Decision Dialogues
Decision Dialogues

Episode · 1 year ago

Entrepreneurial Spirit - Ep 11


On Episode 11 of Decision Dialogues, Mark Willoughby of Modera talks to Steve Ryder, the founder of True North Networks, a provider of managed hosting technology, cybersecurity, and IT services. Steve talks about his decision to strike out on his own and found True North, and identifies what his biggest mistake was—which almost prevented True North from ever reaching its full potential. Get the full show notes and more resources at

Are you paving the way for the life you want facing decisions that may affect you personally and financially? The decision dialogs podcast, brought to you by Modera Wealth Management, presents personal stories about navigating through life's pivotal moments, narratives that we hope will inspire you as you create your own story. You'll learn what influence their next steps and gain insights that could help you with your own critical choices. Welcome to decision dialogs. Thanks for joining us on decision dialogs or thrilled to have you. A law my name is Mark Willoughby and I'm a principal wealth manager and Chief Operating Officer of Modera Wealth Management Llc. Today I'll be chatting with Steve Rider of true North Networks, and let me give you a quick introduction of WHO Steve Is. Steve is the president and founder of true North Networks, which is a leading national provider of managed hosting, technology and security services within the financial services industry. Back in two thousand and fifteen, true north launched secure workplace, a suite of cyber security services designed to reduce the likelihood of a successful cyber attack on their clients, and true north recently converted to an employee owned company and its mission as a fiduciary is to create a foundation for the success and well being of their clients, employee's and the communities in which they serve. Prior to founding true north, Steve was the CFO of the largest real estate company in New Hampshire and also worked in the financial services industry, serving as vice president of two banks and managing relationships with Fanny May's largest New England clients. Steve Speaks on various topics throughout the country at various conferences, most notably of which is on cyber security. Welcome Steve to the show. Next mark. Thanks for having me and and as full disclosure to our listeners, I did want to make it clear that our firm has known Steve Going back fifteen years now. I think it's about pouly years. Yeah, it's about that. They've been a really important partner to our firm as we've grown on the technology side. So I just wanted to share that with the listeners before we dived into the topics today. So, Steve, I've known you for fifteen years in your relationship as our technology service provider, but I'm going to bring you back right to the start. Let's let's talk about how did you start out your career? I'm interested in finding out what your path has been to get to where you are now, like how far back, like when I was born. Let's let's let's start when you embarked into the professional market, fessional market place. It was kind of funny. I mean when I was in college I always thought I wanted to start my own company. I didn't know what it was at the time, I just always had this on entrepreneur or thing. And you know, as I started embarking on my career, I initially worked for my father. My father owned some businesses and at one point there I've five other siblings, so six of us at one point all work for my father. Learned a lot from him. Very, very brilliant guy. Just he recently passed almost a year ago now, so certainly miss him, but was a great, great guy and I guess I was the first defect. I saw maybe two different career path for me, though I enjoyed work with my father, just want to do something different and I embarked in the financial industry. I end up working for a bank for several years and then ended up working for Fanny May. So got in the financial industry and everywhere I went I liked technology. Always gravitated towards technology and when I left feanny May, I took some time off. Took a summer off just trying to figure out what I want to do. When I grew up, traveled out west with I have an older daughter from a prior marriage and spend some time with her, came back and then started searching for a job and then landed the job at this real estate... New Hampshire and even though I was a cfo there, I spent a lot of effort in making it more efficient and really driving better technology to get better reporting, consolidate reporting and grow that company from seven offices to proximately eighteen offices in three years, and a lot of it was all around technology. How can we better position the company? I've only there are three years, ninety seven to two thousand, and that's around the time where I kind of went through a little bit of a midlife crisis, if you will, though I was still kind of young what I want to do next, and end up deciding I wanted to do yt I like. I liked technology and started going down down that path. It sounds like from early on you had an entrepreneurial mindset. Where did that come from? When did you recognize that you wanted to set up your own business? You know, I don't play well with others. You know. I mean I like you know, I would say I collaborate. Well, right, I'm