In our latest podcast we interview Birthing of Giants Fellow and Pinnacle Solutions founder, Michael Durant. When Michael started his company in 2008, after 22 years of service as a military pilot, he used his deep knowledge of aviation to steadily grow his business as an engineering and maintenance company for military aircraft. Twelve years later, he’s using cutting edge innovation to create a financial model transformation for Pinnacle that could propel them to their next level of success.
Traditional Roots for B2G
If you’ve seen the 2001 film, Black Hawk Down, then you’ll be familiar with a small part of Mike’s story. As the pilot of one of the Black Hawk helicopters shot down during the infamous Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, Mike was injured, shot, captured, and held prisoner for 11 days before being released. He went on to serve for nearly 10 more years before retiring as a decorated officer. Mike credits his time in the military with giving him the experience and determination to start Pinnacle Solutions.
“[My military career] was a fantastic experience, though some painful events occurred in the middle of it all, but when I think about it, it was just an amazing opportunity for me to gain a lot of experience and to be exposed to opportunities that I would not have been exposed to otherwise.”
Pinnacle Solutions grew primarily as a service based business – typical for companies who serve the B2G sector. Mike’s twenty year career in the military gave him a unique understanding of the challenges around maintaining expensive assets like the Black Hawk helicopters, and this understanding fueled Pinnacle’s growth. Four years after its founding, Pinnacle made its first appearance on the Inc. 500 list at rank 88! And they didn’t stop there.
A Virtual Product For A Real World Problem
While the service contracts brought in revenue and fueled steady growth, Mike and his team spotted a problem that only a product based model could solve. Current training of maintenance crews for military aircraft around the globe ran into challenges with issues like language barriers and the need to train without damaging expensive assets. Spotting a huge opportunity for growth, Mike funneled resources and energy into developing a virtual reality maintenance trainer system. They began with the Black Hawk helicopters, which are in use globally by both the U.S and allied nations. Success with their first VR product was swift.
“We started this project about three years ago, and it’s really, really gained some traction here now that we’ve completed it and we’ve sold it. I think one of the things I’m most proud of is we’re actually using it today to train Afghan soldiers, because the other thing it solves is the language barrier.”
Mike has also developed augmented reality systems for real time assistance, and now that the beta test is an established success, they’re pushing to create more content for this innovative new product. According to Mike, the use cases are endless.
“If you look at the market itself – this has implications well beyond Black Hawks, well beyond aviation. The virtual reality and augmented reality market in the future is programmed to grow by orders of magnitude over the next five years.”
Business Model Transformation
Financial Model Transformation is one of the foundational pillars of the Birthing of Giants Fellowship program. When you see it as often as I have in companies that successfully navigate the no man’s land between small business and large company, you begin to realize why. It involves finding new ways to innovate and grow when your current business model has reached its zenith.
Jere Simpson, founder of Kitewire, transformed his business from $4M in revenue to $55M with no additional employees by changing his model.
Greg Theroux, founder of The Heritage Group, is evolving from a cleaning company into a tech company that cleans with a new product based model that will quickly outgrow the company’s legacy divisions.
In the same way Mike is guiding Pinnacle Solutions from a very typical B2G model – service based – to include a products based model founded on tech oriented innovation. It solves a problem that big companies have, and creates a revenue stream that will outstrip the tighter margins of their service contracts. It’s a match made in heaven, and Mike is already seeing great results.
Pinnacle has a three year growth rate of 181%, and has made the Inc. 5000 list seven times, including the last five years in a row. That growth isn’t likely to slow down. Mike plans to continue building their virtual trainer systems, and may even branch out beyond aviation in the future.
“We’re going to develop the content. That’s the recurring piece, because the content always has to be refreshed. It always has to be upgraded. It’s like apps. It’s like versions of software on your computer. It will never end.”
With his deep knowledge of the aviation and defense industry, and innovative use of technology, Mike is poised to have his best year ever. I’ll be tracking his journey as he grows this new division of Pinnacle Solutions, and will keep you updated here.
Check out my extended interview with Mike Durant on Forbes.com.
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