John Burgess and Mark McClelland, co-founders and President and Vice President, respectively, of Mainstream Technologies went from promising careers as Financial Application Managers at Dillard to starting a new tech business in 1996. Although the internet was young and internet support businesses were few at that time, these two mavericks were brave enough to take that entrepreneurial leap of faith and visionary enough to know their futures would be bright. Mainstream Technologies began with only three employees and has grown to over 50 employees today.
John attended Bryant High School and afterward initially studied Aerospace Engineering at Virginia Tech. He transferred to UALR and completed his undergraduate degree in Computer Science.
Mark holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Data Processing and Quantitative Analysis from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
Not surprisingly, John volunteers with organizations that have a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) emphasis including the Museum of Discovery, Arkansas AIMS, The Little Rock School District EXCEL Technology program, the EIT Leadership council at UALR and the Little Rock Tech Park.
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[0:00:03.2] TB: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Be sure to stay tuned till the end of the show to hear how you can get a copy of this program and other helpful documents.
Now, it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
[0:00:19.1] KC: This show, Up In Your Business, with me Kerry McCoy began with entrepreneurs in mind, a platform for me, a small business owner and my guests and today, two guests, to pay forward our experiential knowledge in a conversational way.
And, with all new endeavors, it has had some unexpected outcomes like the show is not just for entrepreneurs and wannabe entrepreneurs but for everyone. We are all inspired by everyday people’s American made stories of how they worked hard, took risks and found their voice.
Another is that business is creative, more so than I ever really thought. Last, behind each of my successful guest is the heart of a teacher. Before I introduce my two guests today, I’d like to follow up on last week’s show where I paid tribute to my mother’s passing, thank you to everyone who sent me their condolences. I had so many nice shout out’s from people, thank you very much.
I enjoyed reading every one of them and felt a connection that we all shared during this. I guess we’re all going to have this season of our life. Today, my guests are John Burgess and Mark McClelland, cofounders of Mainstream Technology in Little Rock, Arkansas.
I’m going to make these two smart guys dumb down their conversation, they’re laughing. For those of us who want to learn either about starting a business and living the American dream or on a personal level, how technology is going to change the way we do things in the future and of course, you may want to learn about their services and want to hire their company Mainstream Technologies.
If you’re just tuning in for the first time, you may be asking yourself, what’s this lady’s story and why does she have a radio show? Well, Tim is here to tell you.
[0:01:59.5] TB: Thank you Kerry. Over 40 years ago, with only $400, Kerry McCoy founded Arkansas Flag and Banner. During the last four decades, the business has grown and changed dramatically from door to door sales, to telemarketing, to mail order and catalog sales and now, Flag and Banner relies heavily on the internet.
Including our newest feature, live chatting. Each decade required a change in sales strategy and procedures. Her business and leadership knowledge grew with the time and experience, as well as confidence to branch out into multimedia marketing that began with our nonprofit, Dreamland Ballroom.
As well as our in house publication, Brave Magazine and this very radio show you’re listening to now. Each week on this show, you’ll hear candid conversations between her and our guest about real world experiences on a variety of business and topics that we hope you’ll find interesting.
Kerry says that many business rules like treat your employees well, know your profit margin, and have a succession plan can be applied across most industries. What I find encouraging is her example that hard work pays off.
Did you know that for nine years while starting Flag and Banner, she supplemented her income with many part time jobs and that just shows that her persistence, perseverance and patience, prevailed. Today, Flag and Banner has 10 departments and I have 25 coworkers.
It reminds us all that small businesses are the fuel of our country’s economic engine and they really do empower people’s lives. If you would like to ask Kerry a question or share your experience or story, you can send an email to email@example.com.
[0:03:39.3] KM: I have two guests today and they are John Burgess and Mark McClelland. Cofounders and president and vice president respectively of Mainstream Technologies in Little Rock Arkansas. These two mavericks went from promising careers as financial application managers.
I think that’s software, isn’t it software developers? Okay, it’s radio, you can’t nod. Look, they’re both going… as financial application manager software developers at Dillard’s to starting a tech business in 1996.
Jonathan attended Brian high school and afterward, initially studied aerospace engineering at Virginia tech before transferring to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and completing his undergraduate degree in computer science.
Mark holds a bachelor of science degree in data processing and quantitative analysis which he just told me is just –
[0:04:34.3] MM: A fancy word for statistics.
[0:04:35.8] KM: I like it. Quantitative analysis from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. In 1996, only one year after the internet was released to the public, the internet support business and internet support businesses were far and few between.
John and Mark saw an opportunity and took the all American entrepreneurial leap of faith and left their secure and lucrative careers at Dillard’s and founded Mainstream Technologies. These two guys may seem like rigid intellects but I can promise you, in the last two decades, they have stayed flexible and open to change or they wouldn’t be sitting here with me today.
Technology has changed the way we all do personal and professional business and Mark and John’s company has been a beacon of light to guide many businesses through the storms of change including mine, Arkansas Flag and Banner.
Anybody doing business with mainstream technology can count themselves lucky to have such a solid and dependable business partner in these often unsecure confusing and ever changing technological times. It is a pleasure to welcome to the table, the mavericks.
Ya’ll never thought you were mavericks did you?
[0:05:46.0] JB: No.
[0:05:46.4] KM: Mavericks and cofounders of Mainstream Technologies, John Burgess and Mark McClelland.
[0:05:53.6] MM: That was good, thank you Kerry, can we use that?
[0:05:55.5] KM: You can use every bit of it. We were talking right before we came on about how long we’ve known each other and when I was doing the research on your company, you started 1996, I thought to myself, “I’ve been with you since you very first opened up.”
But, you guys, when you got here and we started talking about it, said “No, 2004” and I said “No, no.” Mark, you know, because we live in the world we live in today, you emailed back at the office and they said, I was actually a customer since 2005.
