There would be no Network 1 without the vision and commitment of David Gracey. Since its founding in 1998, he has grown Network 1 into a top-notch IT services company dedicated to delivering the best solutions for Atlanta’s small and mid-size businesses.
His responsibilities include creating the vision and strategy for its growth and establishing the culture of Network 1. He loves educating the business community on the benefits of implementing the best technology solutions for businesses and is a regular speaker for professional organizations, business associations and private companies.
He has written articles for, or been quoted in, Atlanta Hospital News and Healthcare Report, International Legal Technology Association Communications Technologies Digital White Paper, Physicians Practice, American Bar Association GPSolo eReport, Georgia Medical Group Management Association, and The Wall Street Journal.
A Georgia Tech graduate with a degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering, he is originally from Clarksville, TN, but has called Atlanta home since 1985. He is a member of Vistage International, an active leader at Trinity Presbyterian Church and a member of the Capital City Club.
When not at work, you’ll find him in a fitness class, peddling his bike, sweating out the toxins in a hot yoga class, spraying golf balls around the course, trying out new cocktail recipes, drinking the world’s best coffee, and spending time with friends, his three kids, and his lab(ish) rescue, Juniper.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- Biggest challenges he have had to confront and overcome in that time
- Network 1 in the next 25 years
- Advice for others that may be considering starting their own business or those that have a business but aren’t seeing the same level of growth that he have experienced
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Atlanta Business Radio. Brought to you by on pay. Atlanta’s New standard in payroll. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:24] Lee Kantor here another episode of Atlanta Business Radio, and this is going to be a good one. But before we get started, it’s important to recognize our sponsor, Onpay. Without them, we couldn’t be sharing these important stories. Today on Atlanta Business Radio, we have David Gracey. He is the founder and president of Network one Consulting. Welcome, David.
David Gracey: [00:00:45] Hey, Lee, Thanks for being here.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:47] I am so excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us about Network One, how you serving folks.
David Gracey: [00:00:52] Will Network One is a 25 year old IT services company. We provide cybersecurity support desk and cloud services to small and medium sized Atlanta based businesses. And yeah, like I said, I’m the founder and owner of the company. We have 45 folks now and we serve 130 Atlanta based businesses.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:12] So how have you seen kind of the industry evolve since you started doing this before? You know, I guess network consulting was cool?
David Gracey: [00:01:21] Well, I’m not sure that network consulting has ever been cool. But, you know, if you think back in 1998 when we started, the IT world was a vastly different place. We had Internet just coming on the scene in businesses. Email was just starting to be used. Dial up was still the main way that that folks in offices access the Internet. And it was, you know AOL and Prodigy and all those wonderful things. A bad day in it was when you couldn’t access your files. Viruses were still very much in their infancy. So as you can tell, things have changed quite significantly in the last 25 years from a technology perspective.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:59] So what inspired you to kind of go on your own instead of, you know, work with some of the larger players?
David Gracey: [00:02:05] Not sure the word inspired is the word I use. You know, I haven’t always had a burning passion to start a company. It’s really more of an opportunity. This is actually my third job after graduating from college. And in my second job I was working in a the similar industry and one of my clients made me an offer to come work in house for them and use that as an opportunity to say thank you. But no, I’m actually thinking about starting my own business. And they said, we’d love to be your first client. And so that’s how it all got started. And so back then it was I was the only employee. I had one client, and I worked out of the basement of my house. So it was quite a different place than we are today.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:45] Now, were you doing kind of work that was similar to when you were employed?
David Gracey: [00:02:49] Yes, it’s similar, similar type of industry. So back then, you know, technology was different. We we went on site to do all of our visits. There was really no such thing as remote support for what we did. And so it was a lot of driving around Atlanta, visiting businesses and fixing laptops and servers and helping them understand technology and use it better.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:11] But as kind of the employer and the employee in your firm, you were doing the work at at where you were and also trying to find the next job or an additional job.
David Gracey: [00:03:24] Yeah. So I was I was a technology consultant, so I was helping helping people with their computer issues. And this along came the opportunity.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:35] Right. But you had to do the actual consulting and do the selling.
