07: Building the Team is the Job with Nick Beavers

Nick Beavers, CEO of Media Cybernetics, a company that supplies image analysis software, typically used in industrial inspection routines. We talk about Nick’s path to becoming the CEO of Media Cybernetics, as well as his insights from using the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) at a tech company.

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Building the Team is the Job with Nick Beavers

Our guest is Nick Beavers, CEO of Media Cybernetics, which is a technology business. And I’m not going to, you know, I’m not going to spill the beans here. I’m going to let him explain a little bit about his business and about his story. So, welcome, Nick. How are you doing today?

I’m great. Thanks for having me, Steve.

Awesome. So tell us a little bit about, like give us a short introduction to Media Cybernetics and I’d really like you to share with your audience your story, how did you end up being a business owner, an entrepreneur, and growing a business in a very exciting niche?

Yeah, absolutely. Well, Media Cybernetics is a scientific software company that has been in business since 1981, and it has a very rich history of providing solutions for researchers and those who are doing industrial inspection routines. that is able to take images from microscopes or just digital cameras in general, and helps people to very easily create a quantitative measurement from just an image. The tagline of the company is from images to answers, and I think it fits perfectly for what we’re able to do.

You know, I have a very, at least I think, bizarre way of becoming the CEO of Mediacy. Both my parents came from broken homes. They were third poor. My father ended up in the hospital on numerous occasions with malnutrition as a child and young man. My mother was the oldest of eight and was in a household with no father, they were below the poverty line. So many sad stories of, you know, she had two outfits to wear to school and she was always creatively trying to figure out how to make it look like she didn’t have two outfits to avoid the kids making fun of her. My father ended up going into mechanical, he’s been a plumber my entire life.

My mother ended up working for a while as an admin for an insurance agency. And I was their firstborn, but I ended up having a brother who was a year younger than I was, who was born with a rare disease. He had a deficiency of iron and it really impacted our life. Unfortunately, the disease took his life at eight years old and I was nine. And events like that, they change you. They, I think it forced me to be a bit more mature as a younger child.

And as I move through life, I want to say that it really does fuel you to want to make the most of life. I think for my parents as well, it changed them. And as they raised me, they raised me to be very aware of other people and how to make sure you’re taking into consideration others, not to take for granted the things that you do and not take for granted what you have. And I think for those reasons, at least through a good portion of my life, I’ve had the desire to competitively try to excel in anything I did.

I wanted to make the most of the opportunity I had and what I was given. I was the kid who always had the lemonade stand. I washed every car in the neighborhood and charged them probably twice what I should have. And when I’m just a teenager, I started my own business. I’ll never forget sitting there not having a clue what I was doing, but paying these very small, small taxes every year. Everything was handwritten and snail mail. And I sold paintball equipment to my friends. We were addicted to the game of paintball and I ended up eventually even, oddly enough, playing for the University of Maryland and their club team and traveling around the nation playing other colleges.

But I always found a way, as I look back on it, I think it’s funny that I found a way to make a business out of almost everything I did. And I met my wife at the University of Maryland when I went there and I’ve always told her, you know, I want to own my business. I want to create something. I’ve always had this passion to create things. And it’s just, you know, it’s funny how I think that the younger years have fueled me to this point where I don’t think about it a lot, but I think it really formed, you know, the mentality I have where I want to be successful. I want to succeed. I want to build something. I want to create a great team.

And as I was at the University of Maryland, with that in mind, and not sure really how to apply it, I thought to myself, you know what, I’m going to be a doctor, I’m going to do something, I’ll have a practice, I’ll be a dentist, maybe, I don’t know, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do something in the sciences. So I got a Bachelor of Science in Neurophysiology from the University of Maryland, and was going down that path, when I realized that it wasn’t for me. I sought more intensely each of those fields and I just discovered I wasn’t meant for the lab, I wasn’t meant for kind of a dental practice or any kind of a doctor internship, it wasn’t me.

