(from the left) Gary Vlk, Kevin Olsen
Looking back on June 28, 1995…Reflections from One Smooth Stone’s co-founder, Gary Vlk
Welcome to the beginning of the 16th year at ONE SMOOTH STONE! As this special anniversary has passed, I am reliving what happened 15 years ago.
June 28, 1995
Well… 15 years ago last night, Kevin quit his job, and we drove around strategizing who we were going to contact first. Kevin was on the phone until the wee hours in the morning, leaving all of our clients the message that we were starting a new business. We finally signed our Articles of Incorporation at 2:00am. BTW: My wife, Anne, was out of town and I had our newborn son Jonathan overnight.
Just a few minutes ago, I finished my meeting with our former employer and concluded there was not going to be a fight. Kevin was in the middle of a meeting downtown receiving words of encouragement and support.
When I arrived at our new (closet) space in Glen Ellyn, Sue, our first employee, and George, our second and part-time employee, were putting things away and organizing. I had no idea what they were organizing because I didn’t purchase or bring in a single thing to the office. I was seeing all of this for the first time.
Kevin was on his way back from downtown with the confirmation of our first program…a 5 (or 6… I can’t remember) city tour that needed to be produced within the next 5 days and delivered starting on July 5. I didn’t know where to begin. Oh… it was also really, really, hot… 95-98°F and very, very humid. This was the summer of people dying in Chicago due to the heat.
Kevin returned to the office from his downtown trip and we were all together for the first time in one place. Kinda weird. We were still trying to figure out what we should be doing!
I updated Kevin on my meeting with our former employer. They agreed to a meeting to work out a mutually acceptable separation agreement.
I had been collecting computer catalogues and decided it was time to go make the first big company purchase… a computer, printer and software. I looked at the catalogue one more time to figure out what it was that we could afford.
By this time, we plugged in the two phones and fax machine that we brought from home. We were so happy because we got Ameritech to hustle to get us our 8 phone lines very quickly. We celebrated too early.
It was lunchtime and we were quickly realizing that Ameritech was now our archenemy. Although they jumped at first, they still managed to whack things up. If we were talking to anyone on the phone, we could get no other calls. That really sucks when you are trying to start a business… especially on your first day of business when you are expecting to receive a ton of calls from your now former clients who you hope to be your current clients because they trust you and know you and can call you and get a hold of you at any time with pagers, faxes, (email wasn’t around yet) and RELIABLE PHONE SERVICE! It doesn’t look too good when you start a business and people can’t get a hold of you.
Kevin spent a good amount of time on the phone with our friends and designers Keith, and “Minnie” (Scott), who developed our logo and identity within a very short time period (3-4 days). We needed letterhead, business cards, envelopes….. we needed anything to legitimize we were real. And we needed it fast, fast, fast.
Next, I headed up north in my car to CDW to make the big computer purchase.
Sue was still busy organizing (what…I don’t know yet).
George, our part-time employee, was very instrumental in opening the company. He was a very nice kid, about 22 – 23 years old, who was looking for work. He worked with Kevin primarily to secure office supplies, let the phone people in the office, run and get things, help with hooking up the computer, type…. pretty much did anything we asked him to do. He worked for about 10 days before our first day getting the office ready for business. When I walked in the first day, it was amazing at how much stuff was already there. Stuff I didn’t even think about. It helped us greatly. So…. George was busy doin’ his stuff and probably ordering lunch. Yes…. I missed our first lunch together.
PS: Ameritech Sucks.
I maxed out my credit card on our first computer system. Scary! Once I finally got all of this stuff into my car it started pouring. I mean really, really raining. So bad that I couldn’t see much in front of me. It stayed that way all the way to Glen Ellyn. I was completely drenched by the time we took all of the boxes in.
Back at the fort, Sue got all of our accepting files and systems in place. We used the same method of tracking costs as our former employer. When we weren’t on the phone, we constantly recieved phone calls from our clients telling us that they would support us 100%. We started to feel real good. George spent the afternoon driving around getting supplies and stuff we needed to keep the organizational process moving along.
Kevin must have blown through 250 minutes on his cell phone that day. With all of the goofy phone problems, the cell was the only option. Since KO was positioned as the sales guy, he received most of the inbound calls.
It’s now been 5 hours since the opening of One Smooth Stone…. we were seeing many signs that we made the right decision.
So now that the computer system was up and running, our biggest challenge was to create our fax cover sheet. We had tons of faxes to go out and we wanted to create something that looked like a real company. We didn’t even have the logo yet so it was still pretty generic. Sue and George worked on the faxes. I was at the bank opening our very first checking account. I hopped right across the street to Firstar Bank and was treated like a goof. I don’t think that bank really knew what to do with a brand new company. After being there for an hour, I finally got the account opened with a little bit of money.
Kevin still spent most of his time on the phone and running around yelling, “Can you believe this? This is so cool!” Needless to say, Kevin was getting very excited.
PS: Ameritech still sucks (and will continue to suck for the next 36 hours).
We all started to slow down from the blurring day. In the last few hours, we located a copier (2 years later we found out we got big time ripped off with a very old copier), acquired a postage machine and scheduled an appointment with an Ameritech (YUCK) rep to inquire about a phone system. That would be fun meeting a few days later.
George left for the day, so it was just me, Sue and Kevin. We reflected on the day and we couldn’t believe what we had accomplished over the last 24 hours. Kevin and I couldn’t believe that after all of the planning and strategizing, Sue was the only colleague that decided to take the big jump.
There was certainly a peaceful feeling at this point because the phones stopped ringing (a reminder – only ringing on one line) and the activity ceased for the day. We believed it was the calm before the storm. Kevin and I once again reviewed our account strategy. We had another hour before we were due at The Highland Grill for the meeting with our former employer. Our goal was to negotiate a portion of our profits for the first few years in order to maintain the relationships with clients we cultivated over the previous 5 – 10 years. We wanted to exit in a respectable and ethical manner. We were ready for the meeting.
We walked into the restaurant and met our former employer. We weren’t sure of their attitude right away and let them lead.
All four of us proceeded to dive into the negotiation process. They were surprisingly humorous and agreeable. There were moments of intentional hesitation, carefully chosen words and snickers…. all within a parody of negotiation. We all knew that this was the defining moment of ONE SMOOTH STONE. There was tension, but we all chose to have fun. We managed to get through all of the accounts and took many notes.
Kevin and I excused ourselves from the table because we had to go “talk privately about the deal”. We ended up into the bathroom and could barely keep the smiles from our faces as we entered. We both looked at each other and coincidentally said at the same time, “Can you believe what just happened?” We just negotiated a deal that would catapult our company into the future. We managed to walk out of the restaurant with much more than we had hoped for when we walked in.
Kevin and I both had a great drive home and talked the entire way. Our company was started. Our plan was being executed better and faster than we could have imagined. Although we didn’t know it, that was the first sign of ONE SMOOTH STONE’s growth. What a great day it was!
– Gary Vlk