Brian Gregory’s fascination with computers and data goes way back — back to the days when not everyone had a desktop computer, let alone a handheld one.
Luckily for his customers, Gregory found his niche at 19, working in communications and building his business, Network Innovations Inc., into one of Kansas City’s successful small businesses.
The Paola native was “always into computers. In fact, in high school they used to come get me out of class to help solve problems in the computer lab,” he said.
When he first started working at Network Innovations — and when he bought it from the original owner — the business plan primarily revolved around helping customers choose the right phone systems. The company has evolved with technology and now has focuses more on data aggregation.
Gregory became the sole owner of the company at 19, despite having no business experience: “I was loving what I was doing,” he said. “It was a big risk and I knew it, but I figured there would never be another time in my life where I could take that kind of risk, so I went for it.”
He may seem an unlikely entrepreneur, but he has thrived as a business owner and innovator, he said.
“I love to learn. I love to research and find solutions,” he said. “I wasn’t afraid of entrepreneurism even at 19. I had a few really good clients that became mentors.”
The Bottom Line
That’s not to say that the transition from high schooler to business owner was easy – far from it. For starters, when he took over the business, it wasn’t in good shape. His banker insisted on monthly meetings. That’s where Gregory learned a valuable lesson: the bottom line is all that matters.
“I would go in every month and talk about how many customers we had, how many orders we had, etc.,” he said. “I was always so proud when we were up. Then one month he said, ‘This number down here at the bottom is all I care about. The profit and loss number is all I want to know.’”
The lightbulb went off, and Gregory took that lesson to heart and has based all future business deals on it. Network Innovations moves into new areas or projects only if profitability is in the cards.
“The P and L is what matters,” Gregory said. “It confounds me to this day people who don’t understand that.”
The Next Big Thing
Another lesson learned is that everything in his business is about constant change. Gregory says that the hot new trend of today will be on the outs within three years. But that’s part of what makes his job endlessly fascinating.
It’s also one of the reasons he doesn’t want to grow his company too large. He has fewer than 10 employees, many of whom have been with him for more than 10 years. Adding more personnel would move him away from his customers, and he doesn’t want that.
“I enjoy doing client work,” he said. “I couldn’t do that if we got too big.”
So what’s next for the company? In the short term, it’s all about continuing to do what they’ve always done to be successful. What’s the next big thing in communications? That’s harder to judge than ever, Gregory said, thanks to the millennials flooding the workforce.
“They have radically different ideas about communication,” he said.
Network Innovations will continue to reinvent itself and add products and services as necessary. Gregory knows that the narrow niche they live in has helped keep the company strong. He is starting to partner with other businesses to work for clients.
“Because we are working so narrowly, we can come in and do our little piece really well (in a larger project),” he said.
As for Gregory, he is always working to be a better entrepreneur. One of the other lessons he’s learned through the years is that successful business owners never think they’ve “made it.”
“I still enjoy it,” he said. “I get to decide our direction, and I enjoy it.”