not. I'm not a dictator. Right, I do like collaborate, I like listening other people and taking feedback, but ultimately, like I'm like making decisions, you know, and I think sometimes you know, as I've told my wife, at times, you know, stress comes from the lack of making a decision. You know, people who are indecisive or also are off and the most stressed out people in the world because they are can't make a decision. I suffer from the opposite. I make decisions. That may not always work out, but but I'll make a decision, I'll go down that path and then I might have to take a left or right. So I like making decisions. I feel I'm a little bit of a risk taker. I feel confident in myself to be able to make mostly good decisions. That and being the ultimate say and my destiny, I guess, and that's kind of how where. I felt that way so early on. You recognize that in yourself. And then you spent how many years into corporate world before you set up shoe north? MMM, so I left. I college, I graduating eighty two, so almost twenty years. So you. So you spend twenty years between, most of the time in the financial services industry and then sometime in the Ray estate. Yeah, straight. Interestingly enough, I never worked anywhere for more than four years until I started star. I started my own company. I worked, I got bored, I kind of figured things out, I got bored, I moved on. It was just you moved on to the next challenge. Just a pattern I had. Okay, now you've ended up, after twenty years into corporate world, founding firm into technology space. You didn't sit out to set up a night company, I assume. No, I didn't. Not In you started out wanting to be an entrepreneur. Yes, was part of the grand plan, wanting to spend some time in the corporate world to cut your teeth. You know, it's interesting you say that I didn't really know exactly what I wanted to do. Here's my path of entrepreneurship, of where I wanted to possibly go. I thought, just because of all the different backgrounds I have, I thought I'd becoming a plumber, I thought I'd become an electrician, I thought of opening a mortgage company, thought of starting a mortgage company and I started naturally gravitating towards technology. So anywhere I started going, you know, as technology started becoming more and more mainstay and necessary. You know, as I was working for the Real Estate Company, I gravitate toward technology. I was even when I was working for Fanny May, I gravitated towards technology. You know, at one point, and was at Fanny May, I was the customer count manager and they had a position open for a can't remember the name of the title, but basically was a technology marketing person, and I thought of going for that. But all along you're almost getting more and more comfortable than teaching yourself. Yeah, the whole technology..., and I started a company without even an IT background. Well, let's let's let's talk about that right. So now you're you're almost twenty years into your career. You've worked, you've worked at a number of different types of firms. Technology has been calling you. Let's called just put it that way you've gotten a certain level of understanding after the real estate companies, that when you started thinking about setting up your own firm back in the early S. Yes, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn't want to work for the real estate firm anymore. So I left. I resigned without a job and mind. I resigned thinking I wanted to take some time off and get some technology certification and to change. Pass, change, yeah, pass at that time. At that time I was forty years old. I wasn't sure at that time where I was going to start my own company, but I wanted to change paths. Tell me about the financial part of the decision. You know, you know, we're financial planets. So what fascinates us is, when I look at it a business owner like you, you're forty years old. I'm sure you've got bills to pay that point. You've resigned. With that another job to go to. Talk to me about the financial preparations to taking a step out of the workforce. Yeah, to do the next thing. Can You? Can you remember that? Oh God, yeah, Oh my God, most people can remember this because it was it was painful at the time. I mean, and here's the funny story, my wife was also working. So we went from dual income, no kids and such. I mean I had no older daughter for a prior marriage, but she was out of the house time. So technically at that point we were dual income, no kids. And when I decided, when I up and quit my job and said I don't want to do this anymore, my wife had just given birth. Ah, so we were we went from dual income, no kids to no income with kids. Well not jump in with both feet, rip the ban date off. Okay, so talk to us about I mean, like, I'm assuming you admit you had saved some money. Yeah, the funny thing is, so my two thousand tax return literally had zero for income. So my two thousand, and I'm sorried, my two thousand and one tax return had zero for income. When I filed my tax return literally had no income. I don't know I at the time. I look back and I must have been out of my mind, you know, thinking what, why would I do this? We had a bunch of money in the bank at the time. We'd save some money over the years. We were pretty Frul my wife and I, and I felt comfortable enough enough that I think I had enough money