169. Hero – Paul Van Metre – Co-Founder of ProShop ERP Transcript

00:00 Chris: 

Welcome everyone. As we continue our holidays with our heroes series here on . As you know, by now, between here and Christmas, you’re going to be hearing inspiring stories every week from our heroes, as we celebrate the holiday season together. And there’s a big surprise coming on Christmas week. You do not want to miss and trust me, it’s going to be a fun one.

So I’m excited for that to come out. Not today. You’re going to hear from Paul Van Metre. And you may remember him from episode 96, where he talked about manufacturing, a recipe for differentiation, where he talked about some of the really cool things he’s doing at ProShop ERP. Now Paul has an amazing story.

He’s a fun guy. And I know you’re just going to enjoy hearing his about his journey and some of the cool things he’s doing in manufacturing, you know, and those war stories they are coming in and they are good. You know, we’re looking for the stuff that you want to sit around the dinner table and talk about, and the submissions are flying in.

We’re excited to put that series together. You can give those submissions to us as a DM on Instagram or Facebook. And the links are in the show notes. Now let’s get some insight from Paul on about his amazing journey. Cue the music. 

So welcome to EECO Asks Why. Today we have a hero conversation I’m excited to have with us. Paul Van Metre and he is the co-founder of ProShop ERP. So welcome Paul. 

01:25 Paul: 

Hey Chris. Nice to be here. Thanks for having me. Absolutely talking with you.

01:29 Chris: 

I’m looking forward to it, to my friend. So, you know, Start us off. We’ll tell our listeners a little bit about you and the journey to where you’re at. 

01:36 Paul: 

We sure we have enough time. I’ll say my short version. So growing up I loved building things. I love taking apart things. I even worked as a carpenter with my dad for a bunch of years as a teenager, and I always wanted to work with and I love cars too. I was diehard car guy, Motorhead loved tinkering on cars, buying cars, fixing cars. And so I actually started in with an engineering pro mechanical engineering program at Boston university. And I immediately just found it super dry. It just wasn’t exciting. It wasn’t hands-on and it’s like this isn’t building stuff.

But I thought I wanted to become like an automotive engineer. So anyway, I decided to not follow that path. And I found this program called the vehicle research Institute, which basically was a hands-on sort of pseudo engineering program that allowed you to design and build cars. And I’m like, that’s what I’m doing.

So I went there, met these incredible like-minded guys that also just loved that loved building things. And this program had a full fledged machine shop in it. And we had almost unlimited access to it. This was in the nineties now. Where was this at myself? This was at a university called Western Washington university.

Okay. That program, unfortunately, no longer exists. In the same way, but but it was just an amazing place to learn stuff, design stuff, build stuff, machine stuff. And we would, every year we would build a car, a formula SE car for those, a lot of engineers get into formula SE, but we would design the small single seat, race car, and then we would go compete against other universities or at the end of the school year.

And then see who came out on top. It was the most fun thing that I’ve ever done in my life up to that point. It’s a small single seat, open wheeled car with a 600 CC displacement limit. So it’s all motorcycle engines, although there’s now electric ones too. Of course. But we built three cars. The most successful one was 450 pounds. With about a hundred horsepower from this motorcycle engine. Imagine the power to weight ratio on that. 

03:53 Chris: 

Did you get to get behind the wheel of that one? 

03:56 Paul: 

Oh yeah. It’s all student driven. So a fun tidbit. I own that car now. The university was running out of space. Like we got too many cars. I bought it, refurbed it with some friends and we autocross it on the weekends. That is also man. It is really fun. So anyway, sorry we got sidetracked. But so in this program did a lot of machining and absolutely just fell in love with it.

And so as we were getting close to graduation my buddies and I, and my partners on this team. We started talking about starting a shop together rather than just scattering to the wind and going off and getting jobs. And, we were like, you know what? We love working together as a team. We love machining, let’s start a shop.

