As part of my series about “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sridhara Gutti. Sridhara (Sri) is the founder, president and owner of Essnova Solutions. Working in the tech industry for more than 20 years, Sri has directed projects in countries around the world for customers in public, private and governmental organizations. Sri was named Small Business Person of the Year for Alabama by the U.S. Small Business Administration in 2020. As a successful business leader in Birmingham, Sri is passionate about the area’s business climate and about building the best team to solve complex problems. Sri believes in educating other entrepreneurs, employees and students along the way.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve had entrepreneurial ambitions right from a very young age. My goal has always been to use my full brain potential, and I’ve never been good at waiting on other people. That passion is what motivated me to start Essnova Solutions in 2005. We began by providing innovative solutions for power companies and utilities — helping them improve their workflow. But I wanted to do more than that geospatial work. Problem solving and innovation is what gets me going, and it led to Essnova becoming incredibly diversified with our expansion into other areas where we can feed that hunger to solve problems by spurring innovation. Our team at Essnova Solutions ignores limitations that normally hold companies back. We ask the tough questions in order to move forward and excel for our clients.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
It’s easy to undercut the work we do as entrepreneurs. We don’t often highlight our accomplishments on major projects or even day-to-day work. I didn’t realize how crucial it was to recognize these achievements until a colleague pointed it out to me. I was so focused on getting to the next important thing in my day, that I didn’t take a moment to let the “win” sink in. That small conversation with a colleague led me to be proud of my accomplishments and even more confident in the work that I was doing for my company.
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 am fortunate to have several mentors in my life. Aside from my family and friends, I credit business mentors for helping me with my company. I have always been an advocate for mentorships because I have learned so much from those who took the time to help me. If it wasn’t for my mentors, I wouldn’t be here growing this company. Aside from sharing their business advice, my mentors have always told me that if you work hard and believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything. That message set the tone for the rest of my life which helped foster a competitive spirit. It encouraged me to continue to reach new heights even when faced with adversity.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Essnova Solutions has always been a company on the move. Our purpose has always been to problem solve for our customers. Since the beginning, we have been able to expand rapidly thanks to our true problem-solving nature and our ability to innovate. Our prime focus when we started out was in geospatial work. We recognized that we were capable of so much more when we started to take on federal governmental work. Now, we work with some of the world’s superpowers, like the U.S. Government. Technology is an enabler, and we can do a lot now that we couldn’t do before. We successfully utilize so many areas of expertise under our umbrella. Technology is a beautiful thing, and we are here to improve the world by utilizing it to its fullest potential.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
Essnova Solutions is an award-winning and mature small business offering a broad range of technology and programmatic support services to governmental and commercial customers. As an ISO 9001:2015 certified small business, we utilize ISO registered commercial best practices to deliver highly efficient and responsive solutions on time and on budget. Essnova is ranked at 163 in Inc. Magazine’s prestigious list of 500 fastest-growing companies in the U.S. Essnova is trusted by 45 federal agencies across the U.S Federal Government. We pride ourselves on putting the best team together to solve complex problems. We are systems integrators who have deep expertise across the technology spectrum.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
Cloud migration has been one of the most significant technological innovations we’ve seen evolve in our industry. When the cloud concept was first introduced, many organizations, specifically the federal government, did not embrace the idea because of security concerns. As we fast forward to current cloud technologies, we realize how much more secure it is than we ever thought. There are massive cloud migrations happening across the spectrum, and we’re proud to be part of it.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
Essnova Solutions has quickly built capabilities in the cloud market segment by teaming up with our technology and services organizations. Our expansive partnerships with multiple technology vendors enable us to continue providing end-to-end solutions to our customers by assuming complete ownership. People often shy away from challenging the system because it’s time consuming or difficult. They are scared to be bold because they are comfortable. If there is a better, quicker or more efficient way to do something, we improve the process. We’re not afraid to make changes.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
During our first 10 years of business, we focused our service on one specific technology platform. Our company was booming during the initial five to seven years, with lucrative engagements across the globe. But in 2014, multiple businesses entered our line of work, diminishing our competitive advantage. In 2016, we were at a crossroads and realized we needed to pivot. We turned our work to focus on the federal, governmental sector. Switching gears helped us diversify our business model to offer multiple technologies and programmatic support services.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
Diversifying our business has helped us not only evolve, but grow. We are proud to serve over 45 DOD and civilian U.S. federal agencies spread across the nation. That growth has given us the ability to expand rapidly. We’re looking to hire people with a wide range of skills. We want to find bold people who are problem solvers, hungry for innovation and not willing to settle for the status quo.
