The earth shook on the day that Chris Allison struck out to found his own company. It was September 11, 2001. Allison, along with two of his co-workers, had been planning their exodus from good-paying jobs for several months, little knowing the earth-shattering events that were about to take place.
“It was nerve-racking,” Allison remembers, only 31 at the time. Despite their careful planning, the fall of the Twin Towers had suddenly put everything in question. “No one really understood what was going on.” He had two even younger employees relying on him for jobs, and nothing but guts, energy and hard work with which to face an uncertain economy.
Above all else, that day proved the importance of real-time information and communication, and presaged a transformation in how information would be gathered, shared, and transmitted in the future. This was not lost on Allison. Grounded in the communications industry, he was driven even harder to find and create better ways to integrate information exchange.
The result has been a fast-growing company recognized in the Inc. 5000 and the Charlotte Fast 50 that designs, builds and deploys custom applications for its clients allowing users to manage real-time data, remain compliant with government regulations, and implement new technologies with minimal expense.
An unassuming person with an easy manner, the youthful Allison is quick to set visitors at ease. However, under his comfortable smile dwells an impressive background, ambitious drive, and the energy to make things happen—big things, and fast.
Allison was born in Grosse Pointe, Mich., but later moved with his family to Birmingham, Ala. He attended Auburn University, graduating in 1992 with a B.A. in communication with minors in business and journalism.
The following year he signed on with Diversified Electronics, a major Motorola distributor, as a salesman for their two-way radio systems. By 1996, the company’s family ownership had become so impressed with his performance that they asked him to open a new office in Charlotte.
Over the following four years, Allison grew the new shop to become the largest Nextel dealer in the state, with 40 employees and $4 million in annual revenue.
The death of Allison’s father in 2000 provided a catalyst for him to make a change. His responsibilities had prepared him well and he was ready to run his own venture. He had also connected with Chad Jenkins, owner of a similar company with three employees, and together they felt they had the intellectual capital to create something innovative and ambitious.
So in 2001, they applied their combined expertise in wireless communications to serve their own customers and set up shop as Nexcom, short for Nexcommunications, Inc. They showed revenue growth of 30 to 100 percent year after year up to 2008.
They opened Charlotte’s first Blackberry store in 2005. At the time, Blackberry represented the forefront in mobile technology for business. The deal gave Nexcom visibility in the community, and helped them tighten up their business model.
Over time, however, Allison felt that the Blackberry mobile platform was more confining than innovative. He says Blackberry’s inability to recognize the importance of end user experience led to its current eclipse by Apple and Android devices. In 2009, Nexcom revamped its business model and mobile platform exclusively for Android and iOS.
In the meantime, in 2008, the bottom had fallen out of the construction market, taking a big piece of Nexcom’s clientele with it. Allison says he and his partner had to adjust their vision of the future, and their plans for the company had begun to diverge. Together, they decided to pursue separate paths, with Allison assuming all shares of Nexcom.
In January 2010, Nexcom deployed its first HTML5 mobile platform for Android and iOS. Additionally, Allison launched the company into the D.C. market with a sales person and a project manager, and added two developers to keep up with demand.
Allison says markets like D.C. and Dallas, Tex., provide a larger scale of clientele. But by headquartering in Charlotte, Nexcom can take advantage of the city’s quality of life and cost of living benefits to attract high quality talent to the business.
Most of Nexcom’s clients are businesses in the construction vertical, from painters to builders to contractors. Many are big names in Charlotte—including VELUX America and numerous county government agencies—while others are relatively small. Some are in related industries, like pest extermination or heating and cooling.
Nexcom clients all share this: A desire to grow their business through better systems and greater mobility. Most have workers in the field on a daily basis, and a business model that includes creating estimates, bidding on jobs, delivering services, and maintaining compliance with complex government regulations.
Many of them come to Nexcom with systems that were created in the 1990s or early 2000s. They are bogged down by paperwork and complicated data management responsibilities. Sometimes they are bidding jobs using spreadsheets, and then invoicing using separate software.
Meanwhile their crews in the field need to know not only what their job is, but anything that changes along the way. Likewise, the office teams need to know when conditions change in the field—weather that prohibits further progress, for instance, or the fact that another subcontractor’s delay prevents them from beginning.
Government compliance raises other challenges. If a barrier breaks and releases fill dirt into the storm drains, the contractor needs to know right away in order to respond in a compliant manner.
Nexcom mobility solutions simplify all of these issues for their clients, putting accurate, real-time information into the right hands at the right time.