 And to be perfectly honest, that shop was actually a stepping stone. We thought to eventually starting a small niche car company which never happened, but I still haven’t given up on that dream someday. But anyway, so we started a machine shop straight out of college. I graduated from college and opened the shop and one of the guys on the team was a little bit older. Two of them were brothers. One was a little older and he came back, took some classes, but he had a, he owned a house with enough equity in it to take out a second mortgage. And that’s what we use to fund the company. We bought a Haas VF-4, found a used manual mill and lathe and found a little 2,000 square foot warehouse space that we opened up.

If you were off and running or off and running. So get this though. There were six of us in that company to start six equal owners, one machine, 2000 square foot. It was crazy. And we started knocking on doors, beating the street, looking for work cause that’s a lot of mouths to feed. But of course we were, a bunch of the guys all lived in a house together. I had a girlfriend that would eventually become my wife, so I didn’t cohabitate with them, but still, we started knocking on doors, looking for work. And so this was actually in 97, we opened our doors in 97. And so the economy was pretty decent back then. And so it wasn’t that hard. We found work, we started doing work, bought some more machines, hired some more employees and just grew it, over the years for about 17 years, as every shop owner knows it’s an incredibly hard business to run. We were basically just a job shop. And we were fortunate to find some good customers that did some repeat work as well.

So we did a combination of just one-off stuff and some repeat business. And over the years, 9/11 happened just four years after we opened that, almost devastated that almost killed us. Like we were just on the cusp of going out of business. But we found a business advisor or through the local small business development center, an amazing resource for anyone out there looking for guidance and help usually through universities, but made it through and kept growing the company and the, and actually the way tie it to what I’m doing now. When we got to the size, just about three years in, we had about a dozen employees or so, and three or four machines and we needed some software to run our shop.

And we had no idea what kind of software this was, what it was called, how to even look it up. But we asked around and people started telling us some of the things they were using. And so we had these salespeople come and give us demos and show us these software products. And we were just totally underwhelmed and disappointed by what they were showing.

We in a job shop, what matters most is execution of your jobs. Assuming you have enough work coming in, and so if you have enough work coming in, you got to execute to make any kind of margin, and job shops have really slim margins typically. So the software products just didn’t help with any of the execution of the shop.

They did fine for putting stuff, your orders in and managing your inventory and making invoices. But when it came to the shop floor, they just didn’t have the features that we had already built into our Excel spreadsheets and things that we had homegrown ourselves. So anyway, we decided to not buy one of those products. Instead we hired a software developer as a full-time employee, basically. And just started telling them what we want. What we wanted the software to do and our machinists and our inspectors and our people that did accounting and all that stuff. We just said, yeah, this is what we, this is what we need.

And we just organically grew it over the years. Until our biggest machine shop customer saw it and said, Hey, this is way better looking than what we’re using. Would you sell it to. And we were like, no, it’s just for us. So we don’t know how to be a software company. But they were very convincing and we decided to give it a shot and of the rest is history.

You know, we eventually sold the shop after 17 years. We had about 75 people on staff. We had about 30 machines, three shifts, AS9100 certified for both manufacturing and engineering work and went off into this software business. So for the last five years, we’ve been doing that, doing software. 

08:51 Chris: 

That core group of the first six are you six still together at Proshop? 

08:56 Paul: 

Three of us are and the other actually, no four of us, because one of, one of them is not a founder, but is an employee. And then the other two guys are both good friends still, but they went off and did other things over the years. 

09:06 Chris: 

That’s a really cool story, man. That’s awesome. Great stuff. And hats off to you guys recognizing that, you don’t have to stay underwhelmed. You can build your own. And that’s what you did. 

09:17 Paul: 

Yep. Yep. 

09:18 Chris: 

Very cool. Very cool. So how about when you’re thinking out there for a shops now, where do you see is challenging machining, as we move into the future? 

