Oscar DiVeroli: I would like to welcome to the studio today Barry Kates of the Innovative Group. Welcome Barry.
Barry Kates: Oscar it is a great to be here, thank you.
Oscar DiVeroli: Fantastic. Tell us a little bit about Innovative Group.
Barry Kates: I started the agency in 1999. We were originally a marketing firm and had a couple of clients come to us and ask if we can do some event platforms. That started off with doing Super Bowl, believe it or not, for losing technologies back in the heyday. We became a marketing and event company and then we were ask to do more on top of the event side of things so that turned us into a VIP hospitality agency.
We’ve evolved over the course of the past 14, 15 years. With that being said our umbrella group now, because of having Innovative Marketing Group and Innovative Events we’re now going to go to Innovative Group. That will serves us our new umbrella. We’re doing a brand-new branding opportunity behind and just really excited about the momentum that the company has.
Oscar DiVeroli: Sounds exciting. What motivated you to launch your company?
Barry Kates: I’ve always had this spirit of being an entrepreneur, but again it takes a lot of muster, I would say, in order to go ahead and actually take the plunge. Coming from the corporate world and having great benefits and steady paycheck and knowing that you’re safe versus going to the entrepreneur world and now people are going to be dependent upon you. That was definitely a challenge that I wanted and when I finally got over the hump that gave me the opportunity to go ahead and become an entrepreneur, I was up for the challenge and I haven’t looked back since then.
Oscar DiVeroli: That’s fantastic. Tell me, when you launched your business, did you create a business plan or you kind of jumped in with both feet?
Barry Kates: It’s kind of funny when you look at what we do. It’s not rocket science. The event business is very, very competitive and there isn’t any magic wisdom to what it is that we do. It’s really about our people and our experience and I also would tell you it’s the ability to adapt to change. I think that our people are amazing in adapting to change. My number 2 has been with me since day 1. I plucked him out of college when he was 21 years old and he’s grown with me for all of my years. My plan for him is to be able to run the company and for me to continue fostering other businesses so that again providing our people other opportunities to grow within our business.
Oscar DiVeroli: Great. What’s unique about Innovative Group?
Barry Kates: It’s clearly our people. It’s clearly the way that we think out of the box. It’s clearly the way that we’re there for our clients to be able to react to change. There’s no red tape in our business so there’s a clear path to getting to the end result and I think that that’s one of the great things because there’s a lot of people that can do what we do, but again it all really goes back to the service level and the people. Our people are just wonderful at building relationships with our clients and really delivering on the plan.
Oscar DiVeroli: That’s great. You’ve been in business 14 or 15 years.
Barry Kates: Yeah it goes by pretty quick these days.
Oscar DiVeroli: Do you remember your first client?
Barry Kates: Yeah actually when I was fortunate enough to move into my own business I actually came from corporate world and had 4 great clients that had come with me. Losing Technologies is being one of them, but when you look back in the day, Losing was very big, it was a B to B business and now they don’t even exist because of what’s happened in the telecom world.
I remember those first clients and I never take any of the business for granted and every year you’re working harder and harder and harder to maintain and grow your business so that you can have the stability that you want. Again as an entrepreneur, what I’ve gone through the years, not taking paychecks and making sure that my people got paid, that’s just the ups and downs of becoming an entrepreneur.
Oscar DiVeroli: Great. What habits would you attribute to the success of your business?
Barry Kates: I think that the success in business is really driven by people. What I’ve learned in my business I love to take people that have limited experience where I have the ability to teach them and train them the ways that we do things because we feel that the ways that we do things are of a different nature and we’re not having to retrain bad habits. That’s paramount for us. I love taking young people, giving them the tools that they need and watching them grow within our business.
I think the other thing behind it too is when you take young people and you work with them to fortify their life plan, you have the ability of growing them long term. That’s really been something that we’ve worked hard at fostering because again we know our business is driven by people. The more we do to perpetuate our people internally and understand where they want to be, then there’s no reason to lose them and that’s been a core success for us.
Oscar DiVeroli: Excellent. I would imagine that would help with retention as well?
Barry Kates: Well again that’s the most important thing because what do you do? You train somebody for 2, 3 years, they’re working with your clients and then the next thing you know they move on to some other opportunity. Well where did we fail? How did we not know what they wanted so that we could retain them, keep them, grow them, and let them grown within our own business?
Oscar DiVeroli: Sure. When you launched your business, how were you able to finance the launch of your company?
