How did Velociteach train 200,000 customers in 10 years?
What are some growth paths for project managers?
Don’t miss that one piece of advice from this successful CEO.
Listen or read about Andy’s story, how he built Velociteach and his thoughts on project management.
While a leading project manager in the IT industry, Andy Crowe realized he wanted to teach others to do what he loved, and in 2002 he founded Velociteach. His goal was to empower others to learn PM in a simple, dynamic way that also encouraged personal and professional growth.
Listen to the audio interview:
Samir: Welcome, everyone. Welcome to the Future of Project Management. Today we have with us Andy Crowe. He was the CEO and founder of Velociteach. It’s a great company if you’re looking for your PMP certification, if you’re looking for PGMP or Agile certification and a lot of other courses, Velociteach is the company to look at. We’re going to speak to Andy Crowe who is the founder of this company. So thank you, Andy. Thank you for making the call and thank you for your time and sharing.
Andy: Thank you, Samir. It’s a pleasure to be with you today.
Samir: Great. So, Andy, to start off, maybe you want to give our audience a sense of how successful, how big Velociteach is, maybe how many courses, how many people you’ve trained, maybe number of employees, revenue numbers of business, whatever you are comfortable sharing at this point.
Andy: Sure. Well, I’ll tell you this is our 10th year in business. September 30th of 2012 will be our 10 year anniversary on the date. That represents the date that we made the decision to go forward with the company, to start it and all the wheels set in motion. Now, 10 years later, we have just trained our 200,000th customer. That includes all of our products, our books, our resources, our on-line training, live classes. So it was a great, very exciting benchmark for us to hit, exciting point for us to finally reach. There are about 25 people that work with Velociteach, that’s full-time contractors, employees and part-time employees as well that we employ here in the great state of Georgia, in the southern United States. That’s a little bit of the size and scope of what we do.
Now what we actually focus on, we do project management education and we do it in a number of different forms. Like I said, we have books and resources. We have e-learning. We have live training. We also have distance learning, which is still live training but it’s over the Internet. Then finally we license curricula to competitors. That was an interesting decision for us to make but we started doing it to other providers in the industry and that’s been a wonderful move. I think everybody’s benefited from that.
So we also have a number of different courses that we teach. We teach PMP, which is a lot of what we do, the project management professional, but we also have, as you mentioned, Agile. We do some work in the PGMP certification, CAPM certification (certified associate in project management) and then quite a lot of softer skills – things like leadership, communication, scope and requirements management, which isn’t a soft skill but teaching people how to document scope and requirements, project management, fundamentals, earned value management. We’ve got a pretty good sized catalog and we’re introducing some courses in risk that are coming out soon.
Samir: Oh, that’s wonderful. Looking back, it’s 10 years now, it will be 10 years on September 30th, 200,000 people trained, how did this idea of starting Velociteach come to you? When you started 10 years ago, what was your first offering?
Andy: Sure. Well, it was an interesting path. I had left my job and I did it for health reasons. I was under so much stress in my previous job and I decided I was going to take some time off and kind of reconsider my life and reconsider what I was going to do. As my wife and I processed that, and that was a very big decision back in 2002, as we processed it during this three month timeframe, she kept telling me, “You love project management. It’s something you know well and you’re passionate about. You love to write. You love to teach. You need to bring those things together.”
As I said, it was September 30th, the date that I really made the decision that this was the company I wanted to start and this is what I wanted to do. So it was one of those things that came in an interesting point in time. It was an interesting decision for us to make as a family and it turned out to be a good decision.
Our first offering though, Samir, what I started doing September 30th was writing the book that is the PMP Exam: How To Pass On Your First Try. I began working very diligently for many, many months writing that book, taking everything I knew and putting it into one book. That was our first offering was a PMP certification class, a three-day class, which has turned out to be an industry leading course for us and a very good offering.
Samir: When you were in the process of writing that book, did you have doubts, did you make the right decision, is this the right thing to do? Your income stopped.
