Clayton Kemp was an information technology director when an acquaintance pitched the idea of a company providing construction site security using video technology. In 1999, they formed a Charlotte company that became USA Security Group. This year, the company merged with American Burglar Alarms.
Kemp, 31, talked with MoneyWise about start-up lessons learned, merger strategy and the switch from owner to employee. Comments are edited for clarity and brevity.
Q. How did the first company come about?
One day we were drinking beers and said, “This is a good idea, let's try it.” (An acquaintance) knew there was an issue with construction site theft. I took my knowledge of alarm systems and technology, and we put that all together. I did it on the side, while still working as an IT director. When we started making some money, I just up and quit my job to get it going.
Q. How did your sister company, Universal Monitoring, come about?
We had to form our own monitoring center because of the level of customer service needed for construction site monitoring. During the day, if someone walks into a home, it would text message the builder to say someone is there. If there wasn't supposed to be a contractor there, the builder could just drive down and look. At night, the system goes to a whole new level of monitoring.
Q. What about other applications?
We do a lot of monitoring work for utilities, including Duke Energy. Copper theft is a big problem. A builder has several options. You can implant a chip inside a stove and watch it move when somebody has stolen it. You have the video – completely wireless, requires only batteries and a cellular phone – and it transmits video to the central station. We can dispatch police, inform them … it's a crime in progress.
Q. Why merge with a company that provides home security and wiring?
One purpose was to provide more of a complete solution during construction and customer home protection. By combining, we could lower costs across the board. Both can be more competitive.
Q. What's it like to be an employee instead of the boss?
I still want to see this company succeed as I would want my own. My heart is in the same place.
Q. What did you learn from your first entrepreneurial experience?
One thing that might have made us even more successful from the beginning is if we had had a more thought-out business plan. When you're on the fly, doing what you need to survive, sometimes you can lose focus real quick. At Universal, we have a good focus. You stick to that. Don't try to be all things to everybody.