Venture Voices with Zach Duke
Welcome to The Venture Center’s Venture Voices series, a Q&A where entrepreneurs and startup founders share advice, encouragement, and inspiration for current and future entrepreneurs. Thanks to Zach Duke, Founder and CEO of Finosec, for sharing his insights!
The Venture Center: When do you think your entrepreneurial spirit emerged?
Zach Duke: What comes to my mind is this: early in my childhood at age 7 or 8, I would be in the car with my parents, and I noticed that the grass close to the road was not mowed for several houses. I remember asking my parents about it, and wondered if I mowed it for them, I could get a dollar or two, and help them out. My parents encouraged that way of thinking and seeing challenges from a very early age, and I think I’ve always been wired that way.
My dad was a manufacturer sales rep for furniture. That means he sold furniture to the furniture stores. In his role as a sales rep, he had a $0 base salary. So what that meant was, we didn’t do things or have money on the home front if the furniture stores didn’t sell furniture. I was very lucky – probably starting around age 11 or 12, my dad would take me to meetings with his customers. As we went on these trips, he was very intentional about teaching me his business and the importance of things like shaking a hand and communicating to the customer. The most important focus of these discussions was this consistent theme: the customer is why you’re in business.
Another example of a concept I learned from him is to make the extra call. Both my brother and I started our careers in sales and business development. Dad would talk about a scenario: where you are at the end of the day when you’re tired and you’re beat, make one extra call at the end of the day. If you do that consistently over a year, you’ve added 240 additional calls that your competitors didn’t do. It’s impressive the compounding effect that can have.
The VC: How did you get the idea for Finosec?
Duke: My background has been in community banking and technology management. I actually started my career setting up networks and IT infrastructure for community banks. Throughout my career of 20-plus years doing IT management, cybersecurity and information security, I saw a gap.
The gap is: cybersecurity governance is complicated. It’s labor-intensive and makes most community bank leaders feel overwhelmed. That’s why we created Finosec. It’s all about simplifying cybersecurity governance and proving that you’re doing what you say you’re doing. We’re so excited about helping community banks. I saw this unique opportunity and challenge that really hadn’t been effectively addressed in the industry.
The VC: Can you tell us about a time when you got knocked down, so to speak, and how you dealt with it?
Duke: I’ve been working with community banks my entire career. During the financial crisis and great recession, it hit the community banking and banking technology industry very hard. I can remember being on pins and needles every Friday, waiting to see if a community bank had been put in receivership. I had 80-plus of my customers that were directly impacted on these Friday notices and that was extremely hard. Community bankers are such great people. Watching that in the industry was difficult.
So we were losing customers, but at the same time we pivoted as a team. We were innovative in making technology management more effective for community banks, and we were actually able to grow revenue in spite of losing customers. So it was a very unique and challenging time on a whole bunch of fronts.
The VC: How do you find work-life balance?
Duke: I’ve got some things that I have to do intentionally. As I went through the process of leaving a high-paying job and thinking, ok, I’m not going to get paid, and how do I take this entrepreneurial leap? I had to look really hard at myself and figure out where my unique strengths lie. I love to help people, and I love building culture in the business. That’s just something that gets me fired up.
One of the challenges for me is disconnecting. I have a process that I go through where I will actually schedule time away. And literally I will block the entire day. I’ll go to a park, somewhere completely away, with no technology. The phone’s on airplane mode. I take a journal with me, and it’s amazing how innovative I can be in that space. That includes personally, professionally, and from a faith perspective. It’s fun, but it’s also such a great refresh. I think specifically in the entrepreneur space, we don’t take time for ourselves. So that’s one thing that I do, and I highly encourage others to do it as well.
The VC: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?
Duke: So I don’t think most early on entrepreneurs hear this enough: Don’t do it. A friend of mine, Wade Arnold, is one of the sharpest entrepreneurs I know. When I sat down with him to talk about the idea of starting my own business, he said, “it’s tough.” And it is. You’ve really got to think through the process before you do it. As a society, we make it seem so glamorous, but it’s a grind, and you need to be prepared for that. That would be my first recommendation to anyone who has not taken the step to go into entrepreneurship, make sure you really want to do it.
Now, if you have made that decision, and you’ve already passed over to the dark side, let me change gears. For you, I would say be intentional about taking time to think. Get away from the office, put the technology away and allow the creativity that you have to be harnessed. Our leadership team just did this before a strategic planning session. We all went away for a day, disconnected from technology, and then we did our strategic planning meeting and it was phenomenal. Don’t just grind it, make sure you are strategic. Schedule time to get away from the business so you can reset and prioritize what’s the most important.
Learning at the knee of his salesman dad to authentically care for customers set Zach Duke, Founder and CEO of Finosec, on a path towards using technology to address real human needs. After a career working with community banks in cybersecurity and IT management, including weathering the financial crisis of the late aughts, Duke saw a gap between overwhelmed bankers and the demands of cybersecurity. He took a leap and started Finosec to address this burden, and we’re proud to have Finosec take part in this year’s ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator.
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