parents were sticklers for punctuality. So as a kid, I concocted a
motivational game to get myself home on time. I would imagine a
huge, ugly monster chasing me through the streets of Akron, Ohio.
I'll never forget that adrenalin-propelled rush of nearly flying over
the pavement, feeling the monster's hot, rancid breath (I think it
may actually have been the tire factories) while sprinting just ahead
of his moldy grasp.
the years, my monster has provided the motivation I've needed not
only to succeed, but to thrive in the business world. He has served
dogged pursuit is responsible for both my vocation and my avocation.
The hairy beast chased me through college and graduate school, and
finally into entrepreneurship. And I'm still running, but now for
fitness; and not in Akron, but St. Petersburg, Florida.
I decided to start my own private-investigation firm in 1996, the
monster breathed the specter of poverty. My new wife and I were
living in a small apartment, whose rent, like everything else in our
lives at the time, was paid by credit card. The monster helped me
chase after business just to make sure we could eat and keep gas in
the car and a roof over our heads.
also spewed the foul odor of self-doubt. I often lay awake at night
wondering how a guy like me could possibly presume to run a business,
especially against older, wiser (I thought!), and more experienced
as I ran faster to escape the monster's clutches (he now sported a
cheap, private-eye trench coat), I found myself learning a lot about
how business operates. One particularly revealing lesson was that my
"competition" was really only a little more gifted than my
the most part, private investigators were what they always had been -
retired police officers, special investigative unit (SIU) guys, or
insurance adjustors. They often worked alone, used manual processes,
and for sales collateral brandished their business cards.
while they clung to their Sam Spade model (and, for the most part,
still do), I decided to innovate. While they snoozed between cases
(feet up on the desk, of course), I learned about my marketplace -
the claims and risk professionals who were purchasing investigative
services. With the monster ever in the wings, I talked to people,
read the trade journals, and found out what they really needed from
I decided that when fighting monsters, there is strength in numbers.
So I took on partners, then employees. Every year, university
criminal-justice programs were turning out legions of bright,
energetic graduates, hungry for their first job and looking to learn
the ways of surveillance. Why not hire them, pay them a decent
salary, and teach them the ropes?
in order to keep my new employees working, why not find innovative
ways of generating more business - by using what I had learned about
our market, exhibiting at trade shows, producing sales literature
that worked, by advertising, and by constantly generating new ideas
for promoting the business? And why not self-publish a helpful
booklet for clients about how surveillance works?
also made a commitment to using the hottest technology to run the
business. (The monster was using none.) We outfitted our field
investigators with the latest in video and wireless technology,
trained them in its most efficient use, and sent them forth to
the real coup d'etat was the Internet. Our business is surveillance,
which generally means video tapes accompanied by written reports.
Our clients are claims and risk-management professionals, who spend
entirely too much of their time on the telephone with claimants,
physicians, attorneys and others.
better way to make surveillance information available to our harried
and phone-weary clientele than to offer it on our secure Web site for
them to peruse at their leisure - not only written reports but video
snapshots and actual streaming video of the surveillance as well?
Why rattle them with even more phone calls when e-mail and our Web
site can provide them exactly what they need in a concise form,
exactly when they need it? Why force them to store videotape
cassettes when we can embed the video into the on-line record?
we implemented the technology and juiced up the marketing, the
monster has been quieter. He's not gone; in fact, I still hear his
grunts when I look at our Web site and see how much remains to be
poverty is no longer the issue. The business, which now has grown to
85 employees, generated $4.1 million in revenues last year.
of course all those great investigators need to be paid, the office
rent is due every month, and the technology doesn't come free.
are my shoes? I can smell that ogre's breath right now.
(This was written by Robert DeRosa and myself in 2000.)