Welcome to Podcast Episode Number 31 of the Mobile Alabama Business Podcast with Jonathan McConnell. My name is Marcus Neto, I own Blue Fish Design Studio. We're a digital marketing and web design company, located downtown on Dauphin Street. I'm the host of Mobile Alabama Business Podcast, where we talk to local entrepreneurs and business owners about their businesses and how they got started. I'd like to thank you for spending time with us today.
In this weeks episode we sit down with Jonathan McConnell. Jonathan connected with me a few months ago on LinkedIn and I remember my inner Jason Bourne getting a little gitty. You see, Jonathan is the CEO of Meridian. Meridian provides security services for all over the world. When [00:00:46] Jonathan started Meridian after the Maersk Alabama was hijacked. He is a former Marine that provides jobs to Marines, and since we recorded this episode, Jonathan has announced his candidacy to challenge Senator Shelby for his seat. Jonathan is a great guy and a very astute businessman. He shares some great stories as part of this interview, so let's dive right in with Jonathan McConnell.
Marcus: Welcome to the podcast Jonathan.
Jonathan: Thanks, so glad to be here.
Marcus: Awesome. Start by telling us a little bit about yourself. Are you from Mobile?
Jonathan: I am, I grew up here in Mobile. I went to Davidson High School, graduated in 2000. Then I went to Auburn University and spent a couple years there. I graduated from there then joined the Marine Corps. Spent four years in the Marine Corps Infantry, deployed twice to Iraq, and then got out. Two weeks after getting back from Iraq, I started law school at the University of Alabama.
Jonathan: War-Tide. That was a neat experience, to go from one combat zone to another, is the way you look at it. Or one unfriendly zone to another. I'm kidding. Tuscaloosa was good, it was not the ideal transition, but it was good.
Jonathan: Law school is good for hazing and that was a great transition straight out of the deployment. Driving through the night to literally start my first day of class, I hadn't even been home yet.
Jonathan: It was neat, but yeah, originally from Mobile.
Marcus: So you went to law school, I did not ... I apologize, I did not catch that in your bio, I didn't realize that you had ... So you are-
Jonathan: I don't know if you've noticed, lawyers aren't very well liked, so I don't exactly advertise that.
Marcus: Yeah, I was going to say.
Jonathan: I've never acquitted anything in my life. I started this company my very first year of law school. I wasn't going to quit law school, so I ran the company while in law school. I had some of the most gracious professors in the entire world that worked with me. I literally had to beg to take my finals because I had maxed out my absences in most of most my classes just because I was ... I had never been sick, never missed a class from sleeping in, I was in the Marine Corps for crying out loud. I literally would be flying across the world trying to come back for classes.
Jonathan: It was pretty neat.
Marcus: So you've alluded to it, your company is Meridian.
Marcus: You all provide security and consulting services around the world. Tell us a little bit more about that. Give us some more detail.
Jonathan: We got started in 2009 after the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama. When most people watch on CNN and Fox News, Captain Rich Phillips was held hostage for four days on a life boat belonging to the Maersk Alabama. What people don't realize is that hijackings during that time were happening all the time. There were 63 hijackings in 2008. It was a very hostile environment, the waters off the coast were very hostile. But, none of the merchant ships armed their crew, which due to some union law and a lot of issues, they couldn't. So everybody just ... No one armed their ships. There was also a question as to whether you could arm a ship, a civilian merchant ship, and still enjoy that right of innocent passage. So there was a lot of ambiguity there while Captain Phillips was captured.
Marcus: Elaborate the ambiguity.
Jonathan: The ambiguity was still there, but it was one of those things that quickly became a customary exemption of American law where we put weapons onboard. That went really well. We literally, several week after that incident, I was meeting with shipping companies and was able to talk with them on how to guard their vessels, what it would take to guard their vessels, what some of the legal considerations there were for putting vessels onboard.
Marcus: So I mean that's unique because your background in the Marines. Did you have experience with protecting vessels in the Marines?
Jonathan: I had been on a kayak a couple times, and cannoning a couple times as well, but no. I had never stepped foot on a ship as a Marine.
Jonathan: I was a desert Marine. I was straight into Iraq both times.
Marcus: But I would assume that some of the experiences that you had there lent itself to what you were discussing with them and navigating the law, that would sometimes be murky at best, also helped as well?
Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. I mean the legal ... Being able to be cocktail party dangerous in the law was important. Cocktail party dangerous, being that you can talk three to five minutes on a subject and sound like you know what you are talking about. After that you're busted. I could do that on law after one year of law school which was kind of nice. But on the other side of it I knew quite well the fundamentals of, and the doctrines of, guarding a three sided vessel, which is all a ship is. Started the company doing that and was able to convince the shipping companies on how we would do it. Really got down to the weeds on even talking to them about the parabola of the rounds that we would be using because you're shooting at an unknown distance up to 500 yards from an elevated position that pitching and going up and down as well. Its a very complicated piece so you want to make sure you have the right weaponry and everything like that in place.
Marcus: What is the right weapon for that?
Jonathan: We use AR-15s typically because AR-15s, the parabola of their round does not fluctuate more than three feet over 500 yards from the center point. If you're an average man at six foot tall, you aim with your belly button, you're gonna hit them if you're on your left-to-right, but not up and down, you're going to hit them somewhere.
Marcus: Up and down.
Jonathan: So with such a flat shooting round-
Marcus: Who would even think? But that cool that ... I'm sorry to interrupt but that's just phenomenal.
Jonathan: We use an AR-15 also because it is a very fast round with a low mass round to be totally honest. 62 grain is what we use. So with something shooting that fast, it has a little bit less of an affect from the wind. So at 300 yards, sorry, at 100 yards with a 40mph cross-wind you're still only looking at five inches of deviation. So, aim for the left breast and you're going to hit them in the center mass if you're approaching from the starboard side type thing. All these considerations are stuff that have to come in. Now we do on occasion, when we have to acquire weapons abroad, we use AK-47s. Great weapons because they are the most reliable things in the entire world, but they are not effective outside of 300 yards. They are not really effective past that. You're talking about that round, it's a 7.62 by 38 round. Much heavier mass projectile; so therefore the parabola is more like, the peak of that round at 300 yards can actually be ... I think it's up to 18 feet if I'm not mistaken.
Jonathan: So you're talking about a heck of a fluctuation. You've got to make sure you're right on your distance.
Marcus: Which can be very difficult when you have really nothing to ...
Jonathan: No reference point.
Marcus: Yeah, no reference point to kind of guide you in that.
Jonathan: We don't use special optics, we use iron sights for a couple of reasons. One, because you don't have a reference point on the ocean. When the ocean is going all over the place you want to be able to look right over that iron sight and be able to go right down onto the sights to be able to acquire the targets. The other reason is of that too, is when we go through foreign customs, like the Egyptians and stuff like that, we'll end up taking our optics off. So we JB weld our iron sights to the weapons.
Marcus: I will admit, I own guns. I like shooting. I go to the range. The idea that you would be shooting at 300 to 500 yards with iron sights blows my mind. I mean that's ...
Jonathan: Marines qualify at 500 yards on iron sights.
Marcus: I didn't know that.
Jonathan: Yeah, if you can't hit ...
Marcus: I didn't know that.
Jonathan: If you buck shot from 500 yards, so if you hit zero of the ten shots at 500 yards, I think you fail all together. My Marines were hitting. I mean I hit 10 out of 10 at 500 yards on an echo silhouette man sized target, upper torso.
Jonathan: When they say every Marine's a riflemen it's ..
Marcus: No joke.
Jonathan: The teach you the fundamentals of riflemen. People think that amazing, no. Just give me some iron sights, I'll pick you off all day. I mean, if you're running I'm probably not going to hit you the first time, but anywhere within 300 you're in a sweet spot that I love my chances.
Marcus: Yeah. So you're providing security for ships that are traveling in very dangerous waters. Can you tell us a little bit about the type of person that you employ?
Marcus: I don't know how much you can talk about-
Jonathan: Yeah, we don't have any government contracts, we're entirely commercial so-
Marcus: Oh, Okay.
Jonathan: People are like "What you do is super squirrel secret." I'm like we've got a couple guys that are former spaceship door gunners and stuff like that. I'm kidding. No, we don't do anything that secret. We generally look for Marine infantry background, mainly because we all speak the same language from the Marine Corps. 80% of the company used to work for me in the Marine Corps, or used to work with me in the Marine Corps. Most of them came out of Lima Company, Weapons Company, one of those two from their battalion second Marines. We are quite the cohesive group. We have what's called the 3-2 Mafia in the company. That's a click that definitely exist, I know. And I apologize profusely to the guys that who are not in that. I'm just like "Hey, I know it exist, there is noting I can do about it, we're big boys and if you have a problem please come talk to me. I give you more weight because you're not in the mafia."
