The Christine Spray Show

Successful CEO Stories and Insights

Ep003: An Overnight Success with Jessie McMahon - Transcripts

Return to Episode

Christine: Jessie, thanks for being a guest on the show today.

Jessie: Thank you so much for having me, Christine.

Christine: No, thank you. I appreciate it. Let's start off with sharing your background, where you grew up, and a little bit about your education and training.

Jessie: Well, I am a native Houstonian, born and raised here in the Houston area. Grew up most of my life on the north side of Houston, in the Humble area. I went to high school here, and actually didn't go to college. So, my formal education stopped at that point.
I did, however, get a number of certifications, CISCO, Microsoft, some of the other major players in the technology world. Got certifications through them, and just went to work, and was working in the oil and gas industry, obviously, in the IT sector. And that's where I was when I got the opportunity to launch out and do my own thing in creating M7 Services.

Christine: Wow, so how many different titles or roles did you have in IT? How many years were you in that business before you started your business?

Jessie: I probably had pretty close to 20 years in the IT industry, the vast majority of it being in the oil and gas part. Here in Houston, that's one of the major industries here. I found myself ... I started out working in a call center, taking phone calls and helping people reset passwords and things like that.
And quickly moved on to actual corporate IT support, and from there, went on and managed some corporate IT support teams. I got more into the server, networking, routing aspect. And had, for a number of years, served as a network engineer, and just starting at the bottom in the IT world. And had just moved up through the years, and gained knowledge and experience, which helped me establish the business that I have today helping people in that technology space.

Christine: Interesting, and what was the ... I'm not familiar with the titles, per se, but what was the highest title? Because you started out, basically, at the bottom and grew way up in that 20 years. What was the last title or two that you had in that business before you started your business?

Jessie: A network engineer and -

Christine: Engineer.

Jessie: Basically, that's where you are starting from scratch, and you design and architect the layout of the network, and how many switches, and how many devices are going to be operating, and spec-ing out the equipment that would go into a particular installation. And then, of course, the ongoing support of those devices and equipment.

Christine: Interesting, and so what led you to start your own business? You said that's how you got into the business, but what happened for you to leave there? Obviously, you were doing well. The company obviously kept you, and you were doing a lot for them. Tell us how you actually started your business, or how that happened?