[0:06:23.7] MM: That is correct.
[0:06:24.9] KM: You started your company, not as the company that I know it as but tell us, it started as a software company?
[0:06:34.4] MM: Yes.
[0:06:34.7] KM: What kind of software?
[0:06:37.1] MM: Just contract development. We would hire ourselves out to anybody that needed –
[0:06:42.4] KM: It’s got to be more specific than that because there is – I mean, you can do all kinds of software, you can do banking software, you can do –
[0:06:49.5] MM: We do all kinds of software but the first thing we did was a hazardous waste tracking application.
[0:06:56.6] KM: Tracked hazardous waste?
[0:06:57.4] MM: Yeah, it was a company in northwest Arkansas that’s no longer there, they had a company like Mainstream and they knew one of our former partners, I think they went to college together and they had just signed this contract to write their software for this company in Illinois and they had nobody that had any of the skills to actually do the project.
This friend of a friend started talking and laid it out for us and it was the things that we knew how to do, the things that we were good at fit perfectly, the skills that they needed for this job. You said you started Flag and Banner with $400 and we scraped together $300 and started Mainstream.
[0:07:48.2] KM: You were still working for Dillard’s?
[0:07:50.2] JB: Yeah, we left Dillard’s when we decided we had a contract for at least six months and we left knowing that we were going to be subcontracting and were going to be paid weekly so that we didn’t have cash flow issues. There was not investment, we didn’t sell our 401(k)’s or anything like that, we basically went into business knowing that we were going to make our payroll that next week and we just took the leap at that point in time.
[0:08:19.0] KM: How many employees did you start with?
[0:08:20.9] MM: Three.
[0:08:21.4] JB: Three.
[0:08:22.7] KM: How many do you have now?
[0:08:24.5] MM: 61 with two contractors.
[0:08:27.3] KM: You did a six month contract and you thought, “What if this doesn’t work out, what am I going to do next?”
[0:08:32.3] MM: Yes.
[0:08:33.3] JB: Everybody at Dillard said that we would be back, they were waiting for us to fail.
[0:08:37.2] KM: They would have taken you back?
[0:08:38.3] JB: I think so.
[0:08:39.2] MM: We had a good safety net, we left on good terms with the upper management and they would have taken us back I believe.
[0:08:46.7] KM: What software did you write for them? For Dillard’s? It was an accounting software wasn’t it?
[0:08:52.2] MM: Well, I was in charge of the financial applications group which were responsible for point of sale, credit card authorization, general ledger, all the accounting systems, all the programmers that develop that software for Dillard’s worked for me. John was in logistics or vendor supply chain, go ahead John.
[0:09:15.5] JB: Yeah, any of the systems that were involved in ordering merchandise and then receiving and then shipping that merchandise to the stores, all of that kind of fell under my belly. I had a group of programmers that reported to me.
[0:09:28.1] KM: There’s a big building out behind Dillard’s that’s this big concrete building that I watched them build and I have heard rumors that that is their computer building, is that true?
[0:09:37.4] JB: Their computer building is up the street just a little ways from that major building where they house all their corporate personnel.
[0:09:45.0] KM: Right, there’s the big Dillard’s building, the packet house and then there’s this low building right at the curve, right at the train station, is that really full of mainframes and whatever kind of computers that –
[0:09:56.6] MM: Yes it is.
[0:09:57.7] KM: Temperature controlled?
[0:09:59.4] MM: Yes.
[0:10:00.0] KM: Dillard’s has never had to like go out and buy software like the rest of us and do software upgrades, they just own, they just wrote and own their own software that you guys helped write a long time ago and they’ve stayed with that?
[0:10:16.7] MM: They’re constantly rewriting that software as their business changes, it’s changed dramatically over the years, so they’re constantly rewriting software and a business that large and that complex depends on bought software as well.
[0:10:29.6] KM: It does?
[0:10:31.3] MM: Yes.
[0:10:31.4] KM: You know, every time Arkansas Flag and Banner has done a software upgrade, it has almost bankrupted me. You know, they always tell you it’s going to cost you $50,000, it always cost $100,000. They always tell you it’s going to be streamlined, it’s never streamlined, you end up losing sales, losing productivity, sales productivity and really, the tracking of your finances. Every time, they’re talking about doing it again Tim, this year. Did you know that?
[0:11:00.8] TB: I’ve heard.
[0:11:02.4] KM: It’s scares me to death every time they talk about doing an upgrade. Internet and website upgrades. Frightening.
[0:11:11.1] MM: Yes. Everything is so complicated and so interconnected that it’s hard to touch one thing without breaking another, or you have so many jobs and processes that depend on the software that –
[0:11:24.6] KM: When people want to buy these little out of box softwares, it’s not as fool proof as people think unless it’s a more of a mom and pop store I would think? What do you think? Do ya’ll make websites? I mean, do ya’ll make website designs? Ya’ll don’t, do you?
[0:11:40.2] MM: No, that’s not one of them.
[0:11:42.4] KM: You started off as a software writer, when did you decide – I met you in 2005 and you began to take care of my – what’s that called? My server and backup servers and protection. When did you decide to go from software, writing software to doing broader mainstream technology?
[0:12:03.8] MM: About three months before we signed with you.
[0:12:09.6] KM: I believe that.
[0:12:11.6] JB: We gained a little bit of experience when we developed an application for a former relationship that we had out of Dillard’s and a company was formed by a former relationship and they essentially brought us a software product on a napkin and said, “We would like for you to write this for us.” We developed that application for them and then naturally, their next step was, well, you need to host it also.
You need to take care of all the operation side of it which we had no skills to do that. We hired skills to begin supporting that application and running it, the term back then was ASP which I can’t remember exactly what the acronym means but we would basically just be hosting. It was software as a service we were running for them for their customers.
[0:12:58.5] KM: You were just hosting like a website? Or just a server?
