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The Birth of a Business Plan

By Byron Middendorf
August 26, 2016

Thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan was president, Lady Gaga was a newborn. And, this ➜
was an Apple watch.

Thirty years ago, Equinox Information Systems stumbled out of the gate.

It would be better PR if I told you we knew exactly what we were doing, our business plan was pristine, and all we needed to do was execute. Not so much. Our plans were grand, and our forecasted revenue graph looked like a shot out of an upright cannon. We ran into the “ice bucket challenge” within months. We got our paychecks, but we could not cash them. We listened for the mailman and rushed to the mailbox hoping for good news in the form of a check. The walk back upstairs with empty hands was torturous.

With the support of companies like American Sharecom, American Telco and TSI, we survived. These companies supported us not because they believed in Equinox, but because they believed in the capabilities of my business partner, Wayne Lowe. Wayne would leave his family on Monday mornings and fly to one of these companies and work long hours as a programmer so we could keep the lights on back home. In the meantime, we tweaked and re-tweaked the business plan. Eventually, we wadded it up and threw it in the trash.

We lost some of our original partners. Five compadres were now two, resulting in more work for the rest of us. And then, we saw the first signs of a glow in the fire we were trying to start. Two simultaneous developments became the hallmark of our success for years to come: 1) we hired an extremely smart developer named Dennis Wynne and 2) a customer trusted us enough to ask us to solve a problem for them. The problem was fraud on a telecom network, and our solution worked. Viola! Just like that we had a new business plan! Hire smart people, create solutions to problems, take care of the smart people, solve more problems. In the past thirty years, there has been an unbroken parade of smart people and solutions that have passed through Equinox’s doors.

The recurring pattern in this story is trust. The original customers trusted Wayne. We trusted Dennis. The new customers trusted Equinox. And that trust continues today. What is the key to trust? Never blow smoke when there is no fire. Tell the truth—the good and the bad. Know your strengths. Acknowledge your weaknesses.

Admitting weakness? Acknowledging vulnerability? These are certainly odd themes for a blog touting a thirty-year anniversary. What’s up, Mr. CEO?

In a world of tweets, snapchats, Instagram posts, and Facebook timelines, I am increasingly frustrated by the veneer of perfection that people and companies present to the world. It is as if sweeping problems under our individual and corporate rugs has become an art form. The damage is not limited to the people and companies that are hiding the truth or hiding from the truth. The people who read the Pollyannaish mumbo jumbo compare their lives to these portraits of perfection, and the comparison can be painful.

Equinox has had a wonderful stretch of thirty years. We are so fortunate. But we have had times when we had to cut staff as the industry went through “corrections”. We have hired people who, for whatever reason, did not work out. The parting is painful. Wayne and I have created what we think is a great place to work, yet there is always something that we could be doing better. We still frustrate our employees at times. And at times, the feeling is mutual! ☺

On a personal note, the last five years have been very difficult for me as I have been through a crisis that has divided my family. It has been painful beyond belief! But I am not alone. Despite what some would have you believe, most lives have complications and hurts and disappointments. My own personal struggles led me to a mini-sabbatical last week. I took six days and went away. I know how fortunate I am to have this opportunity. I would tell you where I went and how glorious is was, but let’s save that for the Facebook fantasy.

I will tell you that before I left I asked ten people whose insight and wisdom I have grown to trust (there’s that word again!) to recommend one book that they would read if they had an opportunity to reflect off the grid for a week. I received thirty recommendations. So much for people following directions! Of the thirty, I took seventeen books with me. And no, I did not read them all. But I did pick them up and lay them down in random order over six days. It was like having ongoing conversations with seventeen very intelligent, articulate, and sometimes witty people. I have the book list if you would like it.

So what did I bring back from my self-imposed exile?

The key to successfully navigating the complexities of life is to be willing to ask for help. Lay down the mantle of invincibility and trust others’ collective experience.
Shift your focus from building “resume” virtues into your life to building “eulogy” virtues. (The Road to Character, David Brooks)
You will learn more about yourself writing about your past, your present, and your future than you will by reading. (Dan Boone)
Simple is better. It may not always be possible, but it is certainly easier. Possessions do not bring happiness. In fact, I am leaning toward an inverse relationship between the number of possessions and the quality of life. (Observing my niece, Emily, as she lives out a life of simplicity in Victor, Idaho)

Let me end by offering a heartfelt thank-you to all the employees and customers who have contributed to our success over the last thirty years! Also, I’d like to remind anyone who reads this blog and is struggling, you are not alone. Ask for help.

About the Author

Byron Middendorf is the CEO, owner, and founder of Equinox Information Systems, where he oversees the company’s sales, marketing, implementation, and support initiatives. With over 30 years’ experience in the telecommunications industry, Byron provides vision and long-term strategic development for the company and its complete suite of software solutions. Although he enjoys those tasks, he is most passionate about his mission to ensure that Equinox is a great place to work. To learn more, visit www.equinoxis.com or call (615) 612-1200.