Minnesota farm kid turned Seattle tech CEO

Listen to Aaron’s full segment on the Tanner’s Influence podcast here.

SmartDeploy CEO, Aaron Suzuki, joined Tanner’s Influence podcast to discuss the path he followed to build two companies, SmartDeploy and Prowess Consulting, without the help of outside funding. Aaron’s leadership style isn’t typical of a Seattle tech industry CEO. Instead of being an unapologetic, fists-up, raise-your-voice type of manager, Aaron describes himself as the exact opposite. As Aaron puts it, “It’s better to lead from your heart and put your people first.” He means this quite literally. Aaron jokingly labels his small off-site parking spot on a patch of dirt as “executive parking” because he believes his hard-working employees deserve a spot in the building.

Aaron grew up in Minnesota and still considers himself a “farm kid.” To many people’s surprise, Aaron studied geology during his undergrad at BYU and received his master’s in geology at the University of Iowa. However, once Aaron graduated, he entered the workforce as a salesman. His first job after college was at a web development firm in Utah where he participated in the transition from the static web to web applications and e-commerce. Later, Aaron moved to Seattle and joined a technology consulting firm where he worked closely with Microsoft. In this role he felt inspired to put his own spin on tech consulting and started his first company, Prowess Consulting, in 2003.

Prowess Consulting remains a healthy and growing business headquartered in Bellevue, WA, and the team spans across the country with additional locations in Salt Lake City, UT and Portland, OR. In the early years, the Prowess Consulting team created a virtual machine consolidation tool to use for some consulting projects to make it easier to package and deploy “virtual infrastructures” (today’s private clouds). The software was so powerful that Aaron decided to pursue his second business endeavor – to turn his in-house deployment tool into a packaged software solution that other IT teams could purchase and use to manage their Windows devices. In 2009, SmartDeploy was introduced to the market. The company started hot with a few large, marquee customers .

With all this excitement, SmartDeploy got complacent and Aaron admitted, “we almost didn’t make it.” We didn’t prioritize our customer’s success. Instead, the team was focused on unproductive marketing tactics and listened too closely to industry predictions that never came true. It got ugly. After taking a step back and analyzing where we were failing, Aaron and his team flipped the company narrative. We put our customers’ priorities, interests, and satisfaction first. Since then, SmartDeploy has grown rapidly and has helped over thousands of customers worldwide, with over 1,000 new customers in 2019.

Aaron ends the interview with letting listeners know that although the beginning may be intimidating, even downright terrifying at times, starting your own company is not only possible but wildly fulfilling. Aaron reflected on his mentor’s advice when he started his first company who told him to follow his passion and “Get out there a rip it!” – And thank goodness Aaron did.

To learn more about Aaron’s and the SmartDeploy story, catch Aaron on The 5-Minute Founder podcast.