David Gracey: [00:03:39] Yes. Well, and the selling and the accounting and the taking out the trash and every every job known to man. Yes.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:48] So was that a difficult transition to trade one job for, like you said, 10 to 20 other jobs?
David Gracey: [00:03:56] Um, yeah. You know, switching from wearing a lot of different hats is both a challenge and an opportunity because as you, as you grow as a company, we, you know, we went from one person back then to 45. Now I’ve worn every single hat at the company over the years. And as you grow and you’re like, if you’re a company like mine where you’re cash flow funded, basically we don’t have private equity behind us. You know, the Gracie family has to fund any kind of new hires or anything that goes on. Um, what we, what we did was we would hire somebody once we could afford them and try to hire the best person we could who was also better at doing that particular job than I was. And over time, you know, I kind of transitioned and became the person I needed to be at that at that moment of the company’s development until we could hire folks that were better than I was at that job.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:53] So any advice for other kind of founder, founder slash worker slash technologist people? Like what was the first hire? Was it another person to do the consulting? Was it another person to do the selling? Was it another person to do the bookkeeping and accounting?
David Gracey: [00:05:11] Yeah, Well, so, you know, we’ve tried to outsource as much as we can, outsource as much as makes sense. So, you know, outsource as much accounting as you can. You know, we’re not an HR person, uh, kind of eat your own dog food because we’re asking our clients to outsource technology to us because we’re able to hire the best and brightest technology people and give them a career path. If you’re a 25 person law firm and you hire an in-house technology person, what career path is that person going to have? It’s it’s tough to to keep them. The good ones are going to outgrow you very quickly and move on and and leave you and work for somebody else. And the bad ones. Well, you’re stuck with a bad a bad hire. What we’re able to do is provide a technology career path from, you know, day one in the technology world up to, you know, ten, 15 year veteran who’s done all types of technology things in the world and and be able to retain those folks, which is a really important part of our culture.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:11] Was that philosophy around since the beginning or was that something you kind of figured out as you were growing?
David Gracey: [00:06:18] Oh, gosh, no. I mean, so much has changed in 25 years. Um, culture, we’re very explicit about our culture and I mean, every company has a culture. It’s just whether you write it down on paper and, and make it explicit. But for us, it’s really an internal tool that we use to make sure we are all in alignment with where the company is going. If you if you’re clear about your culture and you hire people who fit that mold, and then you also remind everybody at company meetings, you kind of bake it into the fabric of your company, what you stand for and what you’re looking to do. Everybody in the whole company is pulling in the same direction. And that is a that has a multiplier effect. So, you know, making sure that you’re you’re you identify who you stand for, what you stand for, who you are, and what you’re looking to achieve is really been hugely valuable for us. And no, we didn’t actually sit down and write down our our values till probably 10 or 12 years into doing this. But it doesn’t stop you from, you know, starting early and doing that and spending some time on that. It’s important.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:29] Now, when you started and you had that one client that you had known and you know, that was maybe in your head, that was like an easy leap to make, right? I’m going from one job. I have this other one in my pocket. So that isn’t it’s not starting from a blank sheet of paper, a blank page. Right. You you jumped into something that existed. When did you start feeling like, hey, this has I’m getting traction and this is something that maybe I can have in 25 years. I can grow this. When did you know that what you were doing was different than maybe other IT folks out there?
David Gracey: [00:08:06] Well, yeah, it’s very common in our industry to kind of do what I did, which is go from, you know, working for another company and going either in-house or being in-house with a company and then start spinning out and starting your own company and your client follows you. That’s very common. We’re consultants. There’s there’s anybody can claim to be a computer expert who’s ever booted up a computer. And we have hundreds, if not thousands of local companies here in Atlanta that compete with us. Um, but but very few of them really grow. And so the, you know, the transition from that is, is, uh, you know, I guess the it probably took several years of just kind of being in survival mode, like making sure, hey, we got enough money to make payroll, We’re, we’re paying our bills. It was several years before I really felt stable. And in fact, the very first client that I had a year after I started my company announced that they’d be shutting their doors. Fortunately, they were a branch offices of a much larger company. And so I was able to do some consulting with the other branches to kind of put food on the table. But ironically, had I known that they would be closing in, you know, less than 12 months after I’d started my company and they were my only client, I may not have decided to to do this. So sometimes too much information can hurt you.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:29] So. But did something happen that occurred to you? Hey, this is something that I can grow, that it doesn’t have to be, you know, kind of me as the, you know, expert and the person that doing all the work that I can build a team and I can offer something that’s different than other people. You mentioned culture earlier. It must have been something you were doing that was working in order to grow and stick around for as long as you have.