Barry Kates: It was lean to mean. It was working from a 2 bedroom, my condo at the time. There was no office based and my number 2, Jared, who was working from Atlanta was working from his condo and we just did the things that we needed to do to make things work. Even still to this day, we’re very conscientious about spending. We’re not in lavish offices because at the end of the day it’s about investing in your people and the tools that they need to be successful so that you can over-deliver in a competitive market to your client.
Oscar DiVeroli: Sure, make sense. During the growth of your company, did you need to go out to secure outside capital or were you able to finance it internally?
Barry Kates: I never took any money from the outside. It was very interesting. When I started building a banking relationship they had asked me about, “Hey do you want to do a credit line?” I’m like, “No I don’t need a credit line. I could just manage things with my credit cards,” and then I was like, “You know what? Maybe I should get a credit line,” and then I was really, really happy for when those down cycles hit, that I was like, “Wow I have a credit line I don’t have to worry about figuring out where I’m going to get that next 20 grand or 50 grand.”
Having the credit line was a very smart thing to do in building the credit side of things and we’ve been fortunate enough that we haven’t had to go to outside. That we’ve been able to manage and still even in the downturns you do the best you can to save and you sacrifice. At the end there have been many, many times as I’ve shared with you that I haven’t had the ability to take a paycheck, but my people have been covered in, you know you go through the cycle.
Oscar DiVeroli: Sure. What would you say has been your most unusual sales tactic or creative tactic to secure a new customer?
Barry Kates: I think a lot of times, the difference in our business it’s not a cold call business because people are putting their jobs on the line to hire an agency like us to support an effort. I think what’s happened for us is it’s our relationships that we built that have fostered our business. We’ve never driven one piece of revenue from the web, although I’m testing that now. I’m going through a whole social media plan and have hired a social media agency to support our effort, to really go ahead and say, “Well will the social media side of things be able to drive business for us, because the universe is so big and it change so much,” but I would venture to say that a lot of it is really just our passion and our creativity.
When you have the opportunity to be in the game and they’re pitching a concept to you and then your response on that concept is like, “Wow we never thought about something like that,” I would definitely tell you it’s our creative nature and our passion for when we have to share that creative that really give us our opportunity of earning your business.
Oscar DiVeroli: Great. Have ever turned down a client?
Barry Kates: Yeah. Actually I learned something from being an entrepreneur was I have always felt that you just got to take every client and take ever client and take every client and what I realized was that there were certain clients that were actually demoralizing, not demoralizing but drawing down the energy of the staff and that to me was very, very important because obviously you want everybody at their peak at all times. There were actually 2 clients that when the business came up for the opportunity to do more with, we had passed on it, because we just felt that it was more important for maintaining the camaraderie internally.
We love our clients and I think that if you don’t love your clients you can’t do all of the great things that you want to do for somebody because there’s always going to be some sort of road block. At the end of the day it’s what the client wants and you have to adapt to that.
Oscar DiVeroli: Interesting. You’ve been in business 14 or 15 years, what has been the most difficult decision you ever made as a business owner?
Barry Kates: I think the most difficult decision I ever made was venturing off into new businesses that I thought I could do. When you work hard in your core business and you’re able to have financial success in that and then you take that financial success and you put it into a secondary business that you have a feeling about, but you know that you an get there and when it doesn’t materialize, then you’ve invested the financial resources that you’ve worked so hard for over the course of the years. I made a couple mistakes from that perspective that have been unbelievable learning experiences for me. For me I would have to say that, but I guess nothing ventured, nothing gained. That’s the spirit of being an entrepreneur, risk reward.
Oscar DiVeroli: Sure. Barry you’re a very successful entrepreneur. Matter of fact you’re president of the South Florida Chapter of the Entrepreneur Organization and I believe in you. I would like to give you a million dollars and invest in your company. How would you deploy those funds?
Barry Kates: I think the first that I would do for taking the million dollars is that I would go ahead and I would build a very young business development sales force. I would make them acutely aware of what we do. We would train them by having them shadow us to watch how we do events and then give them the opportunity to sell our business, because what I’ve realized over the course of time is, and we’ve tried this. I’ve tried to hire a couple of business development guys but they’re seasoned. They just have their own different way of doing it. I love taking the young person and watching them grown, so I would take the money and invest it in people to have the opportunity to expand in my current business. That’s what I would do with the money.
Oscar DiVeroli: Great. Excellent, so if I handed over some magical powers to you, for just a couple minutes, and you have the opportunity of rolling back the clock to day 1 of your business and you could reverse any single decision you made, what would that be?
