Helicopter Crash Convinced Irrigation Company Owner: Something Had To Change
The helicopter was going down, and Myles Sidorak knew it. Sidorak was riding with a client, heading to a fly fishing venture in Canada nine years ago, when the helicopter clipped a power line.
“I definitely thought I was going to die,” Sidorak said.
Understandable given the way the helicopter was careening and tilting as it flew. The pilot avoided a cliff, flew around some trees and then found a field to crash into. Sidorak’s main thoughts as the helicopter came closer to earth: His business, Naiad Irrigation Systems in Calgary, Alberta.
“All sorts of things go through your mind,” he said. “’Oh my gosh, I'm actually going to die today.’ And nothing was family, nothing was friends.
“It was all like, ‘How are the guys going to get the fall blowouts done? Because they don't know.’”
“Blowouts” is an irrigation term that means blowing the water out of lines before winter so they don’t freeze. There was no right or wrong way to think at that time; there were just thoughts, coming fast and furious. Sidorak wasn’t married, but he was engaged.
“I never told my fiancée at the time; I didn't think of her once,” he said. “I totally lied to her. But all I ever thought about was business when I was going down.”
The helicopter thudded into the earth; Sidorak and the pilot walked away.
“The pilot actually saved my life … ” he said. “But yeah, the only thought going through my head when we were about to crash and die was, ‘How are they going to get the work done?’
“So that's kind of a life check.”
Life check as in the obvious wow-I-almost-lost-my-life check, but also in the business sense.
When reflecting after the crash on his thoughts during, Sidorak realized his angst as the helicopter bore to earth was telling him he needed to shore up important elements of his business, to keep it alive after him.
As he said, “I knew something had to change at work.”
“I never told my fiancée at the time; I didn't think of her once. I totally lied to her. But all I ever thought about was business when I was going down.”
Nymphs of flowing water?
Sidorak started Naiad in 2007 with four employees, including himself. He went to school to be a park ranger, but spent 15 years managing HOAs for a land developer; part of the job was managing man-made lakes and irrigation systems. He was in his mid-30s when he decided he wanted more, and drew up a business plan for his own irrigation company.
The name Naiad comes from Greek mythology; a naiad is one of the nymphs of flowing water – rivers, fountains, streams, lakes. Sidorak chuckles that he realizes it’s not an easy name to spell or pronounce, but the nymph’s characteristics are worth keeping in mind: They are lighthearted, kind and live a long time.
As a small startup, Sidorak and his crew did well initially, making a nice amount of money while using QuickBooks for financial accounting and Excel for customer files. Things were great, he said, as long as the business growth didn’t overtake the services.
But that eventually happened, which led to Naiad joining with ServiceTitan, a cloud-based software solution for the trades.
“I've been totally impressed with ServiceTitan,” he said. “Your podcasts, your Facebook groups. I feel like I could reach out to any of those guys during the winter and sort of learn something.”
Built for HVAC, plumbing and electrical companies, ServiceTitan is expanding into other trade industries, opening the door for companies such as Sidorak’s.
And he sees the future for his irrigation company in the HVAC model.
“When I chat with other irrigation guys, like, we have no processes in place,” Sidorak said. “But then when you chat with an HVAC, at least in some of your podcasts, those guys have thought of everything. So it'd be nice to sort of take what I know in irrigation and sort of turn it into like a way a HVAC company would be run and take it to the next level.”
Naiad now has 35 employees, including 13 service techs, two installation crews and two maintenance crews working irrigation in the summer and snow removal in Calgary’s snowy winters (average accumulation: 50.7 inches).
Since he made the move to ServiceTitan in December 2019, he has seen his business almost double its profits, an increase he calls “awesome considering COVID and all.” Profit is close to his goal of 10 percent, and gross revenue has gone up 15 percent.
“I feel I actually have a partner in ServiceTitan,” he said, “and I’m really happy to be a part of it.”