So I was searching for what it was that I wanted to do and I was in the laboratory in the University of Maryland working for the chair of the department doing microscopy work. And it just so happened that as I was doing microscopy work and I was doing a part-time job building computers at a company in Annapolis, Maryland, I stumbled upon a job opportunity with a local company, Media Cybernetics, who was a software development company making software for microscopes. And I said, wow, this sounds actually perfect for me.

I think I’ll actually fit in here pretty well. So I started the job as a technical services representative. I was the guy who answered the phones when somebody had a problem with the software. It was incredibly challenging, but very fulfilling. The company was this really exciting company who did really impressive technical types of application in terms of image analysis. It was unique. They had all these different techniques that not a lot of people had. They were cutting edge in a lot of areas. However, when I joined, they had just gone through a couple of restructuring rounds.

They had only a few years had been acquired by a larger holding company, and it was challenging. So I found that I was always looking at this as a temporary job, and I said, you know, I’ll learn as much as I can here and then move on and build my resume. Every two years or so though, it was funny, Steve, it almost became like clockwork where I just found myself always being promoted into a role with more responsibility every two years. And I did product management, I did applications, I did sales, I did business development. And in all of those roles, I learned a little bit more and a little bit more about the company.

And fast forward 12 years of me thinking, I’m just building the resume and I’m just learning and gathering as much as I can. And I became the president of the company in 2019. And by becoming the president, I took on a much larger role, obviously. And at the end of 2019, the holding company wanted to change their strategy and move in a different direction. And we’re seeking a buyer for the company to no longer be involved in imaging. And I just took that as a great opportunity to fulfill my lifelong dream of owning a company and building something.

I have a passion for what we do. We have an amazing team. And I thought, gosh, it makes sense I love what I do, I love the company, I love the people we all have here. I want to do this for as long as possible and see it grow into what I believe it can be. And so just as of January of this year, we made the leap and we came to an agreement and became the donor of MediaStar Medics in January. And, you know, seven months later, we’re moving forward and doing really well and very excited about our upcoming future as well. So definitely, you know, a story that I’m very proud of, and at the same time never thought I’d be telling.

It’s a very exciting story. And, you know, I’m kind of proud of we had this conversation, probably last September, August, September, when you were really at the point of, shall I invest time in looking fora capital investor, venture capital, and I really felt like this is your time. The owners, they want to start this business and probably it’s not their biggest priority to get the highest price. They just want to make sure it’s in the right hands and go for it, you know, take the jump and you did it. I’m so proud of you to have done that. but so what have been some of the challenges, I mean, even as a managing director, before you were president, you were kind of running the business already, and then you became the president, now you’re the owner, CEO of the company. What were some of the challenges that you had to overcome in order to be able to be successful in running this and growing this business?

For me, I think as the general manager before president and president, I think the challenges were pretty similar in that before we became private, my biggest challenge was really I think corporate culture. It was a bit challenging navigating this mentality of a large holding company, the way that they wanted to run the business, the way that they wanted to run the financials, their expectations of consistent operating profit, no investment really back into the company, but just consistency in operation.

It was challenging for a company that when I took over as the manager we were creating great products. I think we had a really good roadmap ahead of us. We were making things happen, but with such a long legacy behind us, we had a lot of trailing revenue that was declining over time. And so we had new ventures that were growing and we had old ventures that were declining. And so in every single quarter that we would post our earnings, we’d have this challenge of having to explain how some of these things are going away, that’s expected. And then we’re working really hard without really putting a lot of investment in.

Doing less with more is what we always like, we heard all the time. How do you do less with more? Sorry, more with less. How do you do more with less? And so we ended up doing that, right? We ended up doing a lot more with less. And it turned out to pay off. More recently, and even, you know, in betting during the general manager times, I feel like the other largest challenge was people management. Most of my career, it was individual contribution without really being part of a larger team, having a lot of responsibility for management.

And it wasn’t until my last few roles where suddenly, you know, individual contribution isn’t as important as building a great team. So there was a learning curve for me. I think that also, you know, as part of a team where I’d been there for 12 years, you can imagine that, you know, moving up within the company, a lot of people were still there who were there when I first joined. And they looked at me and probably had a difficult time recognizing the position I was in and having to work with this new guy who’s, who’s now the GM and now the president. Um, so we, we’ve grown as a, as a team.

