"How I Got Started..." with Carlos Chacon, Managing Partner of SQL Data Partners
We had the opportunity to sit down with Carlos and talk about how he became an entrepreneur within a field he never expected.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I grew up in Burlington, North Carolina. I was originally born in Connecticut and my family lived up and down the east coast, but my hometown is Burlington. From North Carolina, my father got another job, and we moved to Richmond when I was in high school.
Q: What are you passionate about in your personal life?
A: I really enjoy spending time in the development of young people. I know it played a role in my upbringing, and it’s exciting to see young people grow. So, I’ve spent a lot of time with the Boy Scouts. I’ve been a Scout Master of Troop, I was at summer camp this year, and I’ve been to the National Jamboree as both a scout and a scout leader.
Q: What college did you attend and what did you study?
A: I started out at a junior college in Idaho and then transferred to Brigham Young University where I was told that I didn’t qualify for their management school. I wanted to study Information Technology, so I ended up transferring to Utah Valley University where I ultimately graduated with a degree in Information Technology. I had done some internships at the company where my father had taken the job in Richmond, and those positions were what lead me to want to pursue IT.
Q: Tell me about your early career.
A: I actually volunteered to work at my first job because it was so difficult to find work at that time without at least a few years of experience. Luckily, I had done an internship for a local company, and they hired me for an hourly position. Two weeks before Christmas, they extended a full time offer, so that was a nice gift. I ended up working for a fairly small company which was a blessing because I got to work with a variety of different technologies and gain exposure to different areas that I would not have had the opportunity to do at a larger organization.
One of the consultants at the firm I was at had left and called me about an open database administrator position that he felt I would be perfect for. Remembering my college courses and thinking about the little bit of experience I had with databases at the consulting group, I told him he was crazy. I thought I wanted to be a network engineer working with routers and switches. Then he told me how much it payed, and I was like ‘I’m listening.’ Having taken two database courses in college, I told myself I would never do that again, but eventually I was hooked.
Part of the reason that I’ve stayed in database technology is the database community. We have great user groups here in Richmond. I actually led the SQL Server User Group for about five years. I love the network of folks that are passionate about helping out and sharing what they know. The ability to connect and get information is pretty neat.
Q: In your words, what is SQL Data Partners?
A: SQL Data Partners helps businesses access to their data in a ways they want to use it whether that be making it more secure, available faster, better for reporting, or even by helping businesses look at the data that they have in new ways. Those are all the goals of SQL Data Partners. So, that means we help organizations with database administration, data manipulation, and data reporting. The tools of the trade that we use are ultimately Microsoft technologies. As a Microsoft partner, we’ve drank that Kool-Aid, and it tastes GOOD.
Q: How long have you been in business?
A: We started SQL Data Partners in 2011. It’s been the last three years that we’ve finally developed a good rhythm. I understand what it means to be a good business owner and also things like customer acquisition and sales cycles.
Q: What was the transition from your career to entrepreneurship like? What sparked you to start your company?
A: Entrepreneurship has always been in the back of my mind. Although my dad has never had his own business, he would do a lot of things by himself like building his own house, so that idea of trying to put something together by yourself has stayed with me. In college, I felt like I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but it seemed so broad. I didn’t quite know how I would do it or even what I wanted to do. I remember a speaker saying, ‘If you want to be an entrepreneur, go ahead and get used to it while you’re in college because you’re going to be poor for the first little while.’ I thought that was very interesting advice which I didn’t really accept at first, but I have found it to be very true.
I had tried a couple of different businesses, partnerships really. Luckily, those didn’t work out. They were all in technology, not databases but rather computer repair or even website building. Eventually, my wife and I finally felt at a comfortable point to really go all in on entrepreneurship. At some point, you just have to take the leap and make the transition. My biggest fear was that a customer would ask me something that I didn’t have the answer to. Once I got to the point where other consultants were coming to me with questions, that fear went away, and it was one of the deciding factors to go all in and start SQL Data Partners.
Q: What was the biggest surprise as a business owner from working as an employee?
A: I felt like I knew that there would be ups and downs, but sometimes I feel like my attitude changes like the weather. Sometimes it can feel like we have really high highs or really low lows, but the reality is that it’s always somewhere in between. I can remember thinking like ‘I don’t like this job’ or ‘This is really great,’ but I don’t remember feeling quite the extremes when I was working full-time. I think that just comes with carrying so much pressure as a business owner.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges in growing the business? What have you done differently as a result?
A: When I originally started my business, I thought it was all about technology. Ultimately, I am delivering a technology solution, however, my biggest learning curve was about all of the other pieces involved in business. I feel like I have been good with people but the sales cycle, the CRM tool, hiring people, and working with contractors are all business things that have been major learning experiences for me.
Q: As a successful business owner, do you have work / life balance? How have you managed to improve the joy and fulfillment in your life?
A: I struggle with that in some respects. We talk about a balance, right? Well, they are two different things. In my mind, I am just me. I am a husband, a father, and a business owner. Those responsibilities can sometimes compete, but you have to plan your time to meet all of your obligations. For example, I try to be home for dinner every night at 5:30 pm. I’m not necessarily always on time, but I try. We have young kids, and I want to be there for my family. I put the kids in bed, and then I go back to work. One of the other things that we do is center our vacations around the conferences that we attend. This summer, we went to Plymouth, Massachusetts for a three-day conference. I took my family up, stopped by New York City, and made a long weekend of it. Then the family went to Boston while I attended the conference before we all drove home together. So, it’s really more of a fusion than a separation between work and life because that works for us.
Q: What can we and others in the community do to help your business grow and be more successful?
A: If you know of organizations, particularly those that are using ERP software such as warehouses that are distributing products but not feeling like they’re getting the data in a way that is usable to them, those are the types of organizations we can help. One of the other tools that we use a lot is Power BI, so that’d be another area. If you know someone with these needs, we’d be happy to talk with them.
Q: What advice would give other entrepreneurs / small business owners?
A: Stay curious. The idea is that you are a professional and have certain expertise, but there are still so many other pieces to consider from a business perspective. It can be easy to find similarities with your competitors, and talking with them and asking questions about what they’re doing may help you find things that you didn’t see before.
“How I Got Started...” is a blog series that spotlights the entrepreneurial and life journeys of various small business owners and professionals. The content of this blog was curated by members of the CreativeMktGroup team.