Sometimes it takes just one idea, one product, a single startup experience to transform a reasonably well-adjusted family into a line of risk-taking, capital-seeking serial entrepreneurs.
For the Atlanta-based Steeles, that product may well have been the Big Bear/Little Bear Toilet Seat Company, founded by Ricky Steele‘s grandfather as a way to help families ease their young ones into potty training.
“It was a little seat that came down from the big seat,” said Ricky, 63. “I don’t think he made a nickel on it, and I think we ended up with lots of toilet seats around the house. But we as kids used them.”
Okay, so the Steeles didn’t ride that toilet seat to bathroom accessory success. But other companies started by previous generations of Steeles lit the entrepreneurial fire for Ricky, who passed it along to his son Everett. Both have launched 10 companies between them, and the latest is Steele Technology Partners, an IT staffing firm.
“They say the definition of an entrepreneur is someone stupid enough to work 60 hours a week for himself to keep from working 40 hours a week for someone else, ” Ricky told Hypepotamus. “It’s a disease, and we’re both ate up with it.
“I think anyone can become an entrepreneur, but I think it’s a gene, maybe a defective gene that creates a need to kill yourself because you’re passionate about an idea. You want to change the world.”
But how do you change the IT staffing business model in a way that separates Steele Technology Partners from similar firms looking to match skilled employees with Atlanta’s rapidly growing tech startups? In Everett’s view, it’s simple: you match the kind of business experience both he and his father have to a startup community they both know very well.
“Between my father’s extensive experience with large corporations and mine with the startups, we have a huge network that we will gladly open up to anyone out there,” said Everett.
It is a formidable network. Ricky Steele began his entrepreneurial journey in Columbus, GA, with a successful limousine service, and then later sold a video marketing firm to Cox Broadcasting. He would later lead the emerging growth tech practice at Price Waterhouse Coopers and did executive searches for Korn/Ferry. His 2011 book, “The Heart of Networking,” features praise from former President Jimmy Carter and former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn.
Everett, meanwhile, founded the award-winning app-based delivery firm Kanga, and the digital media/consulting agency Baby Robot Industries. The University of Georgia graduate and U.S. Army veteran was named in 2015 to the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 40 Under 40 list. Both men have become regular fixtures at ATDC, Atlanta Tech Village and Tech Square Labs, where they do more than gather resumes of developers, web designers and product managers.
“The business we do is very, very important. I look at it as almost holistic,” Ricky said. When it comes to increasingly in-demand tech workers, “it’s a human being trusting us. They’re looking for something to better themselves, a new challenge, make more money, whatever.” On the client side, “they’re trying to continue their business and bring better value. We’re trying to marry those two together.”
And when that process goes well, “it’s about how often we can create a relationship with a client,” he said. “We don’t want to be their service provider or vendor. We want to be their partner.”
Everett says the Millennials and Generation X members running many of the local startups have so far responded well to his father’s insight, and to his own experiences “understanding what I would say is the potential for success and where it lies in these companies, and being able to understand that culture and connect with those people, help them grow.”
For a startup with anywhere from 3-10 employees, adding one more person isn’t just a potential budget-breaker. That new staffer has to be a good fit in other ways, and Everett says Steele Technology Partners promises to find “not only the right person who knows how to code what you need coded, but is also the right person that I sat down with for lunch three times, and I think they’re going to be a strong contributor to your culture.”
Both Steeles are veterans, and Steele Technology Partners is trying to help ex-military looking to retrain themselves to take advantage of the rise in tech hiring. It has partnered with Tech Talent South to supply scholarships for coding bootcamps for veterans to attend. If Steele’s company clients end up hiring the veteran work candidates, they’ll get a 25 percent discount. “It’s not going to put every veteran to work in the U.S., but it will help the ones we work with, and that’s all we can do,” said Everett.
The younger Steele had a good thing going with Kanga. He remains that company’s second-largest shareholder, but his reasoning for seeking a new business challenge goes back to the entrepreneurial affliction that both he and his father suffer from.
“I was at Kanga just shy of three years. In that time, we built some awesome software and a good team of people. It got to the point where it wasn’t on autopilot, but it was just time for me to do something new – that three, five, seven-year itch.”
[Image Sources: Steele Technology Partners]