Andrew Snook, vice president and co-founder of Fastpath Solutions Inc., looks to the Business Innovation Zone (BIZ) for help on issues ranging from adding staff to pausing for periodic reality checks about company plans. "It's an ongoing relationship because your challenges are ongoing," Snook said. Fastpath Solutions is a growing software company based in Greater Des Moines (DSM) suburb of Clive. Mike Colwell, BIZ executive director, has been a mentor to Fastpath, giving Snook advice on nuts-and-bolts business issues and helping him to step back and make big-picture assessments before going ahead with plans. "He's a resource in talking you through decisions," Snook said.
With a staff of eight and a branch office in Denver, Fastpath writes software that client companies use to make sure that their accounting systems are accurate and in compliance with governmental regulations such as the federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed in response to the Enron and WorldCom financial scandals. Fastpath now has more than 100 clients in Iowa and other states. The list includes Pioneer Hi-Bred, a major seed and plant genetics company, and Konica Minolta, a maker of laser printers and other products.
Born and raised in Des Moines, Snook graduated from Valley High School in West Des Moines, before going on to Notre Dame University, where he majored in economics and computer applications. He graduated in 1997 and worked for companies in Chicago and Boston before moving back to Iowa in 2000 to start an information technology consulting company. After selling his consulting business, Snook and Partner, Jeff McDowell, based in Denver, formed Fastpath in 2004. Snook first began getting help from the BIZ when it was time to find the right person for a new staff position. He contacted the Greater Des Moines Partnership and was referred to the BIZ, where he has received help far beyond his initial staffing issue.
Fastpath and the BIZ
Q: In what ways has the BIZ been helpful to you?
A: Mike really helped me identify all the opportunities there are in Iowa for small businesses. Really, a lot of it is awareness - that there is help out there for smaller companies and Des Moines is very focused on helping out smaller companies. Des Moines Area Community College, for example, has an employee education program to help smaller businesses keep up with other companies.
Q: Can you explain how the BIZ helped with a hiring decision?
A: About a year ago, we were adding a fifth person to our team. Mike challenged me to look beyond the immediate and short-term needs and think about the type of person we would want and need in two years.
In a small business, you get so caught up in the day-to-day that you can't see the forest for the trees. Mike helped me move from "transactional thinking" (what needs to be done right now) to "strategic thinking" (where will we be and where do we want to go) for this hire.
Q: Has the assistance helped Fastpath reach a higher level in its development?
A: Yes. We were at a point where we were ready to grow. Mike really helped me look at the bigger picture, looking three years down the road and deciding what kind of team we would need to have in place. If you grow in the wrong direction, that can set you back. I've read, for example, that hiring the wrong person can cost you four times their salary. Mike said, "Okay, you need to hire. Let's analyze, looking at the whole picture."
Q: How do you feel about the help that you got through the BIZ.
A: It's great. I would recommend it to anybody who is starting up or thinking of starting a company. Mike can kind of do a reality check for you. "Do you really understand all there is that goes along with that?" he asks. The great part is that as you grow, the challenges change. Now, you have to have a 401(k) plan. Now you have to have a benefit plan or public relations help. I know I can pick up the phone and Mike can give me the short list of the three guys who are the right guys to talk to. That's valuable when you need something, but don't have the expertise.
Q: Where are you now in the development of your business?
A: We're beyond the startup stage. We're an established company, recognized as a leader in compliance software.
Q: What is the eventual goal of your business?
A: Continued growth in terms of the companies we help and the type of accounting software systems that we serve.
Square One DSM, an initiative of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, is formerly known as Business Innovation Zone (BIZ).