How Kelvin King Applied his Air Force Background into Building an Inc. 5000 Company

Welcome to another episode of The Playbook with Mark Collier, an original ASBN series that highlights Atlanta’s emerging entrepreneurs, seasoned business owners, and resource experts. Mark Collier is an experienced business consultant in Georgia, and a faculty member with the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center.

In this segment, Collier sits down with Kelvin King, the President of Osprey Management, one of Atlanta’s fastest-growing, private, commercial construction firms, and Inc. 5000 honoree. King is also a U.S. Air Force veteran, and a former Falcon Gridiron Warrior. Most recently, King also announced a campaign for Raphael Warnock’s U.S. Senate seat in 2022.

Transcription:

Mark Collier:
Hi everyone. Welcome into the Playbook on ASBN. I’m your host Mark Collier. Today, I’m pleased to welcome in my friend and Georgia entrepreneur, Kelvin King. President of Osprey Management, a commercial construction firm recognized by the Atlanta Business Chronicle as one of Atlanta’s fastest-growing private companies. Kelvin is also a United States Air Force Academy graduate and former Falcon Gridiron Warrior among his numerous accomplishments. Welcome into the Playbook on ASBN Kelvin.

Kelvin King:
Thank you, Mark.

Mark Collier:
All right, first and foremost, I would like to say thank you for your service as I have the utmost respect for our military veterans.

Kelvin King:
Yeah, no problem, Mark. I’m a patriot and I had a great time serving our country and I’m just happy to be here. And the name of your show is incredible, The Playbook. Congratulations.

Mark Collier:
Thank you. I appreciate that. So kind of share with me some of the background on your journey. How did you go from the United States Air Force Academy to running a commercial construction company?

Kelvin King:
Yeah, Mark, because my background was not in construction and after the Academy, I had five years to serve in the Air Force, a great career in the Air Force. I was a captain stationed at Andrews Air Force Base so it was great to see Washington D.C. and operate out of there.

Kelvin King:
But in the Air Force I was a contracting officer. Contracting officers are similar to procurement officers and I chose that career path because it was a good career path to transition from the military to the property sector. My goal was always to go into business and make it in corporate America and that’s something that’s near and dear to my heart is the whole transition process that military veterans go through when they go into private sector, corporate America.

Mark Collier:
All right, well, fantastic. So let me take you back to when you first started your company. Did you go the traditional bank financing route? Did you take on private investors? Did you merely kind of bootstrap your company for your startup capital?

Kelvin King:
Well, no. I worked for general contractor for five years, 10 years prior to starting my company. And there, I learned how to run a business. One guy I really like is Don Peebles. He’s a large developer. I heard him speak once and he said that it’s great to have entry level jobs, like for instance, working in McDonald’s or Burger King initially, because you’re learning how to run the business from the ground up.

Kelvin King:
So they’re paying you to learn how to run your own business and that’s how I approached my 10 years at a large general construction firm. I learned how to run a business there and that’s how it got to be my own general construction firm.

Mark Collier:
All right. Yeah. A lot of people who run businesses, they don’t understand that there’s a whole ecosystem around that business from strategic planning, to marketing, to operations. So all of that goes into running a business. So you’re absolutely right.

Kelvin King:
Yeah. And I might add that when I started my firm, I started with an army of one. I saved up for a couple of years. I saved up about 50 grand for a couple of years. I knew that was a target because I worked in a construction firm for the 10 years prior. I mentioned to you. So once I hit that milestone, it gave me the confidence to say okay, I can do this.

Kelvin King:
So what I did was I started my own company in an extra bedroom in my house and from there, after about a year or so I was able to generate enough capital to grow and expand all the way to my basement. So out of my basement, I hired employees, I gained new clients and we expanded to where I bought a building a few years ago over near the Braves Stadium.

Mark Collier:
Congratulations.

Kelvin King:
And that’s where we operate out of now.

Mark Collier:
Very good. So the old adage is true. Hindsight is 20/20. So as your company expanded and they evolved from a fledging business of yesteryear to where you are today, were there any memorable mistakes you made along the way that you said, oh boy, if I had that to do all over again, I wouldn’t have made that mistake?

Kelvin King:
Oh man. I mean, I think anyone who has achieved some success has also gone through a lot of mistakes and that’s what you build on. And yeah, I mean, the answer is, yeah. I made several mistakes and a couple stand out. One is, have you heard the old adage slow to hire quick to fire?

Mark Collier:
Yes. We use that where I work currently at the UGA SBDC.

Kelvin King:
It’s important because maintaining capital, having enough operating income and retain earnings is important, especially in a fledgling company. And bringing on staff too quickly can put you in a position where you’re burning through your capital too quickly. So you want to bring people on as you need them.

Mark Collier:
Correct.

Kelvin King:
Never stop selling.

Mark Collier:
Never stop selling. I like that.

Kelvin King:
I was told that a long time ago and I didn’t implement it a couple of years back. I slowed down selling because we were sort of overwhelmed by the business and I slowed down selling. But because our sales cycle is so long, I hit a lull in my sales. So I needed to kind of ramp up my sales volume and it was a lull in income and it really hurt. So quick to fire, slow to hire and never stop selling. Those are the two pieces of advice that I would give in order to continue your business and maintain your growth trajectory.

Mark Collier:
Makes perfect sense. So kind of switching gears a bit, the pandemic year of 2020, it kind of created seismic shifts across a number of sectors in the economy and the construction sector was of course, no exception. So kind of detail for me some of the important changes you observed on construction sites as you progress kind of through last year’s pandemic.