[0:13:02.3] MM: No, this is a full blown application that we had written, we actually kind of developed it and tried to run it, distributed across all their client base and then we brought it back in house but the point is –
[0:13:13.7] KM: You still write for Dillard’s?
[0:13:14.8] JB: No, would never do anything for Dillard’s.
[0:13:16.6] KM: I thought you just said that was for Dillard’s that you wrote?
[0:13:18.0] MM: It was for a relationship, a former employee of Dillard’s who went out and started their own company and John had a relationship with them and they kind of came back to us knowing that we were in the software development.
[0:13:29.9] KM: I see, when I got – when I bought flagandbanner.com in 1995 when I heard of it, ya’ll started Mainstream Technology when I first heard of the internet. Ya’ll started Mainstream Technology in 1996 because you got an offer to write some software and you thought, “We could go out and do this on our own maybe.”
There were a lot of companies before I met you in 2004 that are no longer here and ya’ll are still here. I mean, both of us were on the bleeding edge of a revolution in the way businesses do business.
It almost bankrupted me. I had to put a second mortgage on my house. Let me see if I can remember any of the people I worked with before you, Conley?
[0:14:12.6] MM: I remember them.
[0:14:13.7] KM: It was a woman, one of the smartest women I’ve ever met. I think she got so tired to teaching everybody how to turn a computer on and what the internet was that she decided, and what a database meant, and that she left town and moved to a bigger city where I think she had more like minded people.
Her business Conley something was no longer here and then I think I was with – it’s not Win, it was Web Links, World Links? Does that sound like an old –
[0:14:43.1] MM: Yes.
[0:14:43.7] KM: They used to host my servers before ya’ll did and then they folded. Ya’ll are nodding.
[0:14:51.2] JB: A lot of change.
[0:14:52.3] KM: Why do ya’ll think that ya’ll stayed the course? I mean, really, I can’t think of anybody that’s still around.
[0:15:01.5] MM: We’ve been very fortunate.
[0:15:03.3] KM: Don’t be modest, really, why?
[0:15:04.8] MM: Well, I mean, a lot of it is good fortune that when a very good friend of ours, when we first started the business, a good mentor of ours and used to give me some advice. I remember him saying, when we first started, he goes “You know, you guys got a good thing going… I’ll be interested to see how you do when the first bad thing happens.”
For 20 years, I’ve been wondering, have we had the bad thing? We’ve had some bad things happen and I always wonder, “Okay, is this the one he was talking about or was it the last one or is it yet to come?” You know, we’ve been fortunate that we’ve had – when bad things have happened, we’ve had some, at least one very stable client or relationship going on that kind of tied us over, that we could use as a bridge across a gap.
The reason that you're a customer of ours today is that we’ve made the decision literally three months before we signed you that we needed to diversify away form software development because the infrastructure, the IT services was more recurring monthly recurring revenue that we could predict where the software development, while it’s very lucrative, is these big, large projects that you have to ramp up a lot for, you do them and then they rant down and then if you don’t have something else in the wings, then you’re all looking around at each other like “Okay, what do we do next?”
[0:16:33.0] JB: Substantial peaks and valleys in software development.
[0:16:36.0] KM: You don’t want to lose your great programmers? Because you can’t get them back, you have to keep your payroll on, I never thought about it like that.
[0:16:43.3] MM: I’ll give you an idea, the fortunate thing that really happened to us and that is, early in our business career probably 2001, somewhere in that neighborhood, we had one of our largest customer file bankruptcy on us, but it was a reorg.
They filed a reorg against us for $238,000 and we were a company of about 10 at one time.
[0:17:06.6] JB: 10, 12 people.
[0:17:10.1] MM: The interesting thing was, when a company files for reorg, you have no secure debt whatsoever, you’re going to lose what they currently owe you but we were added to a preferred vendor list and we did business with that company for 19 more years and they paidus millions of dollars.
[0:17:30.2] KM: That’s not letting your ego get in the way.
[0:17:32.1] MM: Right.
[0:17:33.9] KM: You know, I think that some small businesses do that.
[0:17:37.1] JB: It was taking what we could get.
[0:17:40.1] MM: Right, yeah. It was a situation where we recognized the opportunity and we felt that they would recover and they did but that is fortunate.
[0:17:49.1] JB: We had a great relationship with the people that we knew in the business and there was – they liked what we did, the trusted us to do good work for them and we trusted that they would take care of us on the backside and –
[0:17:59.3] KM: You didn’t take it personally? You looked at it right from a business point of view.
[0:18:02.6] MM: Purely.
[0:18:03.7] KM: Purely, that’s smart. This is a great place to take a break. When we come back, we’ll pick the big brains of John and Mark some more, founders of the Mainstream Technology: What does the future look like in this fast paced world of computer science and how will that affect you, the user? And at the bottom of the hour, we’ll be taking calls so listen and get your questions ready.
[0:18:25.5] TB: You’re listening to up in your business with Kerry McCoy. If you missed any part of this show, a podcast will be made available next week at flagandbanner.com’s website. If you prefer to listen on iTunes, YouTube or Soundcloud, you’ll find those links there as well. Lots of listening options, we’ll be right back.
[0:19:11.8] KM: You’re listening to Up In Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, I’m speaking today with John Burgess and Mark McClelland, cofounders of Mainstream Technology in downtown Little Rock Arkansas.
Let’s talk about all the things you offer. Desktop support now which is new, internet support, you don’t do web design?
[0:19:31.5] JB: We’ll do web design if it’s in the context of a larger software pro – if we’re writing a large application for you that has like a website component or has a mobile app component, we’ll do those but we don’t lead with those.
[0:19:42.9] KM: Okay, yeah. Because I’ve tried to get ya’ll to – remember when I was trying to get – we have so much history together. I don’t think I can ever interview anybody I don’t have a lot of history with because it’s so much fun.
