Dan: Hey what’s up, Dan from Metro Nova Creative, and I’m excited to introduce you to “Talk Shop”; an interview series where I will interview clients of Metro Nova Creative, learn about how they started their businesses, the ups and downs of all that process, and we’ll just get a bit of a deep dive look at some of the entrepreneurs in our area and it’s going to be really fun and I can’t wait to get started.
Today’s episode of Talk Shop is brought to you by Metro Nova Creative, and we’ll be interviewing Donald Patterson, who is one of the founders of CyOak consulting, a local government contractor that specializes in geospatial technology and contract work. Donald’s a really awesome guy. Really excited to have an opportunity to talk to him and let’s go ahead and get started.
So yeah, my name is Dan, I’m from Metro Nova Creative and we’re based here in Fredericksburg. I just wanted to do something kind of new and cool and interview one of our clients and get a little back story. Get a face to the name so to speak. Really excited to start with you donald and learn a little bit more about you. If you want to tell us a little bit more about CyOak and that business you can kind of go from there.
Donald: Sure. So my name is Donald Patterson and I retired from the Marine Corps back in 2007 after 25 years of putting on a uniform. After all that time I got kind of tired, I didn’t want out on a uniform anymore so I put on a button down or a t-shirt and jeans and that’s how I operate. How I got involved in CyOak, I did some contracting work for the government after I retired and I had constantly seen a) where the money was going b) the lack of influence just being listed as a warm butt in a seat. I just got to a point where I thought “Hey, I could do this, and I think I could do it better”. I partnered up with a person who kind of thinks like I do, who’s a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and away we went. CyOak was born in 2019 after several years of development and figuring out exactly what it was we had to do for our business. In 2019 we opened our doors and in 2020 we got our first contract.
Dan: The big bulk of our business is the geospatial intelligence type of stuff. Without hurting anyone’s brain, give us the kindergarten version of what that means.
Donald: Sure so “geoint” (Geospatial Intelligence), is the relatively new term that’s been coined across the community but basically if you think of it like google earth for the government. It’s satellite pictures and it’s just that the government does a little bit more than what google does.
Donald: Yeah so that’s basically geospatial intelligence in a nutshell.
Dan: Yeah and I think a lot of people on the civilian market probably hear that and get really scared about the surveillance stuff. I think the first time I even talking to you I was like “this is terrifying” but then I actually looked into it, and read and understood what you guys did and I think it’s interesting where you see like if you’re putting in infrastructure and stuff like that you need to know what the terrain is like and the consistency of the soil and all these really interesting things that kind of tie into this.
Donald: Exactly, well you know the geospatial side, it’s a layering effect, so it goes from everything to infrastructure to environmental, to population pattern trending analysis. Everybody and everything is somewhere, is located somewhere and that’s basically what geospatial intelligence does. It puts in place, it puts somebody in a place.
Dan: yeah it was definitely interesting. Did you guys get into that, like you said, like just being in the government contracting space and realizing that there was a need for this particular kind of niche product?
Donald: Yeah so, I have been doing this pretty much the majority of my marine corps career. I got into imagery as an Imagery Analyst in the Marine Corps very early. In fact when I came into the Marine Corps, into that field of imagery analysis, at that time there were probably only about a hundred people in the entire Marine Corps that did what we did. It was a very scientific and very technical occupation, and as you can see it’s led to some really good things so far. I’ve enjoyed my entire time there. It gives you a lot of chances to see a lot of different things from different perspectives.
Dan: yeah I bet, I’d imagine you definitely get to see some interesting places.
Donald: Oh, you do. And you get to work with some really interesting people, and lots of scientists and really smart guys out there. Through this occupation I was introduced to algorithms and writing algorithms and doing all sorts of real weird, crazy things with pixels.
Dan: Yeah I imagine. And just working kind of globally too, you know about different cultures you come across. I think that probably most exciting to me, learning a little bit about the locations you might be working on, and hearing kind of the history of the place. You talk about environmental impact studies, and stuff like that so would imagine you get to learn you know quite a bit of cool stuff.
Donald: Oh you really do. I mean you know, like you said it’s a global thing. You can learn a lot about people, a lot of different places. We’re not the only ones who do this, so other people and places do things with the same technical apparatus, but they have different approaches to how they get there. You know and that’s always interesting to see because oftentimes there’s several different ways to get to four, from two plus two one plus three. You know what I mean? So yeah, it is pretty interesting to see what happens and what goes on.