Can you share the most interesting thing that happened to you since you started this pivot?
Our company’s hard work was rewarded when we were ranked at 163 in Inc. Magazine’s prestigious list of 500 fastest-growing companies in the U.S. Following that recognition, I was named Small Business Person of the Year for Alabama by the U.S. Small Business Administration. It was an honor to be recognized as one of the nation’s top entrepreneurs during such a trying time. The award is a badge of honor, proof of our hard work as a company and further fortified our determination to showcase how innovation can truly triumph over any obstacle. These prestigious awards were not something we could buy, but something we had to earn as a company and as a team.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
People are often scared to be bold in the face of a challenge because they are comfortable. But if there is a better, quicker or more efficient way to do something, leaders need to work to improve the process. That’s why we succeed at Essnova. We’re not afraid to make changes. It’s also important to plan carefully, regularly inspect yourself and your work and reflect on what you are doing, what you could be doing better and what’s next. If it wasn’t for my mentors, I wouldn’t be here growing this company.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Innovation combined with hope and execution is what allows us to excel and prosper even in times of uncertainty. Historically, some of the most innovative companies were born during times of adversity and economic depressions. It is critical to be surrounded by other high achievers and continue to be nimble and learn from successful entrepreneurs. There is always something for us to learn and more for us to improve.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I always tell my mentees that as a business leader, you must keep a positive attitude, embrace challenges and never be afraid to lead. By assuming complete ownership and providing end-to-end solutions, successful leaders can separate themselves from the pack and continue to grow.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
History is filled with companies, small and large, that failed when they refused to adapt and embrace disruptive technologies. If you’re familiar with Game Theory, you know that in order to succeed you need to be multiple steps ahead of the competition. By failing to understand and embrace technologies, you are yielding your success to your competition. To mitigate this, it’s important to be part of several industry associations, invest in obtaining market research and dial deep into the technologies. Don’t just scratch the surface.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Ask questions: By asking tough questions both internally and of the government agencies we serve, we uncover solutions and solve problems in ways they didn’t always know were possible. People will often come to me with a challenge because they know I can solve it. They know I will ask questions until I find a solution.
- Keep learning: In this interconnected world, always take the time and initiative to understand the disruptive technologies and identify the visible and invisible challenges. When you do this right, it puts you multiple steps ahead of the pack, thus giving you a competitive advantage.
- Critically evaluate your business: When it comes to running a business, I ask a lot of questions and never operate based on assumptions. That helps us to break through the norms. We’re always evaluating the work we do to ensure it’s the best it can be.
- Problem solve: Our specialty is taking complex problems and putting the right technology team together to solve them. Government agencies must be fast and agile. People’s lives are at stake. Innovation is our passion, and by bringing that to the federal government, we help them serve U.S. Citizens in the most efficient and effective way. Our experience in the fast-paced commercial sector has equipped us to move quickly. We bring that mindset to government projects. We pride ourselves on putting together teams of driven people and systems integrators who have deep expertise across the technology spectrum.
- Mitigate risk: One of our strengths at Essnova is mitigating risk. We don’t just hope for a perfect ending. If there is a rock in the road, you don’t just sit there hoping for it to move. You go around it or find a way to move it. At Essnova, we always have a plan B and plan C, and we’re available 24/7 to implement those plans when needed.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” — Wayne Gretzky
I am somebody who believes intimately in innovation. I take on goals that others are not able to accomplish because I know I can find a solution. Some people feel defeated by a difficult problem before even thinking of a solution because they know it is going to be a challenge. If you don’t take the shot, there’s no way you’ll ever find a solution. I look at things in a different light and always take a shot, no matter how difficult. When others tell me there isn’t a solution, it motivates me. My competitive, bold nature started when I was in school and it continues to accelerate my life forward. I challenge the status quo and remove any barriers in place.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can find me on LinkedIn @Sridhara Gutti. Reach out to connect anytime!