When a client first contacts Nexcom for help, Nexcom looks at their current software and examines he business model. Then they quickly construct a customized mobile solution that immediately simplifies communication and documentation.
For example, A&K Painting, a Charlotte company specializing in commercial and industrial paint applications, employs 80 and recently expanded their facility by 10,000 square feet, with more expansions planned. They credit their growth in part to the mobile solutions developed by Nexcom.
Before contacting Nexcom, A&K would distribute as many as 20 pieces of paper to each crew. The crew was responsible for maintaining the paperwork throughout the life of the job, and then returning it to headquarters. Once returned, it had to be keyed into the management software and other offline tools.
In 2011, Nexcom conducted two meetings with A&K, took copies of their paperwork, and delivered an initial version of their mobile solution within weeks. Everything from scheduling to inventory to estimating is now handled through the Nexcom mobile platform, ensuring that every crew member has real-time information, and reducing the need for multiple iterations of data.
A&K’s owner Andy Robbins says the system “has made us more efficient, more competitive, and more cost-effective. All our information is in a centralized location and available to everyone when they need it.” At the same time, the platform tracks activity and time, enabling accurate estimating and real-time communication with clients and employees.
Chad Harrelson, principal engineer at Nexcom, says the speed with which A&K Painting’s mobile platform was deployed represents the norm for Nexcom customers.
“In the old days of development,” Harrelson says, hearkening back to the early 2000s, “you would do large designs up front—you’d map everything out with a blueprint. Now the market moves way too fast for that.
“Instead, you deploy quickly and let the client work with it and provide feedback for tweaks. You move pieces around—you don’t just make it work one time and then you’re done,” he continues. The approach allows Nexcom to be innovative and flexible, seizing markets and serving customers in ever-new and important ways.
Nexcom client Killingsworth Environmental has grown from a mom-and-pop shop running out of a laundry room 20 years ago into one of the Top 100 pest control companies in America. They’ve done it by being innovative and owner Mike Rogers says a big piece of that is their relationship with Nexcom.
“I get questions all the time about how we’re growing so fast and staying profitable,” says Rogers. “We’ve made some good decisions through the years, and one of the best has been our long-term partnership with Nexcom.
“I tell our customers that if there is a technologically better way to handle your account, manage your service, or show up on time—we will be doing it. I can make that bold statement because of how much I know I can rely on Chris and his group to keep us out in front.”
In order to stay flexible, fast, and deliver practical solutions, Allison has created a culture of accountability and ownership within his growing organization. He says the secret to his success is surrounding himself with people smarter than he is, and then leaving them alone to do their jobs.
Harrelson came to Nexcom in 2005 out of a corporate environment. He was looking for greater responsibility and recognition for his work. “This is a role with more autonomy, more freedom,” he says. “You have fewer people to point your finger at, so you take ownership over a lot.”
Allison says his people voluntarily work long hours, often making themselves available to solve problems at night and on weekends. At the same time, they keep their own schedules, as long as they get the work done and are available when needed.
When it comes to hiring, Allison says, “We don’t look for people to come in and do the same job as the person before them. It is important that each hire brings new ideas and a better way of problem solving. This is how we stay ahead of the market.”
Nexcom now employs 40, with an office in D.C. and planned expansion into Dallas. Fiscal year 2011 was the biggest year yet for the mobile applications, and Allison says there’s already enough business on the books for 2012 to top last year’s revenue by a long shot.
Meanwhile, Nexcom’s client base has evolved. “We serve a number of small companies, but our ideal customer is a regional or national business with at least 100 mobile employees, and subject to government regulation,” says Allison. “These organizations understand the value of collaborating with clients and employees online and they’re eager to grow as fast and as big as they can.”
Charlotte-based Rodgers Builders, with $450 million in annual revenue, represents this type of client. Markus Hill, vice president of technology, says their relationship with Nexcom has helped them serve their clients better, and provided the tools they need to keep themselves in business.
“They’re a wonderful partner to have, providing service without measure and a fresh outlook on everything from processes to technology,” attests Hill. “They are a benchmark by which we measure other partners.”
But getting big doesn’t mean Nexcom will become less personable. The headquarters will continue to be maintained in Charlotte where the company and employees contribute to the community in numerous ways.
Last year, for instance, Nexcom developed a mobile platform pro bono for the Ronald McDonald House to help them manage their many volunteers and responsibilities more effectively. They also provide solutions inside many of our municipal agencies, ensuring that they have the tools they need to serve our community effectively.
While Allison’s ground-shaking realization may have occurred all those years ago, he plans to continue shaking things up with bigger, better and faster methods of enabling real-time information exchange.