And I think that the ability to get the right people on the bus, as Jim Collins says, to get the right people in the right seats. That’s probably been the largest challenge for me. Everything else, I feel like has really been not as much of a challenge as much as exciting. You know, all the rest of it, the strategy for product, the marketing, building great new engineering technology. It’s hard, but I found the people management part to be the one that I’ve put the most time and effort into making sure that I personally grow in that area to get right.

Growing as a team, the real challenge became getting the right people on the bus and ensuring they are in the right seats. Click To Tweet

That’s a great perspective. And building the team is really the key. And how do you transition from being a contributor, then a manager, and then a leader who can actually have accomplished things through other people and basically focus on the culture and how you grow people, how you give them runways so that they can take the company to where you couldn’t take it on your own is very, very great. So that’s a great segue to the next question. I wanted to ask you, I mean, we were introduced by Debbie Tyler, who is your chair, right? Debbie and I go way back and he is a wonderful coach and a great friend. And obviously you’ve been in her business group for several years, so there’s have to be something there makes you stick around, right? So my question is, who have been your greatest role models that you feel like you’ve benefited from associating with and learning from?

Yeah, well, I’d break it into, I think, two parts. I already spoke about, I have great gratitude for, I think, what my parents put into me. And so they’re my first role models, for sure. My father is the kind of person who is very sharp when it comes to understanding a difficult technical problem and being able to come up with a solution. He’s an absolute genius in so many ways in some of the solutions that he’s able to come up with. And he’s really very, very good at actually maintaining and operating at a high level.

But from his upbringing, one of the things, he shies away from his taking risks. He shies away from kind of a vision for the future. And he’s very comfortable with doing his best work and performing at a high level in where he is. Whereas my mother’s kind of the opposite in terms of she just loves to dream. She loves to think about the future. She loves to think about what could be. So they’re a great complement to each other. They help each other to get through life. And I’ve looked back over time and said, wow, I took a little bit from each of them because I both love to dream and think about what could be.

And I also actually kind of enjoy getting in the trenches and making sure that the trains are running on time. And that operationally, we’re doing things well. I think I lean toward the visionary more than I do the trains running on time, but I find myself pretty comfortably in both roles, which is, I think, a little unique, but we’ll see how things go over time. As I’ve gotten into this new role, you mentioned Debbie. She’s been a wonderful example and she’s helped me through a lot of hard times. Helped me to get access to resources that on my own I wouldn’t have been able to do.

So the Vistage Group has been, I think, very beneficial for me. It’s given me confidence. Has helped me to feel like, you know, I’m not the only one in this. I like to say all the time, a Vistage Group is almost a, it’s an opportunity for business owners to come together with people and have a little bit of a psychologist session. It’s a lot of time you don’t talk about the business as much as you just talk about how you’re handling it and how emotionally it’s difficult, how you’re dealing with this press and all the things that are happening.

A lot of times the people already know what they’re going to do. They just don’t have the confidence. That’s the right answer. And sometimes they need kind of that reassurance from the team to say, yeah, you’re doing the right thing. I think I needed that quite a bit to make sure I was going the right direction. And I have to be honest. And a lot of times as well, I wasn’t going the right direction. I got some really critical feedback that helps a lot. Not to make you blush Steve, but I mean, honestly, you’ve been an excellent role model for me as well here recently.

And I think your assistance with, you know, working together with us and implementing EOS and giving me the confidence that we can be successful using the tools we have, using, you know, the resources we have, has been very beneficial as well. So when I look at the recent history, I think it’s really important to surround yourself with those that not only support you, but also give you that difficult feedback when you need to hear it. It’s definitely a mix for a winning combination.

