John Goullet is an entrepreneur at the intersection of information technology and staffing. He has spent almost three decades navigating businesses through the rapidly expanding world of IT, building some of the top staffing firms in the industry.
In the early 1980s, a pivotal era marked by significant changes in consumer electronics, Goullet started his career in computer consulting. His journey evolved as he transitioned into the role of an IT staffing account executive, adept at matching businesses with the perfect IT professionals through meticulous needs assessment and candidate placement coordination.
While working as an account executive, John Goullet came to recognize an untapped niche in the market: the need for comprehensive computing infrastructure solutions among large enterprises. In 1994, he took the bold step of founding Info Technologies, where he strategically tailored his IT staffing firm’s business model to cater exclusively to Fortune 500 corporations.
The company soared to unparalleled heights, emerging as a top-tier IT staffing provider, garnering accolades such as inclusion in Inc. Magazine’s prestigious “America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies” list, and achieving a remarkable financial milestone, amassing over $30 million in revenue within a mere five years from its inception.
In 2010, Goullet chose to orchestrate the merger of Info Technologies with Diversant, a rival IT staffing firm established in 2005. Together, the two companies joined forces to create Diversant LLC, capitalizing on the strengths of each entity and enabling the newly formed company to expand its presence while continually innovating and developing new solutions. The company was acquired in 2021, and Goullet continued to serve in an advisory capacity for the firm as chairman of its board until his retirement.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
I began my career as a consultant, offering my expertise in the field of computers and information technology to companies looking to implement them into their businesses. I have always enjoyed the technological side of my job, but when I transitioned to a role at an IT staffing firm I was able to connect that with my people skills in a way that transformed what I believed my career could look like.
I had also always dreamed of starting my own business, and while working as an account executive for an IT staffing firm it became clear to me that there were little to no barriers to entry in the field – I could go out on my own with little to no up–front costs or other challenges. The market was nascent and in high demand as technology permeated into businesses, but I also knew that I needed to find a unique value proposition. It became clear to me that while firms providing IT staffing services to SMEs were abundant, there were far fewer catering to large companies that had more complex needs. It was gutsy, but I started Info Technologies to address that hole in the market and cater to large-scale corporations like those on the Fortune 500 list.
How do you make money?
Our firm generated revenue through several channels, but primarily it was through facilitating the recruitment and placement of IT professionals within client organizations. When we successfully match a candidate with a job opportunity, we earn a commission. We would also provide temporary or contract IT professionals to client companies, and charge them a markup. Contract-to-hire models, consulting services, project-based work, and additional services like skills assessments also contributed to diversifying our revenue streams, but overall we relied on our expertise in talent acquisition to generate income while serving the recruitment needs of our clients.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
As I said previously, it was a relatively straightforward endeavor to enter the field, and there weren’t any significant obstacles or challenges. That, combined with the high-level nature of our clientele and foresight in terms of our business model, meant that we were profitable within our first year, and within just five years were generating over $30 million in earnings.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Doubt is always going to be inevitable, and is essential to the process. Only the delusional don’t experience doubt in any form. I never doubted my idea itself, but starting a new business is daunting and there were certainly moments in those first months that I wondered whether the stress and instability were worth it.
I found that doing research and building a well-constructed business plan assuaged much of my doubts, providing me with a roadmap I could look to for direction. Staying informed about the industry and market trends also created a sense of security in me – “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” as Benjamin Franklin said.
That being said, letting go of what I couldn’t control was another important step in my journey to surmount doubt. Staying flexible and open to adaptation is crucial, and I consistently reminded myself that there are many routes to an end goal.
How did you get your first customer?
I leveraged the connections I had previously made in my time in the industry. At the firm I had worked at previously, we had actually turned away a number of large corporations because we didn’t have the bandwidth to provide them with the level of service they needed. I was able to reach back out to them when I had started my company and secure their business. Once we had established a track record of serving this level of clients, it became easier to attract additional business.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
In my experience, the most critical aspect of marketing is to maintain a comprehensive approach, combining various strategies thoughtfully while emphasizing execution. Marketing has evolved significantly since the inception of my business, largely due to the internet’s impact. Back when I first started, online presence was minimal, but today, digital marketing is overtaking more traditional methods in terms of spending. Over the years, we’ve incorporated social media marketing and content marketing into our strategy, both of which have proven beneficial. However, what has consistently stood out as the most valuable marketing approach for our industry is client referrals.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
As I have retired, thankfully the most difficult decision I have made is what time I want to head out to the golf course. However, when I think back to my time in business, choosing an exit strategy was undoubtedly the most formidable decision of my career. It’s a decision that encompasses countless variables, each with its own set of implications – after years of building the company from the ground up, nurturing client relationships, and fostering a talented team, contemplating the eventual transition or sale of the firm felt like parting with a piece of myself.
