Build a team of self-starters that you can trust entirely. Your team is everything. Make sure you surround yourself with skilled people who are willing to take the initiative without much hand-holding. I’ve hired people over the years that I have had to keep track of their actions and make sure they were completing tasks. This is not practical for managing a small team with limited resources. It is far better to take the time to find those who are the right fit, believe in the company, and will work hard alongside you.
As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bobby Varghese.
Bobby Varghese is the founder and CEO of Jervis Systems and the owner of Loudoun Escape, a 5-star luxury corporate rental. With his background working in the IT and network security space for over 15 years, Bobby has securely integrated technology and automation into property management with both of the services he has started.
Through managing Loudoun Escape for 4+ years and connecting with hundreds of property managers and vacation rental guests, Bobby has since created Jervis Systems, an app that allows property managers to securely manage access to unlimited properties for their team and guests.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
You’re welcome! I appreciate you having me.
From a young age, I have been interested in building projects from the ground up or improving existing ways of doing things. I also grew up in a middle-class immigrant family and have always wanted to “make it” in life and be successful on my own. These major factors in my life drove me to create my own business ventures.
I have been in the IT space since 2003, supporting the Air Force as a young active-duty Airman, and then working for various companies supporting commercial and government customers after I separated in 2007. In 2012, I started doing consulting work through my own company, Guarded Horizons Inc. I still support customers through this company.
In 2017, I started a short-term corporate rental property, known as Loudoun Escape. As I was running the short-term rental property, I worked with my team to automate access to the rental so I never had to be at the property to manage guest check-in and checkout. Similarly, I wanted a secure way to give access to the cleaning company and the handyman companies we work with. Truth be told, I just didn’t want to deal with keys. From my experience working in the security sector for the U.S. military, keys always seemed like a non-secure solution because they can easily be copied or lost. Re-keying keys can also be very costly.
In 2017, my team and I created a process of automation that allowed us to change codes automatically on our door locks whenever guests checked in and out. The same code was also used as their Wi-Fi password. Other property managers who heard about our automation reached out through Airbnb to ask me if I could manage their property and set up the same access system.
Providing full-service property management was not something I could provide for these early prospects, but setting up a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform where any owner or property manager could subscribe to automate access, was definitely in my wheelhouse. I knew I had the perfect team to work on it. I was excited that I had stumbled across a real problem when it came to managing property access. Property managers needed a better, easier, and more secure way to manage multiple properties and doors at scale.
This is how Jervis Systems was born!
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I won’t sugarcoat this answer. Developing a SaaS platform and a mobile app is challenging and very costly. Even with experience building prior companies and leading cybersecurity teams, Jervis Systems is by far the most complex and challenging project I’ve ever undertaken.
I’ve personally funded the entire Jervis Systems project, with no outside investors. There were many points when I was not sure if I could continue with the project due to the costs and balancing my consulting work. There are times you tend to second guess yourself if you should continue and whether it’s worth it. Every entrepreneur who bootstraps their projects and works full-time goes through this. I’ve had to make tough choices over the past year, budget carefully, and make personal sacrifices to make things work.
Initially, I developed multiple features in our Jervis Systems platform including many property management capabilities. The aim was to serve all the needs of early prospects I spoke with through Airbnb. I learned the hard way that this was not practical or cost-effective. We spent a good amount of our early development timeline creating features and playing Whack-a-Mole fixing bugs. As a result, this pushed out our launch timeline and our ability to get in front of early customers waiting for access.
After trial and error, I prioritized our team’s efforts and focus to be completely on access management. With this proper focus, we’ve since been able to refine our features for our web platform and mobile app.
The lesson here is that being very focused is incredibly important. Trying to do it all simply does not work. Get clear about the problem that you can uniquely solve, and then build out from that starting point.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I have always been driven and hard-working, but my family is a major driving factor for me.
My grandmother is an especially key person who helped me become the person I am today. She was a second mother to me and essentially raised me from a young age. When I was in the military and traveled overseas, I spoke with her daily. Unfortunately, she passed a few years later from cancer. She always believed in me and everything I did unconditionally. I want to make anything I do in life successful and worthwhile to make her proud.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Despite any setbacks and limited resources, I’ve continued pushing on toward attaining the goals I’ve set for the companies I’ve founded and headed over the years. It’s been a lot of technical bugs, sweat, and tears. When you combine passion with your skills, perseverance, and a solid team, you’re on track to finding success as a founder.
Today, my technology consulting company has been successfully in operation for a decade, with major clients in the government and commercial sector.
Loudoun Escape, my 5-star corporate rental property, operates primarily on “auto-pilot”. We’ve had 350+ bookings and constantly hear from guests that we’ve set the standard for “the perfect short-term rental” and stand out in our local area with the services and amenities provided.