Jessie: Yeah, it's really a ironic case of the right place at the right time. I have a relatively large family. My wife and I have four beautiful children, and my father had passed away a number of years before. And my mom also lived with us, and so we had a pretty large family.
And for you to be able to do things like go to Disneyland, or take vacation, I always found myself moonlighting, doing a little a stuff on the side. That's exactly how this opportunity presented itself. I had someone reach out to me that was doing some temporary work at a hotel here in the Houston area.
And they said, "Hey, we're desperate over here. They have a company that provides IT support. They haven't been real responsive. Would you be willing to help out with a couple of emergency type issues?" So I said, "Absolutely," and reached out to the contact person at the hotel. And introduced myself, and told them that I'd be available to come by.
And they said, "Well, can you come now?" I was actually on my lunch break at my job when I called. And so, I said, "Well, I can be there by 4:30 today." I left the office and drove straight over there, and helped them fix a couple of issues real quick, and they offered me a job.
I said, "Well, I've got a good job. Thank you, I appreciate that." And they said, "Well, would you be interested in helping us nights and weekends?" And I said, "Sure." I had never stepped foot behind the scenes at a hotel before, had never seen the infrastructure that a hotel utilizes.
It was a brand new world for me, and I think that my work ethic ... I have to say that I'm a true geek in the sense that I love exploring, and learning new things. So I just jumped right in there, and took a lot of pride in what I was doing. They were very complementary of the fact like, "Man, we haven't gotten this kind of response, or this kind of assistance, period."
They basically signed a support agreement with me and I would ... Every day after I got off of work, I would go straight to that hotel. I would spend several hours just learning and mapping out the network, and just understanding all the different things that are going on in a hotel. It can be pretty complex with all the different connections back to their parent brand, connections out to the online reservations systems, and guest internet, and back office internet.
And so, there was a lot of unique situations that are going on in hotels, but because it was ... I had my own beta testing facility, basically. I just got in there and learned everything I could about it. This management company that supported this hotel, they had contacts, and they had needs that slowly began to pop up at other hotels.
And so, I found myself just taking on support for this hotel, and then another hotel, and three turned into four or five. And I realized that I couldn't continue to do this by myself part-time. I had a job that I was obligated to. And so, I'd start getting personal emails from my temporary clients that were during the day.
So I went out, and I found a gentleman that I hired to answer phones, and to respond to emails throughout the day. And the business began to grow, and we began to take on other hotels. Before long, we were at eight, nine, 10, 12 hotels. And I found myself leasing an office space that I had four employees going to, and I was still going to my job every day.
I would get up in the morning, drive straight to my side business office, check in with the guys and make sure everybody was okay. And then, I'd drive to work, work all day long, come back to the M7 office, make sure everything was handled. Address anything that was maybe outstanding, or needed my eyes on, or something like that, and do it all over again every day.
It was very taxing. I was traveling a lot, because although the first hotel was in the Houston area, the second hotel was in southern California. The third hotel was in Las Vegas. Then, I began to get two or three at a time, and they were just all over the country.
So anything that we needed to do, it was a flight somewhere. I found myself every weekend, and even sometimes overnight, flying out in the evening, taking care of something through the night, and flying home in the wee hours of the morning on a red eye just to get back and go to work the next morning at my 8:00 to 5:00 job. It was insane, and I had one of my clients reach out to me and say that they had a large group of hotels that they wanted M7 to begin to support.
I was very clear that I had a full-time job, and this was something that we focused on the side, so it was something I was trying to avoid bringing up. So, my client knew this and he called me. And he said, "Jessie, I've got a large group of hotels that I want to create IT standardization in, and I want M7 to support them."
And he said, "But I know that you have obligations outside of M7." And he said, "So I'm telling you that if you'll make this and us a priority, that I will give you the business." And so, I started the business in the latter part of 2014. I turned in my notice, and my last day on my job was September 11th, 2015. And so, for almost a year it was trying to do both.

Christine: Wow.

Jessie: I stepped out, and here we are several years later. We support close to 2000 hotels across North America, Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It's been an exciting ride.

Christine: Wow. Well, and I only know about the last few years that I've had the opportunity to work with you as a client, so thank you for that ride and that adventure. Every time I talk to you, it just keeps getting bigger and better, which who thought? Just to clarify, you did that side job, so to speak, evenings and weekends, so to speak, just to be able to go to Disneyland with your family, and make some extra income.

Jessie: Yeah.

Christine: Which it ended up, low and behold, blowing up into its own full blown business. The gentleman calling you trusted you and obviously liked your work, to say, "Hey, you really should do this for us, and I'll make sure this is worth your value," right?

Jessie: Right.

Christine: When did you actually start the name and business entity, so to speak, as M7?

