We talked to Joshua Millsapps of MB&A on the effects of COVID-19 pandemic on the cloud space.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Joshua Millsapps: We are all doing as well as can be expected. We are fortunate to work remotely, and our area (Arlington, VA) has not been as hard hit as many areas in the country. Of course, we would love to see a vaccine and the end of the pandemic, but we have been incredibly fortunate to avoid the worst of things to this point.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded MB&A.
Joshua Millsapps: I founded Millsapps, Ballinger & Associates in 2011 with a close friend from my MBA program Erik Ballinger. We wanted to take ideas that I had been working on in the management consulting business I ran at that time, Ironbridge Consulting, and create products that helped those types of customers get to value quicker. We had zeroed in on data collection as a huge pain point in most of our consulting services engagements because in large organizations as we worked with in government and Fortune 500, there were so many different people and places where the critical information lived. Getting information more quickly, accurately and with better measurement capabilities was a clear problem in almost every engagement. Our Extensible Assessment Manager (ExAM4Enterprise.com) product line, was born from those needs. As we matured, we built more tailored solutions like the ExAM4Inspections.com line that more directly support a specific type of data collection and measurement.
How does MB&A innovate?
Joshua Millsapps: We build on top of the Salesforce platform. As an Independent Software Vendor (ISV) partner, the majority of our products are built directly on the platform. We tie in other technologies like AWS, Google Maps, Twilio, iOS, Android, etc., as they make sense, but the core of our work is on the Salesforce platform. We believe that using a CRM as the core for our data collections make sense because of the people-centric nature of the platform and our downstream products. We also have looked at market opportunities and seized them. A great example has been the launch this fall of our ExAMRV.com (Remote Video Inspections) product. This directly targets the need for ongoing inspections in a world where people want to reduce their physical interactions.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Joshua Millsapps: We have done well during the pandemic in part because we began shifting operations to a remote-first model in 2013. We were struggling to hire the “best” people who also lived in the Washington, DC area. It was simply too constraining. We started by hiring one dev right outside of San Fransisco, and by the end of the year, we had employees in six states and two countries. Today we still have two physical locations in Virginia, but most of our employees work full time from home. This made the shift to full time remote for all quite easy for us. Similarly, the pandemic has also reinforced our products’ need in many of the verticals we focus on – particularly our hospital inspections and infection prevention businesses tied to our ExAM4Inspections.com product line.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Joshua Millsapps: We did make some difficult decisions. In particular, with billing to customers. We recognized early that some of our customers, particularly small commercial inspection businesses, were having reduced revenues due to the pandemic. We decided early on to proactively contact them and offer payment flexibility to hopefully reduce churn at renewal time. The jury is out, but so far, we haven’t lost any customers due to the pandemic.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and MB&A in the future?
Joshua Millsapps: I have really tried to be good about taking care of the basics and messaging the same to my employees. We are all spending more time at home these days, but that shouldn’t mean we ignore basic health measures. Eating well, making sure we get an appropriate amount of rest, and staying active are part of staying competitive. I try to talk about maintaining health and a healthy work-life balance on our All Hands calls because I think people really do need to hear that self-care is a part of us staying competitive as a business. There is a stronger alignment of interests between business well being and employee well being than I think most managers acknowledge.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Joshua Millsapps: The data collection business is full of competitors that are focused on specific silos like Qaltrics, Survey Monkey, iAuditor, SafetyPro, etc. Most are focused on a particular type of data collection like online forms, surveys or inspections, and audits. I think our focus on data collection as the specific area of our innovation and R&D efforts and then productizing that innovation into forms that meet market needs like market research or inspection and audit has really been a huge differentiator in the market. Inevitably, the work we are doing to enhance data quality, data gathering capabilities, etc., becomes the focus of one of our major markets. Our research on the core technology that underlies these market forces helps us stay one step ahead of the competition.
Your final thoughts?
Joshua Millsapps: As we get closer to a vaccine and hopefully to business as normal, I know that one of the things we will be focused on is ensuring our customers are able to lock in the innovation that has been forced during the pandemic. A great example is something like our remote video inspection (RVI) initiatives in support of our ExAM4Inspections.com product. We see this as having huge long term impacts potentially on being able to serve geographically dispersed customers at a reduced cost by enabling subject matter experts to perform inspections in Alaska and Puerto Rico on the same day without leaving their desk.
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