Interview of Brian Wills from MaxAgility (Video)
Brian Wills shares his entrepreneurial story starting from how he almost got sued by BMW to losing a contract within a month of moving to Silicon Valley and then growing his business by increasing his following to over 15,000 in just 1.5 years. Read the full story to learn how he was able to increase his following in such a short period of time.
Neerav: Brian, welcome to the show the interview. I'm glad to have you here at Growfers. You run a company called MaxAgility. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your company?
Brian: Yeah, Absolutely. I met my high school sweetheart in ninth grade German class and married her shortly after high school. We got married young, when we were just 20 years old. And then we waited about five years started having a bunch of children, as you know, blessed with seven children, now two grandchildren and been married, very happily married for 35 years. For a lot of that time, I have run various businesses. I'm very entrepreneurial. And most recently, as you noted, him running a company a cover company, so to speak, called MaxAgility, which is both an agile consultancy as well as a real estate company. We've got MaxAgility Corporation as well as MaxAgility real estate, which M - A - R - E so it's MARE like a horse. We have a lot of fun doing agile in a variety of contexts.
Neerav: Awesome! You have the MaxAgility Consulting, which is one company and then the real estate, which is second company. Let's discuss about a consulting first. How did you come up with the idea behind MaxAgility consulting? And what does consulting do specifically? Like what do you consult on?
Brian: In the MaxAgility Consulting the way we came up with the name was since I've got my own scrum team seven plus or minus two, I was asking the family, what name should we come up with? And my middle name is Maximilian. And one of my sons said, how about MaxAgility? And I said, I love that that is so good. And we've gotten a lot of compliments over the years. He's very creative, and he created a logo also. So that's where MaxAgility the route came from. I've always, for decades now been in consulting, my first consulting gig was for General Electric aircraft engines. They have a very large park in the Cincinnati Ohio area. And I was solicited to partner partly solicited to do a just off hours programming gig for the park. And that was the beginning of I've always had my companies named after my name in some ways it's turned out. My very first company back then that company was called BMW consulting. That came from my middle initials Maximilian. It's Brian M Wills, okay. But as we grew, I actually got a letter from a well-known company, let's say that said, that’s not kosher. So, yeah, so now we go with MaxAgility.
Neerav: It's good to grow to a stage where somebody actually bothers to sue you.
Brian: We came short of that it was just more like a cease and desist, which I quickly did.
Neerav: And what is the background behind MaxAgility real estate?
Brian: As I've consulted for a lot of international Fortune 500 companies, I just started expanding my own personal use of Agile so when we relocated from Ohio to Silicon Valley, one of my sons was our scrum master. We did more of kanban than a scrum. We got into doing Scrum specifically. We use Scrum ceremonies; we just have a two-week period. And so that's how we got really big in terms of our own family. And then as I relocated my parents from Ohio to North Carolina, first relocated from Ohio to Silicon Valley was there for about five years where you and I met Of course, and then about a year and a half ago, I relocated to North Carolina. And then as I relocated my parents from Ohio to North Carolina, first relocated from Ohio to Silicon Valley was there for about five years where you and I met Of course, and then about a year and a half ago, I relocated to North Carolina. We relocated here, and I quickly moved to relocate my parents here. So that got into real estate kind of aspect, as well as a third business unit that we've now temporarily put on hold called Agile Eldercare. And we put that on because of the viruses. On ice temporarily till we get a vaccine or something like that. So did I answer your question? There were redirections there.
Neerav: Again, how did you come up with the idea behind MaxAgility Real Estate?
Brian: Real estate again is connected to when I relocated my parents. I mean, there are two pieces of it, right. So there's the elder care that benefits from agile kind of concepts in Scrum events, as well. That got us into both real estate as well as well as Scrum ceremonies. By the way, my robot vacuum cleaner is about to come in. Let me let me pause that for a sec.
Brian: Alexa, tell Robovac to stop. You can edit that out or leave it in because I just like in Agile software development automation is really important. We can this is one of the Agile concepts that we do that was unplanned by the way. Every day at 6pm, Eastern my robovac kicks off. We use a lot of agile principles especially fast feedback loops in our real estate business which is primarily Airbnb revenue. Because every time whether it's an overnight stay or a long-term stay, we're constantly pulling our guests for feedback. And unlike the MaxAgility Consulting where you have to convince leadership to change things ranging from culture to systems with MaxAgility Real Estate if we get feedback from our guest “Now sure it would be nice if you had a full-length mirror in the room.” We're able to immediately incorporate that feedback from our guests, and it's just really terrific. We get so many five-star reviews people telling us it's the best experience that they've ever had from an Airbnb perspective. A lot of it is just because I teach our housekeepers agile scrum concepts, everything that we do, ranging from relocating to where we live, being a scrum kind of model to just agile principles, which the one I teach, most importantly, and emphasize if you've tried agile, and it didn't work out well, is because you've almost certainly done it wrong. Because if you take the 12 agile principles and the four value statements, it's really boiled down to the first value statement, individuals and interactions over processes and tools. And if you boil that down even more, becomes people over process, which fits in very nicely with our real estate business. Like I said, Airbnb guest saying that it's the best thing that they've ever experienced, to the real estate, to rather the eldercare that we were running, looking forward to restarting because our elders there, you know, they they've achieved the apex in their lives and now we're trying to help them to the one of the Agile ideas is autonomy and self-organization to if they've gone into the hospital and they're trying to recuperate so that they can become autonomous again, those are all agile kind of principles and so it's really terrific to do agile and businesses as well as life.
