Photo by Nicole Mendoza
John Machacek, Chief Innovation Officer for the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, has worked with countless startups throughout our community over the past seven years. He knows their ups, their downs, but most of all, he knows the questions to ask them. Here are John Machacek’s 10 questions for Omnibyte’s President and CEO Ray Berry, who is helping companies conduct contactless paperwork.
- Tell us your OmniByte Technology elevator pitch?
OmniByte improves the safety and work lives of field service personnel through technology. Our mobile forms platform, FormsPro, digitizes and streamlines today’s paperwork and processes while staying connected with team members in the field who are gathering pertinent data real-time to safely and efficiently support operations. Digital transformation is not just putting a mobile device in the field – it’s making sure personnel have the right tool for the job, so, at the end of each day, every person goes home safely, on time with no outstanding paperwork.
- I’ve seen your product in action numerous times when Laney’s has been to my house for any service or repairs. I’ve witnessed the transition of what once was triplicate paper forms to now all being done on a tablet, including payment. How much goes into convincing these field service companies to make the switch from paper to a product like your FormsPro?
Prior to COVID-19, it was typical for a company to see our product and the many others on the market and determine “we will need this someday”. While seeing the value and potential it was still difficult at times to get the move forward decision. It really comes down to referenceable clients with proven success using our platform and increased functionality and communication on what differentiates us from the others. With a worldwide pandemic and companies taking steps to increase the amount contactless interaction with their clients, interest has increased significantly. Our economy needs to improve so those who survive can invest in these solutions. Programs like North Dakota’s Economic Resiliency Grant, ERG, may help companies in our state cover costs to deploy FormsPro. We intend to be “top of mind and tip of tongue” when companies are ready to purchase and economic factors improve so they remember OmniByte and FormsPro.
- Also, it’s not like you specialize in one industry but you cover several, and are also gaining a lot of traction with oil and gas companies. How has OmniByte adjusted to learning about the industry needs as well as gaining the trust of the decision-makers in those industries?
In 2015, shortly after forming OmniByte, we made the decision to focus on specialty trade field service companies. Primarily HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical and Construction with intent to grow into other service industries. Along with spending some personal time in western North Dakota in 2018 and knowledge that some of our largest national clients expanded their businesses into Oil and Gas services, we decided it was time for us strategically to increase focus on a large industry right in our backyard: the Bakken. We were able to spend a fair amount of time in 2019 in the Bakken; meeting with and learning from companies here in our state about the challenges in the oil field. It was pretty clear we can help and want to. Now months into the pandemic, the need for remote work or digital transformation has grown. Mobile forms are recognized not only as a valuable tool, but a necessity. We are making plans to expand focus into additional industries now. Stay tuned.
- I learned that OmniByte even walks its own talk, so to speak, or as you called it, “eating your own dog food”, as you are currently using your own product during this COVID situation to help your team collectively monitor their health and use computer logic to formulate work flow. Could a tool like this be used by other companies or is this more of just a service would be part of the larger FormPros subscription.
Yes, John. The best way to truly learn about your product is to use it. Whether that be a furnace, a piece of furniture, a car or, in our case, our mobile app platform. When we reopened our offices in June we did so with caution under guidance of CDC, ND Smart Restart, OSHA, etc., much like all our clients. Part of our COVID Response Team’s plan included a daily COVID Health Screen with questions recommended by CDC. Each employee fills and submits our form each morning at the beginning of the day. We have a dashboard that provides real time information on the submissions to the health and safety person (me) and an auditable trail of submissions and action taken. Depending on employee submission, our workflow inside begins and our COVID Response protocol kicks in. If yes is answered, either the employee is to work from home until they have no questionable symptoms or work from home under self-quarantine for 14 days if related to potential contact. This allows everyone to always be thinking about their personal safety and others. We also benefit from our whole company using our product for 1.5 months in order to provide ideas and feedback to improve use for our clients. The FormsPro platform is very affordable and this is only one example of a single form which can be used and tracked within the platform.
- In 2019, you closed your first international sales deal (Australia), have two more countries coming online soon and plans for more in the future. Any lessons learned and advice for others looking to expand their sales internationally?
