Our entrepreneur of the week is Dan Blake, partner and engineer at Blake & Vaughan, Inc., an established and highly regarded engineering firm that serves construction companies in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.
What is your day-to-day job like?
We engineer the design of a building. We design the power, lighting, plumbing and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning). My firm provides the plans that the construction workers will use to build a building. We serve a variety of different types of clients; our contracts are with government agencies and private enterprises. Our projects have budgets from ten thousand dollars to 25 million dollar data centers and anything in between.
It is hard for me to characterize a “normal day” because each day can present a different challenge. Sometimes it is collecting money other days it is meeting deadlines for clients.
How did you get started as engineer?
It was a back and forth process for me. I was always good at math and science as a kid and my parents told that I should be an engineer. I graduated college with an engineering degree but at that point I was not sure I wanted be an engineer. I went back to school get a degree in business; by the time I graduated with a Masters Degree the most lucrative job offers came from engineering firms so I went with that.
What was the most challenging aspect of becoming an engineer?
I did not think it was that difficult to become an engineer but it did take a while. In order to do the work we do you have to be a licensed engineer. That means getting a degree, taking a four hour exam, working for a licensed engineer for four years and then passing another eight hour exam.
What was process like to start your own firm?
My partner, who worked at the same firm as me, said to me that as soon as you become fully licensed that we should start our own firm. It was on a whim. I was not too afraid of failure because I knew that even if our venture did not work out that I would be able to find a stable job at an existing firm. I was not afraid to fail as engineer, just as an entrepreneur.
What were the early days like for your business?
My partner and I started in the dining room of my house. I had just purchased a house with no down payment and I was was told we could get a business loan with no equity. We ended up getting rejected for the loan the same day we quit our jobs. Both of us used our credit cards to finance the beginning stages of the company. We were fortunate to make it through the initial phase of our business because we were not sure where our next paycheck would come from.
What do you enjoy most about working for yourself?
I like the control that comes with owning my own firm. One thing I like is setting my own hours. I also like establishing the culture of the office. I do not look at the people who work at my office as employees; I see them as friends. I feel that I have a responsibility to them and their families. In 2007 and 2008 business was lean but I did not lay off any employees. There were salary cuts but we managed to weather the storm together.