09:27 Paul: 

Yeah. So I personally think that the machining industry and the in North America has a really bright future, with COVID and with a whole bunch of other sort of forces. There’s a lot of emphasis on shoring bringing manufacturing back to the back to north America. And so I think the prospects are really bright. I always say that, most shops are founded by really good technicians, good machinists programmers, but they don’t know how to run a business. So learning how to run those businesses is definitely a challenge. And then I’d say one of the also biggest trends right now or challenges is this a whole baby boomer generation that, there’s a lot of talent there, a lot of knowledge and they’re retiring and not enough shops have the systems in place to have that continuity and to draw all that knowledge out of those folks heads into the next generation. So that’s a big one that needs to be solved. 

10:18 Chris: 

No doubt. And if you’re thinking, if you’re trying to convince someone Paul to enter that machining field, because you can see you’re very passionate about it. So any advice for people out there that may be listened to that haven’t considered machining that you’d like to offer up?

10:35 Paul: 

In almost every town city region, there’s going to be some technical colleges or community colleges that might have machining programs. Definitely look at those. Quite honestly, I think there’s a gentleman named Titan. Titan Gilroy who has this Titans of CNC academy completely free, all online, go get some free trial software of Mastercam or something like that. And start learning it on your own time. And then there’s even a network of what are called small groups. Shops around the whole country where you can call up and say, Hey, I’m trying to learn about this stuff and they’ll invite you in and show you in their own shops.

So that’s a great way to get at first little intro but yeah, I’d say the community college route is a great option. And then, just Google for machine shops in your area and just start calling people and say, Hey, I’m interested in looking at a career in machining. And I almost guarantee you that those shops will be like, yeah, absolutely come down. Let’s talk, we’ll show you. All the shops are looking for good people, and the ones with good training systems will be very happy to bring someone in that maybe not has a lot of technical skills, but they have a desire and they are good work ethic and can learn. And then they’ll teach you on the job.

11:44 Chris: 

Are they doing more internships or co-ops, do you see that in the shop, in the machining world? 

11:52 Paul: 

Not enough, not nearly enough as like they do it in Europe, for example. I think that’s, we used to do that decades ago. And I think that’s a really important part of the formula for bringing sort of the manufacturing industry back to where it was, but now not enough formal internships.

12:09 Chris: 

That’s just a great way to get in and see and get exposed to so many different things. So it’s just something to consider, but, as you’ve had a chance in your career, I know you mentioned that business consultant helped you in that time of need there around 9/11, any other mentors that have stood out to you that have helped you build you to where you are now?

12:30 Paul: 

Yeah. I think I’d say two, two different folks. And they’re both really close. So the first one would actually be my wife. And the second one would be my business partner. They have both just been incredibly influential and instrumental to me. So my wife did a marketing degree, so she’s been my go-to person to ask how should I approach this from a marketing perspective? Cause I was an engineering guy, hands-on guy. I didn’t know marketing. So she really helped me there. And that was one of the big differences between us, growing slowly as a small shop versus getting into a pretty good size shop, 75 people.

So in a relatively short amount of time. So that was really important. I’d say find someone in your life that knows marketing if you’re running a company. And then my partner, Kelsey, just an incredible man. 100% ethical as long as the day is, or whatever that phrase is, the day is long, incredibly hardworking, really wise about decisions and strategy. I’m like a puppy sometimes just like barreling and this stuff, and he’s like, hold on a second. Let’s think about this a little bit more carefully. And so he and I are really good balance. So I’ve learned a lot from him. A lot on people’s skills too. He’s really good at that.

13:40 Chris: 

That’s great. Thank you for sharing that we could hear your voice change when you were talking about those two mentors. So we really loved that and it sounds like they’ve been just really helped you develop and grow as a professor. 

13:53 Paul: 

And a human. 

13:54 Chris: 

Yeah, no doubt. I’m anxious to get your answer on this one. So common myths, this, the question I asked a lot to, depending on the people in their fields, but you’re, you’ve been big and machining and there may be some myths out there about the machine shop world that you just don’t think are true, man. So if you get a chance to debunk something here, what would it be? 

