Tom Gooden is an accomplished serial entrepreneur, and he's brought every ounce of his passion and his incredible work ethic to his latest project. The Solutions Team is an award-winning IT management firm based in Jackson, MS, that offers valuable services to law firms, healthcare professionals, educators, and more. By liberating knowledge workers from the tedious day-to-day of IT management, they enable a higher degree of efficiency and bandwidth for all kinds of professionals.

Learn more about Tom Gooden, his personal workplace philosophy, and the services his team offers in this episode of Taking the Stand.

Full Transcript

Erik Bermudez: Hello, everyone, and welcome to today's edition of Taking the Stand, where our mission is to inspire you by inviting VIP guests to understand what success principles they've used to find a greater achievement. My name is Erik Bermudez, and I'll be your host. Welcome to today's podcast. We are very fortunate today to have a special guest with us, Todd Gooden, CEO, and president of The Solutions Team. Todd, thanks for joining us, and thank you for your time. Todd Gooden: Thanks for having me today, Erik. Erik Bermudez: Oh, you bet. You bet. We are really, really excited to dig into some of the things you and I discussed. You've ran a lot of successful businesses, and any way, I think you have some really, really good principles, strategies, and ideas to share with us. Let me go ahead and start out by saying thank you for being one of Filevine's partners. I know we've been in a partnership now for just about a year, and with your IT services company I know that a lot of Filevine users and customers have benefited and found greater use and efficiencies because of the services you provide. So thank you for that. And we're going to be talking about that a little bit later today. So let me go ahead and introduce you. It's pretty impressive. Have you always been a serial entrepreneur and just business minded? Todd Gooden: Yeah, I would say that most of my life has been that way. As far as being a serial entrepreneur, I've been called that many times, I guess. I don't think of myself that way, but I've definitely been called that many, many times. Erik Bermudez: Sure. Todd Gooden: And it's a situation where started my first business when I was 24 years old, and today I'm 48. So I've owned my own business for a long time. Erik Bermudez: Yeah. You bet. Well, to name a couple of those awards, I know Mississippi State has given you multiple Entrepreneur of the Year, Top 40 Under 40 Awards, and obviously, you've continued to do great things with your current company, The Solutions Team. So why don't we get into what has driven you to be successful, and some of those principles that you've held personal? The idea here is to help other professionals, regardless of what industry, we know we have a lot of lawyers and legal professionals listening into this podcast, but there's a lot of others as well. And we built this podcast around what ideas can be shared that would help everyone be successful in their own realm and in their own businesses. When you and I chatted, there were three things that really stood out, and one of them was people, as I have here. Tell me a little bit about what you mean by, "People," when you talk about a business principle. Todd Gooden: Yeah. So I would say my philosophy has always been to hire the right team. I know that's easy said. A lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of business people, say that. My background was one, I was a technical engineer, and I always had a dream of starting my own business, and when I started my first business, I said, "I can do certain things really, really well, but there's other things that I'm not so good at. Marketing being one of those things." And so I realized that if I was to be successful, I was going to have to have the right team in place that can benefit from some of my strengths, but I can benefit from some of their strengths, where I may have had weaknesses. And so today, when we look at hiring staff, and for 24 years of owning my own business, as you said, multiple businesses over that time, we've always tried to hire the right team. And we always, for me, I look at where we currently as a company or as a team have weaknesses, and we try to hire strengths to that team. One of the things that we've done as a company is we've adopted a philosophy of what we call zero defect hiring. So what zero defect hiring is we're bringing teams in, because we have a culture like Filevine that we want to protect and make sure that that culture is one that can continue to thrive and expand, and our team can feel a sense of ownership and entrepreneurialship. And so in the hiring process, we make sure that every candidate that comes to a interview with us goes through a three person interview process. And the interesting thing is we don't encourage those hiring managers or the people doing the interviews to talk amongst themselves until after all three interviews are done and completed. The one key thing that we do when we do talk ahead of time is if a candidate is not checking the boxes for whoever they're interviewing with. Another thing that we've done as part of zero defect hiring, Erik, is that we assign each one of our potential candidates for an employment a task after the interview. As an example, anybody that interviews with our company after the first interview, we ask them to go out to our website, put together a summary of things they like and things they don't like about our site, concise it into a minute, a maximum of five paragraphs, and send it back to us by say 9:00 the next day. Erik Bermudez: Oh, interesting. Todd Gooden: So what for us as a company is that tells us number one, did they listen? Do they` know we're looking for five paragraphs? If they sent us two pages, then they didn't listen. The second thing that it does for us is can they meet a deadline? So we give them 9:00 the following day deadline. Yeah, that means they may have to take away from their family tonight, but we're going to see how well they can handle a task with a deadline. And the next thing that it does for us is we have an opportunity to observe their writing skills, and we have an opportunity to get feedback on our website that didn't cost us a dime. So every step in our zero defect hiring, a potential candidate has a homework, if you will, assignment, and that has really helped us determine, "Is this candidate really looking for an opportunity to come and work for us? Are they wanting to advance their career, or are they just looking for a paycheck?" And that has really helped