President, Long Wave, Inc.
For Phil Miller, being recognized as Oklahoma's Small Business Person of the Year by the Small Business Administration is exciting stuff. But when you talk to him, you quickly discover that he is also excited about growing his business in Oklahoma City. No wonder. Miller has turned a business he started in 1995 out of a spare bedroom in his Dallas home into a thriving company with 15,000 square feet of office space in Bricktown.
Long Wave, Inc. is the largest of three companies Miller owns. Miller's other companies include DocSoft, a XML software company, and South 20, a wood company. Long Wave is involved in defense and government contracting with customers like the Navy, Air Force, Army, General Service Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. Commercial clients include The Boeing Company, Rockwell Collins, EDS, Raytheon, AT&T, Time Warner Telecom and Motorola.
Long Wave has been recognized three times by Inc. Magazine as one of America's fastest growing privately owned companies.
What makes the Greater Oklahoma City area a good place to start and grow a business?
I love Oklahoma City. I lived in Dallas all those years. Oklahoma City is so much better than Dallas. I love Bricktown. We have season tickets for the Hornets and the Yard Dawgs. My wife enjoys horses, so we go to horse shows regularly. Then there are art galleries, the ballet, the theatre...basically anything you want to do is right here. And you can get anywhere in 15 minutes! The people here are so friendly. I wasn't born in Oklahoma City, but I got here as quick as I could. I should work for the Chamber. I tell people all the time how wonderful it is. The quality of life is great.
Where did the idea for your company originate?
I worked for a defense contractor for 20 years. My wife told me to go out and find a real job, so I started this company. It was the business I had been in, so I understood all aspects of it well.
How did you initially finance your company?
I started out in a spare bedroom in my house in Dallas in 1995 with $5,000 of my own money. Financially, I am a pretty conservative guy. I used the money to buy a safe, a computer, incorporate, and hire a lawyer. I had contacts and relationships already established from my previous job, so people knew and trusted me.
How have you grown your business?
In my first full year in 1996 I got about $170,000 in sales. It is hard to break into government contracting because you have to have a contract vehicle. I happened to have a friend with a contract vehicle, so I worked through him initially. To get your first contract you have to have past performance, and you can't get past performance without a contract vehicle. So it is really hard to break in at first. My first contract was for $10 million. Next I got a $15 million contract, and then a $40 million contract that I am working with now.
What are some of the challenges that keep you up at night?
We've been really lucky in the past three years. We're one of only 33 companies nationwide that has made the Inc Magazine Fastest Growing Companies list the past three years, and we will make the list again this year. We're growing quickly. It's possible that we may not continue to grow this fast. We can't increase by 50 percent each year.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
It is my new grandbaby. She is so cute. The best looking baby ever born.
What is your "if I'd known then what I know now?"
I really like what I am doing. I just wish I were doing it when I was 20 years younger.
How has your position with the company changed?
In some ways it hasn't changed. I am still the president of the company. When I started out it was just me, and now I have people working for me. I guess now there are more things to do and more people to delegate to. I have found unbelievable key people. My chief financial officer was just 22 when I hired her, but within six months she did government accounting better than I ever could. She also found out that we could do our billing online. We were one of the first companies to utilize the online billing.
What do you find personally rewarding about being an entrepreneur?
I like the fact that I am able to provide people with jobs. I like keeping people and families employed.
What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
1. Be your own boss. I am my own boss, and it is always better if there is one person who ultimately makes the decisions.
2. Don't borrow money. Start conservatively and live on your savings in the beginning if you can. It may not work for some businesses, but if you can get away with it, don't borrow. If things don't work out, at worst, you are even with the world and not in debt.
3. Do a simple business plan. SCORE can help. It doesn't have to be complicated, but it does have to include everything that proves you understand your business. You have to understand your business forward, backward and inside out.