Confidence in ourselves was our guiding light through the darkest times. Milestone by milestone, we built a resilient culture, proving to ourselves that we were the team capable of achieving the extraordinary. Click To Tweet

Well, thank you. Thank you for that. And for those of you who don’t know, EOS stands for the Entrepreneurial Operating System, which is a way to orchestrate all the moving parts of your business and essentially harness the human energy in the business and help you implement the major management concepts that will help you run the business much more effectively. So, talking about EOS, I mean, what are the tools that you feel like have been the most beneficial for you in growing Media Cybernetics?

Well, you know, it’s funny, I can’t really pick one, I don’t think. I like them all. I’d say overall what has been the best about EOS is just the fact that the whole system itself works together. When I joined the Vistage group a few years ago, I actually asked the question a number of times to the team there and to the network looking for something. I wasn’t even sure what to call it, right? I didn’t even know what I was looking for, but I knew I needed something that would handle people management, that would help to organize my planning for the future.

And I had found a number of resources that handled kind of a small percentage of the business management. And I started implementing a few things here and there, and I felt like they were very disjointed from each other. They didn’t work together. So the EOS system has, over time, I’ve continued to find as I implement each and every individual tool, they complement each other very well. And that’s been very, it’s been a big relief for me that I didn’t have to go out and try to figure out how am I going to run this area of the business? You must have a tool for that, right?

So I think getting the planning down early on with what’s the strategy, what’s our vision traction organizer look like in terms of where are we headed, how are we have to get there, scorecards for managing the monthly and weekly metrics of the business to make sure everything’s going well. And it’s paid off where as soon as a number goes red, we’re able to quickly look into it. And sometimes we find it’s a big problem and we have to adjust it right away. The entire team loves the idea of ROCKS, basically big quarterly projects that you’re working on.

And what has become actually kind of fun, I want to say is that as we, early on, it was challenging because we were implementing it and we were transitioning from kind of the nomenclature and the terminology, the culture of being pre-EOS. And it was a struggle to get into the habit of using the new terminology and everyone be on the same page. But we feel very comfortable right now that when we talk about our ROCs, we talk about our level 10 meeting, we talk about the vision, direction, order, everybody knows what you’re talking about.

And so we’re all talking the same language, which makes communication faster or more efficient. There’s less confusion. And we’ve worked really hard at all the tools that we have in EOS. We’ve placed them in our company internet. Everyone has accessibility to them. And there’s a central location where you go to look at what are the rocks for this quarter and how am I personally going to contribute to making sure it gets accomplished. And it’s pulled us together. I think it actually, it has contributed to building culture and everyone has the same language, everyone has a similar goal, and we’re all looking at the same numbers.

Before EOS, we had some big challenges of, some individuals wanted to run their departments their way, and other individuals wanted to run their department a different way, and none of them were wrong, it’s just they were different. And by being different, it created these walls between the departments and it created conflict. So I’m thrilled now that I don’t see the conflict anymore. If anything, it’s brought us closer together because we feel like we’re all on the same page. So I mentioned a few of the individual tools, all of them that work together very well, but I don’t think I can pick one. I wish I could, but I don’t think I can.

In the journey of organizational growth, finding the right tools to work together is the key to success. Click To Tweet

That’s okay. You know, we know that there are five tools which are kind of the 20% that takes away the percent of the result, there are 20 tools all together. What’s really interesting is that you talk about the language of EOS and how sometimes awkward maybe it feels initially to talk about LMA and you know, and faction and rocks and scorecard and level 10 meeting. It sounds very weird, but actually, US is not a digital system, it’s a social system and the language carries the information.

And there’s a reason for having these quirky names for things because you want to differentiate them from other things. We wanted to pick, or Geno wanted to pick names that didn’t carry the baggage. So people didn’t have the misconceptions around it. If you say vision, it can be so many different things. So I’m talking about the vision of a company, but if you break it down to, okay, what are the core values, the core focus, the 10 year target, it becomes much more tangible. And that was the idea to, okay, let’s cut through the confusion.

Let’s make it really clear what we’re talking about to get that alignment that you’re talking about. So that is awesome. Nick, in terms of this is a podcast about professional services and technology companies. And I think you are a little bit of both. And I wonder whether you have any insights as to the peculiarities of a technology business when you’re using EOS? And I know that this is kind of a bit of a broad question, but what do you think is special about Media Cybernatics? And is there something that you have to approach a little bit differently because you are a technology business?

