Offering customer software solutions for clients, Polaris Solutions is obviously driven by technology. As president of the company, Chris Kadel affirms that technology is an integral part of his day and critical to the company's success. Recently, Business.com spoke with Kadel about the tech he couldn't live without and which programs and tools give his company a leading edge over his competitors.
Q: What devices do you use daily?
A: Kadel utilizes the usual suspects day to day – an iPhone, PCs, even his Apple Watch. But it isn't just his watch and smartphone that makes moving around easy. "I use my iPhone XS, Apple Watch and a combination of several desktop and PCs that are synchronized to enable frictionless location changing," he said.
Q: What technology do you use to get ahead of your competition?
A: As software solutions developers, technology is common among Kadel's competitors. However, that doesn't mean there aren't tools that keep Polaris ahead of other software companies. In fact, he said, "if I had to filter down to what helps us get ahead of the competition, I'd have to say something as simple as our CRM (pipedrive.com), which I must say, I'm a raving fan of. It helps my go-to-market team keep up to date and personalize our communication outbound."
Polaris doesn't just get an advantage from its business software, though. Kadel states, "When we're building software, we make heavy use of Microsoft's Azure DevOps to relentlessly, continuously and quickly deliver value to our customers."
Q: Is technology a significant enabler for your business?
A: Yes, answers Kadel emphatically, and technology goes far beyond business operations and into the realm of customer value. "When we're building software for our customers, the ability to use Azure DevOps to transparently communicate status back to stakeholders while delivering continuously to a working environment … [it] was a game changer when these tools and process entered the market, and we're very happy to be 'all in.'"
Q: Has social media influenced your business at all, from internal employee policies to the way you promote your company?
A: Social media is important to Polaris, both as a promotional tool and for internal communications. Polaris uses social media to show off the expertise of the team. "We encourage our team members to have their own personal (and professional) brand publicly available," Kadel explains. "We hope that by projecting confidently into the online world our skill and team, we will continually win in the marketplace." More than that, though, Kadel's team makes use of social media inside the company. "We have been fostering an internal social network through Slack, internal blogging [and] internal vlogging as well."
Q: Have you had to adapt your business because of security concerns brought about by the increased use of technology?
A: Because of their industry, Polaris has always been information-security sensitive. In today's world, that strong security base allows Kadel and his team to quickly adapt to new security concerns and changes. "Things like GDPR and other data governance compliance standards that [have] been encouraged and [are] now enforced by our customers has certainly validated that approach and encouraged us to keep innovating on security," Kadel says. It isn't always easy, though, and staying vigilant sometimes comes at a cost. "There often is a tradeoff between security and convenience in the world today."
Back in 2010, a friend turned me on to T.S. Monk's funk song from the 1970s, "Bon Bon Vie (Gimme the Good Life)." The lyrics about being stuck in an unfulfilling 9-to-5 struck a chord with me. I had a steady job as a web developer, but I wanted to escape the daily grind and pour my creativity into something I was actually passionate about. Like Monk, I just wanted "the good life" – not necessarily material possessions, but a life where I could answer to myself, pursue my dreams and start each day with a sense of joy.
So I made the leap. After starting my own business selling graphic tees, I quit my job. I had a T-shirt obsession at the time and had been playing around with designing my own. I felt there was a gap in the market for clothes that celebrated brown women and our unique style, so I focused on designing tees that would inspire women of color to be confident and go after the good life too – whatever that looked like for them. As you probably guessed, I named my company Bon Bon Vie.
Eight years later, I'm fielding online orders from thousands of customers worldwide. Bon Bon Vie's offerings have expanded to sweatshirts, crop tops, mugs, totes, and even some men's tees and baby apparel. It's incredible to think that people around the world are rocking my designs. It motivates me every day to know that my work is not only bringing me fulfillment but is also inspiring so many others to express their individuality.
Over the years, I've realized that the toughest part being an entrepreneur isn't just fanning your spark of an idea into a successful company, but also keeping the flame burning in the face of everything else life throws at you. Right now, the biggest challenge has been keeping up with demand and dreaming up new designs that will resonate with my fans. Now that I'm married and parenting a toddler, I can't work the same crazy hours I used to. For years I had been doing it all myself – shipping, customer service, advertising, social media, events, everything – nearly to the point of burnout. I often say Bon Bon Vie was my first baby. It's agonizing to let go of being 100 percent responsible for a project that you've built from nothing. However, with a lot of careful planning and trial-and-error, I've found ways to keep my business running smoothly while also improving my own work-life balance.
One of the key lessons I've learned is the value of outsourcing as much as possible. While it can be a hassle to find vendors and partners you trust, it makes a world of difference once you do. For example, I now work with a company called Printful that handles the printing, shipping and fulfillment for all my orders. Clearing those responsibilities off my plate has made life much easier. I'm able to focus on designing products, and they handle the rest – processing online orders, printing the products on demand, storing surplus product and making sure the orders reach my customers on time. Being able to make the actual designs my top priority again has renewed my enthusiasm and reduced my stress level significantly. Building partnerships with companies like Printful has definitely paid off.
It's hard to believe it's coming up on a decade since I launched Bon Bon Vie and started on this whirlwind journey. Leaving my job to become a brand-new entrepreneur seemed like a crazy decision at the time, but every day I'm glad I chose to be a little crazy and pursue my passion. Going after the good life and deciding what that looks like for me is an ever-changing process, but channeling that ongoing pursuit into my designs is something I never get sick of. Whenever I get photos or messages from people of color around the world who have been inspired by Bon Bon Vie, I'm reminded that it's worth putting your everything into creating a life that makes you happy and celebrates who you are.
Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.
About the author: Bon Bon Vie is the creation of self-proclaimed T-shirt addict and renaissance woman Shari Neal. She realized that she could design and wear her own stuff instead of spending her whole paycheck on T-shirts. What started as a small personal project quickly blossomed into a successful online store.