Jessie: Well, we had basically ... My parents had owned a rental property and we were ... When my dad passed away, they left that to myself. And so, we were just setting up a little DBA so that we could have a business associated. And this was going to be for a rental property, so it wasn't just personal income, but it was going to be a side business that we had.
The M ... Obviously, my last name is McMahon. The M is for my last name, and then the seven was for me, my wife, the four kids, and my mom. Interestingly enough, we spent some time in Sydney, Australia. And the main highway close to where we lived was called Motorway Seven. So instead of I-10, here in the Houston area, they referred to those motorways as the M7, or the M5. And we lived right off of the M7.
It was a unique play on our name, our family, and some of those things. I actually got that DBA back in 2012, a couple of years before the business opportunity presented itself. Very early on, I didn't know anything. I was a really good tech guy, but was not really a business savvy kind of guy.
And early on, I found myself ... I went out and got one of those answering services that would say, "For sales, press one. For tech support, press two. For accounting, press three." It didn't matter what number you pressed. It all forwarded to my cell phone, so we created that perception that, "Oh, M7 is quite the company."
But it was fun, and it was exciting. There was so much explosive growth that was going on, and to be honest, has continued to go and happen ever since starting the business. It's just been phenomenal. And I've found that what has made us so successful is just simple, the responsiveness.
And in this industry, and in this niche of a market, where we support only hospitality clients, hotels, resorts, casinos, that sort of thing, there just wasn't a good solid, truly customer service centric group out there that was responsive, that just followed up, that just listened to people's needs. And I think just getting in there, and applying the IT knowledge that I had developed over the course of my career, it was just something that was new and fresh to a lot of these hotels. Because, they're customer service oriented all day, every day.
They're pleasant to their guests. They're kind. They're welcoming. They're all of these things, but when they found that we were a support company, and a vendor that basically had the same mindset that they had about the customer first, and all of those types of things, it just really opened up a door for us to launch the business, and see all of the amazing things that we've seen.
I'd like to put one little plug that we've seen all of this happen, and we've yet to hire our first salesperson. We don't have a sales department. 100 percent of our clients have been referrals, or just organic growth of people reaching out to us. So far, all of our business that we have has been business that has come and approached M7 to see if we could help them and their properties.

Christine: Wow, and just to be clear to the average listener, most of us are probably thinking the Wi-Fi that we plug into, or connect to in a hotel room. We're not talking about that. We're talking about the entire behind the scenes, as you mentioned, from corporate-

Jessie: Correct.

Christine: ... to the hotel, to the reservations, et cetera. All the behind the scenes of IT that works and runs that operations, right?

Jessie: That is correct. That is correct. To simplify what M7 does, a lot of times I just use the terms we address, and service, and maintain everything that faces the employee. And we work with a lot of the companies, but we don't provide the actual equipment, or do the installs, or provide the service for all the guest facing.
That's another group of companies out there that we do work closely with. Sometimes, we do have to work together to get resolution on some issues. But for the most part, we handle everything facing the employee, and nothing that faces the guest.

Christine: Right, well, it's a nice segue for me to ask you the next question about your biggest challenges. And I know you echo some of the same comments that I say frequently, "God doesn't give us anything that we can't handle." You continue to handle some of the biggest things that come your way. Why don't you tell us ... In 2015, it was officially ... You were running this business, and out of being an employee at the other business. Since then, tell us some of your biggest challenges that you've experienced.

Jessie: Well, I think one of the biggest things has just simply been the lack of business management and training in that regard. It's funny that you say that God doesn't put more on us than we can bear. It's like sometimes I get to the point where I'm so frustrated, ready to pull my hair out. But I have to sometimes just stop and thing that, "Hey, this opportunity was given to me, even though I don't have that information. I don't have that knowledge."
Everything that I've gotten, it's been on the job training. Through the years, I've had people ask me for tips, and all this. Like, "How do you do this?" Or, "Man, I've seen what your business has done. Tell me how to do it."
I often tell a quick little story. I respond in such a way that, "Hey, if you're driving down a country road, you see a fence on the side of the road. And you pass one of those fence posts, and there's a turtle up there. Nobody is going to say, man, I wonder how that turtle crawled up there. The question is going to be who put that turtle up there?" So I often feel like the turtle on a fence post.
Don't ask me how I got up here. I just found myself here, and I'm enjoying the view. I would say that just simply being an IT guy ... And as you know, and pretty much anybody listening, IT guys have a tendency to be awkward and weird. I can say that because I am one.
I don't have that sales type of persona. A lot of things that others would find just routine were always challenges for me, and extremely intimidating. But I have to say that just realizing that, "You know what? I've been given an opportunity, and I find myself in a place that not everybody finds themselves in." I just really dug in, and tried to glean everything I can from the people around me.
In the early days of M7 ... We've had a lot of insane growth through the years. And I found things like ... Speaking of challenges, I found myself frustrated because our payroll dollars were just simply skyrocketing. And we were hiring so much, because there were so many things that I had never managed, or overseen, or were new experiences for me.
I found myself having to hire people that were experienced in that area, or had that talent, or had that knowledge and information. And I felt like, "Man, this is not going to be sustainable if I'm having to hire these people to do this." So there was a lot of frustration, but as we've continued to grow, and as we've seen the success of our model going forward, now I look back at that.
And I say, "Man, what an absolute incredible accident," because having all of those people in place now, and from me going from a one man band to now we have almost 100 employees. Having those people in place has given us the ability to scale with the business, and the new clients, and the new properties that we take over. And so, what was a real challenge early on has turned out to be more or less a blessing in disguise.

