Brian Rehg has learned that behind every successful software solution is a team of strong engineers. Since launching the company in 2009, Blue Stingray is dedicated to always employing best coding practices and providing solutions that follow the latest industry standards. Brian continues to bring his more than 25 years of enterprise cloud solutions experience to provide the vision and strategy for continuous growth. Under Brian’s direction, Blue Stingray has won countless awards, given back to the community, started a free tech school, developed an extensive client base, and surpassed $10M in revenue.
StarCentral Magazine recently caught up with Brian to discuss his journey as an entrepreneur and here’s what went down:
Could you please tell our readers a brief background about yourself and how you started your business?
I started my business the day after being laid off from a company that was struggling to stay above water. A large percentage of employees were laid off in an attempt to make the company financially secure.
I had worked for several companies in a row that had failed for various reasons — and really, that experience is equivalent to earning an MBA at an Ivy League University. I saw firsthand why businesses failed, and I knew how to avoid certain mistakes. Of course, owning a business is all about making mistakes, and I made plenty in my first few years, but I was able to hit the ground running.
When did your entrepreneurial flair first reveal itself?
Since I was 19, I’ve had side businesses. I’ve always felt the need to keep moving. Even when I worked 55-hour weeks and spent my free time taking classes and remodeling my home, I was doing odd jobs that were related to my field. I don’t like to waste time. To me, work is rewarding — I enjoy it in the way that other people enjoy leisurely activities.
In a sense, I didn’t see it as work, and I think that mindset was helpful when I made my business my primary source of income. There’s an old saying among business owners; we “work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40.” There’s truth in that, but if your business is one of your top priorities, the “work” becomes enriching.
How did your life look like before being an entrepreneur?
I was a family man, and I still am. I had many career successes throughout my life, so I was financially secure. That meant my risks were limited — nothing I did would have compromised my family’s comfort, as long as I analyzed those risks correctly.
As an entrepreneur, what is it that motivates and drives you?
As I mentioned earlier, hard work is rewarding for me, but that’s not the only reason I do this. I love watching my team members grow. We’ve had green, inexperienced people become members of our executive staff. I’ve seen people who were there from the beginning buy new homes, go on amazing vacations, and support their family members.
Money was never my motivation, except when that money allowed me to hire interesting people and help them succeed.
In one word, describe your life as an entrepreneur and explain why.
“Rewarding.” I have never felt more rewarded in my life. And again, it’s not the money — it’s about developing as a person. You feel it in your spirit.
What were your top three motivations for starting your business?
I like hard work. I love helping people grow, and I love being able to give back. At this stage, I’m able to devote time and resources to charitable causes and mentorships, which is exactly where I’ve always wanted to be.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful business?
First, you need to have the right mindset: Stay calm, cool, and confident, even when everyone else is panicking. Second, you need to be great with people. You need to be able to build a team, and the CEO needs to be able to sell by building relationships with other business people.
You also need a passion for what you are doing, and you need to be able to share that passion. You need to be proactive, honest, and loyal to your staff. You have to learn that you work for the employees — not the other way around.
What are two of the biggest challenges you have faced growing the business, and how did you overcome them?
We have consistently grown, and we’ve faced serious growing pains; we’ve frequently encountered situations where we didn’t have enough employees to keep up with cash flow. We’ve addressed that by developing training programs to grow and build a team of senior-level engineers, and we learned to spend little to no money on overhead.
Second, we’ve learned to be aware of client behaviors. Some larger clients take advantage of small vendors in an attempt to get high-quality work for little to no pay. That can be devastating and costly. We qualify potential clients now, which just means saying “no” to many companies or individuals within companies that display red flags. That doesn’t matter if they’re Fortune 100 companies or small businesses — if they’re not willing to pay for quality work, they’re not worth the effort.
What form of marketing has worked well for your business throughout the years?
We don’t have a sales team or a marketing staff. I was amazed by how quickly the company grew via word of mouth — we simply treat clients fairly, and we do great work at a fair price. When you fill a niche and you’re proud of your work, your business grows, period.
As you grew the business, what have been some of the most important leadership lessons you have learned?
Establishing a team of diverse, capable individuals takes a unique set of skills, and I’ve learned how to do that through trial and error. Leaders should know that every team member has specific goals and needs. You’ll need to meet those to help them to do their job efficiently. Learning about those needs and goals takes time, patience, and hard work.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
It’s an old one, but it’s great advice: “Keep your eye on the ball.” That means staying hyper-focused on the task at hand, especially during difficult times. If you are in a burning building and you see the exit in front of you, stay focused on that door. No matter what happens around you, keep moving forward — even if you have to crawl.
What advice would you give to a newbie Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
Dip your toe in the water before you dive in.
I started my company with an old laptop from my kitchen table. I used contractors when I needed them. My website was bad, my marketing was bad, and I didn’t have a plan, but I made a good profit the first year — I knew I had something, so I dove in. I made sure to grow my business slowly, in a way that I could (mostly) control. Many companies in our industry failed by growing too quickly, without clear goals. We’re still going strong. We’ve had record sales every year, and that’s because we thought carefully about every step forward.