worked for and you had done another three or four years, and you were ready to move on again. What was the next step?
Misha: Again, consulting. Actually, this time I spent few years in really interesting niche. As you probably know, Israel considered as Silicon Valley of the Middle East. It was really huge boom in startups, those years. I love to work in startups, and with startups. That days, it was really interesting projects. Many projects that required big IT infrastructure. I started to work now with multiple startup companies. We started to provide consulting services for them, and build infrastructure for them. We used to do big project for really amazing startup that actually did the projects for Sprint in the States, and for AT&T in the States. I remember I used to travel like crazy.
I could have go for two weeks to stay in the States, coming back for a weekend, and going back again for another two weeks or three weeks. Because nobody wants to fly over weekends, every weekend for 12 hours, right? It’s really overseas. So I used to stay in States for two three weeks involved. Big projects. Really excited project, like, I love it. A lot of stuff that was done there it was was like really new development, new know-how. One of the things I remember when I built some set of scripts during this project to do automation…actually, I am personally a huge fan of automation. I publish on my blog some set of scripts and techniques, how to do it and how to automate some deployments and stuff like that. Apparently Microsoft found it, and I got my first Microsoft MVP, most valuable professional.
David: Just from that one set of scripts? Wow.
Misha: Yep. Actually I used to run a blog since 1998, and I started it as kind of just a reference to myself. I needed to have something that will be available from any location on the planet, where I can document some stuff that I’ve done. Some tricks and some tips for myself. One day one of my friends saw this database, and said, “Misha, you can’t hide it from the planet. You need to share.” I said, “Sure.” So I opened my first blog, and I started to publish articles, and tips and tricks about this. Based on this blog I met a lot of really good people. Some of them with me in iRangers, just based on this blog.
This is how it started, and at some point I published on this blog the article about how to automate some application deployment on multiple machines without some particular clients on it…I don’t want to go into really technical stuff. And Microsoft saw this article and they apparently loved it and I got my Microsoft MVP, like most valuable professional award, in January 1st. It was really interesting. I landed in Canada, and I remember myself I’m sitting in Toronto in airport January 1st waiting for my connection to Winnipeg, and I am checking my e-mail, and I am getting e-mail from Microsoft. Congratulations, here’s you award, your Microsoft MVP in this category. I was like, “Oh!” It’s a really exciting start of the new life in Canada.
David: No kidding. And by my understanding, and also for the benefit of the listeners who might not know, the Microsoft MVP is very, very well known award especially in the enterprise consulting space for IT.
Misha: Yeah, it’s a big one. It’s probably the biggest award that people can get from Microsoft. Microsoft divided their practices in multiple streams, for example. You can be MVP in Xbox. In gaming. You can be MVP in development, and you can be MVP in IT professionals area. Inside IT professionals, it’s also multiple streams. Even with all this, there is less than 5,000 people on the planet that have this award. So I was really proud that I got it. It helped me a lot down the road. It definitely brings a lot of credibility to the project. When you talk to client, it’s really nice to say like, “You know what? Your project will be done by someone who is really known in the field.”
I’m really proud. We have four MVPs in the company. We have MVP in active directory. We have MVP in security…Microsoft security. Multiple streams. So we have four Microsoft MVPs. We have two people…no, we have three people right now that were presented at Microsoft TechEd. It’s the biggest Microsoft conference that happens for last, probably more than 10 years. Every year. This May, Microsoft changed the name. It’s not called anymore TechEd. Now it called Ignite. But we have three people that presented on those conferences. Usually on those conferences, Microsoft get about between 10 to 15,000 people from everywhere on the planet. So we have two or three people that presented on those conferences. It’s real good.
David: Yeah, no kidding. So you came to Canada around the end of the time you were working with all those startups, is that right?
Misha: Yeah, it was interesting. We actually landed in September, 2007. When we landed, I came to Canada with no language. Nothing. I was barely speaking. The goal was to find a job as quick as possible. I didn’t find it right away, because when you landing in new country there is a lot of logistic around that.