Perfect time, perfect software
The road to ServiceTItan meandered through several approaches. He quickly outgrew the first software he tried to the point he almost had to shutter the company because he was accruing too much debt.
But he persevered. “I don't know whether I was just too dumb or too stubborn,” Sidorak said. “I just kind of stuck with it.”
He tried another solution and outgrew that as well.
In the summer of 2019, his business database was not cloud-based and the system kept crashing. So he started researching and came across Richard Kohberger, aka the Blue Collar Nerd, who has 1.08 million YouTube subscribers and a presentation titled “Must-Have Software For Any Contracting/Trades Business,” which explains the benefits of ServiceTitan.
“I'm like, you can do that with ServiceTitan?” Sidorak said. “I just started to get excited. Like people are going to answer the phones, book appointments, you can contract this out, you can answer the phone over your computer, this is cloud-based, blah, blah, blah.
“And then I really started getting excited.”
He joined ServiceTitan in December 2019, which he calls fortunate timing because ServiceTitan provided essential services needed when the COVID-prompted shutdown and quarantines hit Canada.
“Because everything's cloud-based,” he said. “We can all work remotely. It was like (the) perfect time.”
Remote control, empowered techs, efficiency
Jeff Soch, Naiad’s general manager, listed several benefits gained from the move to ServiceTitan. The first and most obvious was the cloud-based system allowed Naiad to keep track of bills, receipts, accounts and customers remotely in a time when face-to-face interaction was impossible.
Second, the software empowered technicians.
“A lot of software seemed to be really heavy in the office side of things and (ServiceTitan focuses) a lot on that,” Soch said. “But at the end of the day, we wanted something where the guys in the field were able to do their jobs much more efficiently in addition to having the office being able to run a little more smoothly as well.
"That was kind of the really big factor for us was just seeing all the information that we can put kind of in the palm of the technician's hands was just amazing: being able to take photos, take videos, upload documents. It was just mind blowing just how much we could put in the technician's hands.”
Third, the software could handle volume. On some winter days, the company may have 300 appointments for snow removal. That complex scheduling challenge was never an issue.
Fourth, ServiceTitan provided Naiad an implementation specialist to help with questions and concerns.
“We had a point of contact at all times," Soch said. “I was able to basically bring the rest of our management team in on those meetings and kind of have them participate and kind of see how we could potentially set up (ServiceTitan).”
Fifth, ServiceTitan’s Marketing Pro allowed the company to reach current and potential customers in an automated way.
“It's been amazing to have these campaigns set up and just kind of have that running in the background and not really worrying about it,” Soch said. “That's one of the things with our business, especially being seasonal, is we kind of have this little bit of a lull and then all of a sudden it's, oh my, get out in the field, we got to go! And at that point it's easy for things to kind of slip through the cracks.”
Finally, the ability to accept payments in the field was a game-changer because it cleared up confusion and backlogs with accounts receivable.
“When you send out an invoice, having the customer just be able to click a link and get you paid is excellent,” Soch said. “Our old software had a lot of limitations. And ServiceTitan has just kind of opened up a whole new opportunity that we didn't really have access to.”
Memberships are part of that plan.
“Next on our list is to figure out how to bring in memberships or clubs or whatever the HVAC companies call it,” Sidorak said. “We want to sort of move to that type of model.”
And they aspire to getting the most out of ServiceTitan.
“We got ServiceTitan and then we said, OK, how can we get ServiceTitan to do what we want it to?” he said.
That, he said, was the wrong approach.
“Really, we should be looking at ServiceTitan, saying, they've got everything figured out,” Sidorak said. “We need to change our company to follow their processes to get it done better than what we've been doing in the past.”
Sidorak now feels comfortable enough that Naiad can continue to grow. It’s almost as if he feels refreshed and energized by what ServiceTitan has given him.
“When you’re green, you’re growing,” he said. “When you’re ripe, you begin to rot. I don’t know, I’m just always driven. I always want to be better and better. Maybe with ServiceTitan we’ll grow even more and more next year.”
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