We also occasionally hire some Army Special Forces A-Team Delta medics just because Marines are not equipped. We all go through combat life saver training but we don't have the medic training that the Army does. We get our medics from the Navy. So we will occasionally pull those guys over and they're great operators, have worked with some really top end soldiers out there so they're good.
Marcus: Gives us an idea of what that looks like. Obviously, you don't have to get too specific. So you have a shipping company that is transporting goods from where to where, and then you're providing them with a team of guys that are basically riding along, and if there's bad guys that are basically coming at the ship then they're to deter them in whatever manner should perform that needs to take. Then, life just goes on and you guys just continue traveling, of do you stay in the region and just get them past a certain point? What does that look like?
Jonathan: A shipping company will contact us when they have a transit, when they are trading for example in Asia to Europe. We will ... Our basis of operation are in Egypt, Sri Lanka, to the east. To the north would be Dubai, to the south would be South Africa, Durban South Africa. Generally we'll leave guys there, in those locations. Now if they are going to be there for six days then we usually fly them back to the United States because it's cheaper for us to fly them down and then fly them right back, than keep them there for six days or more.
Jonathan: So that's kind of our break even point. They'll load the ship in Egypt, we've got weapons stored there, and then they'll ride through and then they'll disembark there in Sri Lanka for example, and then when the vessel comes back through we may hop back on or we'll hop on another vessel. It can be quite busy at times. Monsoon season is not the most fun time of year to work but everybody needs a tremor right?
Marcus: Yeah. Everybody's got to have a strong stomach, I'm sure for your line of work.
Jonathan: They do.
Marcus: So lets get more into the business aspect of things. Is there an area of the business that you're putting a lot of effort into?
Jonathan: Right now we're big into diversification. I mean we've done some other work, we've done some ground security operations in West Africa, Southeast Asia, stuff on the ground. In mining locations and stuff like that. A lot of fun. What's great is a lot of people think that we have a sexy job. Our job is actually extremely boring, because if you are doing your job it is boring. If the moment that you have someone that freaks out then that's when it can be quite problematic. We're trying to expand right now into some of the oil and gas work down in the Gulf of Mexico. There's really a big need for, just people to monitor what's coming on and off the rigs and also too, you've got some of the rigs cost over a billion dollars.
Jonathan: So you can have a lot of assets out there and just having some teams out there, that at least the captain knows he's got some guys that he can trust, and if there is something going on we can neutralize any issues out there.
Marcus: Interesting. So it's not just ... We think of the, well I guess is it the east or west side of Africa?
Marcus: Eastern. So we think of that as being kind of a hot-spot and I've got friends that travel the world on sail boats. I've heard stories about some of these areas but you're even seeing stuff as close as the Gulf of Mexico?
Jonathan: Absolutely. To give you a reference, there have been maybe four attacks this year in the Indian Ocean. It is plummeted. That's the place where there is prolific security teams onboard every vessel, or most vessels. Southeast Asia is pretty hot, the Straights of Malacca, were very big pirate hot-spot prior to 2004. Then the tsunami that came that killed 400,000 people really wiped away piracy. So now you're looking at, there probably has been, what are we in October, probably 30 attacks so far this year in Southeast Asia off Singapore. Most of them are robberies. You have to call it pirate attack because it happens on the sea but essentially it's just a robbery.
Jonathan: In some cases they have actually taken the vessel though, and siphoned off millions of dollars worth of oil. That is actually the M.O. for West Africa. West Africa has probably 40 attacks this year as well, where they've hijacked the vessel, killed some of the crew even, and taken a lot of their ship's storage and things like that. The Pirates of the Caribbean, if you will, that is definitely a thing. I would not ... It's not your Jack Sparrow type stuff, but a lot of times it's drug dealers or just people who know that someones got money if they are going to attack a ... If they are going sail in a several hundred thousand or million dollar yacht then, they've got some type of money and you can take them and exploit that.
Marcus: Yeah. No it would make sense. I'm always interested by the community that surrounds those that sail, or crews or whatever you want to say, for those that are powered vessels around the world. Because they usually tend to travel in small packs just to keep an eye on each other and stuff. Some of that is for the voyage, because it can be quite dangerous and you don't want to loose your way. But also, you know, there's strength in numbers so it's interesting to me. I will admit that I love the water but I have absolutely no desire to travel the ocean via boat. If you were talking to someone that wanted to be an entrepreneur or that was thinking about starting a business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?
Jonathan: I would probably look over your right shoulder and tell them to read, or to listen to Seth Godin's podcast. I think that's a really really good foundation on how to start a business and just some considerations to have. One thing that I've done is PersonalMBA.com has the top 100 books for giving yourself, or acquiring your own MBA. My goal is to get through that list of 100 books.