Barry Kates: It would clearly be the risk reward financial investment that I did in the project in Las Vegas. I would absolutely love that magic dust, but again I think when you go through difficult times like that, it’s very humbling and it’s a big eye opening experience. I learned from that. One of the things that I learned from it was that I wished that the times were you could still do business on a hand shake. I always looked at, when you make a commitment to somebody and you shake on it, you deliver on that whether you lose money or you don’t lose money.
I got into a business venture with partners. We haven’t finalized our partnership agreement and when the partnership agreement came to a sticking point, that’s when you really got to see where the partners true merits where. It was a big learning experience for me that I won’t go into any more deals without the agreement being done up front and all of the facets to the deal being clearly identified, so that there’s clearly no misunderstanding and move forward from. It was an expensive lesson, but I’ll tell you it’s a life lesson that will stick with me for sure.
Oscar DiVeroli: Great. You only have a few seconds left with your magical power, so if you would look into the crystal ball and tell me how the business climate will change in the next 5 years and how will that affect your business?
Barry Kates: Well it’s interesting because I think that in the business of what we do from marketing events and VIP hospitality, I think the core of that will always maintain itself. The reason why I say that is when you look at the NFL and Super Bowl and the partners that are involved in Super Bowl, the Anheuser Beusches of the world or the [inaudible 00:13:30] of the world, they’re always going to do hospitality to continue fortify their business relationship. I don’t think that that’s ever going to go away because we all know that the relationships are the things that perpetuate business. I don’t feel that the VIP hospitality and the event stuff is going to go away.
I think the marketing is going to change. We’re clearly seeing that shift in marketing. A lot of it really moving now towards the social side of things which we’re really starting to ingrain ourselves in because 15 years ago it wasn’t nearly as prevalent. That’s why it will be very curious when I sit down with you a year from now to show you what my year experimenting has been by really fortifying social media and how my business has grown in the social media element.
I’m really looking forward to that, but then again I think in my business as well, my people are starting to mature so I’m able to take on more projects because I have the right people in place now to be able to grow that business where before I was gun shy to do that. I’m very excited about where my people are now, where they’re developing, and where they’ll be able to take on greater roles as we move forward in the next 5 years.
Oscar DiVeroli: Fantastic. What one word describes Barry Kates as an entrepreneur?
Barry Kates: Passionate. Absolutely. I am just passionate and I love what I do. I’ve always shared with everybody in my team that if you don’t love what you do then don’t do it. There’s plenty of other things out in the world that you can do, so if you’re going to live this life, be passionate about it and love what you do and if you don’t love what you do, find something that you do love. I do. I love it and again sometimes as an entrepreneur I love what I do so much that I don’t even get paid for it. It’s just part of the DNA for who I am. When you love something the hours don’t matter, it’s about the end result.
Oscar DiVeroli: That’s amazing, which brings me to a couple of other questions. You mentioned you love entrepreneurship. You’ve been a member of the Entrepreneur’s Organization for how long now?
Barry Kates: 6 years now.
Oscar DiVeroli: You’re now coming up to on your second year as chapter president of the South Florida Chapter.
Barry Kates: Yeah it will be next year, yeah. As long as I pass the vote of confidence.
Oscar DiVeroli: I’m sure you will with flying colors, so you’re an expert on entrepreneurs. In your opinion are entrepreneurs born or are they made?
Barry Kates: I think it’s a two-sided question, because I think that sometimes entrepreneurs are made by certain circumstances, however entrepreneurs can be born by certain circumstances too. To give you an example, friends of mine who grew up in entrepreneurial spirit, family business have the ability of taking that family business over at some point in time. I think that entrepreneurs can be born because it’s a perpetuation of what happens from the family dynamic. Taking over a family business, it’s a second generation business, a third generation business, four generation business.
I think the thing that made me an entrepreneur was my father had an accident when I was 8 years old. I had to be come more independent at that age, because I became more independent, I think that that became a driving force for who my personality was and then as I continue to grow through college and start working I realized, you know what? I wanted to do more and being in corporate culture didn’t allow me to do more. I think that there’s a combination of both sides that you can absolutely born to it and then I also think that entrepreneurs make themselves as well.
Oscar DiVeroli: Great. Who do you go to today if you want to solve a problem, if you want to brainstorm an idea, you’re looking for guidance for mentoring, who’s your go to individual or group?
Barry Kates: You know I would share that when I got involved with Entrepreneurs, with EO, 6 years ago I had an understanding of it, but I didn’t understand really what it was until I got to really appreciate the experience behind what forums bring and the learning events and just the total organization. I have learned that in our organization, with having 150 plus members that there’s somebody within our organization or somebody in our EO global community that can help me navigate through a challenge, but I would share that I would probably lean on my forum the most.
