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Business Observer Friday, Nov. 23, 2018 9 months ago

Secure foundation: Safety firm builds on founder's military, tech background

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In seven years, local security company Source 1 Solutions has managed to cultivate a roster of top name-brand clients.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Security is one of the ultimate growth industries of the 21st century, given the increase in threats of all kinds from all kinds of places. 

While scary to some, those threats translate to a big opportunity for Source 1 Solutions, a Clearwater-based firm that specializes in high-tech business security systems.

“Any business goes through several stages of growth. But it’s very difficult, especially when you are the one starting the company, to let go of some things.” Robert Hessel, founder and CEO of Source 1 Solutions

Founded seven years ago by Robert Hessel, Source 1’s growth surge has catapulted it onto the Business Observer’s Top 500 list of the largest companies by revenue in the region. It ranked No. 465 with $4.4 million in revenue in 2017, up 91.3% from $2.3 million in 2016.

Source 1 employs 100 people nationwide and has hired 17 at its Clearwater headquarters over the past two years. It recently opened an office in London.

Hessel, 44, predicts an even bigger leap for 2018, estimating Source 1’s revenue for the year will be in the range of $10-$12 million.

How has Hessel done it? By landing customers such as Amalie Arena, home of the Tampa Bay Lighting, to cite one example. But securing deals with big clients doesn’t happen overnight. It takes industry knowledge and know-how, plus the not-so-secret ingredients: building relationships and taking risks.

“I'm not new to the industry,” says Hessel, who served in the U.S. Navy and then worked for a tech company as vice president of sales prior to founding Source 1 in 2011. One of the company’s business lines focused on electronic security devices and systems, to which Hessel quickly took a shine. “The margins were really strong.”

Thanks to “some luck and good contacts,” Hessel struck out on his own, self-financing Source 1. He characterizes the first four years of the business as “very difficult … we were five years into it before we got clarity of who we were and what our value was in the market.”

Hessel shoulders the blame for the slow pace of Source 1’s development in its early years, even though he says the company experienced stable, sustainable growth. “Any business goes through several stages of growth,” he says, “but it’s difficult, especially when you are the one starting the company, to let go of some things. But you can’t scale up if you don’t [let go].”

Getting involved with the Tampa chapter of Key Person of Influence, a nationwide business accelerator program, helped open Hessel’s eyes to a necessary strategic shift.

“It helped me understand how much I was still being just functional in the business, instead of vital to it,” he says, recalling his first major executive hire, a vice president of operations. “We couldn’t afford him — it was a leap of faith — but I understood that I had to start bringing in quality people to do jobs better than I could. Looking back, we couldn’t afford not to have done it.”

Taking risks on personnel freed up Hessel to focus on strategy. Soon, Source 1 found itself providing security services for events like the 2012 Republican National Convention, held in downtown Tampa. Other notable clients include the Florida Aquarium, the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga., in addition to Amalie Arena.

Hessel says Source 1 faces tough competition in the security industry, particularly from large, multinational companies like Indianapolis-based Stanley Convergent Security Solutions Inc. But because Source 1 is a managed services provider, not a manufacturer of its own equipment (it has a long-standing relationship with Honeywell), it can operate as more of a channel distributor. That means it works with companies that, on paper, might look like competitors.

“We’ll help them in places where we have a good concentration of field services or technical capabilities,” Hessel says. “Our conversations are  different than what a traditional security company’s would be. We have a lot of ‘frenemies,’ not as many enemies.”

Hessel sees wirelessly networked security systems as the company’s top area for growth, with traditional video surveillance installations providing a solid revenue stream.  

“The second half of 2018 has been incredible, and next year is going to be gangbusters,” he says. “It’s been quite a ride.”

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