Stan Trofimchuk (Martin) - The Founder of IT Works, AI Bridge, opiAID
Updated: Sep 11, 2019
C: Today I am in Wilmington, North Carolina, at tekMountain with none other than Stan Martin, one of the coworkers, as well as the CEO of several companies. He has an incredible story to tell, and I'm so excited for him to be on the podcast today. Thank you so much, Stan, for being on the podcast. To start things off, can you tell me just a little bit about yourself and your story as an entrepreneur?
S: I'm originally from Ukraine as you may pick up from my accent. I came to this country with $60 in my pocket and my eight-month-old son, and, realizing that this is the land of opportunities and the American dream is still alive. So, I just wanted to pursue those opportunities and change my life and the life of my kids for the better. So far, it's working pretty good. It's been 13 years in the making, and I can honestly say that with what happened to us in 13 years could not have happened in any other country in the world.
C: That's awesome. Wow. You have a very exciting project you're working on right now. So, first of all, you have IT Works, which is a very cool IT-based company, cloud-based software. Is that correct?
S: That is correct. It is cloud-based IT infrastructure for compliance-driven industries.
C: Cool. Can you tell me a little bit more about your project AI Bridge?
S: AI bridge is the organization that we recently started. Wilmington is a great place, but it has its own issues. So, once we got our business, IT Works, up and running to a certain point where we can eat, so to speak, we started thinking about what can we do for the community here. And by we, I mean me and my business partner and other people here who are curious and want to contribute to the life of the community here. So, AI Bridge was started from just a technology meet up about artificial intelligence. We looked at all the people who were coming to those meetups and realized that we have a lot of brainpower going on there. There are tons of people here with ideas, younger people who want to start a technology company, but Wilmington is more of a service economy town. It's more based on tourism and things like that. We were looking at this and thinking that we can probably change that or at least contribute to Wilmington's economy to be more of a traded economy. So, that's how AI Bridge started. We thought that with all the brainpower that we have in the room, we could help young entrepreneurs or people who want to start their company in the artificial intelligence space to accelerate that process and get it off the ground faster by taking some hats off the entrepreneurs such as, accounting, marketing, planning and so on and so forth, and have them focused on the technology and developing their idea.
C: That's amazing. Then, one of your projects that I think is just the coolest thing in the world is opiAID. So, this company that he started is fighting the opioid crisis with artificial intelligence in a really cool way. Can you can tell us a little bit about that and your journey with opiAID?
S: Yeah. First of all, thank you for the compliment. We are really passionate about this project. I think it can make a difference in the near future in our community. So, this is, in fact, a spin-off of AI Bridge. AI Bridge started. We looked at this and thought that if we want to help other companies, we need some credibility. So, what can we do to actually show that we, as AI Bridge, we have enough power to help other companies? We've decided to open our own company and put it in a portfolio of AI Bridge. That company needed to solve a problem, specifically, a local problem. So, when we started looking at local problems, the one that was standing out the most is opioid abuse in Wilmington. Wilmington, unfortunately, is one of the first in the nation for drug abuse statistically. Nobody had really used the approach of data technology, data-driven approach to try and solve or help solve that problem. So, we thought that we had a shot at it. Now, nine months down the road, we have a team of over 30 people. We have every major treatment center at the table with us, and we're working closely together as a community trying to apply technology to solve this problem. What's the most exciting about this is when we talked to neighbors - we call people who are struggling with opioid abuse our neighbors - when we talk to them, they are really excited about this product. They think it will help, and they are the end-users of this. So, it keeps pushing us and driving us forward and, I think in a year or so we should be able to make a significant difference with this, and hopefully, reverse that trend of increase in death and increase in the population of people who abuse drugs. Reverse that and start lowering the stats.
C: That is amazing, Stan. Oh my gosh. That's so cool. So, the purpose of this podcast is I'm really trying to get information from entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs and people from all industries and really kind of get your advice because you've done it and you've succeeded at it and you've done it again and again. So, I really would love to hear, what was the best piece of advice you've ever received?
