Aaron Hamp is often accused of smiling too much, although if you ask him, he doesn’t think there is such a thing. “Life is good," he says. "It's been a fun ride."
And at 37, the self-described "accidental entrepreneur" has had quite the journey. After graduating from Kearsley High School, Hamp spent a few years working as an insurance agent and investment advisor before to college to study computer networking.
"The whole time I was going to school, I just kept telling people, 'Let me try to fix your computer,'" Hamp says. If he succeeded, his friends could pay him $50 for a job well done. If he didn't, they didn't owe him anything.
By the time Hamp was finishing up at Baker College, he had secured a few job interviews, but the calls for tech support kept coming in. Despite the fact that his home address was a P.O. Box, most of his belongings were in storage and he had become an expert couch-surfer, Hamp decided that it was the perfect time to start his first business.
Tell us about the genesis of I.N.C. Systems.
I was starting to develop this idea, and my (former) business partner said he wanted in. I needed some help, so I said, “If you can come up with $2,500, I’ll give you 25 percent of this company.” I took the money, negotiated with a landlord, and that covered the first six months of rent for our first office, which was down by the White Horse Tavern in Flint.
What was life like then?
We were scraping to get by. My business partner, who I bought out a few years ago, and I both lived in that office. We ate off the dollar menu from McDonald’s pretty much every day. We’d both get a double cheese burger and a McChicken, and it was like, four bucks for the two of us.
Would you recommend that approach to other entrepreneurs?
Unless you have a true passion for what you’re doing, don’t bother. Passion is what gets you through those hard times – the dollar menus, the sleeping on some lumpy bed in an office building. None of that mattered to me because I was passionate about the technology.
Also, I'd recommend they seek out some guidance first. Get a business plan. Don't do what we did because every bit of money we made went into all of the mistakes we made. (Laughs) And it wasn't until I got the proper guidance through the Small Business Development Center at Kettering University that we started to turn things around.
What is I.N.C. like today?
What we did when we started was very general. We would do anything for everybody. What we do today is very specific. We focus on managed services, which means we are the outsourced IT department for companies where having a full-time IT person doesn't make sense. Our market (consists of) organizations with 10 to 250 computers.
How would you describe your leadership philosophy?
I like to make sure that my staff is taken care of, because they're the ones that do all of the heavy lifting. I always use the analogy that I'm just the captain. My job is to point the ship, and keep us from running aground and out of bad weather. But the crew does the work to get us to the destination, so I'm nothing without a good crew.
How have you created a positive company culture at I.N.C. Systems?