Neerav: You launched multiple businesses, the consulting the eldercare and MaxAgility Real Estate. This can you describe the process of launching a new business? And specifically, for the agility MaxAgility Consulting, how were the first few years, how did you find your initial customers?
Brian: How that happened was I was working for a large outsourcing firm and was based in Ohio. A guy who by the last name of Sutherland, not Jeff. But he used that to his advantage. He approached me and said, Hey, I'm part of the leadership transformation for Cisco and Silicon Valley. Would you like to join? And I said, Absolutely. In short order, I resigned from the consulting of the outsourcing something company, and launched the most recent entrepreneurial experiment that we now call MaxAgility Corporation the consulting part, the consulting business unit. Relocated there after making sure I said, so yeah, you said it's going to be three years? Is that what you said? Yeah, at least three years. I said, okay, because I have seven children. Are you really sure? Oh, yeah. No worries. Okay, so I quit the consulting job for the outsourcing firm and launch MaxAgility Corporation. That's our first business unit. And just we use against Scrum to do the relocation, moved to Silicon Valley, and then promptly. And so this is a word to the wise for all business use users, if you have a similar situation. And someone tells you something's going to a single contract is going to last two or three years in particular, three years, they're lying, or they just don't know what they're talking about. A month after I got there, the Yeah, it was, it fell apart. I was I found myself in Silicon Valley, not knowing anybody in Silicon Valley for the record, as you know, or you may not know the degree, but it's so expensive, how expensive visit is the most expensive place in the country, including Hawaii. So, yikes! That was, that was a tough time. As I’ve mentioned I’ve always been entrepreneurial. I really wanted to make it work again. When you're out of work and the most expensive place in the country, then you do whatever it takes to pay your bills. I took an opportunity to co-lead at the beginning as a co-lead of the transformation for the Norton business unit. And then my partner in crime, so to speak, after about a year she left and left me it was just me. I was an employee, with about 10 contracts, our coaches really enjoyed that. That was where I first got into speaking of Agile meetups, which is really important thing in terms of growing your business is all about networking, doing cold calling is not great, but getting warm leads, or at least people who see you being credential eyes in the front of the room, speaking on a topic like I would on something that's part of our consulting company is the Agile mentoring program or amp. The Agile mentoring program is something that I spoke about, along with a leadership topic, 14 times and about a year and a half. So that was a real key in. I mentioned earlier, we're at or have exceed now 15,000 connections on LinkedIn. That's because in large part we've got a branded program the central mentoring program and the work that we did the network that we created in Silicon Valley. When it was all said and done, was it good that we moved to Silicon Valley? In hindsight, would I have done it, knowing that in a month, I would be out of work? It was really hard at the time. But it gave me a lot of credentials, and helped us to really get established in terms of MaxAgility. So one thing led to another, I wound up believing semantic and relaunched MaxAgility. After about two years being on the ice. We relaunched it, the transformation that I moved there for that was supposed to be three years, what was not. It was like wave number for me, it was wave number two for Cisco is wave like five. I rejoined, as part of the coaching team at Cisco did that for a while then joined down, really cool experience that launched my international coaching experience. I got to coach in Japan a couple times. This was for Western Digital, and coached in Poland launch as well. That was a really cool experience and got me international experience and made international coaching connections to expose me to a lot of different cultures, the Polish culture, the Japanese culture, just amazing experiences that were another highlight in my career. Those are all things that moving from Ohio to Silicon Valley, that led to getting speaking opportunities, credentialling, expanding to different customers. Then ultimately, while we were still in Silicon Valley, I had a friend who had applied, he became a friend, but he was initially a candidate who applied to our job openings. We would post on LinkedIn all the time and he applied for the job. And then, through our discussions with him, he said that he had decided to stay with the client. But he said, You know what, we just don't have enough good agile consulting companies, would you mind applying to be a preferred vendor for it was fidelity? And I'm like, “Okay, would I mind? that be great!” This is an illustration of cold calling very difficult, but warm the power of loose because he wasn't a friend of theirs, like, the power of loose Connections is a phrase you'll hear when you're networking is really important, track down every lead, And this was just again, a gift just placed in our laps. And we've enjoyed a really solid relationship with fidelity. We're one of the only pure agile companies from our DNA, as I've described, as well as all that we do is place agile coaches, we provide staff augmentation services, which is agile coaching. In Scrum masters we are looking at expanding our relationship to provide development services as well. With that said, that's on the staff odd side of that business unit. We also provide managed services. So if a client wants us to come in and lead a transformation, we have everything from agile transformation leads to executive agile coaches, it's pretty broad in terms of all the services that we provide.
