Diva Tech Talk enjoyed interviewing start-up founder, and entrepreneurial leader, Nicol Pasuit, CEO of TechStak (www.techstak.com), a company created as a key intermediary bringing vital technology assistance to small and medium-sized U.S. businesses.
Raised on a working farm in mid-Michigan as the only girl in a family of 8, Nicol was always interested in problem-solving and embraced a strong work ethic early in life. She began her college education initially as a journalism major but quickly switched to audiology and speech sciences, where her first exposure to data, analytics and technology began.
Her job, while still at Michigan State University, was in the pediatric rehab and NICU departments at Sparrow Health Care. After graduation, Nicol took an entry-level position working in “outcomes assurance” and referral management at Concentra Medical Centers (https://www.concentra.com/) while simultaneously pursuing her MPA (Masters in Public Administration) at Oakland University. “I was behind a computer all day long!” she said. Promoted in 4 months, Nicol oversaw a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week, Concentra healthcare clinic, for which she had full profit and loss responsibility. “Running the business: that’s where I found my strengths.” Within several years, Concentra offered Nicol an expanded challenge, and she built and managed the company’s specialist services program throughout the Midwest, and then nationally. “That was a fantastic experience. For 12 years, I traveled coast-to-coast, and led cross-functional teams throughout the country.” Nicol grew as a strong leader, “building a high functioning, productive team” --- a majority of whom were women. Nicol also led the development and project management of many operational tools and software. It was “huge exposure to technologies and what we needed to support the daily operations of a large nationwide business unit.”
After one more major promotion, Nicol left Concentra in 2015, as it was acquired by Select Medical. “I had an opportunity to take a next step, going from being an ‘intrapreneur’ to becoming an entrepreneur --- using my skillset of business development, product development, product management, and scaling business services across the country.” Seizing that pivotal opportunity, Nicol founded TechStak. “It’s one of those things where you look at the moment in time, and you have to be able to take a risk --- living in uncertainty.” Among other things, since she has “self-funded” her venture, Nicol sold her car to take the plunge into the risky world of startups.
“I have to give credit to my husband,” Nicol said, discussing the genesis of TechStak. “He would talk to me about his technology business, and being able to land new clients.” A light bulb popped over Nicol’s head: “There are so many small businesses (28 million in the U.S.) that need technology. Every small business needs technology to function, and remain competitive.” Nicol’s initial target market is 5.9 million small U.S. businesses with 10-499 employees. “I came up with the idea of TechStak to help those companies find providers, like my husband’s company, to help them. They don’t know where to start. They don’t know what questions to ask. They need a way to connect to the right technology provider. One size doesn’t fit all.”
Nicol has made it her mission to ensure that “those technology services that were only affordable for large companies” can found and used by small businesses. “There’s no Angie’s List for technology,” she exclaimed. “But TechStak can connect these businesses to the right tech providers.” The company’s 2017 goals include “being completely scaled up in Michigan, having the right number of providers on board and being able to have businesses connect to those providers.” In 2018, Nicol intends to take TechStak out of state to the next new market. “Our plan is to be dominating in the Midwest,” next year, she said. And after that? “How do we move east and southeast before we go west.”
TechStak relies on internally-created proprietary “matchmaking” technology, which Nicol continues to iterate to “change it up, using machine learning techniques” as the company grows. Nicol’s initial key hires were in marketing, business development process-mapping, and database administration, supplemented by technology services firms, working under contract, to build out TechStak’s solutions. Like many entrepreneurs, when discussing her leadership and operational roles at TechStak, Nicol says: “What don’t I do? I wear many hats.” From the HR function to business development to service and product development, Nicol has been managing it all.
Nicol characterizes herself as “a control freak.” She credits her propensity for “being scheduled, and planning things” as contributing to high productivity. “Having the big vision, but knowing what are the actions required to execute, to meet your goal,” she said, “is the secret.” She also credits the fact that she is “very good at compartmentalizing things.” She “shuts things off” at the end of each business day; and can “focus on which things need the most intention.” She balances her family of two boys (“who I learn from every day”) and her supportive spouse (“also learning from him; I am trying to be a sponge”) by scheduling relentlessly and consistently.
Being a woman never slowed Nicol down as she pursued her career to date. “I have never been told ‘you cannot do something.’ There were high expectations, growing up. If I want something, I am going to go after it.” After TechStak is successfully launched and has met its growth goals, Nicol is interested in becoming a coach for other women entrepreneurs. “I am interested in helping other women build their businesses.”
Outside of her company, Nicol is involved with Automation Alley, a nonprofit association (www.automationalley.com), and CompTIA (https://www.comptia.org/) and its committee on advancing women in technology. “They actually do a lot of talks about getting women engaged in tech.” Her lessons/advice currently include:
● “Ask questions.”
● Be a good listener. Listen to feedback. “I watched other women in high positions, and observed their behavior.”
● Connect with people who can help you.
● “Step outside your comfort zone. That will get you very far.”
● “Surround yourself with people who bring different views, perspectives, talents, and who are smarter than you.”
● “Find a mentor, someone who can help you navigate the waters, and be a ‘devil’s advocate’. You will be amazed.”
Please feel free to contact Nicol at her email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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