Jay Myers was fired on his 39th birthday. Most people will imagine that to be a sad event, but most entrepreneurs will perk up and think, “It’s an opportunity!”
In fact, as Myers says, “That’s how I got started on my entrepreneurial journey. I was forced into it, honestly, but it’s been an incredible ride, a lot of ups and downs, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
Myers moved to Memphis from Louisiana at age 9 and graduated from Christian Brothers High School and the University of Memphis. He worked for Hewlett Packard, Eastman/Kodak, and a local telecom company where, as a data projects manager, he became familiar with video conferencing and saw the potential of the technology.
“Video conferencing made so much sense to me,” he says. “With the big corporation I could picture flying to all these cities and doing training for one day. And I’m adding up the price of the plane ticket, and the hotel, and the food, I’m going like, ‘Isn’t there a better way to do this?’ When I saw the first video conferencing, it was like, ‘This stuff makes a ton of sense. You mean I don’t actually have to physically be there and still have a productive meeting?’”
Video conferencing is the primary aspect of Interactive Solutions, but the company also offers audio-visual integration, video conferencing for schools, distance learning, and services for healthcare and telemedicine. “We use our core competency to be able to outfit boardrooms, auditoriums, hospitals, schools, etc.,” he says.
While there’s never any guarantee of success, Myers did have an encounter that he figured was a very good sign. “When I started the business, I got a call out of the blue from a guy named Kemmons Wilson,” he says. “My secretary didn’t have any idea who he was. He comes to the office and I’m so excited I have her get a camera to take pictures of us. He goes through a video conferencing demonstration and didn’t buy anything, but he shook my hand and he said, ‘You hang in there. You’re going to make some money with this business.’ I’m a good old Catholic; I thought the Pope had just blessed me.”
The lowest point in Myers’ enterprise came when he discovered his accounting manager had embezzled $250,000 from the company. He managed to keep Interactive Solutions afloat and he kept himself from falling apart by writing a book about it. “It’s called Keep Swinging and it was like therapy,” he says. “I was trying to tell the story about embezzlement because it’s kind of like businesses’ dirty little secret. The other part was overcoming adversity. This was the worst of times. I felt like I was staring at the abyss. And then to rebound and do what we did where we doubled business after the embezzlement the next year — I thought that was a story worth telling.”
Later, he penned another book — Hitting the Curveballs — about how the business grew during the recession. “It wasn’t just with the sales revenue, and the profits, and all that goes along with that,” he says “but it was the way we did it. We lost a bunch of people to turnover and we had to replace them, and rather than going out and trying to hire experienced people, we ended up hiring Millennials. And Millennials that we could train, and we call it our farm system. We went through a tough patch there training these people, but four years after hiring the Millennials, I took my business from $11 million to $25 million amid the worst economy in 80 years.”
Myers’ influences are his late father, Jerry Myers, who ran the Better Business Bureau, and his late brother, John Myers. “They were like my Bibles, the Old Testament and the New Testament,” he says. “Their advice was invaluable. There’s a right way to run a business, and the three things around here that are so important are honesty, integrity, and ethics. We feel like that’s part of our brand.”
Inside Memphis Business: What’s your guilty pleasure?
Jay Myers: Baseball fantasy camps. The suit I always wanted to wear is New York Yankees pinstripes. For my whole life, as a little boy and everything, I always wanted to play center field for the New York Yankees. Just didn’t quite have the talent. But now, every few years, it’s a week of a bunch of old, gray, fat guys out there playing baseball with the Yankee legends of the past at the camps. It doesn’t make any financial sense, but boy I sure have a lot of fun.
IMB: What words of wisdom do you have?
JM: When you go into business for yourself, don’t be a martyr, carrying the weight of the company on your shoulders and all those things. Reach out to anybody and everybody that can help you with that business. Check your ego at the door and you’ve got a chance to be successful.
IMB: Why is this town so good for entrepreneurs?
JM: Memphis is a grit-and-grind kind of city, blue collar. We don’t necessarily do it always the prettiest way but we get the job done. People here respect hard work, and frankly the risk-takers, they absorb that in the economy and realized that the risk-taking is to be admired and supported.