Conor Smith

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am a 4th generation Montanan, father of two boys, happily married 40 something. I take pride and joy in leading and working with others to achieve goals.

Professionally I own two business:
– Professional IT services firm, First Call Computer Solutions that provides IT, cloud, web and voice solutions to organizations across Montana.
– Rental property company (Flour7sh Properties) that owns and manages 30+ “doors” in Western and Central Montana.

I’ve worked in all aspects of my businesses with the exception of the technical work. My main focus and competencies are providing the leadership, setting the strategy, finding great people and working with them to execute.

What has been one insight or lesson that has been most helpful in your career?

Business is a team sport. Embrace your gifts but be humble and accept your limitations. If you can’t build and maintain a good team your chances of actual life-giving success is minimal.

What has been your favorite mistake? A mistake that in retrospect led to a great lesson and progress.

I was (and in many ways still am) infatuated with the idea of franchising. Specifically, that you could create something good, replicate it over and over again all while making other people successful and satisfying countless customers.

I embraced this infatuation early on in the professional IT services business and I dug myself into quite a hole: mentally, financially and operationally.

That said it taught me a tremendous amount about quality, consistency, process etc. I continue to apply what I learned to this day. It also taught me that “unanswered” prayers are some of God’s greatest gifts.

Project forward ten years. How will your industry or field be fundamentally different then? What opportunities do you see?

The technology space will likely go through 2-3 significant transitions over the next 10 years. 10 years is honestly too far out to project with any certainty in this industry. Here is what I expect:
1. More and more businesses and industries will become technology dependent and in some cases technology first in terms of their sales and delivery of goods and services. This will create a lot of opportunity for professional IT services firms.
2. Trust is in scarcity right now so returning to traditional values, even if delivered in new ways is going to be critical. The technology companies that do that best will win whether it be in customer or employee acquisition/retention.
3. More and more forms of consolidation will go on in an attempt to address the complexities and opportunities of the business while also improving margins/economies of scale. Given the importance of vendor/customer/employee trust those that can both scale and develop greater trust will end up being top performers.

What are some bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Many customers are still buying “help desk” and much of our industry is still stuck in delivering it. This thinking is not only dated it is strategically risky. Organizations will continue to face digital transformation. That transformation requires planning, execution, delivery, security, workforce development etc. The “fix-it” business will always be there, but its value proposition is limited.

In the last two years, what have you become better at saying no to?

Achievement. In my 20’s I was driven around more typical business worldly definitions of achievement. Marketing really works! For much of my 30’s I was frustrated/disappointed with how I was performing against those definitions of success. I no longer define achievement the way I did when I was a younger adult and all aspects of my life are better for it.

What is the one book you recommend most often and why?

For people thinking about entrepreneurship: The Entrepreneur’s Roller Coaster by Darren Hardy. Why? It’s the one book I’ve read that best encapsulates what entrepreneurship is and what being a business owner is really like.

For business owners in their first couple of years: E-Myth by Michael Gerber Why? It’s the medicine people need when they are starting to feel like they are working themselves into the ground and can’t figure out how to change.

For mature businesses looking to get to the next level: Mastering the Art of Scaling Up by Vern Harnish and Company Why? Meaty book that gives you practical, aggregated knowledge across many disciplines in business that you need to move to the next level(s).

What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?

Per my note above: don’t let achievement take priority or at least a poor definition of it.

Consider rebooting a business versus the startup route or corporate ladder. Why? There are lots of good existing businesses out there. Many of the existing owners need a transition/exit plan in the next 5-10 years. (baby boomers) These owners have experience, know-how, proven values etc and are willing to teach. What they don’t have is someone that can help them transform the business over 5-10 years and then get them out.

Advice to ignore: Anything about scarcity and fear. Surround yourself with people who see abundance, walk in grace, love, have gratitude and define freedom not as being independent but rather in community with others.

What is your favorite quote, one you aim to live by?

Smooth seas never made for very good sailors.” There are many different versions of this saying but the message is the same: we should embrace struggle, not turn away from it, it is how we grow.