in the bank that I say that. You know, I that was a time to take the risk. I think. I think I can do this. I think I could do this. If the forty year old Steve Writer was sit in frontier right now, what would you say to him? Yeah, here's the biggest mistake I made. At the time I figured I had I was still young enough and I had enough talent that if I couldn't survive starting my own company, I could go get a job. So I think the biggest mistake, and I tell fifth told other entrepreneurs the same thing, if you are going to start a business you have to go all in. And for the first couple of years I was not all in. You know, I was kind of half in, half out. I find that interesting. Knowing you as I know you, I find that interesting. Yeah, you didn't go a hundred percent. Now, sir. Now I thought, you know, if this doesn't work out, I can go get a job. I think for probably a couple of years the defining moment for me was when I had very, very little money and my business bank account. I remember my bank account after I did pay rolls, like thirty eight ence left and after I I did pay roll and never forget that number. I remembered being down in the basement with my wife and pissing through most of my my money. I said if I ever touched my wife's retirement or her money, I'm not, I will have failed. You know, got my house on the line, went through all my retirement account all my savings, and I just that moment... time, was at the finding moment, was like, you know what, I don't want to work, I don't want to go work for somebody else. I am going to get through this. I've got my back up and said I'm going to make this work. And at that moment in time, I don't remember the exact day, and I remember that moment and just saying, you know what, I'm not going back, I'm not going to go work for somebody else. So That's interesting to me. So you started out knowing early on that you're entrepreneurial, yet for the first two years of your real entrepreneurial career you kind of kit kept a foot in both camps. Yeah, and you know why? Because I had money, you know. I mean I wasn't rolling at it, okay, but I had enough money and this is kind of the you know, I was kind of funny. I was watching shark tank the other night and I can't remember if it was Robert or one of the guys on Shark Tank said sometimes the point in time where you have enough money that you make mistakes because you like and a hungry enough, not hungry enough. Great, great point. I wasn't hungry enough or desperate enough. Good Point. Or desperate fear? Fear is a great mote of it or right. Yes, fear is a great motivator. And once I started, once I drained all my accounts and got to that point where I needed to make smarter decisions and I don't have enough money to go through anymore and I got to make smarter decisions. I got to be thinking about is when I think the real like Mulbi woe best, like it went off at that point. Yeah, and then at then, at then it went back to my college days and saying yes, you want to be an entrepreneur, you're here, but how bad you want it? You know, and then I decided that's I really do want this. So listen number one from Steve's older brother. When you go entrepreneurial, go on in. You got to go on and you got and you got to have perseverance. You can't, you can't give up. I mean it's so I had people, I mean, as you know, I'm sure you've talked, seeing people come and go, start businesses, leap businesses that can't make it, the close up shop, but just this constant perseverance, you know, never given up, you know again, as I said, for the first two years and never really, never really was in the give up. But yeah, one point, once I decided I was in, I was like, I'm never given this up. I'm never I'll lose my house before I so that's interesting. So that's sounds like it happened around two, two, three. Get kick that time and knowing the business that you're in, Steve, it's such a challenging business. Things are changing so much so often. So, you know, you hear stories about the US government being hacked by the by the Russian. Yeah, whoever right, but talk to me about where there any other existential moments during the course of true marth that you had to retool, read kind of look at the way you were doing business and change things up significantly. Yeah, several times, I think early on I had a partner I had. I bought him out early on and at one point, January twenty eight of two thousand and three, I'll never forget the date, he was working on a server and did a routine thing Microsoft suggested to do, when he end up deleting all their data. It was not a good day and I remember walking into the owner of the company and basically said I don't know how I'm going to do this, but I'm going to. I'm going to figure this out. And Long Story Show, we had to ship the disks to data recovery. It cost me about tenzero bucks that I didn't really have, but, you know, kind of did the right thing out of my pocket and Mega Right and the client actually referred to us to other clients. So that, again, I was another defining moment. The hardest decisions, I think, for a business owner is, as they say, it's just business right and there's Times you hire people that will get you to one point that are not may might get you to the next point, and so I've had to make some really, really difficult decisions of partying ways with people...