Misha: So I look for a job, but I didn’t know how to find a job. How to apply for jobs, and stuff like that, because all my life I was attracted by companies. I never had my resume. Back in Israel, I never built a resume. Here, it took some time.
David: I’m sure you knew that it was going to be difficult coming to Canada and starting, essentially rebooting your career, kind of part two over here. What prompted you to come to Canada in the first place?
Misha: It could be a really, really long conversation about that. Probably as a challenge. More opportunities. When we landed, after a month I got a call from a company. This big startup company back in Israel, and they ask me for help to finish some project in Seattle that they did for AT&T. I said, “You know what? I need to have some income.” So I accepted this, and I went to States from Winnipeg to finish a project. Actually I work on this project almost until the end of December. Then I said, “Okay, enough. I need to go back to Canada.” This is why I came back to Canada January 1st. Actually, in this time I landed in January 1st. On January 8, or 7, I got the first job offer.
Misha: It was really good job offer, but I needed to move to Edmonton for this one. My friend actually said, “Misha, there is no way that you will find job here with this salary. Go.” I was ready to move, and then I met one headhunter, really amazing guy, here in Winnipeg. He looked on my resume, and I learned how to build resume, and I built a really good resume. Apparently it became one of my hobbies, by the way. I am teaching people how to build resume, how to go to interviews. Teaching them body language and teaching…
Misha: Many things, but it became really hobby. So when this headhunter looked on my resume, he said, “Misha, stay here. I’ll find you a job for the same amount or even more.” I don’t know why I stayed. I believed him. Apparently, after two or three weeks, I got a job. Actually, in between I got another job offer over here in Winnipeg from a company that actually interviewed me back in September when I was first time in Canada. Apparently I went to four interviews with those guys, and then I got a job offer. I was a little bit frustrated on this job offer, because they offered much, much, much less than we were even discussing. I was really frustrated because, “Guys, why you spent your and my time on that?”
David: Yeah, four interviews.
Misha: Four interviews, and actually we discussed compensation on the first interview, and they said, “Okay. It’s not an issue.” So I put down this offer, and the week after that I got an offer. I got a really good position. I started as a senior engineer for one really well known company that days, and I worked with them for three years, a little bit more. More than three years. Three and a half years. I think, three and a half years. Then I moved to another position, and started to work for one of the biggest IT consulting companies in Canada, and I stayed with them for three and a half years. Amazing projects everywhere in Canada. Like really huge grow. Then I got really interesting training. I am really proud.
I am one of four people in Canada that participated in Microsoft Certified Master training. It’s the highest training that was ever designed by Microsoft. It started in 2003, actually. The first time when Microsoft introduced this training. People who participated on this training back in 2003, they’re called Rangers. I participated on this training in 2012, and I really considered it like…I compared it to military training. Three weeks on campus. Microsoft only did it on campus in Seattle, every month. Three weeks, 6AM you’re in the class. Early, 1AM next day you’re leaving the class. No weekends. No vacations. Nothing, three weeks like that. The biggest break was for about one and a half hours, for lunch. Really, really deep diving technology. In Canada only four people participated in this training during those years. I am really proud that I am one of those four.
David: No kidding.
Misha: Yeah, it was good. Really good.
David: So, you got your first job in Winnipeg. You were working as an engineer. You got a job with a fairly large consulting company, and then that’s got to bring us pretty close to the point where you decided to go out on your own.
Misha: Yeah, and actually after that I decided to build iRangers.
David: So what prompted that? You obviously had consulting experience. You liked consulting. You basically just thought you could do well on your own? Is that as simple as it went, or was there something that kind of drove you to want to do it?
Misha: I wanted to do it differently. Don’t get me wrong. The company that I worked for, a really good company. But a lot of things how they do, I didn’t like. I wanted to do it differently. I believe that things could be done differently. We can bring much more value to the customer. A lot of things that I suggested were implemented there. Some of them I didn’t. It’s okay, right? So then I said, “Okay, I will do it differently. I’ll do it my way.” Then, the decision was made, so I left this company and started iRangers. Initially I started it by myself. I was the first and the only one employee of the company, in the beginning. Now, for example, we have 13 people in the company.
