Partnerships are the foundation on which dotStaff™ is built. As a result, we get to meet some amazing talents in and around the staffing industry. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with one of our Alliance Partners, Scott Harris, a co-founder of Main Sail, LLC. Scott is an entrepreneur to the core, having started his first business in his mid 20’s. Scott expertly responds to the needs of complex businesses. During the course of this interview, I also learned of his expert skills at dodging the beating of a spatula.
Why don’t you tell us about Main Sail?
Main Sail is a consulting organization. We help organizations evaluate business issues and develop and implement solutions. Our practice is divided up into five areas of expertise: 1. Business Process Management, 2. Enterprise Resource Planning, 3. System Engineering and Integration, 4. Program and Project Management, and 5. Program Staffing.
We are a US Veteran owned business, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. We do business throughout the country and some business internationally. Our business is split 50/50 between public and private sector. We do work for DOD, DOE, the US Customs Service, and many fortune 500 companies.
Tell us about founding Main Sail:
We are celebrating our 10 year anniversary this year. I was one of the 4 founders. I’m an entrepreneur; [I] always helped people start businesses. I was always doing work in developing consumer products sold to retailers. I had a friend in the IT business and he and his son wanted to start a business. There was a tech downturn in 1999, so we started right afterwards. I had just sold a couple businesses I was involved in and I was invited to come in and be the Admin and Finance guy. I’m in charge of our Administrative team.
You took advantage of a couple opportunities. The bubble burst and you’d just sold a business. The timing was right.
I personally like starting a business when times are tough, because then your culture is lean. Anyone can start a business when times are good, but it’s more of a challenge to start a business when times are tough. Then, you can do well when times are good. If you only start a business when times are good, you can’t survive tough times when they come again. And as you’ve seen over the last few years, we’re in tough times again and [due to] Main Sail’s lean culture, we’re doing just fine.
Did you grow up in the Cleveland area?
Yes. I am a Midwesterner …all my life. I grew up in Cleveland and I lived in Detroit and Chicago and moved back to Cleveland about 20 years ago to raise a family.
Tell me about your early influences and how they shaped you.
I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs and small business owners. My early memories are of working in my father’s warehouse, out on a farm, or in a pawnshop. I’ve always had memories of people who are entrepreneurs. When I got out of school, the first thing I did was work for a big company to get experience. And I got experience and training and finally became an entrepreneur. That was always my plan.
When did you branch out on your own?
I worked for a large company for 6 years and worked with small companies, or had my own companies, ever since.
I think that’s young. Maybe not by Mark Zuckerberg standards, but in general that’s young!
Not young by internet standards, no, but young by 50 year old guy standards.
What motivated you to partner with dotStaff™?
One of the things I said: When you’re in a consulting business, you have to be on the lookout for what is coming down the pike. We had several inquiries, an opportunity to develop a Vendor Management System for several accounts. At that point we started a two pronged evaluation: One, we would write our own program, like many companies in our situation have done. [Two] we looked for a company we could partner with. At that point we were undecided. Then we met the people at dotStaff™ and we felt very comfortable, because they were just like us.
dotStaff™ has an entrepreneurial background. There are two kinds of people in this industry: there are people who have staffing and consulting companies that create Vendor Management Systems. Then there are the hired-gun venture capitalists. I ruled the venture capitalists out. I liked the foundation of a company that is run by entrepreneurs that are successful in another business as well. That is what attracted me to dotStaff, because the people behind it had a background in staffing versus developing an IT product. I consider Vendor Management an offshoot of the staffing and the consulting business. It’s not so much a software program as a process for talent acquisition and cost containment. And what attracted me to dotStaff™ versus others in the industry is that the entrepreneurs [behind it] had a similar background.
How has adding an MSP been beneficial?
It fits very well into our core expertise area: which is program and project management. We had already been doing this type of work manually, without a Vendor Management tool, in the public and private sector. Adding a relationship with dotStaff™ has enabled us to look at what used to be a customer specific request to a service we can offer a wide variety of clients. All of them may have one thing in common: they need help finding their help.
It is a service offering we can talk to all of our sales people about, and somewhere at every single one of our clients, there’s an audience for managed services.
You mentioned you did it manually. That seems mind-boggling to think about managing the procurement and invoice process manually.
Yes, if you think of red tape in a government program, it is. There is a lot of labor involved (email, timesheets), so it was a ripe opportunity.
What makes Main Sail unique in the industry?
Main Sail provides a breadth of services and we are very wide in our service offerings. Main Sail is able to understand the business processes of both companies and state/federal agencies and we offer them a one stop shop for a variety of services. So, we are intentionally spreading ourselves to provide a variety of services. There are two ways to go: You can be an expert in one thing, or you can spread yourself where you have expertise in a variety of areas. We tend to have fewer customers and focus on spreading our service offerings within those customers versus trying to get hundreds or thousands of customers in one specific area. That is a traditional strategy for people in consulting.
You have so many levels of expertise that you are also entrenched in a company and then are really valued, because you offer what they need on so many levels.
Yes, many of our best projects emerge when a client comes to us and says, “Do you think you can help us with this strategic agenda?” That’s how we got into the business of being an MSP. It came to us from a client opportunity and then we expanded it to other clients. And that’s how many of our services grow; it came from deep penetration within a smaller group of customers.
Do you have an ideal client?
Yes. Our ideal client is an organization with complex processes and a variety of business issues, both logistic and financial. — That is where a Main Sail Business Development Manager finds the most value. We can both analyze and consult at a strategic level. In many instances, we are also able to provide the solution and do the work.
You know that commercial where somebody tells their salesman, “Oh that’s great, I’ll take it!” The salesman says, “Well, we don’t do the work, we tell you what to do.”
We [at Main Sail] don’t tell you what to do. We tell you what [needs to be done], [we] roll up our sleeves and get dirty, and [we] do the work. We’re not fancy. We’re effective.
You get in the trenches.
That is what one-stop shopping is about.
In your wildest dreams, where would you like to see Main Sail in 5-10 years?
When we sat down to start Main Sail, we said, “Main Sail will be run for a combination of profit and fun.” I would like to see it in 5-10 years still privately owned, expanded in our federal business, but I want to keep it a size where I know the name of every single employee. We’re the kind of guys who can only eat one steak at a time and we’re not out to rule the world or create a giant business and sell it. We run the business because we enjoy working here and have worked together a long time. For example, Rodger Cahn and Zoraida Pearn have worked together 35 years. We have many people we work with who have known each other for a long time.
Lots of loyalty.
That is our objective: to stay focused, but not to grow too big. We have a “make sure it’s still fun” attitude. We also have a rule at Main Sail: We want to like everyone who works here.
Yes! That matters! Likeability and compatibility are key in a smaller world.
Now, you should come to Cleveland and eat our food!
Where should I go?
We are an industrial city. We’re a melting pot and my favorite spot is a melting pot in itself. We have an area of town called Little Italy. There is a bar there called Maxi’s. Gilbert is a French guy who owns this place—an Italian Bar. You need to go with a group, because there are rules. You’ll want to order all the appetizers, because everything is very good. You have to have your order ready all at once, you have to be prompt and you have to share, and these are the rules or Gilbert will come out and hit you with a spatula!
Have you ever been hit?
No, but he’s shaken it at us for those who don’t appreciate the rules. He’s gotta get you in and get you out. . . . It’s outstanding Italian food prepared by a Frenchman.
Or, you go to Johnny’s Bar and Grill on Fulton for one of the best steaks you’ll ever have.
And like you said, you can only eat one steak at a time, so if you’re gonna eat it, eat it at Johnny’s.