14:15 Paul: 

Well, I’d love to talk about two. One is if you’re in the business and one is if you’re external to the business. So the one with your internal, that if you’re a great machinist, you knew how to run a machine shop. That just could not be further from the truth. There you go. And I’ll talk a little bit later about a little bit more about learning about that. But then the other from the outside, and this is an industry wide issue and it feeds into not enough people coming into the industry is that there’s this perception that manufacturing and machine shops specifically are dark, dirty, unsafe places. And that also could not be further from the truth. You go into any modern, progressive shop. It is bright, it is clean, it is incredibly high tech. The jobs are really well paying. They are they’re fun. They’re interesting. It’s an amazing career that which pays way above average for most industries out there.

 So anyway, that’s, I’d love to help the debunk that one. I know every, everyone I know in the manufacturing industry tries to debunk that as well. And it’s a challenge to try to get it. I think. We need to, I don’t know. There needs to be a huge PR campaign for the whole manufacturing industry that gets into high schools and even middle schools and school guidance counselors, and the parents of all these kids, that it is not a second rate option to go into machining or manufacturing.

15:41 Chris: 

Yeah, we’ve addressed this in a couple episodes, man. It’s just, I think just having more conversations like this and being open and then promoting the work that you do because I think if people saw some machinery that that you’ve seen throughout the years, it would connect some of those dots. For sure.

15:56 Paul: 

Absolutely. Totally. Yeah. 

So when you’re looking through and you’re doing the work that makes you the happiest, what are you doing in those moments? 

It’s the, actually the result of the work that brings into the fulfillment. My heart just absolutely sores. When I talk to a customer that we have helped that they say, you guys have made a measurable and meaningful difference in my life and the life of my employees. I just can’t imagine something better than that. 

16:28 Chris: 

No doubt, man. No doubt. How about when you look back on it because you’ve done some really cool things that the previous shop, as well as Proshop, any highlights, anything that stands out as man that was a cool project or something that you were involved with that you’d like to share?

16:42 Paul: 

Just the process of building that company was incredible. Just so hard, highs and lows, just days of incredible joy when we landed, a huge new program or customer. And then just the really tough lows when like after 9/11, and we almost went out of business because we had no idea what we were doing to actually run a business. We were fine at making parts, but that’s only one small part of having a successful business. 

Going from straight from college into one of the most challenging types of, companies you can possibly have to run and, building that up, having a really great culture, it was our we loved our employees so much. They loved us. We had almost no turnover. It was just it felt like a big family. It was really fun, and then the projects we got to work on. I mentioned earlier that we were AS9100 certified for engineering work as well. We got the opportunity to design and build some like big fixture tooling things for like the F35 strike fighter that, they were using to help manufacture the thing.

And we were designing it and submitting our designs to Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman. And they were saying, yeah, this looks great. Make us a bunch and we’d make them and deliver them and get, go down onto the flight line and watch them use them to make these their airplanes. So cool. Just like from a geek out tech perspective, that was, that stuff was so much fun. But at the end of the day, it really comes down to the people that we got to work with and be part of our big extended family. 

18:14 Chris: 

And to be, to be able to go to that flight line and see that really just connected a lot of dots. And man, it’s a sound like he had some really great highlights. So let’s talk a little bit outside of work, man. Let’s let our listeners know a little bit more about you not at Proshop. So any hobbies you got what do you enjoy doing? 

18:34 Paul: 

Well, I already mentioned I’m a Motorhead, so I definitely love cars. I don’t tinker on them as much as I used to and like my own cars and just, as we get older and have more stuff, if I’m going to get an oil change, I’m going to go get an oil change, but yeah, I still have that little, a formula SE race car that I get to tinker with. I love woodworking. I love building stuff. I, like I said, I worked as a carpenter with my dad as a teenager, and so learned a lot of fun skills there. And really enjoy that. Love, hiking and backpacking.