Yeah you talked about seeing how people get from a to b, or how they get to four and stuff and that was something that surprised me. I think maybe it was the first or second time we met here at our shop. You know sitting down you have this kind of assumption of who you’re talking to you know, and government contractor guy, retired Marine, I’m like okay. I get an idea of who this person is, and then you were like “oh we want to build a skate park” you know? And I know you like race cars and stuff. And so that I think is probably one of my favorite parts of running Metro Nova. You get to meet so many different people that have so many different kinds of back stories and how they got into their business and you know we do logo stuff. We’ll do a logo design for businesses, and for me it’s always cool because you get to be in that line of history of that business like you get to be a part of. You get to learn like “Oh yeah, but the founder was really into building a skate park,” you know? And so, tell me [tell me] (sic) a little bit more about just kind of some of your like passion project stuff because I think that really sparked interest for me and hopefully one day we’ll get to work on that together.
Donald: Oh, most definitely. I will tell you, from the get-go I am not the I’m not the in-the-box, suit wearing tie kind of person. You know I’m totally outside the box. I’d like to think of myself as thinking outside the box.I have you know we’ve developed this company in the middle of a pandemic so virtual the virtual business has been our model ever since we started. So, thinking outside the box has always been probably my mantra to come up with different ways to get to things becauseIdon’t think that there’s a set way to always do something. There’s always a way to improve it, go beyond it or something else. Yeah, so that’s how I’ve always started. How did I get into a skate park? So, my sons, I’ve got three boys, two of which are avid skaters, well one’s kind of growing out of it because he’s getting old now but the other one still skates on a daily basis. My foray into the skate park came out of the interest with my youngest because at the time my oldest had moved on so with my youngest we had gone to you know like all of the big tournaments around on the east coast. We have spent, I have no clue how much money on skateboard decks and skating shoes which seem to wear out like every 10 minutes.Yeah so I mean you know, that’s how I got all my interest in. Plus one of the things you know hanging out with him and a lot of the other kids that skated at the time, you see the kids with long hair, beards, baggy clothes and everything and a lot of people would look at them and go “what what is that with that bum”, or whatever failing to actually meet some of those kids. I mean some of those kids are some of the brightest kids I’ve ever met. There was a guy, he had the long beard, and the hair and everything, and you would swear he was homeless. Dude was a master electrician. So, I mean, never judge a book by its cover. That’s one of the things I’ve gone through you know I don’t try and judge anybody else by the way they look or whatever. I just kind of met them first you know see what happens first yeah and that’s just the way we’ve gotten along.
Dan: Yeah, you know I do my best to you know admittedly like said you know went okay, Marine, yeah. Government contractor, okay. And then was like well let’s go sit down and actually talk and get to know each other. And as somebody in the mid to late 90s early 2000s who was really involved in skate culture and stuff and skating and yeah I mean like beyond just you know who those kids grew up to be but just that that particular hobby was always just some of the best things that ever happened early on in childhood. Like the people that you meet and the friends you make and stuff, you know? As far as them wearing their shoes out every 20 minutes tell them just put a little duct tape on it, move on. They’ll be fine. But in the mid 90s, you know we didn’t have the internet and things like that weren’t kind of just the regular. you know you didn’t just go online when you got home. I think we had what it was, ccm over the skateboard, You know, the catalog that got mailed to your house. And then you’d look through and be like all “right this is the deck we want” or “this is the pair of shoes that we want” and then we’d either have to mow lawns and save up money to try to order it and then maybe it showed up.
So, when you did get your stuff, like when you got your board or your shoes or whatever you know. Back then your world industries t-shirt or whatever it was like sacred you know? it was like I don’t know something special about it and then you know how excited you were. And I remember like if you broke a deck it was heartbreaking. Like, it was like the worst possible thing.
Donald: And now everyone’s collecting the broken decks. Got piles of decks all broken in half you know? Yeah so they’ve become art at this point.
Dan:Yeah there’s I think there’s a woodworker in town here in fredericksburg that does like broken deck sculpture art stuff, and yeah it’s pretty cool.
Donald: Yeah well, I don’t want to date myself or anything, but when I remember skateboarding, It was those old hard plastic banana boards. And the only trick was to see how fast you could go downhill.
Dan: You know, the Dog Town kind of era type stuff, you know? So I remember, you know, being a kid and worked at a van skate park and we had some guys from baltimore, some like pool skaters and stuff, you know, that that kind of started in that era in the 80s and stuff like that and they would come in and it was just always cool to watch them just like tear apart a pool. We had a really big pool in the park that we ran, and just to watch those guys skate that bowl was insane to me you know? Just like the speed that they would have, you know, and that stuff just kind of stays with you.
Donald: Well boards at that point were kind of archaic anyway, you know, compared to what they’re doing now.