Marcus: Wow. That's saying something because there is some really dry stuff in that list.
Jonathan: There is. Yeah, there is and those are the podcast that usually I'll audio book those and just suffer through it on one of the trans-continental flights, and just be like "All right, thank goodness that's over."
Marcus: Buckle down.
Jonathan: Yeah, if it's gonna suck, make it suck hard, let's go ahead and know this one out. That's what I would encourage people do, that and just talk to people. If someone, if there's somebody that has the dive and the perseverance, with a little bit of luck, they're going to be successful. Luck is one of those things that you have control over. You have control over your own destiny, but go talk to people. Walmart was not built in a day when Sam Walton started out selling underwear. That was his big thing, was marking down women's underwear. So you've got to figure out ways to bring people in the door and you have that experience in other business owners and if someone's a true entrepreneur, they're happy to help other people out. In our company, one of the greatest honors I've ever had is, one of our guys who was working with us, stopped working with us, because we coached them all on how to start their own businesses and he was making more working for himself then he was for me. I mean our-
Marcus: That's got to be a cool feeling.
Jonathan: Our top partners make six-figures and I was like, "I am so honored right now", I couldn't be more proud. But when you start stealing my other guys, okay, I'll be happy too, but I was like "I want them all to become their own entrepreneurs" and that's what the american dream is built off of.
Marcus: Right. No that's really cool because it's not an easy thing to start a business, so to have somebody that's working for you, take the information that you are proving them, and use that to be successful. I mean that's just kudos to you.
What are some, you mentioned Seth, what are some other resources or books you found helpful?
Jonathan: I'm listening to Sell or be Sold, I was listening to that on my way down here last night. That's a pretty good one I think. He really talks about the drive. That's mainly because maybe because that's what I was listening to earlier today and last night. One of the best, and kind of like the corner stones for books that I'll go back and read, is How to Win Friends and Influence People. Dale Carnegie's book. I actually recently just bought the audio book on that one, because it's just such a good one to go back and listen to every once in a while. He talks about writing hand written notes, and I know Pete was just talking about that as well. I still write hand written notes to almost everybody I meet. It's funny the response you get from people. Because you send them an email, "Hey how's it going, great meeting you", there's almost nothing to it, that takes two seconds. Heaven forbid now we send texts saying, "Hey, great meeting you".
Marcus: And we don't even spell out the whole word.
Marcus: We just abbreviate.
Jonathan: "K. Thanks bye". That's to me, how do you create shock and awe in people. If you can write a hand written note that not just like "Great meeting you" but like "Hey, it was great to meet you and I enjoyed our conversation about this" I think it really kind of just tells a little bit about the content of your character. That you generally did enjoy meeting them.
Jonathan: Any you're not just trying to check a box.
Marcus: Because there is a lot that goes into that. Especially if you have any kind of stationary or anything along those lines.
Marcus: You've planned ahead, you've got the stationary, you've got to have the stamps, you've got to write out the note, which means you've thought about it. You've probably written it somewhere else because you don't want to screw up that stationary, because it's not cheap.
Marcus: Then you've got to get to the post office somehow or get the letter into the mail and so there's a lot of steps instead of just opening up an email and saying "Hey Thanks".
Jonathan: Yeah, I spend a couple grand a year on stationary, but it's just like, I think it's important to be able to say this is ... Yeah I'll text with you, I'll email you all day, but it takes that level of sincerity up to ... I literally ... There's a lawyer in DC that I met in Singapore, that I realized she was from Alabama, whatever. We were just sitting there talking and I wrote her a hand written note, because she gave me her card, I said "It was great meeting you". After that conference I had probably three inches tall of notes I'd written.
Jonathan: I saw her again in London, and she was like "Oh my gosh, Jonathan McConnell, you're the first hand written note I've gotten in years." Then she introduced me to someone because of that, and that was just a segment of a conversation which took off from there.
Marcus: Not that that's not necessarily the reason you are doing it, you're doing it because you generally want to remember these people and to tell them thank you. I find the same thing that when you make a ... Like we had some notebooks made, some mole skin notebooks made, and we sent them off to some of our clients and some of those clients we haven't spoken with for a while. You launch a project, you loose track of them but we wanted to say thank you and the responses we got back were really telling. It was kind of nice, some of the things people were saying back. It's just that you want to let people know that you're thankful for the business or for the discussion that you had or whatever the case may be. That just naturally lends itself to being implanted in their brain too, when you send them a note like that.