Kelvin King:
Yeah. Yeah. It did hit construction hard. Even though I’m in the infrastructure industry and we were never shut down, but my client base is a client base that is public sector. I’ll explain that in a second. And they did shut down. We do a lot of interior renovations, interior build outs, and oftentimes an occupied space and we thought it was an opportunity to go in and do work since no one will be in buildings. But we had to put a halt on many of our projects because we had to put together COVID protocols.

Mark Collier:
Yes, absolutely.

Kelvin King:
Our COVID protocols involved masking, social distancing. We did temperature checks on site every day with every worker that came on to the job site. We also have those types of protocols within our home office. We installed an air filtration system and I mean, you could ask my team what I think about the whole idea of coming to work if you’re sick or sneezing or coughing. Stay away from our office because especially with a small company, you don’t want to endanger any other employees, because if you have more than a few people out sick, you can’t operate your business. So it’s really important to pay attention to the health of your employees and the protocols that we put in place, they were enough to allow us to maintain business and keep our employees safe.

Mark Collier:
Fantastic, man. So now let’s talk about the sector that you compete in. I mean the construction industry, it’s a wide industry indeed. So tell me, kind of detail for me, what specific sector you compete in and kind of why you chose that sector.

Kelvin King:
Yeah. Yeah. I operate in the public sector. You have private work, you have public work. It’s also in the commercial. So it’s public sector commercial. And I chose that industry because that’s the industry I sort of grew up in. When I was in the Air Force, like I mentioned earlier, I was a contracting officer and I understood the many detailed rules, regulations, and requirements that are in place for public sector work because it’s public sector funds. You have to have extra precautions in place.

Kelvin King:
So that’s the world we operate in. It’s not relationship based. I can’t just call people up because I’m a good guy and get work. We’ve got to follow the same rules that any other company has to operate and it’s a large administrative burden. A lot of companies choose not to go into public sector because of that large administrative burden. But I understand it, our company is structured to address that and we’re in that space and we’ll continue to grow in that space.

Mark Collier:
Fantastic man. So the pandemic of last year, did it put the brakes on any contracts that you had in the works prior to March?

Kelvin King:
Yeah. Yeah. Only, like I mentioned earlier, because we do operate in the sector where there’s people operating in buildings, people occupied buildings and we can’t work when there’s people in buildings. So there were some slowdowns in our awards, there were some slowdowns in feedback from our client base because they were out too. I couldn’t call my client ABC, because he was out and he wasn’t answering his phone and they were trying to get used to operating in this COVID environment as well. So it did cause a delay in our business operations for quite some time.

Mark Collier:
All right. As many industries were affected, so you certainly were not alone in that. So what were some of the biggest obstacles you faced when you initially started your business? I mean, you’re talking right now to entrepreneurs and prospective business owners. So what are some of those obstacles you had to overcome and what is your advice on facing and overcoming those obstacles that all business owners are going to inevitably face?

Kelvin King:
Well, I can speak specifically about a huge obstacle that I had to overcome and it was really myself. That mental hurdle that you have to cross over in order to really start. You start questioning, you say, “Can I do it? Do I have enough money? Do I know enough? Am I going to get sales?” Those are key questions and questions that will cause a lot of people to doubt themselves.

Kelvin King:
So I think once you come to terms with hey, this is what I’m going to do, and I know I can get it done and once you generate that confidence, that level of confidence, then you can start proceeding and then you start putting together infrastructure in you company. You start thinking through your business plan and your marketing plan, you start reaching out to people, you get business, you get referrals and then you start seeing that engine starting to work. Once that engine starts to work, then you gain a lot more confidence and that’s what the outcome of all of your efforts turns out to be.

Mark Collier:
Yeah, there’s an an old adage in the sports world, winning is a habit. So it starts to, as you said, build on itself and then starts to snowball and you certainly have proven that to be true.

Kelvin King:
Yeah. Yeah. Speaking of habits, that’s something else that I would advise folks to do and that is create some daily habits. One thing that I do is I’m a big list guy. I like writing down lists. So I have a to-do list that I update every day. And because this is a marathon and not a sprint, you want to be able to check off little wins over the course of time.

Mark Collier:
I love it. Great advice.

Kelvin King:
No one gets rich overnight.

Mark Collier:
No they don’t.

Kelvin King:
But if you are consistent, if you’re methodical and you follow processes and procedures, then you can achieve success and you’ll start seeing those wins and you’ll look back and say, “Oh man, I built this?”

Mark Collier:
That’s sound advice Kelvin, sound advice. So technology is a main driver now in all businesses today. So kind of share with me how technology has changed and impacted the commercial construction landscape from your perspective.

Kelvin King:
Oh yeah. I mean, technology is affecting every industry, even construction. One thing that I’ve noticed that’s pretty cool is that a few years ago, you never saw these incredible images of a job site using… I guess we used to use helicopters, now we use drones and that’s really made assessing our job sites, assessing our progress much more efficient.

Kelvin King:
Something else that we’ve implemented within Osprey is we’ve converted all of our files electronically. We operate in the cloud. We have a collaborative platform where my project managers can communicate with my superintendents. We can invite our clients to communicate and track projects, get questions, asked and answered, RFIs. And that’s created an efficiency within our operation that I think could give us a competitive advantage across the board.

Mark Collier:
Well, efficiency is something that is one of my mantras that I talk about to all of my clients, because anytime you can gain some efficiencies that trickles right down to the bottom line. So you’re spot on with that one there.

Kelvin King:
Oh yeah. We’ve seen those benefits too.

Mark Collier:
All right, Kelvin King, CEO and Owner of Osprey Construction Management. I want to thank you for coming into the Playbook today on ASBN and kind of sharing your journey of entrepreneurship. I’m confident our viewers will get a lot out of the sage advice that you shared.

Kelvin King:
No problem. Thanks for having me.

Mark Collier:
All right.


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