Christine: Wow. Wow, well, thanks for sharing that. It has been amazing to watch you grow, and watch your business grow. You have also attracted and retained some great talent. I know that's helped you along the way. Tell us-

Jessie: Absolutely.

Christine: ... what are some of the other hidden opportunities, or some of your proudest achievements? I know you're a humble person, but share some of those with us.

Jessie: I think some of the hidden opportunities ... They're always in the biggest obstacles. That's where we see ourselves learn and grow so much. I could spend the rest of the day telling you about some of the crazy situations that I found myself in, and didn't know how to handle, or didn't know what to do.
Sometimes when the pressure is on and you realize, "Look, I've got to figure this out. I've got to figure out how to address this. I've got to figure out how to handle this," is when I've really just put everything aside and just focus on these things. I've found that not only, hey, we can create a solution for something that seemed insurmountable, but I have learned so much personally through each of those challenges. Because every challenge presents us with an opportunity to either learn from it, to grow from it, how to avoid it in the future.
I think that every one of these challenges has helped me learn, and grow, and become more and more every day a CEO that everybody's not going to be embarrassed by. It's funny. I find myself all the time ... I say all the time, on a regular basis, sitting at my computer, and coming back from a meeting, and feel like all I have done today is been on conference calls, Zoom calls, in meetings. I haven't done any real work. I sit down and open up Google and say, "What is my job as a CEO?" Just to make sure I'm doing what I'm supposed to do.

Christine: And like we've talked about before, you're still in the making, right?

Jessie: Yeah.

Christine: We're always learning every day. You definitely are not in the weeds anymore, because you've built a great team to help you. But you're also in the weeds if your clients need you. You're so humble that you're always there and available. But you have certainly learned, and grown into a great CEO, for sure. Go ahead.

Jessie: I was just going to say in the early days, I never wanted to call myself a CEO because I was like, "Well, man, I've got like five employees. I've got six employees. A CEO ... That doesn't really describe who I am." But as we grew, and I began to understand and realize that our clients were looking for that established and mature organization, some of those things were just natural progressions. But for many years, I traveled with two sets of business cards.
One was Jessie McMahon, Senior Network Engineer. And the other one was Jessie McMahon, Chief Executive Officer. Because I would be the one, because I would go to so many of our properties early on, and actually do the work. I felt like, "Well, they don't want the CEO here working. They want somebody that knows what they're doing."
So many times people ... I've gotten so many emails through the years from guys that worked for me here, from clients that I would go visit. They would email their point of contact. And they would say, "Hey, just want to let you know that we really appreciate you sending your tech, Jessie, out. He did an outstanding job, so pass this on to his supervisor, because he did a great job." It's always awesome to get kudos from somebody that doesn't actually realize that you own the company.

Christine: That's so funny. I love that. I love that story. You alluded to my next question. You alluded to this a little bit earlier, but I wonder if you could elaborate. What makes your company unique?