Marcus: So when you're not busy traveling the world, what do you like to do in your free time?
Jonathan: I enjoy readying. I enjoy running, I know that's not to obvious right now, making fat kid jokes over here.
Marcus: No judgement. I'm a big boy too.
Jonathan: I enjoy that, to me especially after being overseas and being deployed, family is my biggest priority.
Jonathan: My dad and I have contest on how many times can we sneak away from the office or something like that, just to drive three hours to go see the nieces. I have four little nieces and they're my world. I think family is so important, they're the ones who are always there for you and who always going to support you and love you almost unconditionally.
That's my, those are my passions. People ... I'm happy to work 16 to 20 hours a day. I think that's kind of part of being an entrepreneur. I've never required more than four hours of sleep, it's just kind of been my thing. I do find it interesting that some people wake up at 4 o'clock in the morning and they're so excited to go hunting or something like that, and their excited to get in the deer stand. I wake up at 4 o'clock every morning and I'm like, time to check some emails, get some work done. It also helps that we work on the other side of the world, so 4 o'clock in the morning is the middle of the work day sometimes but that's what I enjoy doing. Its my passion.
I enjoy working with the guys I work with, employing veterans and getting those guys back to work. They're a unique crew, they're a unique culture that are not necessarily easily adaptable in this culture that we have back in the United States now, so I enjoy working with those guys.
Marcus: Now it's a really cool opportunity for them. That wasn't necessary the reason why you went into the business but-
Marcus: Was that part of why you did this?
Jonathan: It's a huge secondary toe share benefit. I started the business because I definitely saw a need. I was like, "This is something that needs to happen" and that's what entrepreneurship often is. One of the huge benefits is working with the ... It's a family. I don't say it's my company, I say its our company. I might have been the one who started it, put the money down in the beginning, but I tell everyone of our guys they have to buy into what we're doing because when there's a four man security team 16,000 miles away, they're in charge of the company. I'm not. They're in charge of our brand, if they want to tick off a captain of they want to smart off to a captain, they can loose a contract for us. I have to have them bought in to being like, "Hey listen, you are the only representative of Meridian they ever see." Our shipping companies, I can only do so much from here in the United States, but if that captain hates you, then he is going to report back to the shipping company that he hates you.
We've never really gotten a negative, anytime, we've never had a negative customer feedback request. We send a feedback request to every captain when on what the crew's done. We can have a team leader who's communicating back to me, calls me on the sat-phone like, "Hey sir, I think this guy hates me. I don't know what I've done but I really think I've pissed in his Cheerios" or something like that. God bless Marines, I love their diction and stuff like that in what they say. Then we get the feedback request back and he's like, "Absolutely professional crew. They're welcome aboard anytime." He just wanted to keep them at an arms distance the whole time. It's an interesting culture you create, a climate you create. When you with weapons come onboard a captain's ship, the master of his domain, and you're on there and you're like, "Hey we work for you now", a lot of times they try to keep you at an arms distance and just say-
Marcus: Well it's a relatively new thing.
Jonathan: It is.
Marcus: I would imagine, for a lot of these captains, it may not be something they are accustomed to. But, I mean, it is the way of the world right now so I can understand the need, but I would imagine their may be some captains that have been doing this for along time, that have an issue. That there are these guys that have weapons now onboard.
Jonathan: They do. The world's not becoming a safer place, unfortunately. They definitely do have an issue with it sometimes. It just takes them out of their comfort zone. What we try to impress upon our captains is "Captain we work for you. You're ultimately responsible for everything that happens on this vessel." Its that customer service thing, like we work for you, we are not going to do anything to embarrass you. Here's the protocols we have in place to prevent anything from happening that's outside of our quality control matrix.
Jonathan: So we just finished our ISO certification or accreditation, so the Industry of Standards Organization, whatever so we're now 9001 certified but also 28,000 and 28,007.We're the only company in all of the Americas with that.
Marcus: Wow, I actually used to live in that world a little bit. Tads been giving me a hard time because I seem to mention that I'm from DC quite a bit but a lot of the organizations up there strive to be at least 9001 certified, and six sigma and all that other stuff.
Jonathan: Six sigma, turquoise, diamond belt. Emerald.
Marcus: That's a decade ago. I'm not ... None of my clients want to bear the burden of me going through that process because it is not fun.