I had this guy, Joe Colbert working for me and he left and he wrote some crazy software and when we updated the website, we couldn’t get it to work and your guy over there kept saying to me, because ya’ll didn’t do very much internet design at that time.
“I don’t know, we’re not going to look at your shopping cart, that’s your problem.” I was so mad at him. I went in and pulled it up on the board and they pulled up the code behind my shopping cart and it had these “NA, NA, NA,” I said, “What are all those NA’s?”
He goes, “I don’t know.” I say, “Well, that could be what the problem is” and it was. I thought, “Boy, I’m a programmer now.” He wouldn’t even look at it. He would not even look at it. Anyway, just had the bust out on that too. He’s not there I’m sure, that was a long time ago.
Anyway, internet, web design, storage, that’s what you’ve always done for me.
[0:20:46.2] MM: Yeah.
[0:20:47.2] KM: Lots of storage. By tell everybody what storage means?
[0:20:50.9] JB: Well, it depends on whether the storage is –
[0:20:52.6] KM: Mark can’t talk. He can’t get over what I said to him.
[0:20:56.5] MM: I’m quickly trying to remember exactly what contract I had in place with you right now Kerry.
[0:21:02.7] KM: I just signed once so you’re stuck.
[0:21:04.7] MM: The agreement we have in place with you is to support your on premise devices. As far as all of the resources that you utilize or your servers or your desktop, your switches, your firewalls and what have you, you own all of that and so we don’t actually keep any of your storage on our premise, we have our own data center downtown Little Rock but everything that we do for you is on premise. We charge you based upon the number of devices in which we manage for you. Do you have a question?
[0:21:37.2] KM: I thought we were backing up some stuff downtown? Are we not?
[0:21:40.9] MM: No, as part of our third-party suite, backup is included but it is backed up to the cloud. You have a backup servers now that is not within our datacenter but it is a cloud based third-party vendor.
[0:21:54.9] KM: For everybody who wants to know –
[0:21:55.8] MM: We manage it for you.
[0:21:57.4] JB: Yes, we manage it for you.
[0:21:59.5] KM: Let’s tell everybody where you are in downtown, you got a really cool building as your business grew, you were lucky enough to get the – what was that building before you got it? The Federal.
[0:22:07.5] MM: Former Federal Reserve Bank building of Little Rock, it was the backup facility for the Saint Louis Federal Reserve.
[0:22:16.6] KM: It’s a vault?
[0:22:17.0] JB: It is a vault, it’s a bunker.
[0:22:18.9] KM: It’s a bunker.
[0:22:20.1] MM: They used to destroy money in there and it used to have armed guards and two entrance doors for the security vehicles to drive through and they would take money out and shred it and burn it.
[0:22:35.4] KM: Why would you shred and burn money?
[0:22:37.4] JB: Old money.
[0:22:37.7] MM: Old money.
[0:22:38.8] KM: My favorite kind of money is old money, I don’t understand.
[0:22:40.8] JB: We still find a little, you can find little tiny little pieces of money every so often, you’ll find one laying on the floor.
[0:22:46.3] KM: They’re trying to tape it all together?
[0:22:48.1] JB: That would be a job.
[0:22:48.6] MM: We would look real close.
[0:22:50.1] JB: We couldn’t find anything.
[0:22:50.8] KM: It’s really great place for ya’ll to have a secure place because everybody wants – security is a big issue and a problem today. Marla Johnson was on here from Aristotle and I was talking to her about security and hackers because we’ve been hacked, you know.
Ya’ll are constantly coming over there and installing new security software and she said that really and truly, nobody is secure – if somebody wants in, you can get in.
[0:23:22.8] MM: Yeah. Eventually, they will – if they’re interested in getting into your business, eventually they will find a way into your business. The strategy is just to make yourself, just do the stuff that you, any reasonable person should do to keep their information secure and make yourself less appealing than your neighbor, just like you do at home.
[0:23:45.9] KM: Being in that – I always thought being in that building, a federal reserve building, it was a bunker, I always felt like that would keep ya’ll more secure but not necessarily?
[0:23:54.2] MM: From a physical standpoint, yes. But not from a cyber standpoint.
[0:23:58.2] JB: We still have to have wires in and out and that’s how they get in.
[0:24:01.6] MM: The weakest link in the security chain is the individual, the human being, meaning, if an individual can make themselves look like you from a credential standpoint, they’re in. That’s one thing why you have to practice good password levels, extreme levels of password security and just do the basics.
[0:24:25.9] KM: Of all the things you do, did I miss one, desktop support, storage, backup, server support, internet web design, software, you’re still – I imagine still –
[0:24:36.3] JB: Most of our business, yes.
[0:24:38.0] KM: What is most of your business?
[0:24:39.7] MM: Yes, we do a COLO, which is colocation, you can put your servers within our datacenter and we also sell infrastructure which says, if you don’t want to own servers anymore, you can rent our servers within our datacenter to run your operations from.
[0:24:55.8] KM: I did that when I was – when we first got on the internet, we would always rent our servers.
[0:25:00.2] MM: Right.
[0:25:00.6] JB: Well this is you know, everybody talks about the cloud. We call this the private cloud because you are the only person in the cloud, it’s your little cloud.
[0:25:10.0] KM: And there’s no security issues that are coming into your building and getting onto the computer that’s within your building? I mean that seems like there’d be security issues about that. So they’re able to come into – they’re able to bring their customers and everybody into your facility which is probably linked up to other –
[0:25:28.2] JB: Well we have an area of our data center for customers because a lot of our customers don’t ever want to see their computers. They put them with us and then they’re kind of out of sight, out of mind. We manage them for them and we take care of –
[0:25:42.5] KM: So I guess there is no security issues, even though they can log into their own.
[0:25:46.3] JB: Yeah, they log in remotely and run their business remotely from their computer in our place.