We were excited to bring our products to Australia and intend to continue expansion into other countries including several which are not necessarily English speaking. It’s important to have good support from legal, accounting and tax firms to assist with understanding what you need to consider to do business in that country. I recommend, first, not only making decisions on which countries have industries which fit your product and services but to also consider if you are planning to make 1-2 sales or have a presence in that country. There is much more to be aware of if you are going to really go after a foreign market and it may be good to consider partnering with a company in that country who understands and can manage local and regional business laws.
- In working with you over the years, I know you’ve done a great job of maximizing the economic development programs that exist to help primary sector companies grow. Are there any particular programs that you recommend other primary sector companies utilize?
I would certainly encourage any qualified business to apply for primary sector designation first and foremost. It’s relatively easy and free. It opens a lot of doors basically by recognizing you are a business who intends to create jobs and bring money into our state/regional economy. I strongly recommend building a relationship with our Department of Commerce. There are a large number of programs to support not only startup ideas with grant type funds, but financing for growing your company without giving up equity. I truly believe our state wants the same thing as I do, for our company to be successful. If you have a new idea, definitely apply and participate in InnovateND. If you’re a small company trying to grow with limited access to capital and need talent, apply for Operation Intern and hire students to help your business while you help them gain experience. If you have bigger funding needs, the ND Development Fund and the Bank of North Dakota are your best ally along with your local banker. Ours is Cornerstone.
- Part of your maximization of the programs is that you are organized and thorough in taking what you learn and following through with them. Do you have any tools or tips you use to stay organized?
From the beginning, OmniByte has used a Microsoft stack of software for development as well as our operations. We are an early adopter of new technology to try to be as efficient as possible since we try to run a very lean business. We use Dynamics CRM and CSH along with its automation to manage our clients. We use Outlook and probably nearly all of its features. And we used Skype which is now Teams for internal communication. We are very transparent, everyone has access to everyone’s calendar, we use Teams chat and channels for conversations and they are all integrated. Most important tool for me to stay organized is my Outlook Calendar for visibility. For most who know me, if it’s not on my calendar, I probably won’t be there.
- OmniByte just celebrated its 5th birthday. If you could go back in time to Ray from a few years ago, what hindsight advice would you give yourself?
I learned this early in year three: People are everything. I would tell a younger Ray to get out even more NOW and connect with people. Listen more and shut up. Help first, ask for something later. You get so eager to get going and, quite frankly, to stay alive you don’t realize you are building relationships. These are relationship foundations with people who will be there later to support you, help you through tough times or even buy your products. Who knows? I said a couple times when I first started speaking publicly (not my thing originally) “It’s all about people. people still believe in people, invest in people and buy from people.” Now with COVID, we will be challenged to navigate and hold onto and build new important relationships.
- What can we do as a community to help OmniByte Technology succeed?
Continue to support local companies and entrepreneurs. Our community has done a good job and I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of people willing to lend advice or experience to help a new business succeed. I would ask the community and local businesses to lend support for our local and state programs which support new business. We have 20 people at OmniByte which is hard to believe sometimes. Fifteen of those are in our Fargo office at the NDSU RTP Incubator. We could not have done this without help from EDC, RTP, BND, Dept of Commerce and the programs created to encourage individuals to take a chance to build and grow a business right here.
- Have you found that the further geographic distance causes the sales cycle to be longer or more complex?
As a technology company, we have actually been able to close all our sales remotely without setting a foot on site, in the state or the country. Our use of technology allows us to present our solutions and communicate efficiently and regularly. We planned to take steps in 2020 to start getting out to our first trade shows; however, due to COVID-19 all have been cancelled or postponed. If you are selling into a channel or market you are strong in, have experience or long-term relationships established, I think the sales cycle will be reasonable. Entering into a new market and establishing new relationships would be challenging enough prior to COVID-19, but now with trade shows cancelled and F2F meetings all but gone, it will certainly have an impact. The technology is still the same, but having a stranger interested in a video call with you is less likely than if you had scheduled a brief drop in or had an event where you could network and meet others. It will be interesting to experience how business grows in our current state of economy and world.