David: Wow, and that was two years ago you said?
David: Wow, okay, so that’s pretty quick growth. What…actually, two questions. How did you go about getting your first clients? And I kind of suspect the answer to both of these is going to be similar, but…One, how did you go about getting your first clients? Two, how did you go about finding your first hires?
Misha: Okay. So the first client. I finish my job in the previous company on last day of February. I started a new first project of iRangers May 1st. It kind of worked out really well. The first hiring was about four or five months after that. It was really simple. My guys were around, and whenever I came to them and asked…I came to my first guy and asked him, “Would you join me? This is my vision. This is how we operate.” Actually, what’s really interesting, a lot of things that we implement in iRangers, many people didn’t believe it gonna work. Because nobody as far as I know, nobody at least in Winnipeg, and I know nobody in Canada, do things as we do. I knew it going to work because I’ve seen this working, but not in North America. So it was some suspicions that, “Okay, it’s probably different mentality. It’s not going to work here.” But apparently now I see that customers really love it. It fits perfectly.
David: What are you doing that’s so different? Is it technologically different, or is it a business process that’s different? What’s setting you apart like that?
Misha: I would say everything. For example, let’s play this. You’re a client. You’re inviting us for a first meeting, and you’re asking us to build a new communication infrastructure for you. New collaboration system. Some consultants will start talking about the benefits of the new system, how it’s supposed to be done, and technical stuff. My first question, or iRangers first question will be, “Why? Why you want to do it? Why you want to spend money? What benefit do you expect to see from a new system?”
We’re coming from a business perspective. We do believe that IT suppose support business only, not opposite. Business doesn’t exist to feed IT department, right? So we studying business first. Then we adjust IT to the business. Many, many times we show to the business, “Okay, guys, we see what you want, but this is what you really need.” So we kind of changing it. For me, like eight years ago, it was pretty similar. Worth, want, and need. Apparently, it’s not. This is what business really loved. They see that we are not trying to sell them anything. By the way, we absolutely run diagnostic. In iRangers, we work with multiple technologies, and we build like a custom suit.
David: I can see how that makes you unique, as well, because there’s so many IT companies out there that are essentially just salespeople for X hardware vendor or Y software vendor.
Misha: We absolutely run diagnostic. This is first. Second, we don’t sell anything. We don’t sell hardware. We don’t sell software. We don’t sell licenses.
David: Wow. That’s very different, actually, from traditional IT consulting.
Misha: We only, only sell consulting service. Because I don’t believe that anybody can claim himself as a independent consultant, a diagnostic consultant, with having a love the gold HP vendor. Apparently, you’re going to sell HP hardware in this case, right? Even if it’s the best case for a client in a particular situation, but unconsciously client will believe that you really sell him hardware.
David: Right. It’s like we said before about charging by the hour. The incentives are just wrong. It doesn’t make sense.
Misha: I’m coming with this statement, “Guys, we don’t sell anything. We don’t sell hardware. Yes, we have partners. We have strategic partners, and other companies that we work with. We can recommend to customer, go with particular hardware, if he asks. But we never talk about hardware. We never talk about software. We never talk about licenses. Even if we get a question from a client during a project, “Okay, how much it going to cost us to buy those licenses?” We have really, really simple answer, “I don’t know. I don’t know. We don’t sell it.”
David: Right, and of course if they want your opinion as to what it might cost you can give them a ballpark, but you’re not selling it to them.
Misha: I can’t even give them ballpark, because I don’t know the prices. It’s not our…
David: Isn’t that something they would want you to know, though? That seems like a bit of a drawback.
Misha: You can estimate, and majority of time, they already know. They do due diligence. They do their homework. So they know, plus minus, the price range. Why would I spend my time on studying this stuff, right? So if they want, we can refer them to professionals that sell licenses. That can save them even money and time on licensing. Because nowadays for some vendors, I call it, “you need to get an MBA just to understand their licensing policy.” So yeah, we don’t sell anything except professional service.
