With technology seemingly changing on a dime in recent years, it can be challenging to keep up with the latest and greatest in the IT and software industry. If a business falls behind, they can find themselves on a slippery slope with a tendency to refuse to change down the road because they’re stuck in their ways. Silicon Plains aims to take the stress out of managing your business’ electronics, while still offering the most efficient operations on the market.
An Introduction To Silicon Plains
Two of the Silicon Plains founders, Herb Miner and Dan Polk, both operated separate, similar and successful companies hundreds of miles away from one another. Miner founded and operated Complete Technology Solutions near Denver, Colorado, while Polk found success within Silicon Plains, based out of Bismarck.
Miner and Polk both stated that in their rises to success, each company took similar paths while facing similar challenges and feats. They both launched their companies in 2009 from the ground up, with very little of their own money. While they found relatively quick success after launching, they admitted that there’s a decent amount of “cheating” that takes place in the industry as well.
“There are a lot of peer groups available for businesses like ours to get going, as IT people tend to be hyper-collaborative. Early on, the companies that wrote the software would share it with people in different geographies, so they weren’t directly competing with each other. They were effectively just handing out cheat codes,” Polk said. “Individually at the time, we said, ‘Okay, let’s incorporate as much of this as we can because it’s the fastest way to grow.’ Not long after, we both hit the $2 million top-line ceiling that almost every service provider does when they have a single leader. And so both of us at the same time started thinking about how to move forward.”
The managed services industry was starting to contract. Successful businesses were starting to get much bigger, while small businesses would stay small, and mergers or acquisitions started happening. They began to see merger and acquisition activity going on and realized they didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity.
“We needed to start thinking about what this means for us because we didn’t want to be one of the small companies that gets left behind without the financial power of being able to acquire employees and put energy, time and money into our sales and marketing efforts. We didn’t want to be a company that was constantly being rolled over by the tank treads of an industry that was going to move forward no matter what,” Polk said.
Silicon Plains Services include:
- Business Analytics
- Computer Hardware
- Mobile Device Support
- Proactive Computer Support
- Cloud Control
- Security and Anti-Virus
- Network and Wireless
What prepared you for the merger?
“For me, it was every time that I’ve ever failed. It’s just like raising a kid. I didn’t grow up around business. My mom was a piano teacher and my dad was a curriculum developer so we didn’t have that business background in our family. Everything that I did was just me trying something and seeing if it worked. I surrounded myself with as many mentors and coaches as I could. When I set out to try something new and it worked, that was great! But when I tried something and it worked out poorly or could have been improved, that’s when I learned something. When we started thinking about what we wanted to do with Silicon Plains, I knew that if there was a way to get things done a little bit easier, it involves surrounding myself with people that I absolutely trust so that when they say, ‘Don’t go in that direction,’ I feel confident in that decision.”-Dan Polk
Not long after taking notice of this looming threat, Polk contacted nearly everyone that he knew in the industry within 300 miles until he came across Herb’s company. After a phone call discussing the future of the industry, Miner took interest and Polk flew out to Colorado. There, they discussed it further, ran it past their families, coworkers and advisors, and took the leap soon after by merging together as one.
While both companies may have been originally founded in 2009, it wasn’t until years later that an improved and expanded version of Silicon Plains came to life. “Around 12 years after launching them both, our paths merged and we brought the companies together. We talked about branding when we got together and agreed that “Silicon Plains” is a really, really cool name. When we merged, we decided to keep that name since we were all on board with it,” Miner said.
After forming the reworked Silicon Plains, they knew that the next step would be increasing the capacity and capabilities of the company. They began bringing in qualified people to boost the company’s growth and stay on track with their expectations. “We started bringing in experts from all over. Herb had brought in some experts. I already had Nicole [Kohler] and other people who were experts in different fields. I don’t know about Herb but I never felt like we were growing fast enough,” Polk said.
After having shifted Silicon Plains into a brand new work dynamic for Polk, Miner and Kohler, spanning two long-distance locations, the team had to adapt and overcome new challenges. Luckily, complications were few and far between, as the team shared common goals and perspectives that they established before merging together as one. Now, they’re working together more efficiently than ever before.
