Entrepreneurs take great pride in building a business from scratch, developing financial security, and planning for the future. For Ian Mulira, however, success is about something more.
“It allows me to sleep at night, which was tough for the first eight years or so,” he said with a smile.
An electrical engineer by trade, Mulira was working for the U.S. Department of Defense as a civilian contractor during the early 2000s. His specialty was building automation systems (known in the trade as BAS), which connect and automate building functions from heating and air conditioning to fire and security systems.
“I loved what I was doing,” he recalled in a recent interview in the Greenbelt office of his company, Conquest Solutions. “It was what I wanted to do, but I wanted to do it on my own.”
In January 2009, Mulira took the plunge. It was a stereotypical start-up. His office was in a basement room of his home in Laurel, and he used a little desk he bought from an antique store. The only employee was himself.
Mulira knew he had the skills needed to do the work, and soon had a couple of clients. The business grew and he realized that a basement room and one employee were not enough. He hired several employees, rented an office in Greenbelt, got more clients, and hired more employees.
As the number of clients and employees grew, so did the company’s offerings, which shifted from being exclusively project advisors to also working as field engineers.
These days, Mulira, who is both president and CEO of Conquest Solutions, said his company is also looking at installing building automation systems and expanding its list of clients. They began working mostly with federal agencies, among them the Architect of the Capitol, the IRS, the Government Services Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security. Clients now include Prince George’s County and other municipalities with an eye towards working with the state.
Some 80 percent of Conquest’s business comes from repeat customers, Mulira said. “We don’t do anything that’s terribly complicated, but our gift to our clients is that we care about the relationship. Our word is our bond, and we stay until you’re satisfied.”
While his company had been about “measured growth,” Mulira is now dealing with rapid growth. “Business has gone from a slow drip to firehose status, but we’re ready for it.” Annual revenues have soared from $1.3 million in 2017 to $8.9 million last year.
“We spent a lot of the earlier years learning to become scalable, and with the last five years as an indicator of that successful approach, the future is looking very promising,” he said.
Based on his experience, Mulira is always willing to share his formula for success. He advises establishing a company vision that is clear and gets employee buy-in. Create a team-focused work environment and ensure the right people are on the bus with you (be quick to fire, and slow to hire). Never walk away from a failure without figuring out what went wrong and don’t allow the opinions of others to affect your drive and motivation. The more empowered people are at doing their jobs, the better work they do on your behalf, so get comfortable with releasing some control to people who have earned your trust.
This article is featured in the 2022 edition of The Daily Record’s Expanding Opportunities Resource Guide for Small, Minority and Women Businesses that was published on Sept. 23. Published in conjunction with the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority & Women Business Affairs, Expanding Opportunities explores diversity, entrepreneurship and innovation in Maryland’s small business community. Read more from Expanding Opportunities or read the digital edition.