Grant Nichols, BluWave Technology
When it comes to personality types, there is Meyers Briggs and StrengthsFinder, among others. But Grant Nichols uses a more general term when describing himself: entrepreneurial. He constantly brainstorms new business ideas, researches their market potential, and vets the project’s viability with his friends and family. Grant founded his current business, BluWave Technologies, to help manufacturing companies increase operational efficiency.
Episode 32 – Grant Nichols, BluWave Technology
[00:00:55] Sanjay Parekh: Grant Nichols is passionate about a lot of things: technology, real estate, and nonprofits. But today, we’ll talk about his main business BluWave Technologies. BluWave provides software as a service to manufacturing businesses, with the goal of increasing transparency, reducing data noise, and maintaining a system of continuous improvement.
Joining me today to discuss business networking and technology is Grant Nichols. Grant, welcome to the show.
[00:01:21] Grant Nichols: Thank you, Sanjay. So good to be here.
[00:01:24] Sanjay Parekh: So, it'd be great if you could give us a little bit about your background and kind of your history, and then we can dive into what you're working on now.
[00:01:32] Grant Nichols: Yeah, of course. I grew up here in Georgia on the west side of Atlanta. And then in my early teen years we moved up to the mountains in a small town. And from an early age, I was raised in an entrepreneurial family, and I had that spirit about me. So, I vetted a lot of businesses and projects at a really young age and ended up landing on doing a landscaping company with my friends.
So that kind of kicked off my entrepreneurial journey. And then I actually went to school at UNC Charlotte for international business, but that was the same year that I had started BluWave Technologies. And had really gotten interested in the tech world, in the VC world and really wanted to go in that direction.
I went to do an entrepreneurship program at a different college. And then after a year of that and doing my business for a year, I actually left school full time and took it away from just this side hustle and thing that I was doing and I actually launched and did it full time.
And I've been doing that ever since. So, it's been a really exciting ride.
[00:02:43] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, you mentioned you've been around entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial ventures for a long time. Like what else is there, are there folks in the family that have been entrepreneurial that you've seen, or have you worked in those businesses?
[00:02:57] Grant Nichols: Yeah, of course. So, on my mom's side and on my dad's side, there's been entrepreneurs. And my parents were entrepreneurs when I was young, so I got to see the lifestyle, the flexibility that they had and the time that they got to spend with us and even take us cool places doing business. So that was really ingrained in me from a young age.
And like I said, I did a few things in high school, but ended up landing on landscaping and looked into some other entrepreneurial ventures in college, which really didn't work out. Had formulated startup validation and ideas and things like that but crumpled the paper on that and let it go.
And then landed on BluWave and have just done that full time. And I've done other things here and there, some contract work just bouncing off of BluWave. The problem is, I've got so many different ideas that you can't really do all of them. Anyways. In short, my experience has all been just in the real world some formal education, but I've been getting a lot of I guess school of hard knocks lessons.
[00:04:07] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah. And what you mentioned there of entrepreneurs and having ideas and having way too many of them. That is a perennial problem, I think, with entrepreneurs. So, let's dig into that for a second. How do you keep track of those ideas and kind of think about them, get them out of your head?
[00:04:25] Grant Nichols: That's a good question. I actually try to think them out all the way and that's how I get rid of them, right? I always write them down if I think they're a good idea. If I don't know if it's a good idea or not, I'll run it by a couple of people and they'll either say, trash or treasure.
And then I'll save it, or I'll trash it. So, I usually keep it in either like my journal or in my phone, sometimes on my computer. So, it's hard to keep up with all of them, but it's really just wherever I'm at the time is where the idea lands. So, I keep up with it that way, but then I try to validate it through all the possible applications and markets and industries and things like that.
And then obviously some of the biggest pitfalls in all those areas. So, like I said, I really try to validate it all the way to the end, if it really brings value or solves a problem for a customer. So, if it passes through that, it's still on like the bucket list of startups for me, right?
So, I'm really focused on BluWave right now and growing that. But I always have this running list of other ideas, of good ideas. So going back to my family, they were interested in a lot of things like my grandfather in tech, but primarily they were in real estate and law, but he was very engineer minded, so we would always bounce ideas off each other.
And that's how I actually got into business intelligence. Years ago, when I was in high school, he had said, listen, drones and business intelligence are going to be the next two big things. And I was like, yeah, whatever. I was a young kid, I just didn't listen. And then he passed away a few years later.
And shortly after Amazon released that they were going to be delivering with drones. And I was like, oh gosh. And so that's when I started to get into business intelligence. So, I've got ideas around business intelligence, around drones, around consumer goods. Really, there is no limit.
