Alex Solomon, 44, is the co-president of Net@Work, which for two decades, has helped clients of all sizes across an array of industries understand and implement technology solutions that improve business processes, and helps them grow.
Net@Work has grown into one of North America’s largest consultants and integrators of IT and business management software. Thus far, they have some six thousand clients, and eighteen offices in North America.
The company has reached the $50 million threshold, and $70 million with ancillary sister companies.
Recently, Alex and his brother Edward acquired ecommerce agency Pixafy, and launched Swype Integrated Technologies, a payment processing company.
Net@Work has been recognized by Crain’s New York Business Magazine in their annual ranking of New York’s 25 Largest Software Companies. Last year, CRN magazine named Net@Work to its Managed Service Provider 500 list in the Elite 150 category.
Alex Solomon was honored by SmartCEO magazine as a Future 50 executive.
DG: How did Net@Work get started?
Alex: I graduated with a BS in International Business and Management and was an Alumni Scholar at the Stern School of Business at New York University. In 1996, I had been reading about the pending Y2K and the dot com wave. I thought it was a tremendous opportunity. I knew a lot of people in the Alumni Scholars program at my university, and most were primarily math and computer people, and not as strong on the sales, service and business side.
I got the idea that I could leverage them, and teach them how to actually interact with clients, make clients happy and speak in a language that the clients could understand — something I felt was seriously lacking in a business that should’ve been all about service.
We wanted to be business people in tech; instead of tech people in business. So during that time, I spent six months learning about the tech industry.
We knew it was important to go into a recession-proof business and build a strategy around that.
So instead of going to the Fortune 500s, we went into the small, medium businesses, the critical mass. In 2008, for example, when everyone was having a hard time, Fortune 500s were dead in the water. By that time, we had 2,000 clients. Sure, it was a harder time, but if twenty clients were hurting, it was only a small percentage, so only a negligible effect on our business.
DG: What was your strongest business decision?
Alex: To have no investors and no debt in launching our company.
We decided early on that’s how we’d continue to grow the business – debt free, which meant we would have to take it slower on executing on opportunities we knew existed, and in order to stay healthy, only add solutions and services over time, like e-commerce, web development, and later areas like customer relationship management and HR software.
As our clients grew, they looked to us for the technology to run their businesses efficiently, so as they grew, we kept adding solutions that our customers needed and wanted.
DG: What’s a breakthrough strategy that helped the business grow?
Alex: We approached our competitors, and said we didn’t want to compete with them; we wanted to work with them as our partners, and formally launched a Partner Alliance Program.
One hundred alliance companies later, and we embrace each other’s portfolios and fill in the gaps for all of our clients needs. Now we have a network of companies to work with. There’s someone and some place in our alliance community that complements what anyone needs.
I can happily say we have turned our competitors into partners, and it is has been the catalyst for our most recent growth.
DG: What business advice do you have?
Alex: You’ll make mistakes, but you can avoid some of them by learning from other people who have made mistakes.
And, don’t buy more than you can afford. Using other people’s money doesn’t give you the discipline how to build the foundation of the business.
DG: How do you explain the company longevity?
Alex: Most in our industry are people who do the work themselves; they’re so busy implementing and handling clients and support, they don’t work on growing their business. Or, when they do finally focus on growth, their client service suffers. We made a focus on hiring the right people to do the work, to solve the problems, and run the business, so that we could focus on growth and acquisitions.
DG: What sets Net@Work apart?
Alex: We are the only company that handles all aspects of technology for our clients. The other option our clients have is to hire four or five different companies, to handle what we can handle for them under one roof. If they choose to take the option of hiring multiple companies, no single company is accountable in the same way we would be; their total cost of ownership on managing all of these disparate companies would be through the roof.
DG: What was the biggest challenge getting off the ground and how was it overcome?
Alex: Getting the respect of technology people when you are not technical was always a major challenge for us when we first launched our business. It took a lot of training, coupled with a bit of success, to show the talented tech people we were hiring that what they thought was our biggest weakness was, is in fact our biggest strength. Our success was based on us being business people in the world of technology, as opposed to being tech-people in the world of business.
DG: How do you keep on top of new tech advances?
Alex: We have people dedicated to looking for the latest technology out there, so that we can determine whether it’s good for our clients. We have a vetting process that we go through to make certain that the technology and the company behind the technology are a good fit for our clients. Being that we have such a large and diverse group of smart tech people at the company, many times they will collaborate on what the right solution is for a given group of clients. We also realized long ago that many of today’s luxuries are tomorrow’s necessities; so that by the time a client may have a need for something, we have already been vetting it for quite some time.