us. Now, unfortunately, it does somewhat slow down our hiring process, but we sure that we get the right candidates. So we don't have the nightmare on the back side of the hiring where we hired the wrong person. They're the wrong fit. They're jeopardizing our culture. We're not sure how we're going to be able to terminate ways with them. We don't have a situation where they've negatively impacted our client, because we hired them the right way on the front end. Erik Bermudez: I'm really glad you talked to those specific strategies. We talk to so many people that say culture and hiring right is so important, but I'm not sure if we've gone in depth to that degree that you just shared with us. And so that's really, really neat that you'd be willing to share some of those. I know hiring is always one of those things that it's so important, and there's no crystal ball, but it sounds like you and your team have gotten together, and have really put these strategies that seem to have worked well for The Solutions Team. Let's move to the second principle. That's something near and dear to your heart, the client partnership. One thing that you mentioned when we were on the call is before prepping for this, "Customer is always right til they're wrong." Look, we have discussion after discussion, there's podcasts, there's talks, there's seminars about what the client relationship looks like. Obviously, this is something super important to you. One thing that I wanted to talk to you about, because your company has grown significantly as well, and one thing that's always interesting to me is as a company goes, how do you not forget that initial set of customers that got you to where your company is today? Or in other words, sometimes customers will look back and say, "Hey, don't forget about us," as a company grows. How do you maintain that high level of client partnership, as you stated, even during the years of scaling and growing? Todd Gooden: Yeah. So obviously, that's a challenge, and when I first started owning my own business at 24, it seems like a 100 years ago now. Time flies, especially in the technology business, but I used to always hear people say, Erik, "The customer is always right." And often I felt that way, but I realized that the customer sometimes is wrong. And my philosophy as a CEO and entrepreneur has been one of, "The customers is right until they prove they're wrong." And I've found over 24 years of owning my own business now, Erik, that sometimes customers are just never going to be happy. And so what we've tried to do is make sure, kind of like hiring staff, that we partner with the right customer and the right prospect. Sometimes we're not a fit, and you have to be honest to say that, "We're just not fit for this customer," or, "They're not a fit for us," and be willing to walk away from that. But from a customer satisfaction, what we've done is tried to build a symbiotic relationship, which is a win for the customer and a win for us. We know we're not always going to get it right. They're not always going to get it right. I mean, they may have forgot to pay our bill. So for us, we work through those issues with them, and we try to make sure that it's not about the mistake that someone made, it's about how you recover, and how you respond. And we've Learned as a company, as our customers, we'd rather have them loyal than satisfied, because if they're loyal, they'll give us an opportunity to correct something that may have not went right. If they're just satisfied, they may very easily leave us. So we really want them both, but we ultimately want them to be a loyal customer for us. And we do a lot of things such as client advisory panels. I personally, as a CEO, call every single one of our customers at least once a year to ask them candidly, "How are we doing?" And I take their feedback with much value to make sure that we're doing the things we should be doing. Even if it's the smallest thing such as communication improvement, or maybe it's a way they get their invoice, and they would like to see that in a different format. So we're always looking at how we can improve. Erik Bermudez: This concept you've talked about really goes into the third thing that you mentioned to me the other day, which is customer service, right? And those absolutely go hand in hand with the client company partnership and customer service. So you mentioned that your teams are always striving to go above and beyond finding new and innovative ways to solve client problems. And so I wanted to ask you, how do you teach that? That is something so difficult, but as you look at your teams, and as you look at your customer service teams, how do you teach this passion that you have for ensuring you're always on the lookout for solutions to client problems? Todd Gooden: So the first step is customer satisfaction, right? So we try to encourage all of our support team, from myself all the way down to... We don't have a receptionist here, we have a director of first impressions. So we want to always make the right impression for our customer, but we tell our entire team, "Imagine that's your grandmother on the other end of the phone." None of us want to make grandma upset. So we want to talk to our client like they're our grandmother. Help them understand, hold their hand, make it easy for them. And understand this, that many, many times, I would say even if Filevine looked at your customer service desk, and what you're doing there. The customers are often just frustrated. They're not upset with the individual, and if you can keep in mind that they're sometimes just frustrated with the technology, they're frustrated with theirself, and so we just look at it, and we try to make it a situation where our team is always talking to the customer like that's your grandmother. And you want to make sure that you're handling them the right way, and understanding that if the customer is upset for any reason, it's probably 99% of the time nothing against you, it's just the situation that they're dealing with. Erik Bermudez: The receptionist or call intake person, I mean, that's their role is director of first impressions? You've even gone that far to change their role and say, "This is how important it is for our company,"? Todd Gooden: Oh, absolutely. Erik Bermudez: So I want to bring something up that we haven't talked about before, but I imagine some of those listening might say, "We already have an IT department. We already have an IT director. We already have two people that are focusing on our technology stack in IT." Even if they have an IT department, how do you work with those IT departments to further help them in