So every year my dad and my sons, and now my sister go on a three-generation backpacking trip, two to four days, two to four nights, out in the the mountains here in the Northwest. And there’s nothing better sitting on a mountain, watching the sunrise or the sunset.

19:17 Chris: 

So all the woodwork and you got me interested, what’s one of your favorite projects that you’ve done off of woodworking standpoint? 

19:27 Paul: 

Oh, I made my dad a really beautiful table once. Yeah, it was just a small little table, but it was, I forget it was like a curly maple just taking that finish just absolutely beautiful wood, but actually now that I think about it, probably my favorite thing I’ve ever made was I made a chess set for my dad. So the board was it actually, it was like three inches thick. Because it had drawers built into it for the pieces it was made out of purple heart and then the chess pieces themselves and the squares were brass and aluminum and those were machined.

Sort of a combination of my woodworking and metalworking. Yeah. And it actually was for my stepdad and he passed away a couple of years ago. And so my mom is actually sending me that chess set, so I should be seeing it any week now. And I need to buff out some of the tarnish and get it back up and play chess with my kids.

20:17 Chris: 

That sounds like a both worlds came together on that project. 

20:21 Paul: 

Yeah, it was really a neat one and he loved it. 

20:23 Chris: 

Well, thank you for sharing that. And we do love to hear about our families. You already mentioned your wife is one of your mentors. What else would you like to share about your family?

20:33 Paul: 

So I have two teenage boys. One is 14. One is nine. No, I say he just turned 15 a couple of days ago. And the other’s 19 Great kids still trying to steer them to turn out great, but I think they’re coming along pretty nicely. And and I have to give more than full credit. More than half credit for sure to my wife. She is just incredibly wise and patient and helps our whole family be better people. 

21:00 Chris: 

Yeah you look pretty calm to have a two teenage boys, so you must got something going on, or it’s early in the morning. Very cool. Very cool. Thanks for sharing about that. How about any resources that you find helpful, podcasts or books? YouTube. There’s so many different things out there. Just, it could be a personal or professional, just things that you enjoy.

21:25 Paul: 

Yeah. Sure. So I guess on the business side for podcasts yours is obviously is a great one. They Making Chips podcast, really enjoy those guys and we’ve, in all disclosure, we’ve become a sponsor there just because that’s such a focused on the machining industry. Manufacturing Happy Hour is another great one. And then Within Tolerance podcasts really been enjoying that one lately. Okay. And then I guess, pseudo business just development the Tim Ferriss show.

I’ve been listening to that one for years now. And then if I just need a good laugh, I’m gonna, I’m gonna listen to Car Talk and those guys there’s only one of them left now, but they play, all the old episodes and there’s so many years of them, but just such fun. Always laughing out loud, listening to that show and then for books. So The Goal is a really important book for anyone to understand about, lean and processes. I alluded to this one earlier that E-Myth, or it’s now called the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, really important book for understanding the concept of building processes. And building a company that doesn’t rely on you as the owner, as like the main thing. And there’s actually another book called built to sell by John Warrillow. I haven’t read that one yet, but it’s on my list. It basically about the same concept of building your company to To go further than just yourself.

With the E-Myth it’s about the idea of imagining your business as a franchise, even if you never franchise it. You want to build those repeatable systems. So that it just makes it easier to run a business, more process-driven, more profitable. And then Good to Great is another book I just think is amazing.

And then for anyone for salespeople out there Sell the Way you Buy by David Priemer is a great book. That’s great. I really enjoy that one.

23:14 Chris: 

We’ll put links to all those books and resources, Paul in the show notes for our listeners so they can check that out.

We started doing a lightning round and that’s a fun, we’re just going to fire off a bunch of different, random things at you and we’ll see what comes back if you’re willing to play. All right. Sure. All right, man. So let’s just start with easy stuff, man. Favorite food? 

23:35 Paul: 

I think I could eat Indian food every day and never get tired of it.

