Chris Black with Integrity IT Services

Chris Black with Integrity IT Services

This week on The Mobile Alabama Business Podcast, we sit down with Chris Black. Listen in as we discuss his life, career journey, and how he got into the world of IT Services!

Produced by Blue Fish.


Chris Black: My name's Chris Black. I am the co-owner of Integrity IT Services. Marcus Neto: Yay. Welcome to the podcast, Chris. Chris Black: Thank you for having me. Marcus Neto: Yeah, absolutely. We've known each other for a number of years and I think we, while we were just talking, we were both at the Southwest Chamber Expo, what, like a week or so ago? Chris Black: Yes, sir. Marcus Neto: And I know you've been a little bit hesitant to come on, for no other reason than just doing... I think people don't realize how nerve-racking it is to be in your seat. Chris Black: Right. Marcus Neto: But I am appreciative that you came on, and I think afterwards, you'll find that this was a hell of a lot easier than what most people think. Marcus Neto: But anyway, to get started, why don't you tell us the story of Chris? Where are you from? Where'd you go to high school? Did you go to college? Are you married, and so on and so forth? Just give us some backstory. Chris Black: So I'm born and raised in Mobile. I grew up in Tillmans Corner area, went to Griggs Elementary, Theodore Middle School, Theodore High School, stayed out in that area all through school. After I graduated, I did the tech school thing. Didn't really look for the full college ride. I wanted more of a technical aspect of things. Marcus Neto: Specific to the IT? Chris Black: Well actually, oddly enough, it was electronics engineering, but it gave me my piece of paper that got my foot in the door and kind of just ran with it from there over the years. I'm not married. I do have a kid that's 13 now, my son Connor. His mom and I've been divorced for quite some time, but he is pretty much my life outside of work. Marcus Neto: Hear that ladies? Give him a holler. I kid, but anyway. So was there something early on in your life that kind of made you want to go in this direction? I hope I'm not going too far out on a branch, but I mean, you're not in your twenties. You've got a kid that's 13, you're definitely not your twenties. So I mean like, IT has been around for a while, but was this something that early on in your teenage years or something like that, like you got your first computer and realized, "Hey, I really enjoy this thing. I'm going to seek a career in IT services"? Chris Black: You know, I always had sort of a natural, I guess, just drawing to taking things apart and putting them back together. I always enjoyed Lego sets as a kid and that kind of stuff, just building and doing that sort of stuff. My first computer, obviously as you said, I'm not 20, so we didn't have a computer as much. Marcus Neto: Go ahead, tell me, what was your first computer? Chris Black: My first computer was probably a Pentium 333 with like eight gigs, or eight megs of RAM. Marcus Neto: See, I can beat that. My first computer was a Commodore VIC-20. Chris Black: Well actually, we did have a Commodore 64 when I was a child. Marcus Neto: Yeah, that was my second computer. Chris Black: But we pretty much knew how to load a game and that was about it. Marcus Neto: Yeah. Chris Black: We really didn't even know what it was. It was just, "Hey, here's the way to play a game." Marcus Neto: Yeah. For those of you under the age of 35, a Commodore VIC-20, in order to play like Pong, you put a cassette deck into this cassette deck player, that then screeched like the old modems did, the code into the computer. And I mean, these things had, like by a factor of a hundred, they had less power than the iPhone that you carry around in your pocket nowadays. Chris Black: Exactly. Marcus Neto: And it loaded Pong and you had a joystick or something along those lines, or a keyboard, that you used to control the up and down nature. And the ball would bounce faster and faster until you lost. But that was pretty much all we had access to, back in the day. Chris Black: Right. Marcus Neto: Yeah. Well, what was your first job, and were there any lessons that you still remember from that? And I mean, your very first job. Chris Black: Very, very first job was just a summer gig. I was a band nerd. Imagine that. Marcus Neto: I was a choir geek. Chris Black: There was a Music & Me program that the school did that basically got troubled kids off the streets for the summer, taught them music. Marcus Neto: So obviously, you were involved. Chris Black: Yeah. I was an instructor for it. I think that was my junior year of high school. And then first, I guess, official public job was McDonald's. Marcus Neto: Sure. And any lessons that you learned from working at McDonald's? Chris Black: Not really that I can remember. Marcus Neto: Come on, now. Look, those kinds of jobs are workforce development. Chris Black: Right. Marcus Neto: Right? And people don't ever look at it that way. They look at it as just a job, like any other job. But really, those jobs are intended on teaching people how to show up at work on time, how to speak to people in a respectful manner, how to get a job done, those kinds of things. But oftentimes what we find is that, if we look back in our history, that there's some lessons that were learned about that, and maybe there's not. Maybe I'm digging for something here that isn't. I oftentimes give the example of attention to the details, or doing every small thing in the right way. So I learned how to mop a floor while I worked at a bagel bakery, or I learned how to wash dishes the correct way, or things like that. But, still, "No"? Chris Black: Well, I think in most cases with that though, it depends on the person and how much actual effort you put into your job. Marcus Neto: Sure. Chris Black: A lot