Really, if I just see a problem or see an opportunity, I try to figure out how I could make it better or solve that problem and keep up with all those ideas.
[00:06:43] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, I got to say I have a running list as well. And I'm very happy when I see that somebody else has done one of the ideas on my list, because then I can take it off my list, because the list is definitely way too long for me to accomplish in one lifetime.
I'm happy to see those things exist out in the real world. Okay. So, let's talk about BluWave Technologies. First tell us a little bit about what is it and then we'll get into how you got there.
[00:07:11] Grant Nichols: Yeah. Of course, it's a digital platform for continuous improvement, utilizing company's data on the operational side.
So, it's helping a company take all of their old systems, like paper and Excel sheets and things like that, and creating an automated data collection system for those data points. And then displaying them in visual key performance indicators and graphs to help them continuously improve. And we added a service model to that business as well.
So, part of the subscription service — it’s a SaaS business — is that we do quarterly continuous improvement meetings where we identify new KPIs and new ways for the business to improve. So that is a very high-level view of the business itself, but it can get pretty technical as well.
[00:08:00] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, I want to make sure I'm clear about this. Can you give me an example of somebody that you work with, and if you can't share the name of it, that's fine, just describe them and what is it that you actually do for them.
[00:08:13] Grant Nichols: So, for example, we work with a ham processing company out of North Carolina.
[00:08:19] Sanjay Parekh: Ham, as in like the food ham?
[00:08:21] Grant Nichols: Like yes, like country ham, like food and beverage. So they process the hams and they make different products. And there are certain safety and quality measurements that have to be collected throughout the day, the week, the month to comply with USDA, FDA, any types of regulations. So, they were using paper previously. We came in and we licensed them our digital forms solution. So, all that paper is now digital and has an alerting system, task management, everything for them to keep up with compliance.
And then on the operational side of their business, on the production side, they have other forms that they fill out as well, to calculate efficiency and other top metrics in their industry. So, they've replaced their paper that they were using. Their reporting system is now automated. It's not going down and chasing paper through a file cabinet from three months ago. They have it at their fingertips, right? So, information is the new gold, in my opinion.
[00:09:29] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, you're unlocking the information that they already had. Making it more accessible. And then being able to report on it in a much more easy fashion, as well as actionable. So, they can understand how they're performing. Okay.
[00:09:43] Grant Nichols: Taking that data and making it actionable for them. That's right.
[00:09:47] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. So how did you get into that? That seems like, for somebody that has dropped out of college, it's a very random place to be like, you know what, I'm going to go help people get rid of paper forms.
[00:09:59] Grant Nichols: You know, that's actually one of the most common questions that I get asked. It's like, why, like, why, how, what?
[00:10:08] Sanjay Parekh: Of course, it's valuable and it's useful and it's great that you're doing it, but in your history, it doesn't seem like there was this issue that you experienced yourself. Or maybe there was.
[00:10:19] Grant Nichols: Yeah, so, I really didn't experience it myself. I just had the vision behind it. And I had a mentor be able to steer me in the right direction. As I mentioned earlier, my grandfather and I talked a lot about new ideas, about drones specifically and business intelligence. So, it piqued my interest at a young age, and that had been in the back of my mind. And then I had met some guys at school, at UNC Charlotte.
Really loved it there. It was a great culture for entrepreneurship. Just even colleges in general, right? There's just a lot of youth and it just feels like it's startup mode. Especially for a freshman in college. I met this friend, actually a few friends that were interested in business and also in business intelligence, that were majoring in some type of information systems management.
So, I partnered up with them and they actually mentioned the idea to me. They were like, what if we start a business intelligence company? Help businesses make better decisions based off their data. And I said, that's a great idea. So, we just started it as kind a side hustle, in the college library, sketching it out on the whiteboards and everything.
So, we just started. That was just the first step is to just start putting a plan together. And validating if there was a market for it and how we could penetrate that market, right? Identifying our competitors, doing a SWOT analysis, all those types of things. We were just kind of validating if we could survive for long enough, to make money and provide some value.
[00:11:58] Sanjay Parekh: Just to make sure listeners understand what this is. You said SWOT analysis, so that stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It's a two by two matrix. Where you analyze all those things and understand your marketplace.
[00:12:16] Grant Nichols: Yeah. Thank you for that clarification. So, we were doing that, and we didn't have a lot of capital cause we're college students, right?