their technology strategies? Todd Gooden: That's a great question, Erik. One of the first things that we do is we go through an assessment where one of our business consultants talks to the client and finds out if there's, as I said, strengths and weaknesses. Right? Erik Bermudez: Sure. Todd Gooden: So we want to find out from the client if they've got some weaknesses. What we find in the organizations that may have an in-house IT department, maybe those guys really can't cover multiple locations. So they're in a car driving all the time. With our solution, 98.8% of the time we can fix the problem remotely. So last year we responded to 4,000 incidents of that, 35 of them required us to actually go onsite. So those large organizations, maybe we're helping them with actual help desk, and those guys in the normal IT department of those groups, or maybe they're handling the servers, and the security, and all that stuff. Or maybe it's a situation where those guys in an organization that has an existing IT department, maybe they're dealing with day-to-day help desk support type stuff, and they need assistance on security and remote workforce. And so in those situations, we can absolutely work with those larger organizations that have an in-house IT department. For the groups that don't, we can be their in-house IT department, and all of that is part of a flat fee. So they know exactly what their cost is going to be operationally going forward, and the nice thing about our solution is it's subscription based, Erik, which means if a law firm grows, then they know what their IT costs is going to be, if for some reason they shrink or have to downsize as a lot of organizations did in the middle of COVID, then their rate and their invoices from The Solutions Team goes down according as well. Erik Bermudez: Got it. So regardless of where they're at, you come in and do an assessment, you identify what potential gaps or opportunities there are, and then you're flexible. Your services are flexible to meet their needs, whether if it's a full-blown outsourced IT department, or they might just need some single assessment, you can do everything in between. Todd Gooden: Absolutely. Erik Bermudez: Got it. Okay. So to wrap up the podcast here, I want to hit the four Ss of your business quickly. So what I would like to do is I would like to just run through those, and for our listeners, the four Ss are, again, these are the four Ss of The Solutions Team, simple, security, savings, and satisfaction. Todd Gooden: That's right. Erik Bermudez: I love them. It keeps things concise. It keeps your teams focused, and it lets your clients know exactly what the expectations are. So why don't we just take 30 seconds each one and talk to us about what you mean by each of those four principles, starting with simple. Todd Gooden: Yeah. So simple is kind of the foundation. As I said, we wanted this to really change the IT industry, where they were built around bill per hour. So for us, we wanted to put it in a flat rate. So we handle everything. So ultimately simple for us [inaudible 00:14:47] that we're going to simplify IT process for organizations, for Filevine clients. They have one amount of money that they're going to pay every month, they're practicing administrator is out of the IT business, and they literally have to worry about providing excellent law service for their clients, and not really having to worry about if their computer works or printer works, et cetera. So we simplify the IT process for those clients. Erik Bermudez: Security. Todd Gooden: Security is at the breadth of everything that we do. Erik Bermudez: It is. Todd Gooden: And security has to be managed, Erik. And one thing that, unfortunately, we see out there is that people think that security is one of those set it and forget it mentalities like, "I buy a firewall. I put it in place, and I never look at it again." So the one thing I would say is that you really got to have someone managing your security. It is a process. It is a living thing that needs to have someone watching it and managing it on a regular basis. So that's the reason our solution includes full-blown security and management of that for our clients. Erik Bermudez: Yeah. That's one thing that's on everyone's... I don't know of any other one thing that can literally take a business down to its knees overnight other than cybersecurity. Todd Gooden: Absolutely. Erik Bermudez: I mean, that's huge. The third S, savings. Todd Gooden: So we have found based on what traditional IT companies are doing out there in a bill per hour, when a practice looks at their last 12 months of span for those IT services, when they look out there, and they look at what they're paying for backup, or anti-virus, or all those other things, our savings is usually 30% to 35%. Real quick, we recently picked up a new client that we were 52% less than what they had spent in the last 12 months. So we know it's real savings back to our clients, and it's a situation where budget and cashflow it helps them a tremendous amount. So 52%, that's a lot of money. That's unusual. Erik Bermudez: That's significant. Todd Gooden: 35% rate. Erik Bermudez: Right. No, that's definitely significant. The last S here you have, Todd, is satisfaction. And one thing I specifically wanted to ask you about is what do you mean by satisfaction? And secondly, how do you measure this? Todd Gooden: Satisfaction is our customers. Are they satisfied with the service we're providing? The easiest way to measure that, Erik, is will our client refer us to somebody else? We talked about grandma and servicing grandma. Will our client refer us to their grandma? Will our client refer us to their friend, to their partner company, or partner firm that maybe they're working with on a big case that they're working with somebody? If your client won't be a reference for you, and they won't refer you other business, then my question is, "Are they really satisfied?" I mean, maybe they're not. Maybe they're telling you they're happy, but if they refuse to be a reference for you or tell someone else about you, there's something somewhere that they're not extremely happy with. If they're happy, they'll tell people. Erik Bermudez: That's where the rubber meets the road, right? Todd Gooden: Absolutely. Erik Bermudez: Well, look, Todd, this has been great, great insights that you've shared with us, really appreciate your time. And thanks to all our listeners. This is Todd Gooden, the CEO and president of The Solutions Team, one of Filevine's partners. We're thrilled to have him with us today. That's it for today's edition of Taking the Stand, until next time.