of people that take those jobs don't tend to put a lot of effort into them. Marcus Neto: Yeah. Chris Black: But I mean yeah, it did teach me scheduling and things like that, being on time and being prompt. Actually, I remember the manager I interviewed with thought it was funny, because I actually wore a shirt and tie to my interview. Marcus Neto: Oh, gosh, for a McDonald's job. Chris Black: I mean, there are skills that are learned there, but I probably learned more value from the Music & Me program, just because of the leadership, and actually being in that leadership role, and being responsible for the group of kids that I was working with and things like that. Marcus Neto: No, it's really cool. Well, how did you get started, or how did you start IT, or Integrity IT Services, sorry. Chris Black: After school, I worked for a few different companies in the area. About six years ago, I had an opportunity to partner with a guy. He already had some commercial business in the area, and I had been doing business IT support for several years for other people. And it was just an opportunity that we were able to get together and start Integrity, and start building our own brand, and trying to do the things that we felt like we could do well. He had a lot of retail support at the time and eventually shut that down just to completely focus solely on the commercial side of things. But like I said, that was just a, basically a jump and a leap of faith six years ago, and it's still rock and roll [crosstalk 00:07:06]. Marcus Neto: That is the method of starting a business, is taking a leap of faith. Now, do you remember the first job or the first client that made you think, "Hey, there might be something to this?" Chris Black: Yeah. I had a couple that actually tracked me down, that I had worked with previously through other companies. Of course, I had to wait on non-compete agreements and things like that. But to have someone actually reach out to you and go, "Hey, I hear you're doing your own thing now, and we knew how well you took care of us back then, and we really want to move forward with you when you're able." So we had a couple that did that, and that was a huge pat on the back, I guess for me. But that was probably that moment. Marcus Neto: No, it's cool. It's always nice when people will say, "No, I want to work with you. I know that you're going to trust, I can trust you. And I know you're going to do right by me." I think that's every business owner's ideal situation, right? Chris Black: Right. Marcus Neto: And not just because it makes the sale, a selling process easier. It's like, it makes the whole relationship easier, because you're not constantly having to fight for what it is that you're suggesting or what you believe in. Chris Black: Absolutely. Marcus Neto: Now, if you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them? Chris Black: That's a tough one. Definitely make sure it's something that you're willing to dive fully into. It's not something that you can just, you can be like, "I'm going to start a business one day." Marcus Neto: Yeah. Chris Black: And never really put the effort into it. And talk to other like-minded business people. Talk to your local chambers and things like that. And actually reach out to people that have been through those processes before that can kind of help guide you. Like I said, thankfully my business partner already had been in the business world for a while. Otherwise, I probably would have been completely lost. Maybe a good tech, but there's a big difference between doing tech work and running your business. So obviously, I've learned a lot more of that since then, but yeah, definitely reach out and get that guidance and have some support behind you. Marcus Neto: No, it's good stuff. Now, who is the one person that motivates you from the business world? Marcus Neto: These are super hard. People don't realize, like somebody asks you a question like that, you know what I mean, it is definitely a difficult question to answer. Chris Black: Yeah. I mean, there's so many people out there that provide that value and inspiration and things like that. People like Elon Musk, they're just, I mean, absolutely killing the markets that they're in. Marcus Neto: Yeah. Chris Black: And also, still kind of have that humility and humbleness that, they seem like somebody that you could just walk up to and have a normal conversation to, and not just be like, "Oh my God, I can't talk to him." Marcus Neto: I don't know that anybody could have a normal conversation with Elon Musk. Chris Black: Well, in an Elon Musk sort of way. Marcus Neto: He operates on a completely different plane, but I get what you're saying/ Chris Black: I mean, some of those giants, like that Grant Cardone and some of these other guys that are just, they're just killing their fields. And really just to be yourself. Like for me personally, I've never been a big salesperson. And even now, I'm not a traditional salesperson. Marcus Neto: Yeah. Chris Black: I don't do the beating the door down and things like that. I build more relationships over time, so that I'm not having to just constantly bug people and things like that. But I think, like I said, looking at people like those guys and kind of seeing where they are and seeing how they're still kind of staying down to earth and that sort of stuff, I think that would probably be my most inspirational- Marcus Neto: No, that's awesome. You mentioned a couple of names there. I'll let you off the hook. Are there any books, podcasts, people, or organizations that have been helpful in moving you forward? Chris Black: Organizations-wise, I mean, definitely our chamber. I keep going back to the six years ago when we first started, we were actually doing the IT support for the chamber. Marcus Neto: Well, and stop for just a second, because you're talking