As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Roy Lamphier.
Roy Lamphier is a Detroit native with more than 25 years of diverse experience working with businesses of an array of sizes, solving problems and developing products and markets. With a rich entrepreneurial background creating and scaling programs with strong emphasis on innovation and growth, he has had abundant involvement across the health care value chain, working with payers, providers and purchasers, too. He is the founder and CEO of Michigan-based Excelerate America. The company propels small business growth by providing entrepreneurs and company owners access to convenient learning tools and a network of small business experts to keep them accountable and inspired on their journey.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us something about your “backstory” and how you got started?
I grew up in Detroit at a time when the city was in decline and people had to really rely on the community for their needs. Probably my first foray into entrepreneurship was as a kid selling bagels to kids at my grade school and getting shut down when I started selling candy.
When I wasn’t selling bagels on the playground, I was doing odd jobs rehabbing my parents’ old home in Detroit’s historic Indian Village. Both of my parents worked, which meant I had to become a pretty self-sufficient problem solver at an early age.
As I was wrapping up college and preparing to leave the city to start my career, my father passed away, which changed my trajectory entirely. I ended up staying in my hometown, getting married and securing a job in health care finance. That eventually led me to the Detroit Regional Chamber. I ran its member healthcare program and transformed it into a major purchasing and administration company serving more than 20,000 small business customers in the metropolitan area.
We eventually expanded to other discount programs to help small businesses. In the 2000s, discount programs were just the thing small businesses needed for a boost, but by 2011 it was clear they needed something more than just a deal; they needed guidance and support. New tools were changing the game and I wanted to guide them through adapting to this changing environment so that they could continue to play an important role in the communities they served.
Excelerate America is a direct outgrowth of that desire.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or “take aways” you learned from that?
When we first launched Excelerate America, we were creating a lot of videos on different topics of interest to our small business clients. Our creative lead went on maternity leave — meaning I had to do our weekly video feature.
Admittedly, I’m not a pro at editing and unknowingly posted a video with some colorful language of me trying to end the recording. It was kind of ridiculous, but it ended up being one of our most viewed videos. The authenticity actually raised overall engagement and taught us that people want to be able to relate to you before they are willing to learn from you. We’re all human.
Is there a particular book that you read or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I used to be a huge fan of “How I Built This” and Stanford University’s “Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders.” Listening to the struggles and challenges of other entrepreneurs and how they overcame them was motivating. Being in a different job and in the Midwest, it helped stretch my imagination of what was possible and really nurtured my entrepreneurial thinking.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
To me, small businesses — human scale businesses — have always been the ones most invested in our communities and the hidden drivers of real job growth. Yet somehow, the economic development attention seems disproportionately focused on high-tech start-ups or on landing the next Amazon headquarters.
When we launched Excelerate America in 2017, we had a singular vision of helping small businesses to adapt and to excel in a digital economy. We help these businesses learn tactics to grow, to make valuable business connections, to craft a game plan to get their business really humming and to hold themselves accountable.
At the outset of Excelerate America, we were adamant that we focus on mission first, fostering the learning and connection that creates real value in the world. We had always been really good at running big programs and making money, but there was always this nagging disconnect around who we were really helping and the value we were creating. I believe you can make money and do good at the same time and I see entrepreneurship as a creative tool for change.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
There are a few principles that guide me in running my business. Among them: Think big, start small and move fast — and get sh*t (stuff) done.
It’s also important to be willing to continuously learn and adapt when running a business. Trust is paramount, too. Time is the commodity and trust is the currency.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with them a few of the personal and family-related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
In our household, we’ve been very fortunate. We’re healthy and under the same roof. While we miss being able to hang out with our parents, our challenges really fall under the category of first-world problems.
With more people underfoot, it’s inevitable that you’ll have your children screaming or that the dog will make a crash appearance on a video call. No, that’s not exactly the end of the world, but it’s a thing you deal with.
Out of those disruptions, one of the most positive aspects that has come out of it, is the increased personal connections. You get to see your colleagues as not just your colleague but as an authentic individual. You see them trying to wrangle their nearly 50-pound Labradoodle out of the room and sliding the cat off the keyboard. You meet their children, who pop in and out unexpectedly of video conferences. You experience them from within their own habitat and start to view them as more than just your colleague or team member but also as a person. It creates a weird sense of shared experience.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
COVID-19 is a disaster for small businesses and communities will suffer because of it. However, many of the changes to the new normal are really just an acceleration of trends and issues that were already in motion.
Our mission is more urgent than ever in helping small businesses to adapt. We’re working harder than ever to provide the support businesses need. Now is the time to run really fast.
The team at Excelerate America has been preparing more content and tools than ever and talking to more small and growing businesses than ever. One of the tools we launched was the LocalFundingFinder.com, which has been a huge undertaking for us. Our search tool allows business owners to type in their businesses’ zip codes, saving them time in researching funding opportunities.
We’ve placed immediate funding opportunities at their fingertips and are constantly updating the database to make sure they are able to access timely, relevant loans and grants to help them during this unusual time.