[0:25:49.6] MM: Well they come over secured VPN connections so.
[0:25:53.1] JB: But we have an area in the data center for customers that do want to come lay hands on their box and we issue them a badge and get their fingerprint and draw an approval list so they can come in, come and go to their computer as they need to.
[0:26:07.7] KM: So whose your client? Who do you think is your biggest client is?
[0:26:10.9] MM: Our biggest client currently is the Department of Finance and Administration.
[0:26:15.0] KM: Of Arkansas?
[0:26:16.3] MM: OF Arkansas.
[0:26:17.0] KM: How small do you go? Me, am I as small as you’d go a $3 million company?
[0:26:21.3] MM: You’re probably on the smaller end.
[0:26:25.0] JB: From an IT standpoint, 20 users.
[0:26:28.6] KM: 20 users, oh okay.
[0:26:32.6] JB: Devices.
[0:26:34.9] MM: And that is another example of how we’ve evolved over the years is we’ve deliberately been raising kind of the floor of the size of projects that we’ll take on.
[0:26:49.5] KM: So you started off taking on smaller projects and you grew to bigger ones now?
[0:26:53.8] MM: Yes.
[0:26:54.3] JB: Yes.
[0:26:54.6] KM: Because you got more selective?
[0:26:55.8] MM: We got more selective because after analysing an experience, we’ve learned that it is harder to make money on the smaller projects, smaller customers, so we’ve intentionally raised our floor overtime to – it just helps and it is easier to support larger customers. There’s more margin, obviously there’s more to gain.
[0:27:17.7] KM: So of all the things you do, what do you think you do the best? So we found out who your customers are, what do you think is the best thing you do? I know what I think it is.
[0:27:25.4] JB: I still believe that we do application development better than anybody in the State of Arkansas.
[0:27:29.8] KM: Software.
[0:27:30.3] JB: Yes.
[0:27:31.0] KM: And you are not specific about what kind of software you do? You just bring a problem to me and I’ll do it.
[0:27:38.4] MM: Yeah, we manage the state employee and public teacher health insurance program for DFNA. We do some work for the My School info page at the Department of Education that rolled out last year where you can see your school’s ACT scores and compare them to others. We wrote that, supply chain management.
[0:27:58.3] KM: What’s your favorite language?
[0:28:01.0] JB: Profanity. That’s the first language every program we’ve learned and the only one that most of them ever get good at.
[0:28:09.6] KM: No, really do you have one that you like the best?
[0:28:12.0] JB: Mark and I are such dinosaurs now that we probably –
[0:28:14.8] KM: You really don’t know.
[0:28:16.3] JB: They don’t let us write coding.
[0:28:17.1] MM: No, they won’t let us.
[0:28:18.2] KM: So what did they write it on, Open Source? Probably not.
[0:28:20.3] MM: Probably most of our work today is I would say is equally divided between Java and seashark.net, which is an evolution of some older languages that we wrote C++.
[0:28:33.5] KM: Yeah, that’s what I know.
[0:28:34.7] MM: So yeah, that seems to be the – you know we do a lot of other kind of one off each project brings its own unique and that’s another strength that we have is we meet the customer where they are. So, if they are using this, chances are we have somebody that knows that.
[0:28:50.8] KM: Well that’s true. You want to tie into what they are already using if you get an already existing customer.
[0:28:55.0] JB: You would be amazed at some of the project work that we do actually starts out as old mainframe co-ball that people are still running.
[0:29:03.7] KM: No I wouldn’t be.
[0:29:04.8] JB: That we convert for them and we just have a unique number of resources that work for us that can bridge that gap. They can go from old mainframe co-ball to dot net applications.
[0:29:20.1] KM: Yeah, I would imagine that all those old state agencies are like that.
[0:29:23.5] MM: We just finished the Arkansas Crime Information Center which manages the criminal information database for the state. We just finished re-writing some 30 year old system for them.
[0:29:33.7] KM: But I bet that old co-ball is secure.
[0:29:35.6] MM: It’s secure because nothing can talk to it.
[0:29:37.5] KM: Right, that’s what I was going to say. I bet nobody can talk to it, you know?
[0:29:40.8] MM: We, you know interestingly enough that first application that we wrote in 1996 was a co-ball main frame application and they called us back 12 years later and we got the opportunity to re-write it because we were the only ones who could read the old system and understand what it was doing and also had the people that could write it in the new language.
[0:30:02.6] KM: That’s kind of true, once you get with a programmer, you’re married to him. You really are, I mean I can’t really leave ya’ll. Ya’ll can’t ever fire me. I know you have tried a couple of times.
[0:30:13.7] MM: And we have people that had been with us 18 and 19 years. That’s another one of our strengths is that we write your software for you and you call us back in five years for something to change about it. Chances are the person that wrote the software for you still works for us.
[0:30:26.6] KM: That speaks highly of your company and your company culture, you know? That really does. All right, it’s a great place to take another break. When we come back, we’re going to continue our conversation with John and Mark, Founders of Mainstream Technology and if you have question for either one of these guys, don’t be intimidated. You can call, Tim will give you a phone number right after the break.
[0:30:46.3] TB: You’re listening to Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy. If you missed any part of the show, a podcast will be made available next week at flagandbanner.com’s website. If you prefer to listen on iTunes, YouTube or Sound Cloud, you’ll find those links in there as well. Lots of listening options, we’ll be right back with the phone number for calling in.
Arkansas Flag and Banner is proud to underwrite Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy. McCoy began this broadcast a year and a half ago with the intention of offering a mentoring platform for those with an entrepreneurial spirit. Through candid conversation and interesting interviews with business and community minded Arkansans, listeners gain insight into starting and running a business, the ups and downs of risk taking and the commonalities of successful people.