Jessie: I would have to say that it truly is our customer service, the level of customer service. I know a lot of people say that they're really big on customer service, but I think that we take it to a whole new level. It's attributed to our team.
I'm very, personally, customer service minded, but as our team has grown they, too, have adopted that mentality. It just has been so amazing to watch how a company really does take on a lot of the personality traits of its leaders. The leadership team that I have around me is just as customer service focused, or more even, than I am.
That has begun to just be inherited by every single one of our employees, to where it's just second nature. It's the basis and the foundation of everything we do. It's customer first. Our clients know that regardless of what happens, or has happened, that M7 is going to take care of it.
We're going to make it right. If it's a mistake we made, we're going to take care of it. If it's something ... You've found yourself in a crisis outage. We're going to go the extra mile to make sure that we get your systems back up, and whatever we got to do. Really, when you were asking me earlier about some of the proudest achievements, one of the things that I had thought to mention during that was the very first competitive RFP that we did, a request for proposal to compete against other companies like us to get a new piece of business.
At this point, that RFP was the largest group that we had done any work with up until that point. I knew we were competing against companies that were nationwide, companies that had hundreds of employees, that had been in business for decades. And then, you had M7.
We'd only been around a few years, and didn't have a lot of the other things to compete with. I found myself having to get creative to be competitive. And one of the things that we did was ... In the middle of the RFP, we were going back and forth advancing through the rounds.
And the question came up about, "Well, what if somebody calls in from the hotel to the M7 support line, and the issue cannot be resolved over the phone?" Without consulting any of my team, or really giving any real thought to it, I said, "Well, if we can't fix it over the phone, then we will go to the hotel and fix it at no additional cost. There's no travel cost. There's no meals or mileage. We'll take care of it. We're going to fix it at no additional cost if we can't fix it over the phone."

Christine: Wow.

Jessie: And that one offering was one of the key reasons we won that significant piece of business. I was talking to some of the people that were involved in the RFP from competing companies later. They were just like, "You are crazy. You are insane for making that offer. You're going to lose money."
But what we found is that the need to do that was so few and far between, that the expenses really weren't there. And we did not lose money because of it, but it set us apart. And it gave us a name to begin with that, "Hey, these guys, they're confident. They can take care of it. They're going to fix it. They're going to do whatever is required to get it."
So our customer service aspect of M7, I think, is second to none. And I think that our clients quickly see that, and have been able to appreciate that. We've been able to retain an overwhelming majority of hotels that we support.

Christine: Yeah, Jessie, you obviously walk the talk, and your colleagues do as well. It's funny. If I put a competitor next to you, which you really don't have any compared to what you do now. I wonder who ... Nobody else ... I'd like to look at them and say, "See if you can top that," because I know they can't.

Jessie: Well, we like to think that we're special in that regard. It's very humbling, it really is, to see the way that people have received what we do and our business. It's been pretty amazing.

Christine: Another question, do you do everything in house, or do you outsource anything?

Jessie: I would just say there's probably a mixture, a little bit of both. We do all of our support. When somebody calls in for assistance, every one of the people that that client is going to speak to is an M7 employee. They're right here in our Houston office.
And so yeah, all of that support aspect, it's all in house. We do have some other partnerships, but those are very unique in what those roles are. But yeah, the overwhelming majority, we do everything here in house.

Christine: All right, and then talking about your journey to becoming CEO, what do you do for professional development to continue to learn and grow as a manager, as a leader, and strategically?
Well, I am always reading, always trying to find information about entrepreneurs, and how they've been able to do things to improve their quality of life, and work, and leadership. So I do a lot of that, personally. I also am a member of Vistage, and peer groups of other CEOs that are able to sit down and share some challenges and struggles, and get some amazing feedback.
I feel that ... I've been in Vistage, I guess, going on about three years now, something like that. I just can't tell you how impactful having the sounding board of my Vistage group when those issues come up that I need some input on ... But I would even say that even more so than just being able to share my struggles and challenges, being able to sit back and listen to other leaders that have proven track records of success. Being able to sit back and hear when they bring things to the table that also need to be addressed, and being able to learn from what they're going through, and their challenges.
So many times when something comes up here at the office, it's just second nature. The first question that pops in my head is, "How would I present this to my Vistage group, and what do I already know they would tell me to do?" It's been an amazing contribution to helping me turn the corner to go from technical guy to CEO, for sure.

