By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
While most RPCN members are one-person consulting businesses, “serial entrepreneur” Lee Drake is happily ensconced as CEO of OS-Cubed, Inc., a company he started in 2006 that now has six employees and a suite of offices in the Village Gate complex in Rochester.
Lee Drake of OS-Cubed talks about what he likes about owning his own business and having a team of employees to help him come up with solutions for his clients.
“I don’t remember when I was not a serial entrepreneur,” Drake said. “I started as a paperboy and worked my way up.” From 1982–87, he was with the Computer Store; from 1987–97, he was with Azatar; in both instances, “working for someone but in entrepreneurial businesses, with my own entrepreneurship on the side.” “I just like the challenge,” he added. “I prefer to set my own culture, ethics and business decisions. It’s about being able to craft a business and offer what customers want instead of what someone else decided.”
Drake describes himself as a graduate of Cornell University’s ALS School, programmer, supporter of Habitat for Humanity and FIRST Robotics, and fan of computer and board gaming along with science fiction and fantasy books.
Drake’s venture before starting OS-Cubed was Aztek Computer Solutions. When he was ready to launch OS-Cubed, “I had zero business training,” he recalled. “I’m very much a didactic learner (self-taught; learning by doing). Ninety-nine percent of the lessons I’ve learned the hard way, by making and learning from my mistakes.”
Drake did participate in Vistage, which provides CEO coaching and mentoring, for five to six years. “It was an environment where you could bring your problems for group solving,” he said. Through Vistage, Drake “gained business knowledge that I would have had to learn from experience.”
To remain on track, Drake said he “takes frequent retreats” so he doesn’t get locked into anything that is trending downward and can get away from the day-to-day business responsibilities and focus on the larger aspects of planning for the future of the company. He has built a worldwide following of users who rely on him for up-to-date computer, security, social media and information technology services and news. He speaks about topics such as computer security, programming best practices, building content-managed websites and building online communities, virus and spyware prevention, social media, and other computer-related topics.
OS-Cubed stands for “Optimal, Stable, Secure Solutions,” and that “philosophy drives each solution we build to solve a customer problem,” according to the company website. Most of OS-Cubed’s clients today are in the medical field and manufacturing, along with some smaller nonprofits. “It’s about a 50-50 split between tech development and IT management activities,” Drake said. ”Our services include website engineering, tech support and service, managing IT, building system infrastructure, hardware and software, along with sophisticated things like e-commerce.
Drake found his employees through social media, connections or his last company. Social media is also his number-one way of finding and interacting with clients, he said. Physical networking – going to events and serving on organizational boards – also plays an important role on how he maintains and grows the business.
What Drake enjoys about consulting, he said, includes “being involved at a project level, bringing it to fruition. I enjoy sales and marketing – putting the face of the company out there. The idea is to build a culture and overall viewpoint to make everybody’s life better. Every day, people call us and they’re mad (because systems or equipment don’t work); our job is to make them happy.”
Here is a short video in which Lee describes his business and why he enjoys it.
For Drake, RPCN has been valuable as “an excellent source of collaborators.” “I enjoy being around smart people, and everyone in RPCN is smart,” he said. What the organization could do better, he said, is to “look more at clients like me – that is, someone who is building a consultant business of consultants. That’s very different from an individual.” He suggested creating a division of RPCN that concentrates more on consulting businesses with multiple employees.
Drake’s advice for anyone considering becoming a consultant is to “be sure you’re really interested in running a business, not just being an expert” – even if the goal is a one-person business, but especially if it is to have employees or even a consortium of other consultants. Essential resources Drake says any aspiring business owner needs are:
- a good lawyer
- an HR person
- an accountant
- a mentor
“Consider whom to have as a partner if you aren’t doing this on your own,” he added. The wrong choice “can be risky over time.”
In addition to RPCN, Drake is also active in Digital Rochester, the Small Business Council (SBC), Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Independent Entrepreneur Council, Rochester Open Coffee Club, Social Media Club and Neighborhood of the Arts Business Association, and serves on the boards of the Monroe Job Services Employment Committee, Eyes on the Future and Consumer Credit Consulting Center. He also is a judge and mentor for FIRST Robotics STEM program, which provides tech mentoring, and is involved with SHRM because “it’s important for every business to understand how HR works.”
Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”™ She is also the owner of Communication Central (www.communication-central.com), which hosts a conference for communications entrepreneurs in the fall.