Kerry McCoy, founder and president of Arkansas Flag and Banner, believes in paying knowledge and experience forward and developed this radio show as a means of doing so. The biographies, life experiences and wisdom of her guests would likely go unheard if not for this venue. Rarely do people open up for an hour to an audience about their life, mistakes, triumphs and pitfalls. This unique radio show allows the listener intimate access into the stories of prominent leaders in our state.
I am Adrian McNally, manager at the Arkansas Flag and Banner showroom and gift shop, located on the first floor of the historic Taborian Hall on the corner of 9th and State Streets in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. In business for 43 years, we offer an old school shopping experience with front door parking, clerks to help you and department store variety. Open to the public, Monday through Friday 8-5:30 and Saturday, 10-4.
[0:32:33.3] KM: You’re listening to Up In Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I am speaking today with John Burgess and Mark McClelland, co-founders of Mainstream Technology in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. Okay, we had a great person call in on the break or send an email on the break and asked us a question about programmers. We were talking about programmers earlier before we went on the air and what different animals they are.
But the question was, do you have to go to school to be a programmer or do you hire people at Mainstream Technologies that just come in and take a programming test? How do you do that? How do you qualify?
[0:33:11.7] MM: We look at how much experience they have and what their experiences have been in the hiring process. That is probably more important than where or what degree you have, or where you have your degree from, or how you attained your knowledge. The term we like to use “Is in the wild,” which would be an online course or just kind of DIY-ing it versus some four year degree. Most of our developers have four year degrees.
We have a handful of them that don’t but I think the thing that attracts us to a programmer is that body of work that they’ve done, what kind of tools are they going to be working on, what kind of projects have they worked on. So we like to – there is some seasoning that you get in the real world that you don’t get either in school or online and you’ve got to learn how to handle those exceptions. All the NA’s on the board.
[0:34:11.7] JB: There is definitely a love-hate relationship with programmers and programming. Either you love it or you do not and we’re looking for people who love it and that does not necessarily mean a four year degree. We have some outstanding resources that have been with us for 15 plus years that do not have a degree.
[0:34:29.7] KM: You are talking about human resources.
[0:34:30.7] JB: Yes.
[0:34:32.2] KM: Yes, in my experience I have found that if you have to go to school to learn to be a programmer you don’t love it. That you either cannot-not do it, that you were always reading, always tinkering, always playing, always writing and you know, that’s been my experience and if you come in and say, “Oh I had this degree and now I want to become a programmer” that you’re not usually a self-starter enough because programming changes so fast so quick. You have to be constantly reading and staying up on it.
[0:35:05.6] JB: You can be in love with programming but you can’t be in love with any particular language or type of programming.
[0:35:14.2] KM: And programmers are primadonnas. Let’s just talk about it.
[0:35:19.2] MM: Well they’re artists.
[0:35:20.4] KM: They are artists. It’s very creative and they’re very artistic and they’re very – yeah, they’re just primadonnas. They’re very temperamental and when they write a program, it’s their baby. It’s their creation, you have to be careful. So how do you handle all of that? How do you manage them when you come in there? Do you read the code in back?
[0:35:41.1] JB: Well what you try to do is you get them to be collective primadonnas. What I mean by that is following some kind of standardization that they have all bought into and a principle from a development standpoint. So, try not to remove their artistic pride of authorship but what you want them is to buy into a team type of authorship.
[0:36:08.4] KM: Pride of authorship, is that a word ya’ll made up?
[0:36:13.7] MM: No.
[0:36:14.2] KM: I have never heard that term before, that’s a tweetable term, pride of authorship. That’s even true in any creative.
[0:36:20.4] MM: Anything.
[0:36:21.0] JB: Yeah, we want it to be our pride not your pride.
[0:36:24.7] KM: What do you think is – well are most of your customers local when I was asking about your customers?
[0:36:30.5] JB: At the present most of them are. At times, you know one of the things that prompted that decision in 2004 to start diversifying was that we’ve been in business for eight years and nobody in Arkansas knew our name because all of our customers were out of state.
[0:36:46.4] KM: You do a lot of local teaching, you do a lot of local support, you do have the touchdown, was that?
[0:36:54.8] MM: Tip Off Club.
[0:36:55.2] KM: Tip Off Club so is that why you started doing some local promoting of yourself and getting involved in the community?
[0:37:00.9] JB: Yeah, absolutely.
[0:37:01.5] KM: Oh it is? I wondered why you were doing that. So you have the local Tip Off Club, well tell everybody what it is.
[0:37:07.4] JB: Tip Off Club is run by the North Little Rock Parks and Recreation Department. All the proceeds of fund raising go to what they do, all the proceeds go to build their One Heart Program which is an all access playground in North Little Rock but it runs during basketball season and so weekly lunch and newsletter Monday, where they bring in basketball related speakers each week. We name a high school boy and girl player of the week each week and get to hear from a great – usually some legendary basketball person that you know.
[0:37:41.4] KM: I’ve had some great pictures taken with a legendary basketball player. I met Mack Anderson there, he’s a lot larger than you think because his players are so huge, he looks like a small guy but he’s big.
[0:37:55.1] MM: He speaks every year.
[0:37:56.3] KM: He does. So is it hard to find people over there to come and talk? I mean you get some very big athletes and celebrities over there, is it hard or are you involved in it? Sponsored?
[0:38:08.2] JB: Yeah, we just sponsor them.
[0:38:12.2] KM: So you don’t have to worry about the nuts and bolts of that.
[0:38:14.6] JB: No we are in the intel and acquisition phase of the program.
[0:38:16.7] MM: We’ve had Charles Barkley, you know we’ve had some big names come in.
[0:38:21.4] KM: You have?
[0:38:22.0] MM: Jerry Tarkanian.
[0:38:23.2] KM: Oh wow, you’ve had all the Razor Back Basketball coach which were few there for a few years and I guess you had Nolan Richardson?
[0:38:32.9] JB: Oh yeah.
[0:38:33.5] MM: Nolan and Eddie Sutton.