Jonathan: It is not. We did it in January, and it was a very painful and tedious process, and our clients appreciate the quality control. Our current clients are like, "Why are you doing this? You're great. We don't have any issues with this." Our perspective clients want it because they don't know us yet. But once we have the relationship and realize we're not a fly-by-night company, that we're actually a pretty well oiled organization. They generally like it, and all the paperwork that comes with it. They're just like, "Okay, thanks. Yeah we understand you're just doing this because you have to." And you're like "Yeah, exactly."
Marcus: Yeah. Is there, I want to ask, is there like a stigma in the industry that ... is there a stereotype of "these guys are just hot-shots with guns" former special forces guys that are coming onboard? Or are they beginning to understand? Because it's been a couple of years now, that you've been doing this, are they beginning to understand that these are professionals. They are really here to help us, protect us, keep us safe. Are they beginning to see that or?
Jonathan: Our clients definitely are. I think it's company, its the brand that we've built, it's company specific. There are some companies out there that only hire seals, and that only put Navy Seals onboard. To me, they're one of our biggest competitors. I'm like, "That's great", and we go and talk to someone, we're both going after their work. I just say, "You know, you're just trying to deliver the mail. You don't need to drive a Lamborghini to deliver the mail, you need a mail truck." We're not asking guys to fly in on helicopters, drop out from above and retake the ship with two people and just a k-bar. We're asking guys to stand thousands of hours a year of post. That's what our guys do.
I mean it is boring. You look at the high tempo special operator, generally does not adapt well into our organization because it is boring. Our guys ... The one thing I tell our guys is "Hey, take about 15 books on tape, because you'll go through all 15 of them in like a month, because you're going to be standing 12 hours a day at post or 8 hours a day at post, depending on how many people we have on there, what the weather is like, and you need to have something to keep your mind active, because I just don't want you sitting there smoking and joking and having a good time." You have guys that I can drive crazy, and if they're that mindset, they just want to go out there and shoot somebody, if their a cowboy or something like that.
Marcus: Yeah, that's not who you're looking for.
Jonathan: Yeah, its not who we're looking for and we know during our interview process we can weed those people out.
Jonathan: It's funny because you have people that are like, "I just want to get out there and shoot somebody" and you're like, "Oh, that's great. Sounds good. We'll call you back."
Marcus: Yeah, No.
Jonathan: "Yeah. You're exactly who we're looking for. Aw, thanks hero, we'll see you at Call of Duty later tonight."
Marcus: So give us a look a what an average day looks like of you, and I want to frame this a little bit. I understand that it may differ, but I'm also looking for the disciplines that you may have so, do you wake up at a specific time? Do you go to the gym every morning? Do you check your email first thing? You mentioned that you get up at 4AM. Then take us into an actual workday.
Jonathan: So my ideal day starts 4AM wake up. I'll check emails, and I've got a list of what I'm going to do everyday, that I created the night before on what I've got to get accomplished. The great thing about working this industry, no day ever goes as planned. It's ever changing. Whether it can be one of your guys got held up in Egypt.
We had guy that literally got robbed by the Egyptian customs officers with four Humvees, 50-cals pointed down on him, and its all because the agent didn't drop him off right next to the airport, so they took all of his money. It's just like one of those things, "Am I going to jail or what?" We've had guys go to jail, never for doing anything wrong, but it's just working in all these countries. 38 ports throughout the world. You get a call they are just trying to solicit a bribe, and get a bribe out of you. We are like, "We don't pay bribes." For six and a half years we've been operating, we're just like, "All right, hang in. This is going to suck for you but just wait it out. They're just trying to get a bribe out of you, and it's not happening." Then we'll usually yell at our agent and be like "Hey, what are you doing over there? We're paying you a couple grand a month to make sure our guys make it through customs without an issue or anything like that or don't have a visa problem.
So there is no typical day. At 4AM I'm up and I'll answer emails. If I can get a run in, and everything's relaxed, then I'll be glad to do that. It doesn't happen to often as you can tell. Usually, definitely in the office by 6. Work for a little while at home and then I'll be at the office at six and there until 10AM 11AM, I grab lunch at 10:45 when Big Time Diner opens a lot of times or any place that opens at 10:45 because I'm starving when you eat at 4 or 5.
Jonathan: Then usually we'll work hard until about 3PM. At 3PM it's kind of just ... You've got the Asian, Asia's pretty much closed out at that point. Mediterranean's closed. Europe's closed. African is kind of shutting down for the night and so we are just kind of gearing up for our next day. Afternoons are usually pretty light. We'll deal with our clients here in the United States. Making sure all the logistics are in place, which can be pretty hazardous depending on how many ships we've got out at that time. Then it's just re-cocking and getting ready to go again in the morning.