...during my path that aren't fun, but they they just can't foresee or get you to the next level that you need to be so that those were some tough moments over the years for you know, I remember making some decisions out we're not fun decisions, but I had to make the right decision and I always they say, you have a responsibility for both you and that person you know, to you know, make the right decision for everybody concerned. And and every time I've made those decisions I've treated those people when they've had to part ways, probably better than most small businesses would would do. In fact, I remember having these conversations with my wife I've as I've made those decisions over the years. She said, what do you do in paying them for that many months or that much should? I'm like, you know, I want to sleep at night. You know, these people have gotten meat from here to there. You know. She's like, you're not used you work at Liberty Mutual Fortune. What can company hundred them? You're not liberty mutual. I'm like, I know, but these people help me, you know, and it's one of the hardest things when running any sort of businesses, the people aspect of it. Oh my God. Yeah, and one of the other things I wanted to touch on to you know, I've known you for fifteen years now. I've seen you girl your firm. You've clients all over the country at this point. The decision to bring trunort to be an employee owned company, I have to say it fascinates me. Yeah, I mean to me, you know, money is not a motivator for me. As you know, I piss it all away back in the early two thousand yeah, yeah, you know, I've obviously have to make a living, right, I got to make money, I got to make a living, but to me it's always been a I've never really considered success on my own. Really, I'm a team player and Az, as I said, I while I may like to make the decisions, I also realize I haven't gotten successful on my own. Right I might have taken all the risk and gotten where we are, but you know, it's kind of funny. I mean I as I don't know if you may or may not remember, but I remember talking with Tom Arecchio, your partner. I've talked with a few other business owners. You know, what have they done? What are they doing? You know, Succession Planning, trying to think about the future. Talk with many, many people on including some other people who started employee owned companies and I just found it. That seemed to be the way to go for me, you know, to try to have other people benefit from wholly ownership. So at some point, you know, you know, selling it or selling shares, or some point when I have a have a an event, that other people will benefit from that event because they will be shareholders as well and be able to benefit from it as well, that it's not all coming my way but other people will benefit as well. Have you I know if you're not comfortable answering this question I took, but have you noticed a change in your team since the since you put that in place? Yeah, I think so. I mean we have an esoff committee that is gotten got together and starting to talk about about things and yeah, I think people, people are excited. You know that. You know we certainly care about our team, but I think people have gotten a little bit more excited about being an employee own company and feeling stronger about about the commitment to know that. You know, ultimately, I do care and I want to put my money where my mouth is and say it's one thing to thank people, but it's another thing to show them with value you know said, yeah, yeah, so in the last few minutes, what I wanted to do is just change tactics a little bit, considering the expertise you has to even the fact that you travel the country talking. But cyber security. You know, for those listeners, maybe we can have a lightning round, one or two minutes of you know, what are your biggest concerns around cybersecurity for those people, you know,...

...any any listener, I'm sure, is going to be computing. Let's put it down, and are going to be on the Internet. What are the top two or three things you would say to them? Apathy. People don't really take it seriously as seriously as they should. You know, it scares me at times when you know, for example, you know, I'm not obviously going to say any names that we have, and we're trying to force people right, just simple, simple things, right. You know, multi factor authentication, right, just even on your email, which just forget everything else, just do it on your email. So let's start for the uninitiated. Just explain to them in English what multi factor authentication is. Right. So when you log into your email, you log into any other software, you have a username and password and then you might have a token on your phone or something recognizing your computer that you know second factor. So it makes it difficult to compromise an account if you give up your password because you still have to have the token to do it. So we we have literally been pleading with companies to do it. We have had a client actually get breached because they didn't have multi factor authentication and the client still doesn't have multi factor authentication after they experience the data breach. Well, so, and I'm like, I just you know, we've taken attack to saying you know what, if clients don't do some of the basic, simple security things, you know are as. You know mark our contracts are kind of this all inclusive, all you can eat, where your I t department whatever. But we're style say look, if you're not going to do some of the basic levels of security, just not a whole lot you can do for them. Yeah, look, you get a data breach as a multifactor authentication, I mean I know we're not liable for it, but your if whatever