S: You know, what's interesting is, I hate to brag about this, but somebody asked me a question a few years ago. They asked, who's your mentor? And my answer was, what is a mentor? I guess coming from a pretty rough land, I lived in Ukraine in the 90s. It was really wild out there - Wild East, not Wild West, right? I'm used to just basically grabbing opportunities and trying to use the most out of them. I realized that you cannot do it by yourself. The significance and power of the team is very important. My business partner, David, is amazing. He basically helps me with anything that I cannot really do like things like sales and building networks. I'm more of a tech guy. It's not my strong side. Then, with the other people on the team, we basically kind of created a mastermind so to speak, and that is very powerful. But, the first piece of advice would be, don't try to do things by yourself. You can only go so far, and one person cannot do everything. The second is really, really think about what opportunities you have in this country. If you can travel, do travel, and compare that to other countries and opportunities in the world because you will not find anything like the United States. Don't be lazy. Work hard, and you will be rewarded even though it doesn't feel like it in the beginning. The beginning always feels like, Oh, you know, I'm spending all this time and nothing comes out of it. You'll always be rewarded as long as you add value, as long as what you do is done for good, not just to make money but to do good other for people, you will always be rewarded.
C: A big thing with entrepreneurship is it comes with a lot of stress and a lot of fear and a lot of unknowns. How do you deal with that and how do, keep on going when things get really tough?
S: Oh, I wish this was a video because I could have shown you how I see entrepreneurship and building any business. If you can imagine a wave that goes up and down, up and down. But, the general trend is it generally goes up all the time if you draw a line. That's how building a business is. At first, you feel excitement, and then, some reality strikes, and you feel down like nothing works, and then, you figure things out, and it goes back up again and down. Your company can be 20 years old, and you still will be experiencing that. So, that's the first challenge I guess is to realize that this is normal. Don't give up after the first failure. Failures are there for you to learn from. Be focused on the things you're working on. Don't jump from one thing to another. Brett Martin, who's the founder of tekMountain and Castle Branch, I had a chance to talk to him and learn a little bit from him. I really love his advice of not really stressing about negative things you cannot control because you're wasting your energy. You can use that energy to focus on positive things you can control. But, people tend to think, Oh well, you know, I don't have enough money. Or what if, this will happen. What if I will fail? What if, you know, my, my friend gets... whatever negative things you have. You're wasting your energy. You can't control that destiny. But, if you switch your energy to focus on positive things magic will happen.
C: That's awesome. That's so true. Moving on to some of the nuts and bolts of business, what recommendations do you have for getting funding? A big struggle that a lot of businesses have is getting over that initial hurdle of needing something to get started.
S: I probably am not the best person to ask this question because this is my fifth business, and all of the previous four businesses were all built organically. I never had to raise money. We do have that need now with opiAID. So, we are just learning about this now, but what it feels like, at least at this point, is that it is relatively easy if what you do is really valuable. However, you need to be aware that if you get too much funding too soon, you're going to have to give up a lot of control, and those are pretty basic things. But, just keep in mind if you're on a mission, try to get funding from people who don't want part of your company or don't want control because they will eventually steer you in the wrong direction if you let your business to be controlled by investors because investors only think about their return. They don't really care that much about your mission. That's what I think, and that might be a little bit of a strong statement. But, so far, it what we've seen.
C: So, you mentioned that you grew a lot of businesses organically. What are your tips and tricks for doing that?
S: Don't be lazy. I'll just give you an example. When I moved to the United States, I had to stay in a full-time job. That was the requirements of my visa, but I opened the business also. I was taking care of that business after hours and on the weekends and grew it to a pretty successful one. My family wasn't too happy with it because I would leave the house at 7:00 AM and come back at 10:00 PM and didn't really see the kids much. But, when I was seeing them, it was really quality time spent. So, I think maybe it may not be in the perfect balance, but it contributed a lot to the success that my family is having right now. So, I think any time you have in your hands, don't spend it on video games, and partying, and who knows what, Netflix. Invest in yourself. Don't invest in other people's businesses so to speak - just giving them your money, you know, video games and all that. You're just giving them your money and your time - which is your most valuable asset.
C: For sure. You mentioned that balance. We were actually laughing about this earlier. Stan, how do you have any time to sleep? Have you found any things that have helped you balance family life with work life and keeping it all in balance?