We’ve definitely had challenge in trying to take our engineering team who thinks about things in a more agile way where we’re doing two-week sprints on a regular basis developing new software and trying to envision how a dynamic fast-moving, agile team uses EOS effectively. Our engineering manager, Pierre Duchesne, has done a phenomenal job. He’s an excellent partner in all of this, working together with the team. He has implemented EOS for the team, and I think he’s done a wonderful job helping them to think about the rocks and the level 10s in a way that matches up with this idea of software development being agile.

And that was one of the first questions we had was, is it going to fit? We believe it fits perfectly. It just, it took us a while to understand how it fit. The other aspect I would say is, some of the tools initially, the way that they are originally presented, I think maybe are thinking of other businesses with a different structure. And so we found that it eventually fit. We just had to really think about it. So we had to think about how everything needed to be customized for our business, but still staying within the parameters of EOS.

And so I don’t feel like we’ve actually really customized anything to the point where it no longer aligns with the US model. We’ve been using it all, I think, pretty standard. But we have had to work hard with the tools to think through what is unique about our type of industry. As an example, we are, we’re selling software, you know, every day, both digitally and shipping product itself. We sell through a distribution model. And so a lot of times the sales of those software products are their subscription or there’s maintenance or there’s a sale through a partner that we give margin to. And I think a lot of times it’s thinking about a sales team that you directly control, not so much this partner network.

And so a lot of times we don’t have control directly over our partners. They bring to the table this expertise of the microscope knowledge, right? They’re system integrators bringing together digital cameras, microscopes, laboratory equipment, consumables, reagents, and our software. And so they build these systems. So it has been, I think, kind of a fun challenge to apply EOS to our technical software development and also the sales side of it, where we’re working together with these partners.

We still have metrics, they still work very well, but they’re not directly related to the end user sometimes. Sometimes they’re directly related to the distribution partner, and how well they’re working together to provide the best possible support and training for the end users. So that’s two things that come to mind for us, and we’re looking forward to continuing to evolve it as we grow and as we expand our business over time as well.

So there are two things I want to mention here. I really love it that you’re a global team because you have sales in Europe, in Asia, and you’ve got a wonderful partner in Asia, Chandresh Trivedi, who is part of our US meetings, and he’s an amazing guy. You know, we start our meeting at 8 a.m., which is already, I think, 7 p.m. in Singapore, and then he stays up three hours of the morning to stay on our meeting, and he’s still engaged at 3 a.m. his time, which I can’t believe he doesn’t. But then, he’s like a human dying animal.

So that’s really been impressive, and the way you engaged Chandrasekhar through this whole transition. He set up his own business and he’s a major distributor for you and how you work together. And it’s kind of a laboratory for you as well as to what the distributors think and how they create their own business model, which works so that you can both of you can be successful. The other thing about agile that I wanted to mention and when you brought up the idea of, is there an EOS for software development?

And I talked to many of our colleagues, and what dawned on me was that this whole idea of Agile, actually EOS is an Agile system, because you start with a 10-year target, and then you break it down into a three-year picture. So actually a 10-year target includes three, three-year pictures, consecutive three-year pictures. And then you drill down further to a one-year plan. So you break down the three years into one-year plans, and then you break it further down to quarterly rocks, quarterly themes and quarterly rocks.

And then this quarterly rock can be broken down into maybe two-week sprints. So maybe you have like seven sprints that quarter, it kind of fits in, it’s just how do you coordinate the cadence, the two cadences together. So great, so anything else, any other challenges that you feel like, this is nothing to do with EOS, but what was the biggest thing that you felt like you had to overcome when you felt like the sky was falling, you were in the worst possible situation and it was a little bit, looked like hopeless, how are you going to get out of it? Now, if you think back on your career, what was the darkest moment that you had and now that you overcome it.

