You always need to raise more money than you initially believe. Technology businesses require capital for human and technology infrastructure. In growing businesses, the goal line to be cash-flow positive continues to move due to the growth and additional investment required. Not only is it important to understand this, but you must enjoy being in the game of raising capital. If you dread this part, you’ll have a hard time inspiring investors to take a chance on your company.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bruce Lehrman, Founder and CEO of Involta.
Bruce Lehrman is the CEO of Involta, an award-winning, hybrid IT solutions provider offering cloud, consulting, and data center services to help clients undertake powerful digital transformation.
Lehrman founded Involta in 2007, seizing an opportunity to bring modern IT solutions to the forefront of business strategy. His vision to blend colocation data center solutions with expert IT services has grown Involta from an Iowa-based tech services company to a nationally recognized hybrid solutions provider serving six markets across the U.S.
Under Lehrman’s strategic leadership, Involta offers IT consulting, a full suite of cloud and IT monitoring services, and colocation solutions that transform clients’ technology infrastructure, incorporating IT into business plans that support strategic growth goals.
Before founding Involta, Lehrman was involved in three greenfield business startups and also worked with large well-recognized brands. Lehrman is an active investor in entrepreneurial ventures and currently sits on the Board of the Entrepreneurial Development Center, Technology Association of Iowa (as 2013 Chairman), Iowa Seed Fund, Iowa Startup Accelerator Ventures, Geacom, Higher Learning Technology, and Van Meter Industrial. Prior to Involta, he was CIO of RuffaloCODY and CEO of LIVEware5.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In my first startup, LIVEware5, we used data center space in the world’s first internet data center, the Palo Alto Internet eXchange (PAIX), owned and operated by Digital Equipment Corporation. I really enjoyed both the market and the space. Soon after, a colleague called me — he didn’t know what to do with his data center, and we built a growth strategy together. That’s when I knew I’d found my niche.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Early in my career, I found myself raising capital around Christmas. We didn’t know if we would raise enough during the round to fund ourselves into the following year — or what it would mean to our young families around the holiday. We were fortunate the Chairman of the Board took a hardline with investors and encouraged people to make a decision, so we knew where we stood. Luckily, the investments came in, and we didn’t have to worry about Christmas. I’ll never forget that feeling of uncertainty. It has pushed me to think bigger and achieve more for my team, my family, and myself.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I suppose I was born with the ability to keep pushing through difficult times. I don’t like to fail. Persistence and determination are essential in my role. Being raised by a family with a strong Midwest work ethic also helped.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going great. I’m fortunate to be leading our company through consistent growth — but that’s not a result of luck. We have a strong culture led by an engaged and experienced leadership team. We continue to build the next generation of management within our organization, and we have clients who value our team. Involta is taking on a life of its own beyond the founders. Great things are happening that don’t require my handholding.
Dedication and persistence have certainly been part of our success — as was striving for excellence. We push hard for excellence. In the end, though, it really comes down to people and the culture of an organization.
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?
This is hard. I typically don’t think there’s really anything funny about my mistakes.
The mistake I make, and I make it repeatedly, is believing new market opportunities will evolve faster than they do. Big trends, like Edge, for example, take longer to emerge, but they often offer more opportunities than I anticipated.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Without a doubt, it’s our People Who Deliver. This notion is part of Involta’s brand promise, and it speaks to how we hire, train, and retain our team. We empower our employees to take good care of and earn the trust of our clients and the communities we serve.
Our communities have been tested with multiple natural disasters — most recently, the devastating derecho storm that tore through central Iowa in August 2020. The storm destroyed nearly everything in its path — power lines, buildings, silos, farmlands, and more. Fortunately, our team was practiced at responding to devastation — 12 years earlier, we responded to the Cedar Rapids flood.
The Cedar Rapids area, home to Involta’s headquarters, sustained some of the most intense storm damage it had ever seen, taking the brunt of the derecho storm’s 140 mph winds. According to NOAA, an estimated 90% of structures in Cedar Rapids were damaged by the storm, and more than 1,000 homes were destroyed.
Once the derecho storm passed, our employees worked tirelessly to stabilize businesses’ work environments from the physical to the virtual. Meanwhile, Involtans from our Duluth, Minnesota, and Youngstown, Ohio, offices traveled to Cedar Rapids to support and aid the work of our headquarters’ employees. They also brought essential and much-needed supplies, including cases of water, power strips, and generators.
Involta’s community support went beyond our customers to our neighbors, as well. Our employees volunteered for organizations, including the Iowa Derecho Relief Center in Cedar Rapids, where they provided physical and emotional support. As volunteers, they worked on unpacking and sorting donations. In addition, our team spent time in various neighborhoods surveying needs, listening to personal stories, and directing people to the right places for help.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Take care of your body — eat well, exercise, and laugh often. Stop and celebrate wins — even for a moment. Milestones are important to celebrate with those people who helped you get there.
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?
There are many people — it’s hard to identify only one. If I must pick, I’d say my wife, Kim, who has been with me through each step of my career. She’s been a successful businesswoman her entire career and leads an innovative company today. Kim’s advice and counsel have been essential to my success over the years.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
This is an important aspect of the work we do at Involta. We volunteer and contribute support to the communities we serve throughout the country. Each month, we devote time, talent, and money through Involta Cares to many organizations and nonprofits, including Kids on Course through the Zach Johnson Foundation, Salvation Army, Toys for Tots, and many more. Involta also encourages employees to get involved on local Boards of Directors or Advisory Boards of interest. We offer paid time off to support these efforts and have a company match available for financial contributions.
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.
- You always need to raise more money than you initially believe. Technology businesses require capital for human and technology infrastructure. In growing businesses, the goal line to be cash-flow positive continues to move due to the growth and additional investment required. Not only is it important to understand this, but you must enjoy being in the game of raising capital. If you dread this part, you’ll have a hard time inspiring investors to take a chance on your company.
- Think big. When I first started LIVEware5, I was thinking too small. It wasn’t long before reality sunk in that I needed to strive for a grander vision. It’s the “shoot for the stars to get to the moon” concept. So, I encourage entrepreneurs to map out the biggest ambition they can possibly imagine and then develop strategies to make it happen.
- Create the right culture. People are paramount to success, and having an authentic culture creates the environment for people to thrive. It’s important first to define strong company core values, and then to live and breathe those values in the work you do every day. Lastly, staying committed to your values as the company grows is essential to staying on track.
- Ensure everyone is committed to the vision — especially in early-stage companies. There are speed bumps with all businesses, and some of them are more significant than others. It’s important to build a team with staying power and a shared commitment to your end-goal. When you’re all heading in the same direction, the journey will go much smoother.
- Leading a company akin to being on a roller coaster. There are highs and lows as the company evolves. Learn to roll with the ride while celebrating the highs and addressing the lows with composure and consistent leadership. That takes time and energy to set a consistent direction, but that’s what leadership is all about.
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. 🙂
Clean, fresh water for everyone in the world. It’s the number one thing that could position every person in the world for better health and a more prosperous life.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!