Andy: It was a very tense time and we actually lived off of home equity line for a little while, which is not, perhaps, a financially wise move, but again, it turned out to be a good move in our case. Yes, I did and I had a good friend who encouraged me during that time. It was John and Patsy Ramsey who were the parents of the slain girl, JonBenet Ramsey. We got to be friends during that time and Patsy used to constantly encourage me and say, “I want you to finish this book. I want you not to look back. This is going to be great.” She provided so much encouragement for me during that time. That was a huge help for me. But I had other friends that helped me keep focus on it and the loss of income during that time was very tense but I believed in the idea.
Samir: Yeah, I mean, it’s great to have someone doing these things, encouraging you, telling you, “This is the right thing. Go ahead.” It’s really valuable.
Samir: Right. And how did you get your first customers? Was it through the book?
Andy: It was. Initially what we did is we networked hard and we advertised. We advertised in print, which at the time, that was about the only way to go. The interesting part of that was people began to call right away when we started advertising.
Back in 2002, the barriers to entry were a little bit lower than they are today. The bar’s gotten higher as time has gone on for providers and training providers in this industry. But back then, the bar was a little bit lower and so immediately we started running ads and we started seeing people call us and contact us and it turned out we just had a good, well- timed offering. It was the right price. It was the right quality offering, etc.
I will say that one of the things that Velociteach is built on is the concept of Kaizen, continuous improvement. If you ever have any conversation with me, you’re likely to hear that phrase come up. I’m a big believer in Kaizen. So every, single day, we made the course better and we continued to work and reinvest in it and we still do that today. We still continue to plow back a lot of our earnings back into making the offering as good as it can be.
Samir: Yes, I can see you have kept up your certifications and you recently were certified as the Agile-certified professional, didn’t you?
Andy: Yes. I was one of the first 100 people to do that. I went through the Agile certification. That one interested me because I’ve worked with Agile off and on for years and I’m fascinated with Agile. I think it’s a great innovation in project management. It’s something that has been particularly helpful to IT project managers but a lot of different people have been able to employ Agile technique. So I was excited when PMI embraced it. I already had a certified ScrumMaster certification at that point but nobody had the PMI certification at that point. When it came out, it was something exciting to pursue.
Samir: And are you seeing a lot of interest in the Agile methodology now and are project managers embracing it? Are companies opting for it? What are you seeing out there?
Andy: Sure. There is a lot of interest in the certification so that’s an active part of the market and it’s going really well. When you compare it to some of the other certifications, like the PGMP, Agile is taking off like a rocket. So it’s growth curve is pretty exciting.
What we’re seeing in the marketplace is interesting. Companies are still struggling with how to embrace Agile, what to do with it, what it means because for an organization to really employ Agile, it has to make changes almost from the top down. It needs to buy into the concept as an organization and not just for a project and that’s a real challenge. A lot of companies want to try and step into it gently and sometimes that works well and sometimes it’s not successful so it’s a really interesting mix of challenges, Samir, to see how organizations are doing it. Ones that have already done it are going great. Agile continues to mature and continues to do well.
Samir: Right, right. In the folks who come to you for higher education or to prepare for this Agile certification from PMI, what are their motivations? Are they looking for a new job? Are they looking just to enhance their skills? I’m talking about the project managers who come to you.
Andy: Yes. There’s two camps. So there’s one camp who has been doing this for quite awhile and they want recognition of their knowledge and their understanding, their comprehension or their ability to apply. But then you have another group and a lot of these people are, perhaps, PMP’s who have had some Agile experience but may not be deep in Agile. Some of these people you might qualify as certification junkies, people who love to go out and get a certification and keep them current and I kind of fall into that camp a little bit. I can definitely be one of those myself. But you also have a lot of people who have a deep background in project management, perhaps have done some Agile work and now are looking to go deeper. So they’re wanting to learn some of the techniques.
This is a really fertile area for PMP’s for this reason. Agile brings in a whole host of new techniques, techniques for estimating, techniques for communicating, techniques for displaying information and they’re outstanding. Even if you don’t buy into the entire Agile philosophy, which not everyone does, you can gain tremendous skills just from understanding some of these ways of estimating, some of these ways of communicating and information radiators, ways of getting information out and the transparency within Agile. It’s a wonderful, wonderful model.
Samir: Yes and I got certified, I think, two years ago as a ScrumMaster and I have been using it, and yeah, it has its own benefits. It’s a way to energize in a way, I have found. Apart from Agile, Agile is definitely one of the trends today in the project management space, what are some of the other trends that you see in this space?
