Where Are They Now? Follow Up with Control Station President and Chief Executive Officer Dennis Nash
Innovation Destination Hartford met with Control Station, Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Dennis Nash in December 2015. (Read the interview: Connecticut Technology Company Success—Control Station, Inc.) At that time, the company had recently moved to a new facility in Manchester, CT, having outgrown the venture incubation space within Nerac—a global research and advisory firm located in Tolland, CT.
IDH Website Curator Nan Price recently caught up with Dennis. He shared what the company has been doing since 2015 to grow and to help manufacturers improve production efficiency.
NAN PRICE: Tell us what’s new?
DENNIS NASH: When we spoke three years ago, Control Station had just moved to a new office space. Today, we’re the same rapidly growing tech company, but we now have 12 full-time employees, a joint venture in Ireland, and customers located in nearly 60 countries.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) even recognized us as the 2018 Exporter of the Year for the state of Connecticut. Those are all great developments and signs that we’re gaining momentum as well as gaining recognition.
NAN: Has the company experienced any major pivots since we featured your story?
DENNIS: We’re actually in the midst of pivoting from a software-only business to a technology-based solutions company. If you think back to 2015, we’d just established our PlantESP product as the company’s “growth engine” and we were determining the best way to package services with the software. At the time, we were unsure of the particular service offerings customers would want. But even then we knew that clients would benefit from a more hands-on approach.
It may not be as obvious here in the Greater Hartford area, but there’s been meaningful growth in the manufacturing market’s demand for production monitoring and diagnostic solutions. Manufacturers are increasingly looking for ways to do more with less—and that includes contracting for technologies like PlantESP as well as for value-added services.
Even though PlantESP can single out a plant’s “bad actors,” not every manufacturer has the engineering resources needed to do the analysis and determine the right corrective measures. Our service offerings enable customers to realize greater value from the PlantESP software. That’s the services niche we’ve targeted and its paying dividends.
Another interesting industry trend we’re watching is the steady shift of analytics technologies and services to the cloud. That may be the next pivot for us as PlantESP was recently redesigned to support delivery via the cloud. Only a small portion of the services we provide today are performed remotely. In a way, those engagements are helping us solidify the business case for a more comprehensive cloud-based offering.
NAN: How are you continuing to build your customer base?
DENNIS: It’s easier to grow existing accounts than it is to win over new ones—that’s one I’m sure you’ve heard before. So, we try to foster a culture of responsiveness and innovation, which seems to resonate with our customers. It’s not uncommon for me to get an email from someone praising one of our engineers for going above and beyond. I love hearing when the team goes the extra mile, makes an impact, and helps a customer to be successful. That’s what keeps customers asking for more—and it’s what seems to be driving our referral sales.
Responsiveness is key too. It’s kind of funny how easy someone’s expectations are exceeded simply by acknowledging their issue. Years ago, we automated our trouble ticket system so acknowledgements are instantaneous. What’s more, we’re responding to inbound support calls in under an hour. Considering that the industry standard is six hours or more, we’re way ahead of the game.
In terms of innovation, we see each customer interaction as an opportunity. That’s a bit cliché, and not every call or meeting unearths a new product breakthrough. Most support calls are pretty simple and it’s just a matter of helping the customer activate a software license.
But sometimes we get that unexpected surprise where a customer shares details about how they’re using our software—or more specifically how they’re trying to use it—and it’s an “ah ha” moment.
Our sales team is far more sophisticated now, too. They’re proactively hosting annual review meetings with our biggest accounts and our biggest users with the goal of learning “what’s next.” When you can stay in sync with your customers and address their needs that’s bound to keep them happy. It’s no surprise that what one customer views as valuable is usually valuable to others. And just like that, we’re able to keep the virtuous cycle going round and round!
NAN: In what ways do you connect with other entrepreneurs?
DENNIS: Even these many years in, there’s still a lot to learn. Control Station clearly isn’t a startup anymore, but we’re not on a glide path to success either. I’m just at a different phase with the business and focused on different challenges.
At the start, I was laser focused on closing the next sale. Today, I spend more time on researching 401K programs and recruiting. Fortunately, I’ve cultivated a solid group of contacts over the years—other small business CEOs, venture guys, and serial entrepreneurs—people who I trust. It’s hard to know when I’ll need input, let alone on what topic. It’s nice having people who are dealing with similar challenges. It’s even better when they’ve got the answers.
I try to meet up with at least one of my contacts each month to get their take on trends, best-practices, and whatever challenges they might be facing. Over the years, I’ve gotten timely input on things as seemingly simple as sick days and vacation policy. Trust me, that stuff can keep you up at night when you’re getting started and constantly worrying about cash flow. You can’t underestimate the value of personal experience. What worked? What didn’t? Why? That’s information you can’t always get from Audible.
I also meet quarterly with the CEO of another automation company with similar revenues and a similar headcount, but he’s in hardware versus me being in software.
Our meetings focus on three things: A general update, performance against the last quarter goals, and plans for the next quarter. We’ve been meeting for several years now, so we understand each other’s business and management styles. More importantly, we’re at a point where we’re expected to hold each other accountable. It’s like having another board of directors.
NAN: What’s next for Control Station?
DENNIS: Fortunately, we’re on a nice growth trajectory. Even so, we’re looking at ways we can accelerate growth and extend our capabilities while maintaining the company’s core culture and values. We’re considering organic as well as inorganic ways of taking Control Station to the next level. Our joint venture in Ireland is one example of how we might look to expand in the future.
A key to growth will be continuing our investments in product innovation. We’re lucky to have some brilliant engineers on the team and many great ideas on our product roadmap.
It’s good being so close to the University of Connecticut too, as the school has been a major source of brainpower. Last time I checked, four out of five of our employees received at least one degree from UConn. We also recently engaged the university on a research project that could unlock new value for our customers. Hopefully that’ll lead to more sales so we can hire more UConn graduates so we can grow sales and so on and so on.
I also think it’s good to be located near a hotbed of innovative thinking and research. Hartford is becoming a magnet of sorts for entrepreneurs. There’s more and more buzz, especially in the FinTech arena.
Seven Stars, the new blockchain company that’s relocating from New York to West Hartford is just one example. All the buzz helps, as it’s making it easier to recruit. It seems as though college graduates aren’t just racing off to Boston or New York immediately after commencement. Hartford is becoming more of a draw for them. Now that we’re getting a professional soccer team, I imagine the sky is the limit!
NAN: Where do you see the entrepreneurial landscape heading in Connecticut?
DENNIS: Hartford seems to be making a steady transition from its old identity as the insurance capitol to a hub for innovators. I referenced Seven Stars when I mentioned FinTech. If that transition goes according to plan, I imagine it’ll serve as an anchor for other like-minded startups—whether in FinTech or another high-tech arena. The region would definitely benefit from an injection of youth and innovation. And where there is a critical mass of talent, I have to believe that Control Station will thrive.