Ray Minato, President of Inertia is a self-described introvert. During our interview, he talked about his shyness acting as a catalyst for Inertia’s successful business model. Inertia offers a full suite of physical product development services including Design, Prototyping, Engineering, Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management.
“Early in my business career, I identified a void in how engineering service providers meet client needs. They invest heavily in technology, equipment, and hiring good people…while ignoring, at their peril how their people practice client collaboration, knowledge sharing and information management.”
Minato’s company helps hardware startups and seasoned businesses design and manufacture custom products. Their outstanding results and customer responses formed the model for their success. He shares his unique entrepreneurial style with EO.
How His Formative Years Led His Direction
“I was always painfully shy as a kid and grew into an awkward, introverted teenager. In some ways, all of that inward looking led me to consider different ways of doing things, especially when it came to my perspective on product design later in life. Facing my own limitations actually developed my abilities to find workarounds for most challenges where my shyness was an issue. I think learning how to deal with these issues from a young age has actually helped define what kind of company Inertia is today.”
Applying expertise and passion to engineering career.
“When I was young, I loved all things ‘cars’ and was always constructing structures such as forts, Lego cars, go-karts or cars. A degree in engineering was the logical path forward. I applied my passion to my dream of racecar design (with my shy, introverted persona ‘in tow’). Getting involved in a wide-variety of university projects opened my eyes to the possibilities for opportunity.”
Engineering Student Projects Led Ray into Leadership Positions
“The first year, I was just participating; by the second year, I was involved in a student project to design, build and race a vehicle. On top of that I stepped in as head of the team! That was probably one of the first leadership positions I had. It was an intense but rewarding learning experience and served as the basis for me getting jobs in future.”
Minato adds that his first job was not his dream job. “I just had to get into the automotive industry doing whatever I could. My first job was with an automotive company making plastic injection-molded car parts. For me, my focus was all about learning as much as I could and working hard to deliver my best.”
Unwavering Pursuit of Mastery
“At that time, it wasn’t so much passion that drove me, it was more a pursuit of mastery and quality. My dad was a craftsman in the building industry with a well-deserved reputation for excellence. His legendary craftsmanship and customer service was in such demand that at some point he didn’t have to search for work – it found him. I recognized that hard work and quality are traits that bring their own rewards.”
“Even though I achieved fantastic success at my first job just 3 years out of school, I still wanted to pursue my passion for designing race cars. I craved that scene, that environment, that direction, so I took a 50% pay cut to work as a mechanic for a race car team. It was like jumping in at the deep end to swim with the ‘car sharks.’”
‘Shy guy’ copes with pressures of working with talented, yet stressed, team: Anticipate and Prepare.
Minato discovered that top sporting organizations attract strong, type-A personalities, all with large egos. While he described it as an interesting job, he still focused on improving his engineering skills and applied himself to become a race engineer.
“I found ways to better prepare for race weekends. Because I anticipated scenarios and had a plan in place, this allowed me to react faster and more effectively in high-pressure situations. I continued on my path towards designing and I eventually found a job in racecar design – eventually going on to lead teams who designed, compete in, and won in some of the most prestigious races such as the 24hrs of leMans and the 24hrs of Daytona.”
Identifying Ways to Overcome Business Hurdles
In previous jobs, Minato observed a breakdown in the interaction between customers and engineers that often cost the company clients.
“Lost business is nearly impossible to recoup,” adds Minato. “Contests to determine ‘who is more clever’ do not belong in these interactions. There’s more to business relationships than gathering a bunch of smart people in a room. It’s about communicating with customers and collaborating to produce the outcome that each party aims toward.
“Watching these relationships unravel was an unproductive, painful experience that I wanted to avoid and improve upon. I had to develop and exercise my own, objective ideas and philosophies; and so, started my own product design company, Inertia. From there, through Inertia, I used my engineering skills and personal philosophy to deconstruct these problems and build an improved solution to exceed client expectations.”