about the Southwest Mobile Chamber. Chris Black: Correct, yes. Marcus Neto: And then just to be clear, because there are four different chambers in Mobile alone. Chris Black: Correct. Marcus Neto: And then there's like eight over in Baldwin county. Chris Black: Sure. Marcus Neto: So I just wanted to make sure it was [crosstalk 00:11:54]. Chris Black: Yeah, definitely the Southwest Mobile County Chamber, we were doing some IT work for them. And of course, that introduced me to Tina and her staff, and she really pushed me to get involved, and things like that. Not long after trying to get more involved and coming to events, I was approached and asked to be a member of the board of directors there. And that really has helped me on a personal, just growth, of getting more outside of my shell and doing things like this. I mean, I never would have imagined I would've been sitting here doing a podcast six years ago. Chris Black: Public speaking is still a massive overtaking for me. I'm getting a little bit better at it. But like I said, dealing with Tina and the staff and the rest of the board of directors in Southwest Mobile has definitely been majority of my growth. Marcus Neto: It's funny, because people wouldn't necessarily think this of me, because they see me now, right? Chris Black: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Marcus Neto: But even though I've always been a performer, because I was a musician in my younger years, and then I've always had that kind of bent, but there was something very intimidating to me about the business world, because I've always been kind of an outsider in that respect. So like, I'd rather wear Air Jordans than wingtips. I'd rather wear blue jeans than the gray slacks. And if you catch me, I mean, you've got a nice blue blazer, so I'm not speaking of you, but if you get catch me in the typical uniform of blue blazer, white shirt, red tie, gray slacks, and wingtips, start running, because the world is literally ending. Marcus Neto: But I'll never forget I was... And I want to say his name was Bill, and he was, if I remember correctly, at one point in time, he was the CEO of Thomas, either Thomas Hospital or Mobile Infirmary, and I can't remember. But he was the chairman of the board for the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce. And I had been asked to serve on the board, and then they, for whatever reason, they got a wild hair up their butt, and they decided they want this moron to be on the executive board. And then to make matters, even more interesting, Bill was sitting across the table from me at a retreat. And he said, "Marcus, I really want you to head up the search for our new president," because we had just lost the previous president, and they were kind of in this middle interim route. But I just remember coming out of that, the impact that, that had on me personally in moving forward, like, I wish I could find him because I would love to just send him a note or something and just thank him. Chris Black: Right. Marcus Neto: Because he put me in a position that I didn't feel comfortable with, but he knew that I'd be able to handle it. Chris Black: Sure. Marcus Neto: And not only did I handle it like a pro, because Casey is an absolutely amazing person, woman, head of the chamber over there on the Eastern Shore, like she's just got it all locked down. I love that woman. But on top of all that, he put me in a position, and I didn't deserve to be there, but he put me there and it's changed me for forever. But I get what you're saying, just to kind of relate. What's the most important thing that you've learned about running a business? Chris Black: Relationships and patience. I've talked to numerous people and told stories. And like I said, to kind of go back to a comment I made earlier about not being a traditional salesman, we've had customers that we've done work for now and have picked up, worked with over the years. And early on, they would just come and say, "Hey I'd like to talk to you at some point in time." "Okay, sure, whenever. We're here anytime you want to talk. We'll come out, we'll do a consultation see what we can do to help you with," And just building that reputation over the years. And I mean, one of them literally I had been talking to, just in passing, for over probably three years. And one day, finally, they said, "Hey, we're ready. Come over here and talk to us, and let's see what we can do." And now, it's a customer for life. So that patience is really, at least for me, in our business model, I feel like that's one of my most important factors. Marcus Neto: Yeah. I often, because we just hired a new sales guy, Rick, and I think I told him, I've told him several times, probably at least once a week, "This is not something where you're going to walk into a business and immediately sign them up." Chris Black: Right. Marcus Neto: And you're in the same boat. Like this is something that people either already have covered, or it's something that they have to budget for, or plan for, or something. Because I mean, nobody's going to walk into a business and sell somebody on tens of thousands of dollars of expenditures. You know what I mean? Chris Black: Right. Marcus Neto: So it is a longer sales cycle. So you do have to be patient. But is there anything that you've found that you use as... Because I mean, you say you're not a traditional salesperson, but I mean, at some level, what is your sales process like? Are you more of an educator or- Chris Black: Definitely an education thing, just letting people know what the options are that are there. So typically what we would do is, in this case with them was, they were just having tons of issues in their office. Things were running slow, they were just having all kinds of troubles. So we went in and just took a look at everything that they had, and put together some