“We did, and continue to do, a really good job at taking care of what we need to take care of. I’m working with two very smart, intelligent people. I trust that they can do what needs to be done in their areas. If you’re the single owner of a company, you have to make decisions and hope that it’s the right one. We have this strength and support between the three of us. It’s great to get a little sanity check from people that I respect and trust,” Miner said. Today, Polk and Kohler reside in the Bismarck area with roughly half of the team, while Miner operates their second location in Colorado with the other half of the team. With Polk, Kohler and Miner all admitting that they were better at being people first and employees second, they all fall into what Polk defines as an interdependent group.
“One of my former bosses used the term interdependently, where we’re extremely independently minded people, but we also see the benefit of working together. We all want [Silicon Plains] to work as a group so it’s been pretty smooth sailing along the way with the same mission. We’re all entrepreneurial at heart and we decided that we should probably start changing into moreso business leaders that focus on how to raise up others. The trio of us now continually work daily as fast as we can and as intelligently as we can to continue to grow,” Polk said.
Meet The Founders
Dan Polk – Owner, Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Polk has served on a number of college advisory boards, been a mentor and board member for business incubators and has led his last two ventures from startup to growth and sale.
What first got you into business?
Being a bad employee, honestly. I saw naturally over time that I was good at getting other people excited about what I was doing. They would notice that I was really excited about whatever it was that I was talking about. People would be interested in what I was getting excited about and think, “Let’s go see what he’s going to do next.”
I started figuring out that I didn’t want to be an IT guy forever anymore. I didn’t want to be fixing computers forever because I was really good at it, so it wasn’t nearly as fulfilling to me anymore and there wasn’t any challenge in it.
Being the kind of person that gets all wound up and excited about “the next thing” in business and tech, and getting other people intrigued as well by accident, I thought to myself, “What if I did this on purpose?” So, I decided to shift gears and went towards more of a business leader focus when launching Silicon Plains.
What do you do?
My job primarily consists of sales and sales management. I’m also occupying the CEO position, but that doesn’t have a ton of work that comes with it. Sales management is roughly 80 to 90% of my day, and I tend to put more of my focus on the larger accounts. We have other salespeople that do the dayto-day sales that ask me for advice every once in a while.
I interact with Nicole and Herb a bunch throughout the day by having regular day-to-day meetings that ensure we’re all on the same page and progress is being made. With having two different locations, and Herb in Colorado, there has been a little bit of a learning curve in how to operate office meetings remotely, but we’re staying ahead of that curve.
Nicole Kohler – Owner, Founder and Chief Financial Officer
Kohler is an entrepreneur at heart having founded, operated profitably for years and sold two large and highly successful businesses before coming to Silicon Plains.
She is currently pursuing an MBA from the University of North Dakota.
What first got you into business?
Growing up, my family was heavily involved in business. My dad owned a couple of businesses while I was in elementary through high school, so I was exposed to a lot of that in the Bismarck-Mandan area. However, I didn’t immediately get involved with it myself.
I chose to follow my creative side and started taking wedding photos, which I found to be a very lucrative job, as I owned two separate photography studios. When the recession hit in 2008, I realized that I should have something to fall back on because people may not be spending thousands of dollars to have their wedding photographed.
I went back to school to finish my accounting degree and was basically relentless on Dan until he hired me. I would not leave him alone. He posted this position for an office manager/bookkeeper on BisMan-Online way back in the day. I saw the position and told him, “I’m closing one of my photography businesses. I’m almost done with this accounting degree and I really think that this would be a great opportunity for me.” I went on other interviews with law firms and other places and thought to myself, “Nope, this is where I have to be.” I was relentless for three months until he finally took me on.
When I first started [at Silicon Plains], it was Dan, his business partner, a technician and I. There were only four of us and we were very much a sub $1 million company. As we grew, Dan said, “This is really going to be the future of the industry. If we don’t start figuring out where we can bring in other experts in areas where we’re not experts, then we’re going to fail.” Soon after, we started talking with Herb and became a really good trio with a lot of trust between the three of us. We get together and collaborate often, and I couldn’t ask for better people to be in business with.
What do you do?