David Gracey: [00:09:57] Yeah. You know, I think if it comes back to to to one thing, it’s I’ll hate to bring culture back in, but I’m going to bring culture back in. But it’s hiring people who are similar in mindset to you, similar in value and having similar values. And if you if you’re explicit about it and you hire people who are like that, they’re going to stick around longer and they’re going to be happier employees and they’re going to be folks who work a little harder for you. And if you have if your employees are happy and they stick around, you have very little employee churn, then that’s also going to lead to better client satisfaction, happier clients who stick around longer. And in our business, it’s very much a recurring revenue model. So we pick up a client and we have, you know, we do IT services for them every single month for years as opposed to picking up a client and doing a project for them, and then they go away. So more like a customer model. Um, and that’s really important to keep those clients happy because if you’re going to grow and we’ve grown 10 to 20% pretty much year in, year out, if you’re going to grow, then you need to to keep your current clients happy and add new clients. You got to do both, right?
Lee Kantor: [00:11:09] But did you learn that from having some people that maybe you were like, Hey, I got this new project, Oh, I need somebody, Oh, let me grab this person. You throw them in there and they’re like, Wow, that that did not work. Well, I like it too, then.
David Gracey: [00:11:23] Yeah, we’ve made plenty of hiring mistakes.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:26] That you’re like, Hey, you know, this culture thing, maybe there’s something to that of making sure they’re a culture fit and then I’ll train them on some of these other things.
David Gracey: [00:11:36] Yeah. I mean, the first couple of years, you’re basically just hiring for skill set. Like, hey, I need, I need a senior experienced person and hire them. Back then we would run job ads back in the late 90s. We would run an ad in the newspaper and, you know, whoever faxed us a resume, we would pick that up. So my how that has changed. But um, yeah, I mean fortunately now, you know, we’re big enough that we have a farm system. We can hire entry level people and train them up and they understand what our culture is. But yeah, back then you kind of don’t know. You have to hire who you can get. And if you’re one person or two people, it’s hard to hire another person. Like not a lot of people out in the in the work world want to go work for a one person shop or a two person shop. So that’s a real challenge in those early days. So, you know, if you if you’re if I were starting it now as opposed to back then, you know, I would look to, you know, okay network with other people in the industry who can hire maybe 1099 some folks get some part time folks who can help augment but yeah it’s it’s hiring the right person in those first years is is a real challenge. It’s gotten a lot ironically it’s gotten a lot easier for us as we’ve grown and and our you know, being in a I’m in a couple of peer groups so we get together every couple of months and talk about challenges. And I do here very regularly. Probably the number one complaint, uh, my, my peers have is hiring the right people. And I think we have solved that. We that’s probably one of the, the least important problems we have to deal with because we know how to hire. We know how to test for culture. We know how to test for skill set. And you hire somebody with, you know, 0 to 2 years experience. It’s a very low risk type of situation, but that’s changed significantly since the early years of Network one.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:23] Yeah, if you crack the code of of that, and especially in the industry where you’re at, where there’s probably like negative unemployment, you know, that’s special. That means you are doing something different and that you are bringing to the table a layer of safety and security for your clients because then they don’t have to worry about this because believe me, they’re worrying about this.