ideas of how we could help improve that. Just spending that time with them and spending that relationship and just continuing to build that and just encourage them, every time I see them, "Hey, we're here." Chris Black: It never involved me sending them an email once a month going, "Hey, are you ready yet? Hey, are you ready yet?" And I see that time and time again. And I know for some, it works, and they play that game of numbers where it's like, "Hey, if I throw out a hundred hits, then as long as one of them works, then-" Marcus Neto: Yeah. Chris Black: "Hey, I got a sale." Marcus Neto: Yep. Chris Black: But we don't do that. Like I said, we're more just building that smaller clientele that we can have those relationships with, because we want our people to trust us. Marcus Neto: Right. Chris Black: And we want them to be able to come to us and say, "Hey, look, if you say this is what we need, I believe you. I don't believe that you're just trying to sell me a bunch of stuff that I don't need." So like I said, that that trust and just that relationship with the customers is really, I think, what sets us apart for a lot of people. Marcus Neto: I have one more question that you'll find easy to answer, and then I have one that you will find extremely difficult to answer, and then we'll wrap up. Chris Black: Okay. Marcus Neto: Okay? So easy question, what's the number one thing that you see most small businesses are lacking when it comes to their IT infrastructure or that whole system, if you will? Chris Black: Definitely knowledge. So many people just don't understand. I mean, we still see people that are using processes, even though they have some computers, they're using processes that compare back to even stone and tablet days, where the technology is so far out of date that, I mean, their staff is just pulling their hair out, waiting, watching the little circle spin. Marcus Neto: And how much time is lost on that? Chris Black: Right, and they don't understand that spending a little bit more money to buy a computer that's actually custom-built for your needs, versus picking up a cheap home-based, the cheapest computer you can find, off the shelf at Walmart or Best Buy, that even though they're saving a couple of hundred dollars on that piece of hardware, the time that they're going to save with actually making their employees more productive, it will offset itself in no time. I mean, they never really realized that, and they never think about those things. So we do get a chance to kind of educate people on stuff like that. And we've had some that are super-reluctant to spend the money on a little bit better machine. And I've had a couple that finally would break down and go, "You know what? Let me get one." And had one particular customer that we did that with, and we put one in and probably within six months, they bought three more of them. Marcus Neto: Yeah. Chris Black: Because they're like, "Oh my God." Marcus Neto: Yeah. And then once they get it, they [crosstalk 00:20:26]. Chris Black: Yeah, like I said, it's just that lack of knowledge, and lack of really knowing what things can be. Marcus Neto: Yeah. Yeah, that's good. Well, here's the hard one then. Chris Black: Okay. Marcus Neto: You ready? How do you like to unwind? Chris Black: I'm not the traditional nerd in that sense, as far as like being a gamer and things like that. Marcus Neto: At least he's honest, folks. I'm a nerd. Chris Black: Well yeah, you kind of get that stigma of, "Oh, he's a computer guy. So he's got to have watched every Star Wars, every Harry Potter." Marcus Neto: Every episode of The Office. Chris Black: And probably watched them three or four times now. No, I'm actually more, I prefer to be outside. I love being out on the water. Put me on a boat, and I'm a happy man. Marcus Neto: Nice. Fishing. Chris Black: Fishing, cruising, having a drink with friends. Marcus Neto: Yeah. Chris Black: Whatever the case may be. But like I said, you put me in a boat on the water- Marcus Neto: Life is good. Chris Black: ... I'm perfectly content. Marcus Neto: Yeah, that's cool. Okay, so tell people where they can find you. Chris Black: So physically, we're at 5219 Highway 90 West, Suite C, over by Mobile Lumber, in Tillmans Corner. We don't really do much of a front-facing office, just because we're commercial. Marcus Neto: Yeah, me, too. Yeah. Chris Black: We have a website at We are on Facebook. I know we probably should be on Instagram and all those other things, but- Marcus Neto: That's okay. He's only saying that because I'm sitting across from him. Chris Black: No, it's, you would think IT guy, oh, he's going to have all those bases covered. Marcus Neto: Right. Chris Black: But I don't even post much on my own social media. I do struggle with the social media updating. Marcus Neto: No, occasionally you'll post a picture of some steak or something like that. Chris Black: Yeah, usually food or my kid. Marcus Neto: Yeah. Chris Black: That's usually the bulk of my posts. Marcus Neto: Yeah, and anything else or just the Facebook, the website and the physical location? Chris Black: Yeah, that's pretty much. Our phone number, if we need it, is 251-206-7138. Marcus Neto: Awesome. Well, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share? Chris Black: I believe that is all. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here. And like I said, it's just one more step to get me out of my shell, and help the road to making myself better. Marcus Neto: So, we've been going for 25-ish minutes or so. Is this as bad as what you thought it was going to be? Chris Black: Nah. Marcus Neto: Yeah, see? That's what they always say when we're finished. Well Chris, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur. Man, it's been great talking to you. Chris Black: Absolutely.

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