As do most EO-ers because it’s such a diverse group of people and they’re so seasoned and experienced that somebody in there is going to be able to share an experience that’s going to provide the right path for me to make the right decision. That is a huge comfort to know as an entrepreneur, it’s almost like having your own library and having that resource of being able to go there for a specific problem. It’s life changing and so comforting for me in my growth.
Oscar DiVeroli: I’ve been informed now approaching my 14th year and I could comfortably tell you that my life trajectory has completely changed being a member of EO and being with the same group of amazing entrepreneurs.
Barry Kates: I would share with you the same dynamics behind it because there have been a lot of modifications that I’ve made for the betterment of my business and personal life because of what EO does. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about EO and I’ve been blessed to serve as leadership in our chapters because when I look at what EO has the potential to do on providing growth and leadership and giving back to other entrepreneurs, it’s just one of those things. It just drives my passion. I’m really excited about it
Oscar DiVeroli: Sure, I can relate.
Barry Kates: Yes you can.
Oscar DiVeroli: Barry great leaders are always learning something new. Where do you go for your source of knowledge?
Barry Kates: I think experience is part of the greatest knowledge factors because there’s obviously a lot of great books, there’s obviously a lot of great conversations that can help you from a learning perspective, but I think a lot of times, when I ventured off to try and do new ventures and was not successful in those ventures or was successful, I think it was the path of me going through the experience myself that allows me to really truly understand where the true learning experience behind it.
Again when I look back at my business, I had certain challenges in my business that I had to make, so either if I went to the left or right, if the decision was wrong on the right I learned from it and therefore, if my decision was right on the left then I learned from it. I always have always felt that the true meaning of real learning happens with almost like on the job training.
Oscar DiVeroli: Sure. As a leader how does Barry Kates make a mark either in your company or in your community?
Barry Kates: In my personal feelings on making a mark, I think making a mark a lot of it is really about what you’re able to leave behind that has long term growth. One of the things that I’m working on in EO, I think by creating the committee structure to our board structure the committee structure is going to far out live myself, it’s going to far out live our next president elect Aaron Lee and so on, and so on, and so on. What that does it fortifies growth for our chapter.
It really goes ahead and creates an engagement platform, so I think in making a mark that’s just one component, but I think in my personal business making my mark is watching my young people be able to grow and stay with me and let them take on major leadership roles within my business so that I don’t have to spend time in my business and I can spend time with my family and I can work in other derivative businesses. Making my mark is really showing my people or is really showing the end results for when my people are able to grow and really be successful.
Oscar DiVeroli: Like a father watching his kids grow up.
Barry Kates: Exactly right and I’m doing that now too with my new baby.
Oscar DiVeroli: Congratulations by the way. Share with us one of the coolest things you’ve ever done either personally or professionally.
Barry Kates: Wow there have been a bunch, but I’ll share with you one really cool thing that we did. Back in the day Jose Cuervo was not allowed to advertise on television or the radio because they were spirit and they were really looking for a big PR piece for their Jose Cuervo brand. Their motto back then was all about expressing yourself, because when you have a couple of tequilas you’re really good at expressing yourself.
Oscar DiVeroli: I would know.
Barry Kates: I’m sure of that, so what we did is we created a costume contest in multiple markets and we engaged radio stations to go ahead and be the judges of those contests. Then what we did is we got grandpa Munster, we got Freddy Kruger and Leather Face from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and we actually had them go around and become judges in all of these markets for this costume contest. Then what we did is we selected the winners from these costume contests and we actually chartered the Atlanta Hawks team plane, which was 58 first class seats. We wrapped the plane, Air Cuervo flight 1313.
We brought all of those celebrities on and we allocated half the seats for media and half the seats for the contestants winners. We flew them all to South Florida and on October the 31st we had a cocktail party with Cuervo for them and at about 11:30 we boarded this plane, Air Cuervo flight 1313 and at the stroke of midnight we’re flying over the Bermuda Triangle.
The amount of press that we got and that was obviously before 9-1-1 so Freddy Kruger was up in the cockpit and all of the, when the plane shaking and all of the air masks are coming down, it was one of those really cool unique things that would never happen anymore.
Oscar DiVeroli: Unbelievable, unbelievable. Barry you are such an inspiration to myself, to fellow entrepreneurs in South Florida, really I know you’re the chapter president for EO South Florida, but on behalf of the chapter, now and in the future thank you so much for fueling the entrepreneurial spirit in South Florida and it was a pleasure having you in studio today. Thank you so much.
Barry Kates: I really appreciate it, it’s fantastic.