So, we're still eating ramen noodles every day. So, we get some money from some family and even some friends at college like that we had made, and the real estate groups and our investing groups that we were involved with. They're like, yeah, man, we'll pitch in some money for this idea. Let's go. I hope you guys kill it.
So, we raised a little bit of money, several thousand dollars and put in some money ourselves, for licensing a product and then adding our services on top of it. So, we would license these KPI dashboards from a company. We would do the service on top for the business where we would do all the integrations and then we would continuously add KPIs and tweak KPIs and things like that. So that's where we started off. But we got our first several thousand dollars. I think we started with less than 5,000 bucks, and then it just started to snowball from there.
Now more specifically, into the manufacturing industry. We had gotten like four or five customers. We had done well setting up the foundation of the business and then attracted a family friend, which had been looking for a solution like this for the manufacturing industry. So, his small venture capital company actually invested in us and that's where we got the seed capital to actually build out our own technologies and really steer into the food and beverage processing, manufacturing industry.
[00:13:50] Sanjay Parekh: Got it. Got it. When is it that you found your first paying client in all this? Was it before that VC came on or was it after?
[00:14:00] Grant Nichols: Yes, that was before the VC came on. That would've been late 2018. Yep. Probably around November of 2018. And then I had, like I said, we got like up to four or five clients and then we attracted the VC.
So, it was a small VC investment, but it continued to put in more money and provide more resources and things like that.
[00:14:26] Sanjay Parekh: Got it. So, have you had to go forward since then and continue to raise money or have you just been growing based on revenue now?
[00:14:34] Grant Nichols: A little bit of both. So, hindsight is 2020, right? Whenever you're raising money and starting a business. So, we didn't raise enough money. So, we raised some more after that, about half of the original amount. And then we've just had revenue for growth over this past, probably a couple of years, during Covid years.
[00:14:57] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. And how has the pandemic been? I imagine because of the industry you're working with; it's probably been pretty good, because everybody still needs to eat. Even if a pandemic's going on.
[00:15:09] Grant Nichols: Yeah. That's the point of being in the food industry and all the free food that you get, of course.
[00:15:15] Sanjay Parekh: That's a nice little side perk there.
[00:15:17] Grant Nichols: Yeah. You always get food wherever you go. So, services did slow down a little bit as far as new business, but we kept all of our previous customers. And then we've been growing slowly since that first year of Covid. So, after that first year of Covid, in the pandemic, after it was really locked down no companies were really letting anybody in to sell to them.
And there's a lot of consults. There's a very consultative approach that you have to take because things have to be formatted exactly to their processes. So that one-year period was pretty tough. But then after that one-year lockdown that we had, things really opened back up and people were like, oh my gosh. Like we've been out of the facility for eight months and we don't know what's going on, like upper management. They started to really push this digital side of the industry, 4.0 is what we call it. But pushing this industry 4.0 methodology and ideology which has really helped our organic growth over the past year, year and a half. So, it was a little slow at first, but then it started to pick back up again.
[00:16:31] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah. And so, when is it that you made this transition for yourself? So, you started this during college? Essentially as a side hustle. So, dropping out was basically the thing of hey, this is taking off and I need to go full time. Was this, was that the impetus of doing that or was it something else?
[00:16:52] Grant Nichols: It was a little bit of both. So, the program that I was in really was teaching things like just not in a flexible manner, I guess I can say. I really don't want to talk bad about the program. It was a good program, but there was no flexibility in the plans that they were laying out.
And, from running the company for a year. I was like, that’s not really how it's working. And I was learning a lot of the things in business that I was just learning in the class. So, it felt very repetitive to me. So that was a really big indicator for me to leave. And then also that was the period in which we had received the venture capital too, so that allowed me to leave as well.
So, it was a couple different factors.
[00:17:35] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. Yeah, that was going to be my other question. How did you make ends meet? But having an outside investment, obviously helps that quite a bit.
[00:17:43] Adam Walker: Support for this podcast comes from Hiscox. Committed to helping small businesses protect their dreams since 1901. Quotes and information on customized insurance for specific risks are available at Hiscox.com. Hiscox, the business insurance experts.
[00:18:05] Sanjay Parekh: So, let's talk about, how do you balance all of these things? Cause being an entrepreneur, especially a funded entrepreneur can be all consuming, right? Because you have this responsibility to not just yourself anymore but also investors. So how do you think about this in terms of spending time with family and friends and all of those other things.
[00:18:26] Grant Nichols: Right. Yeah. That can really weigh on you, being an entrepreneur and especially having other people to answer to. Especially when you're funded. It's not just yourself anymore. People have given you money, they expect you to make this work. So, there is kind of that personal pressure that you put on yourself.