The Perfect Formula: Using Customer Service Skills to Gain and Retain Loyal Customers
Minato intimates on how hard it was to draw from negative experience to construct what he calls a solid, collaborative base. “I thought, ‘Okay, with my personality, how am I going to succeed at this?” His solution was to develop customer service systems and awareness behaviors to create an open and collaborative, customer relationship within an inclusive process. He describes this as a process that involves a “disciplined rhythm of client communication.”
Minato explains: “This product development process presents solutions and generates knowledge. We work closely with clients as we listen to and engage their ideas and then provide options, guidance, or reasons for a suggested outcome.
Clients are ultimately in charge of their destiny, and the process is a great working experience! You’d be shocked how many clients are genuinely surprised at the amount of communication we have with them throughout their product development journey.
We ensure and deliver awareness at every stage of a project and it’s made all the difference with our customers. My team has earned rave reviews for their expertise and customer care and service.”
Listen and Hear The Customer’s Message
“Our teams understand that within design and engineering, although the technical aspect is important, we always need to address the customer‘s experience and input. Ensuring the development and taking care of that key, project element shows the client that we are linked arm-in-arm in this journey to fulfill our common goal.”
“From my ‘introvert-roots,’ my natural tendency is to methodically deliberate, prepare, and create a plan. Expanding that methodology by educating other team members is vastly more effective than relying on a sole, charismatic leader to package up deals from award to wrap up. Glory is far more potent when shared team wide.”
Minato adds, that developing new physical products takes a lot of time and money. For inexperienced startups or ventures it can be a bit terrifying.
He acknowledges that though his company does the heavy lifting, he emphasizes how the customer is alongside their company all the way, his company ensures it is an enjoyable experience.
“In the last few years, we’ve started to hit our stride. Newer, large clients are impressed with our outstanding customer service, speed of delivery, and communication skills. They recognize and appreciate the extent of our well thought-out, customer care policies and corporate philosophy. Results from our customer surveys resonate with positive feedback. That is pure validation that what we do works.”
How His “Aha!” Moment Sparked a New Business Directive
Minato knows that it’s not uncommon for multiple companies to work on one client’s project at the same time. He observed how other teams argued with the client to prove a point, to be ‘right,’ rather than provide counsel. Minato, watching from the sidelines, had his inspiration, “for them, it was a missed opportunity.”
He strongly recommends the following: “Advise the client on the set of possible solutions along with associated risks, and recommend what you think is the most appropriate path forward.Then, step back and allow the customer to make the final decision. It may not always be the most cost- or time-effective path, but sometimes people have to learn or experience the process for themselves. In a customer service role: recommend, advise and support client decisions.”
How Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s Accelerator Program Helped Inertia Take Off
Despite being leaders in the field of automotive design, great work and using ‘word of mouth’ alone to market their service just didn’t cut it. “We soon recognized that, as technical people, marketing and sales are not our strong points. We needed and sought help from the professionals.”
“About six years ago, I got involved with the Accelerator program, at Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). Sharing experiences with like-minded, experienced business owners who had similar challenges accelerated my growth as an entrepreneur. It was a tremendous boost.”
“Getting involved with EO definitely expanded my thought process and introduced new concepts. Prior to EO, I didn’t realize that building corporate culture was critical.”
Balancing Customer Care With Hiring Experts: “It Doesn’t Have To Hurt”
“Get out of your comfort zone and learn from other business owners and mentors who have the experience you seek. The pursuit of my passion drove me out of my comfort zone. That’s how a very shy, introverted kid, now grown, delivers a great customer service experience with streamlined, cost-effective innovations. I hope my advice resonates with startups and seasoned corporations alike.
“After graduating from EO Accelerator to EO, I then ran the EO Accelerator program for a year, helping other companies learn how to grow their business. Over the years, I had to really work at the role of ‘natural born entrepreneur.’ Participating in EO for the past 6-7 years has been invaluable and has been a significant factor in helping contribute to our average 30% year over year growth since joining.”
Inertia has helped companies design and manufacture custom products for 13 years. As President of Inertia, Ray manages 25 full-time employees in Toronto, Sao Paulo, and Shenzhen.
Photography Credit: Takumi Furuichi