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Looking for unicorns

  • By Steven Benna
  • | 11:00 a.m. August 5, 2016
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
  • Entrepreneurs
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Executive Summary
Company. Nitro Mobile Solutions Industry. Technology Key. Central office with in-house museum helps attract talent.

Nitro Mobile Solutions CEO Pete Slade is known to take on an employee in foosball during the workday. He's pretty good at it, too.

Newly appointed COO George Hall, who joined the company in June, is able to wear jeans to work for the first time. He didn't have to wear a tie, either, and was able to get “a lot more oxygen,” Slade jokes.

Tampa-based Nitro Mobile Solutions offers customized solutions to help clients use technology for business optimization, Hall says. One of its key products, Nitro Server, is focused on connecting data, increasing security and improving IT management.

“We are not a low-cost vendor,” Slade says. “We act as a partner for success. There are very few one-and-done projects.”

Slade declines to share specific revenue figures for 2015, but the company posted revenue of $2.2 million in 2014. From 2012 to 2014, Nitro grew revenues by 1,797%, he says. He says Nitro, which has 26 employees, has maintained growth along that curve through 2015 and the first half of 2016.

For Slade and rapidly growing Nitro Mobile Solutions, offering company perks — like the foosball table — help promote creativity and maintain a culture of innovation.

Starving artists
The key to getting hired at Nitro Mobile Solutions — and being successful with the tech firm — is passion. Slade looks for people who would be doing exactly what they're doing, no matter what.

“I would be doing what I'm doing now either way,” he says. “Luckily, there's money in tech. But it's like being a starving artist. We want people who feel that way.”

Specifically, Slade wants to know what candidates are working on, excluding any projects related to school or their current job. “If they're in it because they love it, they'll be working on something on their own.”

So far, as shown by the significant year-over-year jumps in revenue, Nitro has been able to find the right people. Hall, who has more than 30 years of experience in business processes and operations, says a true sense of universal communication at Nitro stands out to him. He says people respond to each other and share ideas at all hours, seven days a week, even though they aren't required to work nights.

But finding people is still the company's biggest challenge. Molly Slade, Nitro's vice president of operations and Pete Slade's wife, says it is currently looking to fill 10 open positions.
She goes through at least 50 resumes per day.

“We joke that we're looking for unicorns,” Pete Slade says.

Slade has a list of out-of-the-ordinary questions, which he declines to share, that he asks candidates to put them in an uncomfortable situation or to test their critical thinking skills. And during the interview process, any one person has veto power.

Keeping it cool
Nitro's move to a new central office, located at 501 E. Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa, was part of a strategic effort by Slade. The 9,000-square-foot office, three times the size of its previous location, isn't fully occupied by Nitro and will accommodate future growth.

More importantly, however, is the environment inside the office. The foosball table is part of it, but the cool atmosphere starts right at the entrance, where Slade has set up a museum with historical pieces that show the evolution of technology. Some of Slade's favorite items in the museum include a first generation iPod and an Altair 8800, the computer that started Microsoft.

Slade doesn't know — or want to know — how many pieces he has in the museum and how much he has spent on them, but he loves what they stand for as a whole. “The things out there, they show the rate of progression in technology,” he says. “It's accelerating fact.”

He says some of the items we're using today will soon be included in the museum.

That progression, coupled with the historic value of some of the items, creates excitement around the office when a new item comes in. “If we've found the right people, hopefully they're not asking what it is,” Slade says.

Other features in the office include Star Wars cut outs in each conference room, a dartboard, a treadmill desk and the Nitrosaurus — a dinosaur that employees can get in and walk around. Even the Nitrosaurus is powered by technology; it has a screen inside of it and a camera in the front so the person inside can see, Slade says.

Bobby Meyers, a senior software developer at Nitro, says these perks keep the office laid back and encourage creativity. “I like how open and collaborative and creative it is here,” Meyers says.

Meyers has been with Nitro for nearly two years. He says he was drawn to the forward-thinking environment that gets employees excited to come to work. He also says he likes the themed conference room and that his desk can be littered with action figures.

According to Meyers, Nitro provides somewhat of a work-hard, play-hard feel at the office, where everyone has ownership of his or her work and is respected as a professional but has the option to play a game or walk around in a dinosaur. “We take our foosball pretty seriously here,” Meyers says.

That aligns directly with Slade's ultimate goal of creating a collaborative work environment. But he says the firm is results oriented. “You can get your work done your way, but get it done.”

Slade compares the open, free-flowing feel to an organizational chart. “I believe that magic happens in the white space between all the boxes,” he says.

Partner for success
Every solution provided by Nitro Mobile Solutions is customized to each client's personal and industry needs. For example, firms in manufacturing focus on reducing waste and improving their bottom line, Hall says. For companies in health care, a common challenge is insurance collection. “We can help them automate that process,” Hall says.

Because of the fluctuation in each custom offering, there is no set price for Nitro's services. Aside from saying they don't compete on price, Hall and Slade declined to offer a range.
“That's like saying, how long is a piece of string?” Slade says. Hall adds: “It's easy to have a set cost if the solution is something out of a box. That's not what we do.”

One key piece of their strategy as executives is actually turning down business. Potential clients need to prove one thing: commitment.

“We work with CEO, COO, CFO level people,” Slade says. “It's not hard to get a good sense of their level of commitment. They have to be willing to put their resources and effort behind it.”

Moving forward, the growth forecast at Nitro is expected to continue along the growth curve it currently follows.

But having specific growth goals, says Slade, just is not possible for his company. “That's like asking where technology will be in five years,” he says. “But wherever it goes, we'll be there.”


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