David: When you started iRangers, did you set out to build a firm? Did you know you were going to be hiring people, or did you think that it was just going to be an independent consulting…like, just you, basically?
Misha: No, I knew that it going to be a company. Going to be a team, and this team will grow as long as I manage to maintain the quality that we have in the company. So we have many things that nobody can really say that they have something similar. Another area that we’re really proud of, and many things that we do, nobody here does at all. For example, we pay one of the highest salaries in Canada, because everybody in any team like really, really high on professionalism.
David: Well, yeah, I mean when what you’re selling is your expertise, you need to have the best team around. The only way you’re going to attract the best team is to pay them well.
Misha: You know what? This is a really interesting point. None of my team members work in iRangers just because of salary. I do believe they work because of culture. They stay in iRangers because they believe it’s their company, as well. They love culture. They love challenges. They see opportunities. They see that we do things differently. For example, we don’t have vacation policy. What does it mean, no vacation policy? We try to keep at least two, three people on each project. I call it, for redundancy purpose. If someone gets sick, or on vacation, or whatever, client shouldn’t be affected. Project shouldn’t be affected on that. This is the first thing. Second, if team…and, agree with me two people, three people, is already a team. Team on the project is okay that you will go on vacation for two or three weeks, why would they be care? As long as the project does not get compromised, and team is okay that you going to be away for two weeks or three weeks? Go for it. So people can take vacation as long as they want. We don’t force people to be in the office.
It’s funny thing that we even started without office. Now we building an office. One thousand square feet office, and for different purpose. Apparently, team came to me at some point and asked me, “Okay, Misha. What if we want to have an option to work in collaborative environment when we work on some particular project? We want to sit face to face and discuss and do brainstorming and stuff like that. Can we have an office?” We started without office. Now we building an office. One thousand square feet office. I don’t care from where people work. I have been in the situation that I’ve done project in Calgary, but physically I was sitting in London. London, England, even. Not London, Ontario. Nowadays, with all the technology, we can do this.
Misha: Everybody has freedom to work from anywhere. We have no hours. For example, there is no starting point like 8:30 or 9:00 AM, you should start work. We have some people in a team that love to work at 2:00, 3:00 AM. So it doesn’t matter for me, right? Majority of our projects we do remotely. I would say 95%, maybe more of our projects we do remotely. Even if we do a project for a company in Winnipeg, we do it remotely. We come on site whenever we feel it’s required, and we need it. Check for some meetings. Some face to face communication. But a lot of work we do remotely, at night, at morning, during the day. So this team is self managed. I don’t believe in management, by the way. I believe in leadership. It’s two different things. None of my team members need to be managed nowadays. They really self-manage. They know the targets. They know the deadlines, and that’s it. Really simple.
David: I want to go back a little bit to what you said near the beginning of our conversation, when I was asking how your mentor did sales. You said basically that when selling consulting services, you need to build your reputation, and that takes care of a lot of it.
Misha: Majority. Maybe 110%.
David: So then does that mean your business is basically coming to you at this point?
Misha: Yes and no. Majority, yes.
David: And how are they finding you if that’s the case?
Misha: I would say the reputation, right?
David: Right, but are they finding your website? How has your reputation gotten to these people?
Misha: We do have website, okay, and there is no way that we will ever get a project through the website. Because we don’t sell anything. We don’t sell cellphones. We don’t sell hardware. So there is no way that someone would like to go and hire iRangers through the website. Because our main customers, they are really big enterprise customers. Can you imagine some CEO sitting on his desk with the thought, “Okay, I have another $150,000 in the budget to do some upgrades. Let’s Google for some company that I will spend this money with.” No way, right? It happened that I build a network and everybody in a team has his own network. Network of people. I have probably more than 1,000 connections on my LinkedIn, and this network knows about what we do and how we do. Whenever they need some help, they leveraging this network. So, each team member has a network.