David Gracey: [00:13:46] Sure. And that’s yeah, certainly people you know, we have passwords to our clients systems and it’s important that we hire people who are going to not not sell those secrets to the Russians. And so making sure you’re you’re hiring the right folks is is hugely important. And, you know, I’m a I’m an engineer by education. And so I love systems and I love processes. And so our hiring process is very regimented and we don’t deviate from it. And we’ve got some great online tools we use. We use a Myers-Briggs type of test, we use IQ test. We have, um, different types of memory tests that we can give people. For instance, you know, if you’re on the support desk, there’s a lot coming at you. So there’d be the ability to move at a fast pace, not get overwhelmed by that pace, and be able to remember kind of what’s going on on the call and making sure you’re taking care of your client, all that you can test for all that. And there’s some really easy to find online tools that help you do that. But then, you know, kind of once they check all the boxes, then you have to understand the culture. Okay, what’s what are they what do they get excited about? What makes them interested in technology? Why do they want to be in the technology field? So a lot of those kind of questions we ask in the interviewing process.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:03] Now, you mentioned the importance of systems and processes. Can you share maybe how you go about building a system and a process that is kind of, you know, tested and vetted but also is replicatable?
David Gracey: [00:15:17] You’re talking about for hiring.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:19] Or just for anything. I mean, you said that’s your kind of a superpower of yours is you think in systems and processes. So when you’re kind of building out a system and process for anything, is there a certain kind of do’s and don’ts on how to do that effectively?
David Gracey: [00:15:33] Well, yeah. So first of all, test, test new things, you know, try out new things. Um, when we start with something new, um, you know, reach out to your community in the early years of, of this company, as a business owner, I really kind of held my cards close to the vest. And I think it’s natural for somebody to do that when they’re building a company. You kind of don’t want to share what you’re doing and for for fear that your competitors are going to kind of swoop in and take your clients or take your employees in Atlanta. I mean, in technology, mean this is a huge market. And you’re talking, you know, thousands of companies with 10 to 100 employees who need what we do. And it’s it’s very easy to find business. So there’s plenty of business to go around. So join a peer group and I’m in to that really have helped develop me as a leader. One is industry specific, so it’s competing companies in non-competing markets. So this is ten other companies that sit in the room with you from different parts of the country and you share what’s working and what’s not. And so I’ve learned from my peers, so learn from what other people are doing. People are testing out new.
David Gracey: [00:16:44] I mean, in in technology we have software tools that does pretty much all of our work. And so understanding what the best tools are out there, you know, ask people who are already doing it, you don’t have to, you know, forge a new trail every time you want to create some new system or process. Um, and then the second, I mean, I’ve been in for gosh, over 15 years as a, is a, is a, is a group called Vistage and that is a peer group that is the opposite. It’s nobody in the room is a competitor, but they’re all local to Atlanta and they’re all small business owners. And you sit around and, you know, all small businesses share common problems. So in that group, in that room, I’m able to hear like, what kind of technology I’m sorry, what kind of problems people are having or accounting problems or what’s going on in the economy, what kind of headwinds or tailwinds are going on, how to find better bank a banking relationship and understand and that’s really more of a leadership development type of of group. And both of those both of those peer groups have been invaluable to my growing as a leader and as our company growing as as a company.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:54] Now. What’s been more rewarding for you in your growth and in your leadership? Has it been kind of hitting that tipping point where you’re like, okay, we’re good and we’re growing, or is it this been around for 25 years? And now I’m scaling in and probably thinking about the future.
David Gracey: [00:18:16] Um, the single most important or the single most interesting thing to me, I guess rewarding is the word I would use. There for me was something that I’d never really expected to find as a business owner, and that is I get a lot of fulfillment out of seeing other people join our organization and grow and develop professionally and be able to put food on their family’s table. So to be able to to bring people on board who are willing to, you know, work and focus and try different roles within Network one, take a risk there. Maybe they go from a technology role into a sales role. That’s been really invaluable to me. And we’ve had, you know, several examples of folks who come from interesting backgrounds and we’ve taken a chance on them. Maybe they didn’t quite fit what we were looking for at the time, but we gave them a chance and they were grateful for that opportunity and they seized it. And they it’s kind of the American dream, right? You see an opportunity, you take it, you you seize it and you grow as a person and you get some some skills. And, you know, we love people to stay at Network one and grow and develop here. But some people are need to spread their wings and go elsewhere. And we celebrate that. We want to help them grow as much as they can. If they want to try something different, you know, go for it. And we celebrate that and encourage that. But really, one of the most rewarding things is to see folks at my company try different roles, try different departments and see where they fit. And sometimes it’s a success, sometimes it’s not. But you learn from every opportunity and and move forward that way. So that’s been the most rewarding thing about me in this role.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:59] Now, what is an ideal network one client look like?