We are doing all this work from our homes and, consequently, we are always on. When you enjoy what you do and are passionate about the cause, in a blink of an eye you may find that you’ve worked a 12-hour day.
Our team has made a conscious effort to work hard, but to work smart, and to know when to step away and take breaks. We have team check-ins to make sure we’re all doing okay. Once in a while, we have to remind each other that there’s always tomorrow and it’s time to log off and refuel.
We encourage staff to put their kids’ class Zoom calls on their work calendar so we make sure to give them room. We have a lot of business owners looking to us for help and we need to balance it all in order to be able to continue to make an impact.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
When crisis hits, people feel threatened and anxious by a loss of control. This is all exacerbated by not knowing what the right way forward is. However, the thing that probably compromises our society the most is how trust has shifted and truth has been discounted, creating more polarization and insecurity.
Technology speeds up everything and forces us to keep up. Now that you can search anything, we don’t have a knowledge problem as much as a trust and guidance issue. Part of the issue is that when everyone is an expert, then it feels like nobody is.
To help those around me relieve this tension, I like to direct them to fun podcasts and engaging social media distractions that take their minds off the seriousness of the day. We talk about avoiding over consumption of hard news, too.
It’s also about finding little habits that you can manage and creating a new routine. Developing new routines provide a sense of comfort because they give you a semblance of control. They help us be more conscious of the things that we’re doing in the moment.
Finally, we work hard to place an emphasis on communication in our household, especially during this uncertain time. We want to make sure there are no misunderstandings. We try to ensure our family members are not mad or anxious and if we are, we talk it out in a safe forum. Empathy and knowing when to say sorry (unprompted) is a key skill.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can, of course, try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that it will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet, at the same time, the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
The post COVID-19 economy is going to be the economy we had — simply fast forwarded. Changes that businesses were going to have to deal with anyway in the near future have been accelerated and are now at their (and everyone’s) door today.
Now more small businesses in particular are faced with figuring out how to deliver their service or product in a more digitally enabled, non-touch way, and how to preserve personalization in a non-contact environment. Technologies can let us do more things and help us develop relationships. You just have to be thoughtful in how you do that. There will be entrepreneurs who deploy the technology to meet these needs, and those are the ones who will have a leg up in this new world.
We’ll also certainly see businesses become extinct, such as restaurants that couldn’t pivot to delivery. We’ll also see new businesses spring up, such as more concierge or personalized delivery services, virus-hardened supply chains and augmented customer experience services for a non-contact environment.
We’ll see different experiences that have been going forward but in greater capacity, such as Ghost Kitchens.
Ghost Kitchens are restaurants without diners that may only offer a carry-out option or serve solely as kitchens for delivery companies. They have been popping up to great curiosity. We’ll likely start seeing more restaurants experimenting with this concept as food delivery continues to become more and more commonplace. Don’t be surprised to see ambient voice computing deployed to a greater extent when you do go shopping or out to eat.
At the same time, expect things that must be done in person to raise in value. Deliveries may be more costly in the future, as people take extra safety precautions, and there may be restrictions on how many customers a business can serve in a day.
What will office work look like when more people are working remotely? Companies that house employees will gravitate to greater footprints to accommodate larger physical distance requirements. Video conferencing companies, too, will need to adapt and to evolve their product to help build relationships between coworkers and to fill in some of the voids created by loss of the serendipitous water cooler encounter.
Consumers also will do some soul searching to examine where they spend their money based on what’s most important and where their priorities lie.
Plus, telehealth platforms will undergo serious evaluation just as users are becoming increasingly comfortable with them.
How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
COVID-19 will bring more technology and trust in tighter circles.
If I can’t believe anything I read online then I need to create new methods of verifying things. Who do I know? What is observable? What do I know to be true? Trust becomes more of a factor of what’s tangible or observable.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in it?
I’m excited about being able to take Excelerate America farther faster, continuing to help businesses rebuild, and to think about how people connect and exchange ideas in the future.
Networking events were never great, but how do we do that better when we can’t go places anyway? It’s a concept that fascinates me and I’m working to find a better way.
COVID-19 pushed people apart and people really want to come back together. They want to connect with someone they can trust and learn things from.
However, the world is moving faster and people are not as willing to sit as long. Virtual is not a perfect substitute for everything we get out of in-person meetings, but it does have the potential to deliver some new types of experiences.
I want to build the platform where it’s like going to your favorite business conference except you get access to the most interesting breakout sessions and automatically get to sit at the table with the most interesting attendees.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
First and foremost: Challenge your own assumptions. Seek out people different from you. You don’t have to agree, but you need to test your thinking. Beware of panaceas or group think.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson” quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Virgil’s “Fortune favors the brave” is the phrase I especially leaned on when I started. Safety is an illusion. You don’t know how it will necessarily turn out, but you know you’re not going anywhere if you play it safe.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Learn more about our work by visiting ExcelerateAmerica.com and be sure to check out our blog when you’re there.
Follow us via @ExcelerateBiz on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, too. We’re always looking to have conversations with our communities there.