dollars or effort we got to spend from our labor side, you're paying for it right right now, because it's extra effort on our side and that multi factor, steve is opening up to stuff like bank accounts, lugging into bank accounts and and would it be fair to say you'd recommend everybody to do that every increasing you can possibly like. I mean I pull up my phone or I have it. I'm going to think of I quick books for Intuit, Go Daddy, from my domains, all my different you know, obviously, all our business technologies we use to support our clients. My Gmail Account, my office, three hundred and sixty five account, I mean almost anything, my Amazon account. You know, even my Amazon Account. I have two factor authentication. I mean I have it on everything I can possibly imagine and and yes, it is a pain in the bus right, but that's the price you pay. It's the lowest hanging fruit currently right multi factor. It's the lowest hanging fruit and the reality is that the bad guys aren't stupid. They're going to go after the people who don't have it right, you know. So that's our good deed done for the day. Now we've kind of hammered that multi factor into our listeners. And couple of quick just what's next for true north? What big decision are you grappling right now? Okay. So the biggest decision we're grappling with. You know, it was kind of funny back in two thousand and sixteen we moved into a new built and I remember walking into the building telling the landlord, can I sub least this because there's no way I'm ever going to fill the space. So now it's four years later, or a little over four years later, and you for saw the tendendic four years ago. Of course, of course I was ready. No, but serious. Four years later and we're we need more space, not I mean you think for the pandemic, you'd think. You're thinking the opposite. I don't need to space, I need I need more space. Even with some of your folks working for virtually and from home. Yeah, we have some at work from home. Most are still we most are in the office here. We're still, I mean despite the pandemic, we are blowing out at the seams here in the office and we have I think we have five new people starting in the next three weeks, you know. So we continue to...

...grow, you know. So those are those are the challenges integrating, you know, more people into the team and then and then again, the biggest one of the challenge is integrating people for training remotely. That we're still grappling with. You know, we had a couple people we tried hiring and tried integrating and training them remotely and didn't work out, you know, just if we just didn't have a good experience or they didn't have a good experience and we got to got to figure our way through that too. Yeah, it's challenging. We've had to. We've had to do that with two new employees ourselves since the pandemic. It's possible to do it, but it's it needs a whole lot more consideration than when you're actually in the office and in person. Absolutely, and even even to some extent to the collaboration, which, you know, I'm trying to figure out a way and obviously we have teams and just trying to figure out how do you have a virtual water cooler conversation right. I mean those are the things that I think there's a lot of. I see a lot of collaboration and it you know, where someone's like trying to trouble shoot something and somebody hears it over the you know, and there's collaboration that I think, which is kind of good to have most of the people back in the office right now. But it's definitely a struggle, you know, for people who have as you know you have, you know you have a risky situation with your family situation. There there's people I have that have risky situations that, you know, would prefer to work from home, which is absolutely fine, but how do you really provide that collaborative experience like it's being in the office, like it's over the water coola right correct just it's almost like it's in the air and it's not directed at you, but you pick it up. I know that I've given it bout analogy there, but that we struggle with the same thing. Or so as we wrap this up, we like to wrap this up with one last question. We pose this question to all of our guests and it's it seems to be the question that stumps most of our guests actually. So the question is, what's the last non financial decision you've had to make? Today, I would say my last. This is and I had to do so every and I guess technically for me it's not a financial well, I guess been directly maybe a financial decision, but the decision I to make today was see, we have Salad Mondays here. We provide salads for people, and so my decision was what salad do I want today? So so there's a local again. We try to support the local economy here. So we have a local restaurant here that we support and I got the chicken Caesar Keenwa Bowl. So it's a chicken Caesar with Kinwa and it's really, really good, it says. So that was my decisions. Too healthy for me. See. Okay, thanks very much to Steve, writer of true north, for letting US listen in today. We appreciate his time and his perspectives and thank you for tuning in. We hope you'll join US next time on decision dialogs for more stories from successful business owners like Steve. So long for now. Thank you for listening to decision dialogs. We hope you found today's stories helpful for your own decisionmaking. If you like to listen to more episodes, you can subscribe on your preferred podcasting APP or visit our website, where you'll also find show notes and important disclosures. WWW DOT moder wellcom. Forward Slash decision dialogs. This has been a production of twin flames studios,.

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