[0:38:37.0] KM: Oh wow that’s a good one too. Yeah, that’s a great club over there. If anybody don’t know about it, it’s the Tip Off Club in North Little Rock. I guess they can Google that online if they want to ever go. I think it is open to the public if you want to buy tickets isn’t it?
[0:38:46.8] JB: Yeah.
[0:38:47.4] KM: Yeah and it goes to a great cause but you also like to do volunteering John. I don’t know about Mark but I know that John you volunteer by teaching. We always talk about how great leadership have great teachers and you do the STEM programs, the science, technology, engineering, mathematics? What do you do there?
[0:39:06.8] JB: I’m on the board of the Arkansas Museum and Discovery which is great for younger children getting them igniting, their mission is to ignite a love of STEM or STEAM, they’ve added A for Arts in there. It’s just trying to get young kids interested in STEM related careers and education and we actually have an intern working for us from Little Rock School District. They just launched a program called Excel this year which is an alternative education thing for career exploration. We have a kid from Jade Fair who comes in every time and he’s learning to be a programmer.
[0:39:51.8] KM: See? Now that kid they’ll hire because he’s going to have experience. When he fills out a resume he’s going to have experience. Now people should try to get as much experience. Sometimes I think people’s education gets in the way of their career, you know? You come out of school and you haven’t done any kind of hands on anything. It’s almost like your education got in the way of your career development. What do you think about the future for the world in 20 years? Robots, self-driving cars, how is internet going to be used, will we still have a government? Just kidding about that.
[0:40:23.1] MM: Will the technological singularity happen?
[0:40:27.3] KM: What is that and what does that mean?
[0:40:29.0] MM: That’s when artificial intelligence becomes so advanced that human beings have to augment their own nervous systems with artificial intelligence. Do we become more machine than human, so we can keep up?
[0:40:39.1] KM: Tim?
[0:40:40.2] TB: This guy knows.
[0:40:41.0] KM: Tim.
[0:40:42.4] TB: It’s happening.
[0:40:42.9] MM: I hope it doesn’t get to that point.
[0:40:45.7] JB: So you know I’m on the opposite side of it. Sign me up, I’m ready.
[0:40:48.5] MM: I’m not.
[0:40:49.6] KM: You want to be augmented?
[0:40:50.6] MM: John actually believes that most people can’t even cope in the world we have today. So he’s trying to get everyone augmented to catch up to technology.
[0:40:59.9] KM: So what do you think? What do you think about Tim’s question? No, please say no.
[0:41:04.3] MM: No.
[0:41:04.9] JB: I think it will get here faster than people are thinking.
[0:41:07.7] KM: You do? You have opposing opinions.
[0:41:09.4] TB: I’m absolutely with you.
[0:41:10.1] JB: You’re already augmented, it’s just not in you yet. I mean you’ve got that phone attached to ya’ll the time. You’ve got the Google glasses, good point there.
[0:41:19.1] MM: And I always think that there would be a pushback from a technology standpoint. People won’t give up their freedom. You have all the advancements.
[0:41:26.5] KM: Yeah.
[0:41:27.2] TB: Well aren’t they already doing the chip that you can pay with, right?
[0:41:33.3] MM: Yeah, absolutely.
[0:41:34.2] KM: Is he – he said the chip?
[0:41:36.7] TB: The chip in your hand, yeah.
[0:41:37.5] KM: Oh the chip in your hand, yeah. Some people scan that at work. You put a chip in your hand, you have to go in and be scanned. I saw that on –
[0:41:43.4] JB: The number of the beast is what you’re saying.
[0:41:45.3] MM: Yeah the mark of the beast from the standpoint, you know that would be my personal belief.
[0:41:49.0] KM: But they called the social security number the mark of the beast when I was a kid but there are some companies that have the chips in their hands and they scan it to go in. I saw it on a news show.
[0:42:00.9] JB: Yeah, that company got a lot of – I don’t know that I’d agree with that from a company standpoint. That seems kind of invasive.
[0:42:07.0] KM: I know. It did to me too. All right how about –
[0:42:08.1] MM: Well theories will get from the standpoint of shopping experiences. You’ll walk in and you grab whatever you want to and you walk out and you won’t have any exposure or interchange with store personnel.
[0:42:20.5] KM: How come?
[0:42:21.4] MM: Because everything will have a sensor of some kind.
[0:42:26.2] KM: Well how do they know how to tie it to you?
[0:42:27.9] JB: Because of the chip.
[0:42:29.1] KM: Because you’re going to have a chip in you. Jessie?
[0:42:33.2] MM: They already have the Google Stores actually.
[0:42:35.9] KM: Yeah.
[0:42:36.4] TB: Amazon Go.
[0:42:37.1] MM: Amazon Go is more of a video type of access to the product in which you’re pulling and not necessarily an RFID type of pull of data. So they’re watching you camera wise and they can determine what you leave the store with. I’m not sure to buying to that technology as a long term solution as oppose to RFID.
[0:42:56.7] KM: So you are saying the product will have an RFID on it and then the human will have a chip in them and when they two go out together, they’ll match you up and say, “You bought that” and take it out of your bank account.
[0:43:06.8] MM: I actually believe you’re only stop will be to determine whether or not you want to put this on credit or whether you want it going debit against your regular bank account.
[0:43:15.4] KM: And you just have to use your eyes to look to the right for one and look to the other and blink.
[0:43:20.0] MM: Or tap to credit or whatever as you walk out the door.
[0:43:22.6] KM: All right robots, oh that’s robots, how about self-driving cars?
[0:43:25.9] MM: Absolutely.
[0:43:26.7] JB: Can’t wait.
[0:43:27.4] KM: Can’t wait. So I think I told ya’ll before my husband was in Philadelphia last year, one of the homes of Google and self-driving cars are being tested there and people are driving around reading books and there were so many wrecks they have to quit making them read books but now they’re just riding around. Oh no that one knit, the riding around reading books but prior to that there was nobody in the car, the cars was just driving around with nobody in them.
