Advice from AVPA President Matthew Grisafe.
Matthew Grisafe, president of AVPA, a Crestron programming company for the audiovisual industry, and author of the small business book Our Code: History, Practices and Process of AVPA, has learned from thirteen years in business, how important it is to build a strong foundation and to listen to customers. We sat down with Matt to talk about what it is like to run a successful technology business in a niche industry, how learning from customers influences the growth of a small business, and what advice he wished he had when he launched AVPA back in 2001.
Matt shares his own advice to startup entrepreneurs, and in so doing, hits on some of the most important aspects for small business owners to consider in order to build a stable business that can stand the test of time, including setting appropriate and reasonable expectations. In so doing, Matt addresses the fundamentals of internal communication, value proposition, and finances. The three things that he advises entrepreneurs to keep in mind before launching may not be the most exciting, nor may they be the first items many entrepreneurs consider, but they can set the path for business success and stave off costly surprises.
Consistently rated in the top ten percent of the industry in which the company works, Matt credits AVPA’s unique ways of marketing, including publishing the business book, as a differentiator that, along with quality work and a compelling website, sets his company apart from many of its competitors.
Moving from how to set a strong foundation for a small business, we asked Matt about what role the customer relationship plays in business longevity, and business health. His insight builds on the age old advice to listen to customers. But it is uniquely important in the technology sector, which sees changes in demand and a changing user population at a rate that is often greater than other sectors. Understanding and respecting customer needs, and customer knowledge, helps to build trust, loyalty and brand advocacy, all of which bolster a company’s marketing and strategy objectives.
What three things would you advise entrepreneurs and small business owners not to ignore before launching their businesses?
First, if you have a partner, make sure you know what each person’s responsibilities are. Second, know your niche. And third, know your finances, both business and personal, and what to expect.
What advantages does a niche industry business like yours have?
I know who my customers are and can target them more easily. [This lets us] focus on one technology and this bodes well for training and personnel.
You have been successful in a technology-centered industry for thirteen years. How does your company adapt to changes in technology and user expectations?
We are constantly training and looking at what the industry is doing. We listen to our customers and make the necessary changes.
Customers are part of the closed loop process. By paying attention to your customers’ true needs, [the customers] can help guide the direction of your company.”
How does understanding your customers connect with the choices you make in your business?
Listening to our customers is very important. Our customers help us understand what is trending in the market. Customers will talk to us about equipment and how they are integrating [that equipment] into their designs.
One thing that sets us apart from our competition is that we program both commercial and residential projects. This experience adds different perspectives, from the way we do business to the equipment we program. It also gives us many different perspectives to doing business that we can listen to and apply to all our customers.
Based on customer feedback I know how the market is changing and can gauge pricing. Customers are part of the closed loop process. By paying attention to your customers’ true needs, [the customers] can help guide the direction of your company.
What is the one piece of advice you wish you had received when you were starting AVPA?
[Much like the first piece of advice I gave about working with a partner and outlining responsibilities], if you are going into business with a partner, really know that person’s strengths and what they are going to contribute to the business. It can make or break your business.
As an entrepreneur and a small business owner, is there ever a moment when you say, ‘that’s it, I’ve got this,’ or are you always evolving and looking for new opportunities?
If you are not evolving, or growing you are dying. You constantly have to be looking at where the market is going. Feedback from my customers is the best way to gauge change.
For businesses that are just starting out, as well as for those that are ready to transition to the next stage of growth, listening to the advice of successful business owners can be both helpful and encouraging. Matt Grisafe’s advice echoes that of many successful entrepreneurs, including the importance of knowing and listening to your customers, choosing unique and effective marketing strategies, and evolving not only to keep up with changes but to initiate newer and better ways of providing products and services, based on a solid foundation.