S: I'm by no means an ideal balancer. I'm getting better at this. I think probably the most contributing change that I made is delegating more. At one point, I realized that even though I want to be in control of everything, and I think I can do all these things that are related to growing the business and there was no one else in the world that can do it better than me. That is not true. That took me some time to understand that and realize that. But, if you're willing to give out a little bit of that, I wouldn't say control, but your responsibilities to other people who want to help, your employees, your partners, whoever it is. You take some hats off of yourself as well, and you can focus on things that matter the most: your mission, your family, and your time because if you're tired all the time, you are probably going to get burned out soon; and then, you're not going to be able to fulfill your mission anywhere in the business or with family. But, again, with a team, with delegating, it all kind of comes in reality much faster and much better.
C: That's awesome. You spoke a lot about the team and also how influential David was in your current companies What recommendations do you have for forming that team?
S: That's a good question. I think the first things you need to look for in other people are the traits that you don't have or your weaknesses. See who you have around you. Who is strong at what your weaknesses are? So, in my case, it was networking and sales. So, I found a really outgoing guy who was generous enough to help me build that business, and together we were pretty unstoppable. I know I do a really good job taking care of technology. He does really a good job at the rest that needs to be done. So, that's one thing. I think another thing is people need to be loyal. You should be able to, I don't know, I shouldn't use the word convince. Basically, share your mission and see whether or not those people actually like your mission and want to be a part of it and want to be loyal to you and your business for a long time. That builds a great team that can achieve great things. At least from my experience.
C: You mentioned the role of sales in your company. What is your approach to marketing?
S: I might shock you, but we do not do much marketing at all, especially at IT Works. We tried and realized that it's a waste of money at least in our situation. The reason for that is, if you know the stats, an average individual gets hit with 10,000 marketing messages a day. There's just so much noise out there that delivering your message to your prospect is nearly impossible, at least from our experience. So, we have decided to just cut the marketing off completely, use David's abilities to network for meaningful connections, and secure business that way. This way our prospects pretty much become our friends from the very beginning. We continue in relationship this way, and it works out beautifully. So, marketing is not for us. Can't really talk about that.
C: Thinking back to when you started one of your first companies, is there anything that you wish you had done differently or something that kind of comes to mind that you wish you had known starting out?
S: No, I think, whatever that you do and no matter how much you know, you're going to learn a lot as you grow your business, as you grow your company. There will be problems that are specific to your particular situation that you can't learn from anybody else. I cannot really think of any, and I'm sorry if I have a disappointing answer for you. Just do it. Just do it and learn from your failures or successes too. That's how you build experience.
C: So, to wrap things up, what is your biggest piece of advice for young entrepreneurs?
S: Worldwide or in the United States?
S: Either/or? I think I just said that just do it would probably the best advice because really you can have all the great ideas in your head, but without execution, nothing happens. People have tons of limiting beliefs that get recorded during childhood, and it's hard to get rid of those. You ask someone who wants to be an entrepreneur, why you're not actually doing it? Then, they say, well, I don't have enough time. I don't have enough money, or I don't have enough of this. They have all of these excuses. Cut that off. Just do it. You'll see that once you get your feet wet, once you start actually doing things, you have no option to go back. You've burned your ships so to speak. You have to achieve your goals now. That's when you get your, it's hard to explain. It's, it's kind of a very magical strength that once you start doing things and realize that there is no way back. You almost feel twice as strong mentally and physically. You can work hard this way and achieve great results and climb good mountains, you know?
C: That's awesome. I think my last question is do you have any book recommendations or anything that you listened to or watch that helps you with business?
S: Yeah, I think the base good for starters are things like Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich. That's pretty much the Bible for businessmen I think, especially for a new one who just started this. The fundamentals are there. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. That's good, especially the paradigm shift part. If you know what paradigm is, is that you look at things in a certain way with your own perceptions. But, depending on the situation, if your mind is flexible enough, you can change that paradigm, shift that paradigm and then look at the situation from a different angle and think outside the box so to speak. Those are two books I think that'd be more beneficial for starters.