But the way that I find balance is just, remembering and recognizing that I can't do and be everything to everyone. Because what does fulfill me is not only my work, it’s also the time that I get to spend with family, right? And the memories that I get to make with my parents and my siblings and my cousins and aunts and uncles.
So, I just try to take intensive and intentional breaks throughout the day to create that balance. So, I do a lot of planning on my calendar and time boxing and things like that. I make sure to intentionally set aside time for other tasks, for reading, for family, for cooking, for friendships and having fun, going out, doing all the normal things that I need to do because part of the work I do is I need to be able to recognize trends. I need to be able to recognize consumer behavior, all of the things outside of my work usually always end up somehow connecting to my work life. So, my family life and my life outside of work, I usually am always able to refresh and connect the dots about things that I'm doing in my work. Does that make sense?
So, it really does help me reflect and remember what's important. It was interesting, I did a LinkedIn post about this a couple weeks ago. About, should work be your life? Should you keep them separate? Should they be an integration? But my perspective is your work should be part of your life.
It should be your life, right? You should really enjoy what you're doing. You should be passionate about it. You should be passionate about the people that you help. And you should reflect that as part of your personality. Your work should just be a direct reflection, right? So, I try to remember that. And just make sure that I take intentional breaks. Because I know it's important and there's nothing that can replace the memories that you make, right?
[00:20:54] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, let's switch gears a little bit and talk about actually running the business. Obviously, you guys are a system that other businesses implement, so you might be a system that they've implemented that helps run their business. But what about your business? Are there technologies, apps, services, systems that you use to help you run BluWave to make it all happen?
[00:21:22] Grant Nichols: Yeah, of course. So, like I do a lot of the marketing stuff. As far as apps, I use a lot of the typical apps — Slack, obviously my email and some design services like Adobe, WordPress and things like that.
I really try to be my own productivity monitor. I work a lot in my calendar with like time boxing, and this is just a practice that I've learned. I read a book about Elon Musk, and I think they've talked about it on a lot of different shows and stuff, but he does what's called time boxing, where you set intentionally 30 minutes to do this task or an hour to do this task and then 30 minutes for a break or whatever that might be.
So, I've found that that really helps. As far as apps, I listen to a lot of music while I'm working. So, depending on the task that I'm doing I'll listen to different music. If it's a repetitive task, I don't have to be creative, I'll listen to rock music or hip hop or whatever it is, with words.
But if I'm trying to be creative, I try to listen to more instrumental or just dead silence. So, it's just really things like that kind of helped me be productive and focus on the task at hand.
[00:22:38] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, absolutely. I listen to music all the time as I'm getting things done. And very similar to you too, sometimes it's the instrumental playlist on Spotify because I don't want to have to tune into the words either.
So, thinking about your trajectory now and it's been a couple years since you've been doing this, is there a piece of advice that you would give to somebody who's thinking about taking this leap? And launching a side hustle or taking their side hustle and making it a full-time business?
[00:23:10] Grant Nichols: Yeah, of course. Just be curious about it, of course. Always be curious and always do your validation of the idea. But just start, right? Just start somewhere. If you're interested in entrepreneurship, you're interested in starting this side hustle. All you can do is fail. That's all that you can do, right?
So, I look at it like that, but I would say do your market research, do a SWOT analysis. But do those sorts of things and validate it through your peers as well. But just start, just do it and snowball it. And just continue and persevere and have faith in what you're doing. And then obviously have passion in what you're doing, and you'll be able to succeed.
Now if you're raising money, if you're raising capital, always ask for three times as much as you expect. So that's my only advice there.
[00:24:04] Sanjay Parekh: That's great. That's great. Last question. If our listeners are interested in finding you, where can they find and connect with you online?
[00:24:13] Grant Nichols: I am most active on LinkedIn, I would say. So, connect with me there. The best place is LinkedIn. I'm usually active on there. Very active on there actually.
[00:24:27] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. Awesome. This has been great. Grant, thanks so much for coming on the show.
[00:24:32] Grant Nichols: Yeah, thank you so much, Sanjay, and I look forward to talking again.
[00:24:38] Sanjay Parekh: Thank you for listening to this week's episode of the Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast, powered by Hiscox. To learn more about how Hiscox can help protect your small business through intelligent insurance solutions, visit hiscox.com. And if you have a story you want to hear on this podcast, please visit hiscox.com/shareyourstory. I'm your host Sanjay Parekh. You can find me on Twitter @sanjay or on my website at sanjayparekh.com.