All of these lessons and milestones have gone toward building Jervis Systems into the platform it is today. We have refined our platform and focus to truly simplify automation for property managers at scale. We have an incredible team that I am proud to work with to make the ambitious goals of the next few years come to fruition.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started I was naive to the timeline necessary in creating a SaaS platform and mobile app. I set a launch date that was so unbelievably impractical that I now laugh at myself thinking about it.
I learned an incredible amount about setting up a platform and about how important it is to be laser-focused on the core problem you are trying to solve. If you’re on a limited budget and ”bootstrapping” as a founder, it’s important to iterate your product quickly and get it in front of the people who need it most. These are the hard lessons I learned that helped me to pivot and persevere.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What differentiates Jervis Systems is that we have truly simplified the art of access management for property managers and their guests. We offer multiple (patent-pending) ways a property manager or property owner can allow guests and management teams to get into their property such as our custom mobile app, a phone call, text message, secure voice, or a unique per-user PIN.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
At the risk of sounding redundant, I can’t stress how important it is to stay laser-focused. You can’t do it all. When you focus on your vision, your strengths, and the problem you know you can solve, you set yourself up for success in doing the work that matters most.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have been very lucky in life to have good people around me. A particular person I am incredibly grateful to know is Rudy Zadnik. Over 10 years ago, he took a chance and hired me as a consultant. That job gave me tremendous flexibility and the ability to invest financially in projects I was passionate about. These have led to building out the businesses that I am involved in today. I will always appreciate the role he played in my career and journey.
He has been the best example of a leader I have had in my life. He taught me to lead by example and cultivate a team culture where people lead themselves. Rudy never lectured me and acted as a strong guide. It was insightful for me to see how he operated during the years we worked together. I lead with the same approach in building my team for anything we work on. I hire self-starters who I can encourage and guide versus hand-holding every step of the way.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have used my success to give back as an instructor at George Mason University. I do my best to serve as a supportive “springboard” to students enrolled in my network and cloud security classes. For the students that go above and beyond during the semester, I put them in contact with local companies who are hiring, and related opportunities.
Beyond teaching, my goal is to start a non-profit charity where I can further give back and help others.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) Be laser-focused. I’ve learned this the hard way. However, it was a good lesson that I want to impart to others starting their projects. You will accomplish so much more by solving a problem that’s in your zone of genius.
2) There is no perfect guidebook out there. Every business’ success story and roadmap is unique. There are multiple factors such as hard work, luck, and being at the right place at the right time. Try to learn what you can from others but also know that each business is unique and you have to tailor industry best practices to you and your team. It was important to keep this in mind for the businesses I started and adapted along the way.
3) Take advice from others but make your own decisions. You can take advice from many people. However, at end of the day, your business decisions are your responsibility. If something does not go as expected, you have to own the decision and move forward to do better. Use missteps as feedback for your future success.
4) Decide if being a founder is for you. Being a founder is not easy and will be exhausting physically, mentally, and/or financially at several points. I can recall many days where I woke up at 4 am to meet with developers, dashed to my day job, and then responded to team messages through midnight. I would do it all again the next day. That being said, being a founder is not something you should attempt if you are not completely ready to take on the challenge. It is best if your family, friends, and colleagues are on board, too. They help motivate you, balance you and remind you of your drive and who you are.
5) Build a team of self-starters that you can trust entirely. Your team is everything. Make sure you surround yourself with skilled people who are willing to take the initiative without much hand-holding. I’ve hired people over the years that I have had to keep track of their actions and make sure they were completing tasks. This is not practical for managing a small team with limited resources. It is far better to take the time to find those who are the right fit, believe in the company, and will work hard alongside you.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder?
It can be an emotional roller coaster for sure, especially when you are a solo entrepreneur. I travel with my family to get away and disconnect and try to work from different locations as a way to help fuel my motivation and creativity.
It’s also helpful to know you are not alone and that you will make it if it is meant to be. I’ve taken failure or a project not working out as an opportunity to focus and say “yes” to the right, aligned projects.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I love the concept of paying it forward. If you have been successful and you can help someone else be successful, you should do the best you can to make it happen. There’s real power in having someone support and believe in you. The person you are helping might just need that tiny ounce of support to propel them to the next level.
I’ve been very fortunate to see several of my past students become professional colleagues and go on to do great things of their own (one of them even started teaching). It’s been incredible to see the outcome of supporting the students I teach.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
We’d love to connect with property managers and real estate business owners who are passionate about property access automation. You can follow us @Jervis.Systems on Instagram and Jervis Systems on LinkedIn and Facebook.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you for having me! It’s been a pleasure and I appreciate the opportunity.