Usually I'll go to dinner ... I usually will grab coffee with my grandmother, if I can, in the afternoons. Or my day, one of the two. Just try to spend some time with family because you have these precious years with them. Then after dinner, I'll eat dinner with friends or something like that, but then I'm usually back at the office. Working from around 8:30 9, until about midnight.
Jonathan: That's my typical day.
Marcus: Rinse and repeat.
Jonathan: Yeah, rinse and repeat.
Marcus: Many people don't realize just how ... Well they think, "I'm going to own my own business and I'm going to sip cocktails on the beach" and live this Instagram life as I like to call it. But the realities are often times much different.
Jonathan: I think that last until they get their first cash-flow crisis, and their like "Man I've got to build up enough cash flow that I never have a crisis again."
Jonathan: And that's ... People don't realize that. Especially in this industry, we have a lot of veterans who get out of the Marine Corps, or out of the military, and they're "Hey, I can go start a security company" and I'm like "Great, go ahead. I encourage you to do so. Just let me encourage you to understand cash flow." Because in the maritime industry their net 60 net 90 almost to their invoices. So by the time that you performed on a contract, we had one that just ended that was 84 days, and so we started our first billing 84 days before and you put net 90 on top of that. How long are you making a loan to a shipping company at that point?
Marcus: You're talking about six months before you get paid on some of these things.
Jonathan: You're talking about a six figure contract.
Marcus: And how much can you actually, I mean how much business can you actually afford to do in that six month period? Because I'm imaging what your expenses are getting people around the world, the materials that they need and all that other stuff.
Marcus: I can't even imagine.
Jonathan: Yup. It's a lot of times they ask you, and their like what in the ... Their looking at the numbers, a lot of our guys, I'm very open about our numbers. I'm like "Here's what we're making on this contract." There are times where we have bought work. I tell them, "Hey, listen, there's another contract that's coming up. You can hop on this ship. We're going to loose money on it. Do you care? I'm going to cut you all's pay this much but I'm losing this much on this contract. You'll see all these numbers on the back side." Usually they're like "Yeah, I've got this" but if they want more work or they don't want to go home yet, they're happy to do it.
Jonathan: Then they don't realize too that we're not going to get paid on that for another 60 or 90 days sometimes. It's cash flow though, that a tough lesson. It's nothing they never teach you in Finance at Auburn University or anything like that. Maybe they do, I just wasn't paying attention that day, but it's a huge issue.
Marcus: It's a lesson that you learn very quickly when you start a business.
Jonathan: It is.
Marcus: Especially when you've got people working for you. They kind of expect to get paid.
Marcus: Where can people find you?
Jonathan: Best place is usually my cell phone. I live in Birmingham, and that's where I am 25% of the time. The rest of the time I'm traveling. In the industry, the security industry, you're not going to hire someone if you haven't looked them in the face and shaken their hand. So we do a lot of face-to-face interactions. I go, I try to meet with my clients once every three weeks. Grab a lunch with them and just talking to them, seeing how things are going.
But; also, doing a lot of prospecting and seeing what else, what other need can we meet of yours. That's really kind of how we got involved in some of the work down in the Gulf of Mexico, because we were doing some work for them overseas. They were like "You know, were having a problem with some of these off-shore workers getting on and king of roughing up the crew or not being quite submissive to the captain." I'm like, "I'm pretty sure a Marine can take care of that" so we put a couple Marines onboard. Then it's, "Hey, we want more of those Marines onboard" and stuff like that. How can you expand? That would have never happened if we would have not had gone to lunch with them and just sit down and talking with them.
Marcus: Yeah. It's interesting how much you can learn by just listening sometimes. No, that phenomenal and you also have a website?
Jonathan: Yeah, www.meridian.us
Marcus: And you said if somebody wanted to get in touch with you, they should call you on your cell phone, do you want to give that number.
Jonathan: Oh! No, absolutely not. My phone's been buzzing the whole time we've been sitting here.
Marcus: Yeah I was going to say, when I ask that question usually people give a website. Or they say contact the business or something along those lines.
Jonathan: Yeah, I think my email is up on the website, if I'm not mistaken. You're welcome to email me. I get about 4 to 500 emails a day so I don't always respond to them that day.