I briefly mentioned that we have strategic partners. So we have a really good strategic partner here in Manitoba that we work a lot together on multiple projects. What really remains this partnership golden for both companies? They don’t provide professional services on a level that we do, but they do sell hardware. They will bring a lot of customers that they work with. They have a really, really good reputation. Whenever they sell a hardware, they know that it’s for some purpose, some project. Now they started to offer professional services, and nobody hides that it’s iRangers. We coming in, and we work…they kind of bring us to the dance. Then we talk to the customer, and then customer decides hire us or not. This way we got projects in Vancouver. This way, we got projects in the States. This way how we we get projects in Europe. This is how we operate. We develop the network. We develop relationship, strategic partnership.
David: And in those cases, when you’re getting new business elsewhere, I assume you’re hopping on a plane to meet the clients? Is that kind of how it works? Face to face discovery at the beginning, and after that, you work remotely? Is that kind of how the process works?
Misha: Majority, yeah. I do believe in face to face communications. I just came back from Montana about three weeks ago, and then I spent some time in Vancouver. I did the same in Europe, and Germany. I did the same in England. I did the same in Montreal and Ottawa and Toronto. I am going there or some of my team members, and we meet with the client. We need to learn his need, because we don’t consider them…we don’t even treat them as a client. We develop partnership with them. Whenever we on a project, we treat this project as our internal project for ourself. This way, they treat us as a local team. We becoming, to them, internal team.
We have a really big customer right now that works with us for more than a year already. They share with us their pain. We know what challenges they have. We study their business. We know the business requirements. We know the business desire. We come to them and we talk to them about this. Sometimes we initiate a project. We know what we know, but we don’t know what we don’t know, right? So whenever we come in, I think, “You know what guys? If you will do this and this, this is how you can benefit from there.” Our customers, as I said, we treat them as partners. They see this. They not just see this, like many companies saying really nice words, right? But they see that we really believe in that. We live this life according to those principles. It’s really congruent. This is how they invite us more and more, more and more. I don’t remember even one customer that we’ve done a project for them, and we walk away.
David: It’s always repeat business.
Misha: It’s always repeat business.
Misha: What is really interesting. They talk to each other and they promote us. So far, we’ve done zero promotion about our business. In all the days of iRangers we’ve done zero promotion of our business at all, and we’re getting customers. We’re getting calls. We got a call from Vancouver one day, “Okay, Misha. We need some help.” Okay, and we started a conversation, and then we scheduled another conference call, and then I book a flight. Then we kickoff a project, and then the rest of the project was done remotely, yes. When we finished the project, we flew in for a closing meeting, and it’s done. This is how it works. We’re getting a lot of projects this way. By leveraging network.
David: Very cool. We’re running up on time, here, so I’m going to ask you one more question, and it’s going to be circling back to something else you said near the beginning when we were talking about mentors. You said that you’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of great mentors in your life. Tell me a bit of who some of those mentors were, and what the most important lessons were that you picked up from them.
Misha: As I said, treat people as you want to be treated. This is probably the bar one of the main things.
Misha: Yeah. This is probably the one, and, focus always on the value. Because nobody cares about tasks, but everybody cares about results, and results equal values. Whenever you bring value, you getting good result. In some cases, it’s really countering do we do. You are going to spend so much time and you’re not going to be compensated on it. Apparently you’re getting compensated on that even more than sometimes you expect. So this is probably the main one. The second one. Actually I don’t know if it’s the second. Maybe this is the first. It’s hard to put those numbers. It’s not priorities, right? But it’s a team. Nobody can survive nowadays alone. Some of those principles I got from army service. You need to have a team. You need to have someone who is going to cover your back. Otherwise, you are not surviving an army. Some of those principles that I learned in the army, we apply in the company. I know 100% that it doesn’t matter what would happen. My team will cover back of each other. So build and maintain team. This is the most important piece.
David: That’s very cool. Well, thanks so much for your time, Misha. It’s been a pleasure.
Misha: Thank you.