Rob Hessel talks about Dublin, Dubai expansion

Source 1 Solutions, a managed IT services and outsourcing provider based in Clearwater, started off basically as a one-man show, led by Rob Hessel, with no revenue and now is an international company on track to make between $13 million and $15 million in 2019.

Bridgette Bello, CEO and publisher of TBBW interviewed Hessel in front of a sold-out, live audience at Workscapes in Tampa. This transcript has been edited for length and brevity. See photos from the event below.

In the interview, you alluded to opening a Dublin office in the future. Where are you at on that?

We are opening a Dublin office. In fact, I’m flying over on December 27 to finalize everything. We should be ready for business on January 2.

What happens after that? What’s next?

We haven’t made it public, but we’ll be looking to open a Dubai office somewhere towards the end of 2020. The reason for that is to round out the ability for our customers to purchase from us. We do business all over the globe. Dubai gives us the opportunity to procure out of Asia and be a little closer to their time zone, and hopefully, that’s the last one. That will be office four or five.

So, opening in Dubai is strategic and not just because it’s sexy to say, ‘I’m opening an office in Dubai?’

A little bit of both. [laughs]

I’m surprised to hear you say office four or five, and that’s enough. How do you determine that?

Well, there’s never enough business. But especially internationally, all of the compliance issues, the regulatory issues, the tax issues…a lot of our customers would like us to have an entity in every country. That’s just impossible. I mean, we’re not that big and I don’t ever want to see us get that big. I don’t know. I lied when I said Dublin would be the last one. So, we’ll see.

Tell us a funny business story where you learned a tough lesson or something that you can share that could help somebody else in this room?.

I’m in IT so nothing is funny. I’m seeing everyone’s eyes glaze over as we speak. I’m not technical so besides turning the button on and off, that’s about the end of it for me.

But the best business story I learned was when I started Source 1, I never had an intention to get into the international market and we had a customer out of New York reach out to us and say, ‘Listen, you’ve done a great job for us. Could you do something for us in Latin America? And of course, when in the startup phase, the answer is yes. Now, what’s the question? I’m like, of course, we can do that. We’ll just give a little bit longer lead time. We’ll ship some equipment down there and if something goes wrong, we’ll send one of our engineers down and he’ll be able to sort it out.

I got really lucky because nothing actually went wrong, which is unusual in the IT business. Then it started with some project work from them, which we learned a lot from growing pains at that point. That was really the spawn of us getting into doing a global business. We learned about partnering with other companies and how to vet those companies. And then you start learning about different cultures, which has probably been the most fun part for me.

I grew up in a really small town in Michigan. Most people never even leave Michigan. It’s a big deal for me to have gotten to have that opportunity. So, the best lesson that I learned out of that was it’s never going to be perfect. Say yes and figure it out.

We have a lot of entrepreneurs in the room and I posted something on social media this morning that was not original. I’m going to paraphrase it, it said ‘the definition of an entrepreneur is a crazy person who’s willing to give up money for freedom as opposed to freedom for money. Talk about being an entrepreneur and being willing to step out of corporate America and do it on your own.

I definitely could have made a lot more money, in the beginning for sure. I had plenty of great job offers, but I just didn’t really want to do it. Every company I ever went to work for, as soon as you took somebody to the next phase of growth, the rules changed, either the contract was too big, so they want to change your compensation. Or in a lot of cases, the ego gets too bruised and all of a sudden you become a micromanager, and it just never seemed to work out. I had some good support people around me and they convinced me while in Key West during Mini Lobster Season. And if anybody’s been to mini-season, then they know what kind of frame of mind you’re in. Everything’s a good idea. I’m like, yeah, let’s do it.

People think it’s an overnight success, but it’s been eight and a half years where we have eaten dirt and have been punched in the face and each time we try to get up and learn from it and take the next step forward.

I think the big secret sauce for us is our people, we’ve only had two people quit in eight and a half years.

Talk about the beginning and how you’ve grown. What’s that been like for you and your team?

In the beginning, it’s small and the rules are different. Everything’s committee decisions and everybody can stay happy. This guy’s not trying to date this girl and everybody just kind of gets along. Now it’s a very different company at Source 1. That’s probably the thing that I’m having the biggest trouble managing now, especially being gone, is the cultural change. You know, more people, more problems.

That’s the only thing that we struggle with right now is some people still will say, well that’s not how we used to do it. Well I know, but if we still did it that way, we would be really stuck in the mud bad. So that’s probably what I deal with. The biggest challenge now, besides having to be on top of financials all the time, is really trying to mind the culture. I’m a horrible manager, which is why I’ve had to get a good management team around me. The culture has changed a lot but I think we still have the same values, hopefully, we do, and we’ll keep trucking along.

And you actually, this past year, made the decision to hand over the CEO title and step out of the day to day operations. Right?

I gave over the president and chief operating officer title, and it was tremendously difficult for the ego to do it. So, if anybody is going through that phase, that’s normal, because you get through this whole, ‘Oh they don’t need me anymore’ feeling. Your job is to think, and strategize, and look at the future and not get caught up in the day to day stuff. That’s why you have a great team around you. Easier said, harder to do.

What you really did was go to Costa Rica and start buying stuff to hang out in. Right?

That makes it a little easier.

Do you want to talk about the property and Costa Rica?

It was a couple of buddies of mine. We’ve been going to Costa Rica for a long time and it was the right place and right time. And we had an opportunity to buy a hotel, restaurant and bar down there, which none of us are in that business, so that was a good idea [laughs]. It’s called The Hotel Trident if you want to look it up. ♦

About CEO Connect

TBBW’s “CEO Connect” series is an exclusive, invitation-only, monthly event that brings together many of the Tampa Bay area’s top business leaders to meet and mingle. Presenting sponsors were Workscapes, Insperity and Valspar | Copperheads. Gold sponsors were Provise and DCE Productions.

The evening begins with a cocktail reception for about 120 guests, followed by a live interview of well-known C-level executives who provide insight into their personal lives, careers and views on issues affecting the business community.

Partnering with TBBW on this event provides an opportunity to network with the area’s business elite, generate new business opportunities and increase brand awareness.

For information about event sponsorship opportunities, email Jason Baker at [email protected].

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