Dan: Um, so I know a big part of your kind of goals with CyOak and stuff is to really create that kind of inclusive and open-minded, think outside the box kind of corporate culture stuff. Um, you know which I genuinely really do appreciate, you know? We try to kind of keep things pretty open and loose here too at the shop, and try to remind our staff that like, you know you’re a person first and my employee second. You know you’ve got–life happens and, you know, we try to be really really flexible. So, it’s nice when we see our clients doing the same and I think that’s something that a lot of people are really starting to understand about the employment market. It is just like- especially now with Covid and people being able to work from home and you know you kind of figure out some alternative ways to run things. So you know I would assume, you know, meeting a lot of those skateboard kids, and just kind of having those life experiences, has kind of guided you in that direction too.
Donald: Yeah well, I mean I think and I’ve always thought you know kind of similar to you, you know, that people are people first. And even growing up in the Marine Corps, you know, if I have the respect for that other person nine times out of ten, they’re gonna have the same amount of respect for me. If I treat them that one way they’ll treat me the same way. That’s how I look at it. That’s how, you know, that’s the basis of this business. If I can make this business good for other people. I think there’s enough of the pie. Do I want to go out there and crush people to gain business? I’m not so sure you have to do that. Maybe there was a time in business, you know, with the crushing and stepping on people, I don’t know. I’m not going back, I’m worried about going forward and I think at this point there is enough out there whereby you can have business and you can have a business that not only solves a problem but relates to people as well. I figure if I can take care sort of like you, you take care of your employees, staff, family whatever you want to call it at this point–and they’ll help take care of you.
Dan: Yeah, that’s that’s a big thing that I’ve always said. I’m really protective of my team, my wife who does our HR and payroll says like sometimes to a fault, you know? But, like if we have–we’ve had situations where our client has been just, clearly abusive and I’ve said hey I think we’re probably gonna have to move on and end our relationship. And I think there’s this idea that the client is always right, and yes obviously like the client is what helps you stay in business but if you don’t kind of stand up for your team and like, set some of these expectations of appreciation and respect then your team’s not going to stick around. And then you don’t get to play the game anymore, and so I’m a big believer that if you take care of your people then they’ll take care of you.
Donald: Definitely. Yeah I mean I’m a firm believer that, you know, we all rise together. They’re not going to just push me up, they’re going to help push themselves up as well. So as a company we’re all growing together
Dan: Definitely, I talk to a lot of people in consulting stuff or just dealing with people starting businesses, and everyone wants to talk about leadership and “Did you lead from the back?” and blah blah and all these things, and that’s great. I always say you should lead from behind and people kind of go “what no like you lead from out front”. “You show that you know-” I’m like no, you lead from behind because if anybody falls behind you then you’re gonna have to sit from the back and move the flock forward and go through with them.
Donald: Exactly, exactly. And you know at this point, when I was in grad school during organizational management leadership–and in organizational management you know there are tons of books out there I mean, everybody’s an expert on leadership and management. Well, if that were the case we wouldn’t have half the problems we have now, you know? So I was always you know, books are great, but it’s that life experience, field experience, I think that really really matters and unless you’ve been through it and know how to deal with it and have done dealt with it successfully, you can read all the books you want you just gotta get in there and do it.
Dan: Yeah, I really do agree with that, you know, and I do my best to try to think also like: “Okay if i’m making a decision that affects my employees, I have to stop and think how would that decision have affected me as an employee before when i worked at this job or that job” or “Hey, I remember my boss said or did this that time” and how did that make me- so I think like if you don’t understand empathy, and you don’t understand how to kind of put yourself in in other people’s shoes then like you say, you can read all the books in the world and it’ll be irrelevant. Because if you can’t stop and think like, “if the roles were reversed how how would i feel about this decision” and sometimes you know as a manager, leader, whatever you want to call it, you do have to make a decision that isn’t going to be wonderful for everybody, but i think it’s important at least to take two seconds to think of that perspective you know because you know you could you could find a new way to to approach a problem, you know in those in those moments. I think leadership is like being a parent, right? Like everyone has advice for new parents and it’s like that doesn’t mean- every kid is different, every house is different, every life experience is different, you know? And you know all you can do is just say “be open-minded and take a day-to-day”, you know?
Donald: You know, I think both of us do it pretty much the same way, just take it day to day and “okay what the problem, next-” you know, and let’s go for it, yeah.
Dan: All right man, well you know it’s really good chatting for a little bit and kind of getting to know you a little bit more, and you know hopefully we can do some more of this stuff. Ithink it was kind of a cool opportunity and if you want to let our viewers, or future viewers, know um how they can find you on CyOak or any new projects or interesting things you got going on or anything like that.
Donald: No projects we could talk about just yet. That’s always coming, but yeah if you want to reach me at any time our website https://cyoakconsulting.com. Go on the website, we’ve got email address, phone number, or if you just want to read about CyOak and see what we’re doing, there you go.
Dan: Absolutely, all right Donald well I appreciate it. I’m gonna go ahead and let you go and let you get back to the rest of your day, okay?
Donald: Much appreciate it. Thanks Dan, take care.