My day-to-day involves making sure that we’re getting the best deals, keeping track of all of our expenses and making sure that revenues are exceeding that. I do work quite a bit with Dan to ensure that we’re getting the right services into the right customers’ hands. It’s so great that we have a weekly meeting where we get together as a team and go through any issues that we might have. We talk about headlines, whether it’s employee or customer headlines, make major decisions and make sure that we’re accomplishing our short-term and long-term goals for the business’s future.
Herb Miner – Owner, Founder and Chief Operating Officer
Prior to merging with Silicon Plains, Miner provided software solutions and project management to Lockheed Martin and NASA on 35 separate Space Shuttle missions and 12 satellite missions.
What first got you into business?
I grew up as a poor kid from the country. However, getting an education, going to college and getting an engineering degree helped me end up at NASA, which was a great thing to be a part of. I worked on and contributed to dozens of missions, as well as Department of Defense rocket launches, satellite launches and more in aerospace. It’s an interesting field to be in, to say the least. Like Dan, though, I eventually realized that I was more fit to be a business leader. I felt like that piece of my skill set would be better used elsewhere. One thing I used to say at the beginning of [Complete Technology Solutions] is that it used to be me, a phone and a truck, and the phone rang and the truck rolled. We’ve come a long way from that with our phenomenal service team.
What do you do?
Dan and his team make a lot of promises to clients, and it’s my overall responsibility to make sure that we guarantee any promises that get promised during the sales process. There’s no one right way to fulfill those promises that are made to clients since we’re not your average IT firm. I develop our employees into really great techs and engineers that can do phenomenal things for Silicon Plains’ clients.
How Silicon Plains helps with Dan Polk
Every small to medium-sized business owner is plagued with kind of the same idea that their technology should be as special as they are. When we talk to them about changing and having us take care of their stuff with our “special sauce”; it’s the standardization that works. Change is hard, but growth is relatively easy to handle.
You just make sure there’s always money in the checking account and just keep doing it right by organizing that and making it work. On top of those business aspects, is quality IT. As your company gets bigger and your team expands, everyone needs to know things faster and be doing things together.
A lot of times, companies will be getting bad advice from their own IT people who have also come up with the company. That doesn’t mean that they’re bad people or that they’re not smart, it’s just that they’re used to what they’ve always known. Our job is to come in and standardize all IT aspects. By the end when we run it, all the drama goes away.
The everyday “Why can’t you access this?” and “Do we all know how we’re supposed to share files?” is gone. Then, they can start focusing on what actually makes that particular business special, as an employee or as a leader in that company and stop worrying about smaller IT issues that needed to be improved.
Did You Know?
Silicon Plains offers custom software development!
Custom software development will turn your business processes into time-saving computer programs. For any special projects, their inhouse team of software developers will show a business how to make IT work for them.
Another common issue is that people will come to us and want someone to consult and give them ideas. They’ll say, “What should I be doing next?” or “What keeps me competitive?” They get caught up in thinking those questions themselves, while we have a whole group of people that do nothing but think like that all day.
In my eyes, 80 to 90% of businesses out there are still running with junk. If you want to be competitive, let us turn that into plumbing. Once we’re done, you’ll know that it’s capable of whatever you want, whether it’s cloud support, social media or just knowing that your backups are safe and secure. After that standardization, you can start talking about bolting on some real competitive edge stuff on top of the essentials, and that’s where our consultants come in and we sit down and say, “Here are some ideas that you can pursue, now that you’ve got these pieces in place.”
A Terrific Testimonial
“Our specialty is aviation, not cyber security. Before working with Silicon Plains, the IT process was stressful and was always a worry. What Silicon Plains has done for us is provide a national level of service that is scaled locally.” – Jon Simmers, Bismarck Aero Center.
Silicon Plains recently hosted a successful open house on September 14th. Keep an eye out for any other up-and-coming, community-focused events by following their social media pages!
With impressive experience and expertise between the three founders, it’s safe to say that they are taking the reworked and improved Silicon Plains to new heights. Offering a wide range of technology support for IT needs in any industry or business, Silicon Plains and its owners are ready to take on any challenge that comes their way and streamline your business technology.
Schedule a consultation with Silicon Plains
Email: [email protected]
Address: 2219 E Main Ave Bismarck, ND 58501