David Gracey: [00:20:04] Yeah, I’ve mentioned before, I mean, typically our clients have 10 to 100 employees based in Atlanta, and most probably 80% of our business are going to be law firms, medical practices, financial services or construction companies. And but pretty much if you’re a services professional services kind of firm in Atlanta, 10 to 100 employees, that’s what we work with day in and day out. We have we work currently with 130 clients and some of those we’ve had 15, 20 years. So we have we have some clients have seen a lot of growth at Network one and we’ve helped them grow as well.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:42] Now, are they coming to you as the first time they’ve ever hired professional help in this area or are they switching from another IT company like or are they coming to you because they have a problem or and you’re triaging it like what is usually kind of that first point of entry.
David Gracey: [00:21:02] Usually it’s not like an acute triage situation, like they’ve had some kind of data breach and, you know, the bad guys are rooting around in their system, collecting all the passwords. More likely it’s they’ve they’ve they’ve got a competitor in their competitor us in there who’s doing their technology. And for some reason they’ve either outgrown the service or they’re not getting the service that they they want or need. And it’s kind of a death by a thousand cuts. They’re just are fed up because changing providers is is full of stress. A lot of anxiety around that. Now, from our perspective, we onboard clients every single month. So for us, there’s a checklist. We we jump in, we take care of everything. We deal with all the pent up demand because there’s always pent up demand when we when we bring on a new client and we start tackling the projects that we’ve agreed that need to be addressed. So. So usually they contact us and they’re they’re shopping around for different IT companies that do what we do and usually we’re, you know, one of 2 or 3 that they’re looking at and we come in and meet with them, understand what their, their technology needs are and understand what their business goals are. We really want to understand where they want to go as a as a firm and and help them grow into that and be the best partner that that we can be.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:20] Now, what are some kind of symptoms for that firm that has maybe using a competitor of yours like that? There’s a better solution out there if you poke around a little bit.
David Gracey: [00:22:33] I would say the number one complaint we hear is that, hey, when we have a problem and we pick up the phone and we call our technology provider, we don’t get a person on the phone or we don’t get a response for a day or when they come and fix the problem, the problem recurs again and they’re not fixing it right the first time. They’re not finding the root cause to figure out what’s going on with the with the issue. Those are the types of things we hear. And they kind of get tired of it. And it’s it’s amazing how much pain companies will put up with in the technology world before they actually pick up the phone and start looking for another solution because they’re just typically a company is going to change it providers about every 5 or 6 years. And so they don’t change often. And when they do, it can be painful for them to to think about and plan for that. But like I said, we do this all day, every day, and we’ve got a checklist for our onboarding processes, about 150 different steps that we go through, but we do it all the time and we’ve gotten pretty good at it over the over the decades.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:37] So if somebody wants to learn more, have a more substantive conversation with you or somebody on your team, what’s the website? Sure.
David Gracey: [00:23:45] Ww network one consulting.com and that’s the number one good stuff.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:51] Well David thank you so much for sharing your story. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
David Gracey: [00:23:55] Lee appreciate you having me on.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:57] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on Atlanta Business Radio.
About Our Sponsor
OnPay’s payroll services and HR software give you more time to focus on what’s most important. Rated “Excellent” by PC Magazine, we make it easy to pay employees fast, we automate all payroll taxes, and we even keep all your HR and benefits organized and compliant.
Our award-winning customer service includes an accuracy guarantee, deep integrations with popular accounting software, and we’ll even enter all your employee information for you — whether you have five employees or 500. Take a closer look to see all the ways we can save you time and money in the back office.