Andy: Right, I agree with you. Agile would be something that’s trending upward. Another thing we’re seeing, for years we saw a big interest in some more technical skills. People wanted training in schedule optimization. People wanted training in earned value. People wanted specific kind of hard skill things that they were coming to us for. Now what we’re seeing is more and more of an interest in some of the softer skills and I view that positively. I think that anybody who’s looking maybe to improve their ability to communicate or improve their ability to lead, that’s a very positive thing, and we’re seeing a much bigger trend with customers coming to us looking for that.
Outside of our customer base, what I’m seeing that’s exciting to me in project management is that there’s a lot of interest in on-line collaboration tools and a lot of new tools are coming up that are getting a lot of attention out there. One that I’ve been using a lot myself recently is called Asana (http://asana.com) and it’s a way of collaborating on tasks. It’s just a free, on-line tool that’s very exciting. So we’ve seen a lot of interest in those types of things popping up.
Samir: What was the tool again? I missed it.
Andy: It’s Asana and so that’s certainly been one. Another one that I’ve been using lately is co-meeting.com. Co-Meeting is an answer to Google Wave, what Google Wave used to be. Google came out with an offering called Wave then they took it away from us and broke everybody’s heart who liked to use it. But it was a very interesting collaboration tool. So we’re seeing more and more of that, more of these tools that are set up for virtual teams to help us collaborate on tasks, to help us share information and there are some really exciting developments there. I think that that is going to continue to be a very fertile area within project management for the next three or four years.
Samir: Yeah, definitely. More and more, I’m seeing more and more tools incorporating the kind of social media, Facebook, LinkedIn sort of feel and look into their . . . and to get into the phase and get into the features and it’s almost like you open up one of the tools and it feels like you’re on Facebook.
Andy: Right and I can’t think of the name of the particular one. It’ll come to me in a moment. It might be Yammer was the name.
Samir: Yammer, yes, Yammer.
Andy: Yeah, Yammer has a lot of that. It looks like Twitter but it’s for internal work groups.
Andy: I think it was just purchased by Microsoft. But it’s exciting to see what they’re trying to do is to improve real-time collaboration for people who are not sitting in the same room together. Maybe your organization can’t afford to bring everybody together or it’s not practical to have a war room for a particular project. So tools like Yammer, tools like the ones I described are very useful for that kind of scenario.
Samir: Yeah. I think I interviewed the founder of Wrike and he has a project management tool that actually interfaces with e-mail and then has a social marketing or social media feel to it. That’s an amazing tool too.
Samir: Okay. So that’s some of the trends and good points for project managers listening to pay attention to. Let’s come back to the project managers. Most of the audience here are project managers, program managers and managers of project managers. From a career standpoint, what are the growth parts for project managers that you see today? Agile has added a little bit of range to the ScrumMaster sort of role but that’s the first question. I’ll let you answer that and then maybe a follow-up to that is you started your own business, Velociteach, 10 years that it’s been successful, if project managers out there want to start their own gig, any advice to them?
Andy: Okay. Well, so your first question was about growth path within project managers themselves? Project management is this wonderful way to showcase what every business is interested in and that is that you can generate results. That’s what any organization really wants to know is can somebody generate results and everybody at Velociteach, one of the things we do, when anybody starts at any level in the organization, we bring them through our training. We bring them through our own classes so that they understand what we do and understand how we work. But then we also assign them projects of their own and it doesn’t matter if this is somebody from receptionists all the way up to a director-level person, they’re going to get projects. We monitor and help mentor them because we’re asking the same question every other organization is asking, is, “Can this person deliver results? Can they complete the mission?”, we jokingly call it a little bit.
So all the organizations are wanting to know that and this is the beautiful proving grounds to get to demonstrate that. Being a project manager, you’re on the front lines and you either show that you can get something done or, in some cases, that you can’t. I think that from there, what we see, we keep in touch with our customers after they’ve left and what we see is people go on to all kinds of other jobs. Some people like the job of project manager. They enjoy it. It’s comfortable and they just want to stay there.