Neerav: Nice, It was a very interesting story where you started in Ohio came here on the promise of a three year contract, and didn't have the contract after a month. But you still figured out how to make things work, how to grow your company. And it was primarily through speaking engagements. You grew your following from essentially nothing to over 15,000 contacts in LinkedIn over one and a half years. That is admittedly, That is awesome.
Brian: The only person I really knew when I moved to Silicon Valley was a guy named Bernie. I sat down with him and I said, “You know they're telling me three years; it looks pretty good. But do you think I should go Bernie?” And he's like “Yeah, this is rock solid, don't worry about it.” And so, it turned out not to be rock solid. He helped me to network for speaking opportunities, and that sort of thing. And the funny thing that I mentioned earlier, is he encouraged me to start speaking. And then after, when I was at the, like, apex of speaking 14 times in 18 months, so one time I was speaking, at least twice in one month, and he messaged me is like, “I didn't know I was going be creating, speaking competition when you came here, you're talking more than me now.” So that was fun. I knew that I hit a certain tier point a certain milestone when I was getting solicited down for one speaking engagement after another. It was so much fun I really enjoyed it.
Neerav: Do you have advice for other entrepreneurs? Who would like to probably increase the connections or who would like to gain these get these speaking engagements, right? What techniques or What is your process to get these speaking engagements?
Brian: Yeah, so first, first of all, anybody that's thinking about quitting their day job for a long time, in fact, we're just at the inflection point of me not needing to really generate revenue personally, and that I can go into full time sales. And I've been doing this launched MaxAgility Consulting, MaxAgility Corporation back in 2014. So I'm in year six, and just getting to the point where my CFO is saying he will get two more consultants and you can quit your quit your job, which is not quitting my job will just be full time sales and so it's hard. If you don't have the mettle, M-E-T-T-L-E the mettle to really stick it out. Don't go down the entrepreneurial path, It's, it's really hard and often, you knew you don't have someone to pat you on the back saying good job, you have to tell yourself I'm doing a good job and just be willing to persevere. And with that said, to answer your question about how to speak at the meetups, get those opportunities, one of the ways that I did was in Silicon Valley, there's an agile meetup or before the virus I've moved away since before the virus but literally like twice a week you could go to an agile meetup. I attended a ton of the meet ups and eventually saw what it took to do one well. I've seen him done badly and seen them done really well. I would just ask them, go to the presenters and talk to them afterwards, develop the relationships, right? it's very relationship oriented. There's a do I trust you to get up in front of my meetup crowd. Having the collateral sharing the slide decks with the organizers of the meetups, building the relationships attending the meetups, right, being a faithful attender, so to speak of the meetups and see that you can be depended on. And then if you know your stuff, right, if your subject matter expertise, then that becomes evident. So eventually, I said,” What would it take for me to be able to speak at one of these?” And some of them are just like, y'all come and just get up in front and talk in a really informal kind of way. And I've done something like that before. That's pretty fun. In some of the organizers, are super formal with like a Google Forms document for you to fill out and they want to see your collateral and your credentials. And so that’s the gamut. Yeah, I did most of my speaking right there in the heart of Silicon Valley. But spoke and I, which I define as Santa Clara, which is where I live, I'm told that actually is Silicon Valley. It's not actually San Francisco but I've spoken in San Francisco, down to Santa Barbara, I was invited to speak in Germany. And again, I, I did ultimately do some coaching internationally. But I did most of my, that's part of it, right? Good to be well known in a geography and then you start to get invited to things because people know other people on a national basis. I eventually started getting invitations to speak outside of Silicon Valley as well.
Neerav: Nice. So again, it starts with relationship, or in this case relationship with the event organizers. And then look them in the eye and hopefully you will get your chance to speak.
Brian: Yeah, I didn't have to bribe anyone by the way. I hear you can do stuff like that. I'm so after I got to be established, actually I started sponsoring to build the business further know what is, what you'll get solicited for a lot is, once you become pretty well known, then you'll start getting solicited to sponsor events, which maybe other companies get success. I think that's more about building the brand than getting business opportunities, because for about three years, in a row, we sponsored an agile event. They're an open space for you row had a nice, we had multiple employees there, we have a nice backdrop, nice table. But we never got any business out of that but it was a lot of fun still. There are some, and that's an important part, right? Doing your business should not just all be ruling hard work, you should do stuff that you're enjoying, as well, when I'm teaching organizations by clients to build a strong culture. I talked about decreasing fear and increasing fun. So that that's just a little data point on how to enjoy running your own business at a sustainable pace.
Neerav: Nice. Thank you for the advice. The last question for today. Where can the audience learn about MaxAgility?
Brian: Yeah, our website. I try to downplay my own name in the origins, so I say So remember, MaxAgility as in Maximize Agility, so it’s maxagility.com or my LinkedIn profile, you can go to linkedin.com/in/Brianmwills and you can see our corporate profile there too.
Neerav: Got it. Thanks a lot, for your time Brian, and have a nice day.
Brian: Thank you for your time.