Jay Myers of Interactive Solutions: a case study in how to deal with adversity and find business success.
photograph by Amie Vanderford
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Jay Myers’ Germantown office is filled with baseball mementos because he’s a devoted fan. Always has been and probably always will be — particularly of the New York Yankees.
“In my house, Mickey Mantle wasn’t God,” Myers says of the legendary center fielder. “He was God’s brother.”
Part of the admiration sprang from the fact that Myers’ father, Jerry, was from a town near the MVP’s birthplace in Oklahoma. But part of it came from Mantle’s semi-miraculous skill as a switch hitter, one of those rare and versatile birds who can bat right or left.
What better role model for a young boy who one day would break from the corporate world and start his own multimillion-dollar business, as he puts it, “out of the dirt”?
“I guess I was just always restless,” Myers says. “I kind of made my own way in a lot of places.”
Myers was 39 when he started Interactive Solutions Inc. (ISI), a video conferencing venture, in 1996. He had been fired in December 1995 from a local telecommunications firm after building its teleconferencing arm from nothing to $5 million a year. That, as they say, was the final straw for a guy who had spent his entire working life making others wealthy with his sales skills.
“I had to get kicked around a bit before I figured out what I wanted to do,” he says.
At that time, video conferencing technology was largely unknown, but Myers felt strongly that with the right products and services, it could become something big. But he didn’t even have a computer — or a business plan. (He ended up throwing one together on a word processor.) Even worse, his severance pay was nearing its end.
“February 14, 1996, was the day my severance ran out,” he says.
Unfortunately, “no banks would touch me,” and it took a few months to get startup funding from a group of private investors who pulled out almost immediately. Myers also had recruited an out-of-town engineer to help design his video products, a situation that worked for a time but became untenable as ISI gained more momentum.
The engineer, who quickly became a partner in the business and helped get more financing from a bank in Kentucky, began to disagree with Myers on how things should run.
Meanwhile, Myers went to get a haircut one day, only to have his stylist discover a strange-looking patch of skin on his head. The discolored lesion turned out to be melanoma.
“I spent the balance of ’96 wondering if I was even going to be upright, let alone start a business,” Myers says. “The first year here was brutal.”