Other people go on to the C-suite, CEO, COO, CFO-type positions and that’s not uncommon. We get a lot of customers within IT and, of course, information technology has always struggled with what is the career path outside of IT. That’s been sort of a difficult thing. But we see a lot of people get promoted, ultimately, to director-level positions if that’s something they’re pursuing and it’s something they’re qualified for.
Within, if you’re going to stay project manager, it becomes a little bit trickier because then demonstrating increasing value to the organization is the only way to actually get promoted. You’ve got to demonstrate that you can either bill for more money or that you can deliver greater value. So oftentimes, that can become a challenge for a career path for people. A lot of times, people want to move beyond the title of project manager in order to spread their wings and we’ve certainly seen people do that successfully.
Samir: Right, right. And what about those out there who want to follow your sort of path as an entrepreneur, any advice to them?
Andy: Sure. We could have a whole other webcast on that but, Samir, I’m a big fan of small business. I believe in small business. I believe it’s necessary for the world and a great answer to a lot of problems and a lot of questions. So given that, I’ll tell you one of the greatest pieces of advice that I ever received and that was as I starting Velociteach, before we had ever had our first customer, someone sat me down and told me, “Andy, don’t spend too much time focusing on what you can do. Spend time focusing on what you can sell.” That advice has been very useful to me because I tend to think in terms of capabilities: What can I do? What can I do well? What can my company do? It’s a better question to ask, “What is the need out there in the market? What can we actually sell?” So that would be one quick thing.
Another thing that I do is I network with other entrepreneurs. I’m in a group here in Cobb County, Georgia called the CEO Roundtable. We meet regularly. In fact, we’re meeting tomorrow and just discuss challenges, things that work well, things that don’t work well and that’s been a wonderful opportunity for me just to get to share struggles and triumphs and questions and answers with other people, other entrepreneurs. So certainly my advice would be don’t isolate yourself.
The other thing is: Don’t be afraid. That would kind of be my big piece of advice there. Don’t be afraid. If you have an interest and you have a passion for something, small business is a wonderful way to exercise that it’s not easy but it is very rewarding.
Samir: Yes, I bet it is. I bet it is. For those of you who are listening out there, what says, “Don’t be afraid” and all of the other things that we’ve spoken about here. Anything that resonates with you, I would suggest pick that up and take action. Do it. Try it out. All this wonderful advice and conversation that we are having with Andy is of no use if you don’t put it to use. If you put it into action, that is the only way you’re going to benefit out of it. So pick something that resonates with you, those of you who are listening, and implement it, execute it and then come back and tell us how you did. So that’s my little plug for Andy, for those that are listening.
Andy: Thank you. Samir, it’s true. You’ve got to take risks. You’ve got to jump. The county where I live has over 30,000 small businesses located in it. We were honored and humbled to be named “Small Business of the Year” this year within the county. It was one of those things that I thought about as we were going through this process that it would have been very easy for me never to have started this, never to have taken the jump, and I’m really glad I did. It was a very frightening move and it’s turned out to be the best career move I ever made.
Samir: Yes and see what it’s gotten you. Great. One last question, Andy, is what are some of your hobbies and interests apart from project management?
Andy: Well, I do have a few. I have three wonderful children and raising them is a big part of my life but I also play jazz trumpet and I play in a symphony here in Cobb County. So I’m very involved musically and have done that for many years and that’s a wonderful creative outlet just that has nothing to do with work. So that’s a lot of fun.
I’m also a motorcycle enthusiast. So I ride motorcycles a lot and probably spend a little more money on them than I should.
Samir: Yeah. Do you have a Harley-Davidson?
Andy: I have a Honda VTX1800c and it’s a very large, heavy bike, big cruiser. I don’t have a Harley but I love my Honda and that’s my current hobby.
Samir: Great, great. Well, Andy, it’s been great talking to you and great conversation, great discussions, a lot of pointers for our project managers who are listening out there. Thank you again for your time and for sharing. For those who are listening, I would say reach out to Andy if you got anything out of this discussion and interview. Reach out to him, say thank you, drop him a note. You can reach him through his website or through LinkedIn. Thank him for his time and for sharing. Thank you, Andy, so much.
Andy: Samir, thank you. It was my pleasure.