The following is an interview of Heath Stover, one of two founders of Umbrella Managed Systems. It’s the Umbrella Origin Story.
1. How did you and Trent Meet?
We met through my wife Mikala’s at the time boyfriend at a party in college originally. From there we became friends and both moved to the plaza together and Trent lived 3 floors up from my apartment. We actually ran an ethernet cable from my room to his through the outside windows to share internet with each other. After work we would walk to Brush Creek every Wednesday and create a “fake” company over some Boulevard Wheat and games of Galaga, which Trent would beat me at every time.
2. What made you want to start an IT company?
My brother, Shiloah, had started a chiropractic practice and was having issues with his EMR (Electronic Medical Records system.) When he contacted the EMR vendor for support, he was told that he needed to work with Dell to get the issue resolved. Shiloah had called me to see if I could help him figure out this issue, and in turn I called Trent for his support. We both ended up flying out to Oklahoma and resolved the issue. On the flight back we decided we should start our own IT company. I was 25 at the time and Trent was 26, and we were both working about 80 hours a week for an IT company. We were young and arrogant enough to figure we may as well do this for ourselves.
Some time went by and then Trent came over to tell me that he had quit his job and that it was time to start a company. At first, I thought he was joking. We’d not talked to a bank to get money yet, or done any serious planning. A week later, I quit my job and the rest is history.
3. How often do you get asked if the Umbrella name/logo had anything to do with the video game/movie franchise Resident Evil?
*Laughs* Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with Resident Evil. Trent and I were sitting at a Starbucks and it was a rainy day. We saw a woman walking by with a red and white Umbrella protecting her from getting soaked in the rain. We thought the symbolism of protecting our clients like an Umbrella protects from the rain was a perfect analogy.
4. How was the first year at Umbrella?
A lot of oddball jobs, having coffee with anyone who would talk us, and trying to learn everything we didn’t know about the business. We didn’t have a solid client for the first 8 months, but slowly Umbrella started to earn clients one cup of coffee at a time.
5. What did you do before starting Umbrella?
I was a Project Manager for a small firm on the south side of Overland Park and Trent was a Technical Manager at Cerner.
6. When you started Umbrella, what was the original goal?
We wanted to start a company that provided the best MSP (Managed Service Provider) services. We wanted to grow to be a well known and respected IT support company in Kansas City. And we knew we couldn’t lose sight of going above and beyond client expectations and needs to be successful.
7. What was the average work day like once Umbrella started to get going?
It was only Trent and myself for the first year and a half. We had no idea if our solutions would work, but we kept at it. We learned so much those first 18 months. I would say about 50% of our day would be providing service desk support, 25% of was IT projects and new client setup, and the other 25% was networking and sales.
There was one time where we worked 21 days straight, 14+ hours a day bringing on three clients at the same time. We realized quickly that we needed to start hiring some help. So, we hired the first employee ever at Umbrella, Kirk. He still works here to this day!
8. What moment did you realized that Umbrella was starting to work as a company?
When we signed the lease for our building in the River Market. I sat there looking at the 5 year lease we were about to sign and thought, “Wow, this is a real commitment, this is actually coming together.” We had been in business about 3 years at that time and we had about 20 clients and 4 employees.
9. What made & continues to make Umbrella a successful business?
We are a customer service company first. The tech is the tech, and any IT company can provide that. We wanted to stand out and deliver a WOW factor to our clients and build a relationship.
10. Was there ever a panic period to where you thought Umbrella wasn’t going to make it?
There was a moment, when I was visiting my family in Iowa. I went out for a walk with my dog and found a grassy hill and just sat there for a bit. My mind was racing. I was thinking, “What am I doing?” I’d gone all in on Umbrella and it was scary. But we kept moving forward, giving it our all and taking care of people. It all paid off.
11. How did Umbrella gain new business for the first few years?
Trent’s grandfather told me something back in the early days that has stuck with me ever since, “Provide a quality product at a fair price and profit takes care of itself.”
We stayed true to that. The companies we supported organically started referring us to different businesses. That and about 10,000 cups of coffee with anybody that would listen.
12. What do you see for the future of Umbrella?
We are becoming an integrated IT department on behalf of our clients. We’re a true partner and we help their business grow. We will continue to provide a fun and effective learning environment for all the Umbrella team members. World domination is still at the top of our list… and I still want to beat Trent at Galaga.