And then they started having wrecks so they put people in them and then you just read a book on your way to work or wherever you’re going. I think that is going to be really nice.
[0:44:01.1] JB: Well a couple of weeks ago, they announced that they had an 18 wheeler that drove from LA to Jacksonville, Florida.
[0:44:07.2] KM: What?
[0:44:07.7] MM: It is staying on the main highway so.
[0:44:09.7] JB: Just on the interstate.
[0:44:11.1] MM: I was curious how they fuelled it. You’ve got to have a driver or rider at least to fuel the vehicle. It’s not going to be able to fuel itself.
[0:44:20.2] KM: Well maybe they had people waiting at stations and they just went to that station and the guy came out, attendant came out, fuelled the car and the car took off again.
[0:44:31.5] JB: I think the most interesting, in my mind the most interesting kind of changes to think about with self-driving cars are how it’s going to transform ownership of vehicles and what that effects. So the only reason that you own a car is like the worst utilized asset anybody has. You pay this, you buy this expensive asset and you use about 10% of the time and as you become – and that’s for convenience because you can’t trust another human to be there when you are ready to go.
And I think once you get more comfortable with there is a computer running it and it’s going to be there when you want it and it’s going to take you where you want to go, then the need to actually own that car goes down. So then you know we got all these houses that have garages and all of a sudden that space isn’t needed anymore because you don’t have a car anymore, you have all these parking lots and parking decks in downtown Little Rock that real estate use.
[0:45:26.7] MM: So companies will own fleets of automated driving vehicles and it will be Uber on demand without the Uber driver.
[0:45:35.0] JB: Yeah, so what does it do to all the garages? What does it do to all the parking lots?
[0:45:39.6] MM: How do you handle driving when you are going on vacation?
[0:45:42.5] JB: That’s when you rent a vehicle for an extended period of time but I think once the self-driving cars take hold and everybody really sees the benefit and how this really better than driving it yourself and taking care of it yourself, I think it is going to radically change, transform society.
[0:46:04.8] KM: I love that idea, wouldn’t it be nice to have all the parking lots turned into grassy areas? It might save our planet, you know, there’s so many people driving around in one big car, you could –
[0:46:17.9] MM: It will obviously reduce the number of vehicles so you don’t want to own GM stock or anything like that at some point in time.
[0:46:23.2] KM: How long do you think will that happen?
[0:46:25.1] MM: 10 years.
[0:46:25.8] JB: I think it will be within 10 years.
[0:46:27.6] KM: That quick?
[0:46:28.0] MM: Yes. I think once it’s going to be like everything. All these technology changes faster and faster and there’s a tipping point.
[0:46:35.6] KM: We’re going to have more unemployment I guess? Is it just going to change? Just going to move to people that can now work on vehicles, now there’s going to be a lot of mechanics needing maybe?
[0:46:44.9] MM: Yeah.
[0:46:45.4] KM: Maybe we still got –
[0:46:46.9] MM: For a period of time, yeah.
[0:46:49.9] KM: That is really not where I thought the conversation was going to go today. All right, we’re at the end of the show. I want to thank you, it went by fast, it always does, everybody always says it. I just love ya’ll coming on here. Ya’ll are so smart.
[0:47:06.4] MM: Thank you very much for having us, we greatly appreciate it.
[0:47:08.5] KM: You’re welcome.
[0:47:09.8] JB: You’re one of the unique people that makes Little Rock what it is.
[0:47:11.9] KM: I paid them to say that, thank you John.
[0:47:17.1] JB: I mean it sincerely.
[0:47:18.2] KM: Well thank you, ya’ll do too, ya’ll do great work. I have to tell everybody you’re one of my Dancing Ito Dreamland corporate sponsors. Ever since we started dancing in the dreamland 10 years ago, you have bought a balcony and brought your company over to be supportive. Thank you very much, ya’ll are good supporters of me.
All right, I got you a gift, you’re going to be like, “What could it be?” Look, ya’ll brought me over mousepads the other day, I’m giving you mouse pads back. For our listeners –
[0:47:46.2] JB: It’s like rotary, you can exchange the flags here.
[0:47:48.4] KM: Yeah, for our listeners, a week or two, I signed another contract with these guys and they brought me over mouse pads and coffee cups and pins and stylus and all this good stuff and so I just gave my mousepad back with my logo on it.
Really, what I really – that was just a joke for the day, but really, what I brought you, ya’ll have a desk set for your desk?
[0:48:05.6] MM: I do not.
[0:48:07.1] KM: They’re getting a US and Arkansas desk set.
[0:48:09.3] MM: Awesome.
[0:48:09.5] KM: For their desk, it’s a 4x6 inch flag, hand that down to John.
[0:48:12.9] JB: That would probably sit on my desk.
[0:48:16.2] KM: Yeah, nobody hardly has those desk sets – they’re just great things to have. Thank ya’ll so much for coming on. If you have a great entrepreneurial story that you would like to share, I would love to hear from you, send a brief bio about your American story and your contact information and someone will be in touch. Send your contact info to:
[0:48:37.2] TB: Questions@upyourbusiness.org.
[0:48:39.9] KM: Finally, to our listeners, thank you for spending time with me, if you think this program has been about you, you’re right, but it’s also been for me, thank you for letting me fulfill my destiny, my hope today is that you’ve heard or learned something that’s been inspiring or enlightening and that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence or your life.
I’m Kerry McCoy and I’ll see you next time on Up in your business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:49:15.3] TB: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. If you’d like to hear this program again next week go to flagandbanner.com. Click the tab labelled “Radio Show” and there you’ll find a podcast with links to resources you heard discussed on today’s show. Kerry’s goal: to help you live the American Dream.