It wasn’t just about financial considerations either. It was about legacy, the well-being of my employees, and the future of the business I poured my heart and soul into. Weighing the pros and cons, considering the right timing, and aligning the decision with my long-term vision made it a deeply introspective and challenging journey, but I recognized that it was a decision that needed to be made with careful deliberation to ensure the continued success and growth of the company beyond my leadership.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I firmly believe that several key attributes have contributed to my success. First and foremost, the capacity to think creatively and problem-solve has been indispensable. When you embark on the entrepreneurial journey, you opt for a unique path, distinct from established norms. Instead of searching for templates or mimicking other companies’ strategies, you have to rely on their unique vision and think outside the box to devise innovative solutions that set you apart.
Decisiveness is another critical trait that has served me well. Entrepreneurship places you squarely in the driver’s seat, demanding countless decisions. The ability to make decisions decisively and in a timely manner enables problem resolution, the swift exploration of new ideas, and adaptability in the face of shifting circumstances.
Finally, effective communication has been paramount. As a leader, it’s essential to clearly convey your vision for the company to others. Successful communication extends beyond just talking; it involves active listening to customers, employees, peers, and the ever-changing world around us.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
One of the most exhilarating and satisfying moments in my journey was when our company secured a spot on Inc. Magazine’s “America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies” list. It was a culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and relentless pursuit of excellence.
It wasn’t just about the numbers, though the growth metrics were undeniably impressive. It was a testament to the collective efforts of our exceptional team, the trust of our valued clients, and the vision that had driven us forward. It underscored our ability to adapt to the ever-evolving IT staffing landscape, to provide top-notch service to our clients, and to create opportunities for countless talented IT professionals.
But beyond the accolades and recognition, what truly made this moment so satisfying was the knowledge that we were making a meaningful impact on the industry, creating job opportunities, and fostering partnerships that went beyond business transactions. It was a moment of celebration for our team, our clients, and everyone who had contributed to our growth story.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
Our company was acquired by a global information technology solutions and services company in 2021. Through that merger, we were able to fully realize the scope and scale we had desired for the business, becoming part of a greater whole that shared our values and mission. I served on that company’s board to oversee the transition and ensure its seamlessness, and remained in the position until I retired.
Although I have retired, I certainly have not slowed down. My goal at the current moment is to pass on what I have learned from my time building businesses through giving talks, contributing to publications, and acting as a mentor to select people I see potential in. That being said, I am also still very open to getting back into the world of entrepreneurship and business should the right opportunity come along. My doors are open.
What business books have inspired you?
From a business standpoint, I’ve found tremendous value in all of Jim Collins’ books. His in-depth analysis of the most successful companies and the underlying principles that drive their success has proven immensely beneficial to me. These books are grounded in extensive research and data, offering practical and actionable strategies for achieving sustainable growth.
Another book I often recommend people read is “Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War,” by Sebastian Gorka. While the book may not have a direct link to business operations, it offers a broader perspective on global security and geopolitics, which can inform strategic decisions and risk management practices. It is a worthwhile read for business leaders interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the contemporary security landscape.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
I purchased the domain name for my personal website. In today’s day and age, having a digital presence is incredibly important, and a personal website allows you to control the narrative about yourself and your professional achievements. It has also significantly simplified networking for me: my business card now simply holds my email and website address, and all other links are accessible through this one streamlined center.
What advice would you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to succeed in the IT staffing industry today?
Look at the companies you admire most, and believe that you have the ability to create it as well. Vision is powerful, and if you have one don’t discount its ability to carry you through practically every hurdle you may encounter. Stay focused, stay current, and establish a strong mission statement and values early on. These are my secret ingredients for success, and if you follow through the rest will fall into place.