Oh Goodness well, I think the darkest moment was directly related to a strong transition that we were undergoing as a business. What where we are today is vastly different from where we were, gosh, three and a half, four years ago. And it was a bit overwhelming to look at on the surface. We had through many years of, I hate to say neglect, but I think it’s just a lack of leadership maybe. We had ignored a lot of backend systems that were aging. The cost of replacing the systems to be competitive, to be efficient, to be able to get the reports that we needed, to be able to do things without enormous effort for things that really shouldn’t be so difficult was really painful.

It wasn’t just one, it was four and five different systems. really struggling to transition from a 32-bit image analysis package that we had been very successful with, very, very successful with for many years. And we had transitioned and said, we’re no longer going to be promoting our 32-bit package. We’re moving our entire customer base over to the 64-bit package. People don’t like change. So even our existing customers and partners, all of our resellers, they resisted it very, very strongly.

And at the same time, we were finding that we just continuously had less and less resources. So we were faced with probably some of the largest challenges to both internally adjust and change everything about the way our back office functioned, to externally change the products that we’re offering. We were rapidly losing very large distribution partners who had, I really do, you know, say it was a bit of two different reasons for this. they were leaving us because one, they had innovated and exceeded where we were. And secondly, we had not been innovative at speed that the market demanded.

Most of that came from just the challenges of undergoing a huge ownership transition from private to being owned by a large corporation. And they did everything they possibly could to, you know, provide resources to us. But unfortunately, it was at the expense of not putting any specific individual in charge of the position of leadership that was focused 100% on the company. And I think all those things really came to a head for us. I guess I could say it was the darkest time when I was looking into all the projects that we had to tackle and having the confidence that we could get through it, that we had the routine, we could get there, but it wasn’t going to happen overnight.

And we just had to really dig deep, believe in ourselves, and understand that it was going to be a tough road. It was going to be multiple years of putting up numbers that weren’t going to be ones that the parent company was going to like, that we were going to have to do a lot of explaining for and we had to stay on target. So we set some really aggressive goals and we, you know, thank goodness we came through, we achieved those goals, we replaced the back office systems, we redesigned and refreshed our partner program, we innovated as fast as we could to continue improving upon the 64-bit package to the point where we finally, you know, brought to market something that was truly better than the old package. It took time. It took a lot of years.

And just this year now, we’re finally at the place where, you know, I’m confidently releasing new additions to our flagship products that no one’s ever seen before. That is truly unique, and that brings a lot of value to our end users. And for many years, we’ve been, you know, continuing to update the product, just trying to get back to where we were with our 32 platform. And so that was the darkest times. And I, you know, how we did it, I really think it was confidence in each other.

By building a better culture, by working together and getting through hard times, every time we achieved another milestone, I think we built confidence internally that we were the team to do it. Our engineering team can move mountains and the sale team and business development has done things that the engineering team couldn’t believe we were able to do. So, on every side, really achieving and it’s brought us closer together. And now everyone, we laugh and have good stories about those dark days, but when we were going through them, it was hard. So I think that is by far the lowest point, I think, that I’m really grateful we’re through.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And sometimes the only thing you can focus on is survival and just putting one foot ahead of the other and getting through that no man’s land and you never know when the light will shine up at the end of the tunnel. But definitely you are on a great track. I was shocked when we had the last meeting and I saw your numbers. You really did a fantastic job. So I look forward to that. And listen, it’s been a very interesting discussion. So our listeners, if they would like to learn more about Media Cybernetics and your products, where can they find information? Where can they find you? Maybe they want to reach out to you. Is there any place, a good place to find you?

Well, they can find Media Cybernetics on our website. It’s mediacy.com. They can reach me. They’d like to communicate directly to my email, nbeavers@mediacy.com. And they can catch me on LinkedIn as well. I’m linkedin.com slash in slash Nick Beavers. And yeah, we’d be happy to talk to anybody about, you know, what they’ve heard today share even more if they’re interested, or how we’ve gotten through some of these times. Thanks for having me, Steve, I really appreciate it, and always a pleasure to talk to you.

Thank you, Nick, for joining us today. Take care.


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