Christine: Interesting, thanks for sharing that, because I know there's many other business leaders and owners that listen to this podcast. So they'll get benefit from what you've done to grow, as well. What do you wish you would have known when you started out? If you knew you were going to be a business owner and a CEO, what do you wish you had known beforehand?

Jessie: Oh, man, I wish I would have known ... That's actually a ... I think if I would have known more about the risk, if I would have known more about the challenges, if I had known more about the struggles, that I probably wouldn't have done it. So, I really believe that I just wish that I would have taken the time in my earlier life to actually go to school, to get some of the training, the information, the knowledge just about business and leadership, and those things. Because it's always a challenge when you're presented with something you've got to resolve, but you don't know exactly what to do. You've got to go out and research even what the issue is, and how to fix it. It's just investing the time earlier in younger days, of just learning and getting that business knowledge and education, for sure.

Christine: Right, well, like you said, you might not have done it if you had known. But at the same token, if it was easy, everybody would do it.

Jessie: That's true. That's true.

Christine: If you could write a book, what would your book be about?

Jessie: I feel like that if I was to write a book, it would definitely probably be along the lines of just telling my life story. And how a kid that grew up in a trailer park in Greenspoint, that didn't have a lot to look back on and say, "Oh, I can be successful in life because ... " There wasn't very many of those in my life, but just the ups and the downs, and the crazy experiences that I've been through.
And the way that this business has come about, and the challenges, the rewards, all the amazing things, all in an effort to let people know that it does not matter where you find yourself in life. It doesn't matter what hand life has dealt you. You can achieve anything that you put your mind and passions to. I believe that with all my heart.

Christine: Yeah, I do too. I remember early on when I was a young teenager, I saved a bunch of money to buy this cassette. It's on CD now, Where There's A Will, There's An A. And in that context, I learned that where there's a will, there's a way. I agree with you. Whatever you put your mind to, you can accomplish, if you believe in yourself for sure, right?

Jessie: Absolutely, for sure.

Christine: So just a couple more questions, and I'll wrap up. I know you're busy, and you need to get back to the business too. What's the most rewarding part of running your business?

Jessie: Oh, without question the most rewarding part is every day when I step off the elevator and walk through the office, and just see all of our team members buzzing around and doing things. And just letting it sink in that M7 has been partly responsible for providing opportunities for these individuals. We've got such an amazing group of people here, and just seeing that, wow, they're here.
They work for M7, and they're contributing all of their efforts, and their livelihood is coming from here. It's such an humbling feeling to look around and see all that's going on. Just to know that I have a part of that is awesome.
I'm a firm believer of hiring for attitude, and giving people an opportunity to learn. We have a large number of our M7 team that when they started at M7, it was their first real full-time job. But because of their personal drive, and their desire to learn, here they are successful.
We've got guys that came to M7. One previously worked at Dairy Queen. A couple of guys worked at one of these drive through car washes, standing there waving people in. But the kind of people that they were, they just got in and took advantage of an opportunity themselves, to learn and grow, and develop.
That's just so extremely rewarding to look around and see these people advancing in their careers, just because they were given an opportunity. They appreciated it, valued it, and they put everything into it. That's probably one of the best parts about owning the business, and getting to see the team grow and develop. It's just been amazing.

Christine: It gives me goosebumps, because what you provide for them is the same thing that your clients have offered you, which was the opportunity for you to grow, and to learn. And you certainly walk the talk in that leadership role that you live in. And kudos to you for having the opportunities for all those people as well. Is there anything else that you would like to share that I didn't ask?

Jessie: No, I don't think so. I just really appreciate you giving me the opportunity to participate in the podcast. It's been great. I always take great pride and excitement to get to share a little bit about M7. I just thank you very much for inviting me on today.

Christine: Well, thank you too, Jessie. Jessie McMahon from M7 Services ... Jessie, you truly walk the talk, and are one of the most humble leaders I know. It's an honor to share your story, and I appreciate you sharing your time with us today as well. Thank you, and I look forward to seeing you again soon. Keep up the great work.

Jessie: Thank you, Christine. Thank you.

Christine: Bye-bye.