Jonathan: My goal is to clear our all emails by the end of the day. It doesn't always happen. I usually have some weekend emails that I'll get to and try to get to them then. Yeah, meridian.us. Please contact me if you ever have any issues, especially if you want to start your own business. I'm all about facilitating that I've never charged anybody for advise, because to me I had some great people advise me, starting a business out. The greatest compliment in the entire world is seeing someone make it. I hope that I can advise the next Mark Zuckerburg or something like that. Clearly it's going to be more of the luck side and not my advise, but hey, happy to do it.
Marcus: Now I just I really appreciate you ... I know we exchanged a couple of emails and messages on LinkedIn. I really appreciate you making time to be here to be on the podcast.
Jonathan: My pleasure.
Marcus: Do you have ... Usually I let people, if you have any final thoughts or comments that you'd like to share or anything.
Jonathan: My biggest thing is, a lot of time people have these great ideas but they never act on them. Mark Zuckerburg's really smart I'm sure. Sam Waltham was probably. These guys are very smart. I'm not very smart. Those guys are not the smartest people in the world, Bill Gates maybe the smartest, one of the smartest men in the world, But be a person of action. You have the idea, you're not going to ever have the perfect plan. In the Marine Corps they taught us that a decent plan, violently executed is better than the perfect plan too late. Just be a person of action and go through and execute your plan because timing is everything. Being able to penetrate a market early is the only reason I was able to create a multi-million dollar business.
Jonathan: That's one them and the other is know your environment. As Pete was saying, learn, read. General Matus said to us right before we left for Iraq he goes, "My fine young Lieutenants, you can have an excuse for making a rookie error, a rookie tactical error, but you have no excuse for not having a 3,000 year old mind. There is 3,000 years of military history out there, you should always be reading if you're not training." You put that on a bunch of young Marines. He said "You're not going to be able to look a mother in the eyes and say you lost her son, and say you did your best if you're not always reading" Our left cargo pocket from then on out always had some type of book in it. I was reading Russian translations of how the Russians were dealing with the Afghans, on their tactics. Because that a horrible nightmare to have.
Jonathan: To understand that, to put that on us. Have that same passion when it comes to starting a business. You're fighting a war out there. There's six billion people in this world that are trying to do the same thing.
Jonathan: So get out there and read. I haven't watch TV in years, 15 years probably. I love Game Days, on Saturdays, because I know that everybody is watching the game. I maybe at the gym, but most likely I'm reading or working because I'm like, "Hey, this is my chance. I know I can get ahead of at least a couple million people."
Jonathan: Mentioning ... Keying off of something that you mentioned, is that just because you don't, necessarily, have a unique idea that you may be able to out execute somebody. Because so often times, we get locked up in our own brains that we have to have some, we have to have a Facebook or a Microsoft idea, and the reality is that there are tons, there are hundreds or thousands of businesses that are built off an idea that somebody else has already come up with but you're just executing it at a better rate or in a different fashion than what the other person has done.
I often, because we talk to a lot of different people and people will send us NDA's and stuff like that, and of course they are just part of our industry but I always chuckle when I get it. Because this NDA isn't really worth anything because your idea ... You may not even be able to execute on your own idea. I certainly don't want to, because I hear enough of ideas that I really just, unless it's something extremely unique which I haven't had happen in a number of years, there is just no interest there. Because I know that in order to execute on that it's going to take a lot of work and that's not my passion. It's your passion, you need to execute on it.
But anyway I would just agree with you on that if somebody is out there, and they're thinking about starting a business, that they need to not just look for the unique idea, but look for something that they're passionate about and through everything that they have at it. Like you said, it may mean no TV. It may mean eating beans and rice because you're reinvesting back in the business. It may mean not taking a vacation. It may mean long hours. It may mean all these things, but the satisfaction you get at arriving at the end of the road and realizing "I've built something and this means that I've accomplished something great." Because there are a number of businesses that don't even make it past the first year.
Marcus: For two years I slept on the floor of my office because I was like "Why? Why would I pay rent, I'm living here."
Jonathan: You are a Marine. I would still want a bed.
Marcus: And the point of that- I was like, "Naw, that's weak, I'm going to sleep on the floor." We have that comfortable industrial carpet-
Marcus: Yeah, it's nice and cushy. I would on occasion, roll a chair back, put my head underneath the desk and go to sleep.
Jonathan: Go to sleep.
Jonathan: That's amazing. On that note, Jonathan I really appreciate your willingness to sit with us and-
Marcus: My pleasure.
Jonathan: Describe your journey as a business owner and I also appreciate what you bring to the Mobile area. I appreciate that and thank you for your time today.
Marcus: Thank you, I appreciate you doing this and helping other people learn.
Jonathan: Yeah, thank you for your service as well.