23:40 Chris: 

All right. Have that favorite adult beverage? 

23:44 Paul: 

Oh, it’s hard to be a good gin and tonic in my mind. 

23:47 Chris: 

Okay. Gin and tonic, man. Okay. Nothing wrong with that. How about music? 

23:51 Paul: 

Oh, gosh. I have pretty wide ranging taste in music. I mean I can absolutely dig on a Beethoven symphony and I can rock out to Guns N’ Roses. That’s what was popular when I was a teenager. And that’s my go-to Halloween costume. But. Yeah. I couldn’t say a favorite for music. 

24:13 Chris: 

Okay. We’ll let you slide on that. How about a destination, somewhere that you’d like to go that you haven’t been yet? 

24:19 Paul: 

I would like to go to Africa.

24:21 Chris: 

Okay. What about the, your favorite place that you have been? 

24:26 Paul: 

I’d probably say China was one of the more fascinating places I’ve ever traveled to. I got a chance to go there about 15 times. And not just for business, but really get into kind of the countryside and just incredible country.

24:41 Chris: 

That’s awesome. How about, I guess I will ask because you’re a car guy. What’s your favorite car? 

24:45 Paul: 

My favorite car. I always come back to have just a really fun, soft spot for the original McLaren F1. It was just such a remarkable car when it came out and it’s not the fastest anymore, but man, that was an incredible car. 

25:05 Chris: 

All right. How about pets, dogs, cats, both? 

25:09 Paul: 

Not at the moment. Have had them over the years, had a cat. I’ve always been more of a cat person than a dog person, but we had some dogs too. But yeah, the funny story and this, I shouldn’t say this out loud, but when I was 5, 6, 7, I had cat posters, completely blanketing my walls in my bedroom. Yeah. Anyway, for what it is,

25:32 Chris: 

But you grew out of it. Right? 

25:33 Paul: 

I grew out of it. No longer cat posters. I wouldn’t be married if I had cat posters all over my walls. 

25:39 Chris: 

Very good. Last one. Since you are married, you mentioned your wife a few times in this episode. If you had to do a date night, what are you guys doing?

25:49 Paul: 

What are you doing for a date night? In COVID where. I’m watching Netflix, but we love putting together a picnic and going down to the waterfront park. The town I live in Bellingham is right on the Pacific ocean. And there’s the islands out there and just, yeah sitting on a warm summer evening where the picnic, with the ocean right there. It’s it’s tough to beat that. 

26:08 Chris: 

Can’t beat that man. That was a great lightening round Paul. So thank you for playing along. 

26:13 Paul: 

My pleasure, Chris, as a fun question.

26:16 Chris: 

We love to get our listeners to know the person a little bit more, man. We always wrap up the and we’ve had such a great time talking with you today, but we focus on the why, you know, it talks about your passion. So, you know, if somebody were to come up to you Paul and say, you know, what is your personal, why? What would that be? 

26:33 Paul:

I do what I do because I just absolutely love helping people. I love improving processes, striving for perfection, even though you’ll never reach it because there’s always more there. Making things better. I love connecting people with ideas and with other people and with things that can improve their life, it feels like it’s just all one big, huge puzzle. And my mind’s always working on stuff and I just can’t get enough of it. And that’s really what drives. 

27:00 Chris: 

That’s awesome. That’s awesome. I mean, helping people is so important and Paul, this has been a pleasure again for people that want to connect with Paul, check the show notes out and we’ll have all the links and resources there to be able to get with him, to get with Proshop. And Paul you’ve been a great guest. Thank you so much for sharing everything you did on EECO Asks Why.

27:19 Paul: 

It’s my pleasure, Chris, like I said, you run a class act here. It’s been a really, it’s been really fun to talk with you. I appreciate all the time and effort you put into making this a great show. 

27:28 Chris: 

Absolutely. Thank you, sir. 

27:30 Paul: 

All right, take care.