Jon Schram knows information technology. He spent years troubleshooting it in the corporate world before the entrepreneurial bug bit him in Kansas City. He started in the area of IT staffing but ultimately switched his focus to IT support.
“Small businesses in the Kansas City area really needed IT support. We saw an opportunity to help companies with fewer than 200 employees and we were excited.”
However, a huge surprise nearly stopped his business just as it was getting started: September 11, 2001. The terror attacks short-circuited the economy, and Jon struggled to plug in.
“The hardest part of getting our business from zero to anything was getting the attention of customers in a terrible economy. It wasn’t just a slowdown. Everyone pushed pause on everything.”
But small businesses didn’t pause for long. While the corporate world stayed offline, smaller firms had no choice but to continue getting things done, and that included IT help. Jon’s company achieved stability, but the success he was after didn’t come until his customers opened his eyes.
“My background is engineering, and I assumed selling IT services was pretty black and white, but I was wrong. It took at least a year for me to realize that what I am actually selling is confidence that my company will keep everything working for our customers.”
Jon figured out that technology has something to do with that confidence, but not as much as reliable service, personal relationships, communication and personality.
“I slowly came around to the fact that customers are not interested in technology service. They’re interested in customer service wrapped around technology.”
A new appreciation for his customers’ point of view led to other changes that accelerated his success, including a breakthrough moment of what he calls “accidental rebranding.”
“Originally, our company name was Versent LLC, which I thought was smart and cool. We had a purple logo, and at some point decided to get matching purple shirts for employees. Our customers started referring to us as ‘the purple guys’ because of the shirts, and that’s when I had an ah-ha moment. Our name is Versent but our customers know us as ‘the purple guys,’ so I changed our name to exactly that, and it really gave us a boost.”
It’s a lesson Jon wants to share with all new businesses.
“When it comes to the identity of your business, focus on how your customers see it. Listen to them and adapt. That way, you’ll really know how your solution connects to their problem. In our case, it was so easy for customers to simply remember the color purple when they needed a computer fixed.”
Kansas City really gets behind small businesses
Greater Kansas City has been great to The Purple Guys, turning them into a multimillion-dollar business with 24 employees. Jon credits the business community in particular for the way it supports and nurtures entrepreneurs.
“There are so many organizations that foster business success. Kansas City really gets behind small businesses with everything from mentoring to skill-sharing.”
Like many entrepreneurs who have survived startup, Jon looks for opportunities to give back to the community that made his success possible.
“We encourage our employees to spend 16 hours a year helping the community in any way they can. We’ve supported the American Heart Association and filled backpacks with food for kids at Harvesters. Recently, we rented a theater for a private movie-showing for our customers. The only admission price was a food donation for Harvesters, and the donations piled up.”
For Jon Schram, growing home is about raising your business in a community you love, understand and support. It’s a philosophy that’s translated into green for The Purple Guys, and another reason for all of us in Kansas City to feel proud of our hometown.
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