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Striving to be Agile in Today's Ever-Changing World, By Andries Pruim
A Local Success Story from the 2020 Virtual SuperShow
After spending 20 years in the banking industry, I moved to business consulting, where I have spent the past 15 years as a manager of a software development team. We deployed and supported project management tools and telephony tracking platforms. My role was to provide the business acumen necessary to ensure that the various applications made sense. This led to my interest in various client-management software platforms.
Recently, when watching the 2020 Virtual Summit (hosted by the Martial Arts Industry Association and Century Martial Arts as this year's digital replacement for the Martial Arts SuperShow), I noticed that the first sponsor was not only the creator of one such system, but was in fact a local business! At least, to me: PerfectMind started in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada. Not only did I know the name of the company, I knew the people!
PerfectMind’s Genesis as a Martial Arts Idea
My business side was immediately struck by the potential I saw in PerfectMind, compelling me to dig deeper. My research uncovered a connection in my martial arts past. Years ago, PerfectMind founder Farid Dordar was the head instructor at Champions Way Dojo. Dordar, a martial arts world champion, and his school had a reputation for being some on the toughest and most determined competitors out there. I competed against some of them and later judged some of their outstanding students in tournaments over the years.
It was that martial arts dedication that allowed Dordar to not only establish and run one of the most successful martial arts schools in the city, but also to teach himself software development! It was the desire of a gifted martial arts instructor trying to better serve his student base that led to the development of PerfectMind. With this new goal in life, Dordar tackled the software world with the same passion as he did the martial arts industry!
After Dordar moved from his native Iran to Vancouver, he created a martial arts empire that stretched from martial arts schools member-management software to business consulting and support services. Despite the growth, Dordar and PerfectMind never strayed from the martial arts core value of helping others. In fact, listening to users has allowed PerfectMind to create one of the most interactive and user-friendly platforms in the student-management software space.
PerfectMind worked so well that its creators realized that although they had designed their system for martial arts, there was no reason it couldn't work in other industries, as well. Fast-forward to 2020, and PerfectMind is serving a myriad of industries. Its core focus remains martial arts; however, it supports all types of membership and facility management industries, from dance academies to parks and rec departments.
The success of PerfectMind resulted in its recent acquisition by TSG, an international conglomerate of health and fitness-related businesses. The transition in ownership allowed Dordar to finally retire and enjoy more time with his family. Fortunately, PerfectMind found the next perfect mind to lead it in Ali Sanei, the company's longtime COO.
Another tie to the past: Sanei and I actually worked for the same corporation before his move to PerfectMind and in fact met on a project. This allowed me some earnest discussions with the new CEO that reflected a passion similar to the founder's vision. Especially in this post-COVID world, Ali Sanei's business experience makes him the ideal person to lead PerfectMind.
It will also be Sanei's responsibility to transition PerfectMind through this acquisition, but in the end, he feels that this new partnership will do nothing but enhance the services PerfectMind can bring to its customer base.
Not only will the relationship with TSG bring sizable financial support to PerfectMind and its customers, but it will allow PerfectMind to become a truly international provider of membership and facility management solutions.
As noted, while PerfectMind was serving the martial arts industry, it became apparent that its constantly updating software platform would be useful in other industries. One of the first non-martial arts business that signed up with PerfectMind was the Richmond Oval (in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada). Made as the speed-skating venue for the 2010 Olympics, it has since been converted to a multi-sport facility containing basketball courts, racquetball rooms, fitness centers and more. In fact, the Canadian Provincial and National Karate (WKF) Championships are held annually in the Richmond Oval, and it is PerfectMind's platform that facilitates its successful outcome.
When asked about its ongoing relationship with the martial arts, Ali Sanei expressed it best: "We are a true health and fitness provider. Even so, martial arts is in our DNA, as our business started with the martial arts and evolved around the martial arts."PerfectMind's flexible, easy-to-use platform allowed the company to obtain contracts with both New York City Parks and Boston Centers for Youth & Families. In Canada, some of the largest cities on both coasts are now using PerfectMind's products, and they have recently signed the University of British Columbia, one of the largest universities in North America.
COVID-19 Hits the Martial Arts Community
Like every other business in our industry, PerfectMind has been affected by COVID. For them, their development pipeline bore the brunt of the impact. Companies like PerfectMind maintain a "product roadmap" on which the company's development priorities are listed. COVID was a boulder suddenly dropped onto the charted path. The PerfectMind team had to quickly adapt to the reality that most of its client base both in martial arts and in the health and fitness industries in general had closed or were being forced to close by governmental decree. This required the PerfectMind development team to rethink their clients' immediate needs.
They immediately reached out to their client base to determine what was most needed. As the pandemic has dragged on, PerfectMind has continued to stay in touch. Not only have they added new features, they have continued to hone and refine the existing features that are most useful to school owners during this pandemic (see sidebar).
One of the unique features is the recent rollout of PerfectFace. This facial recognition platform facilitates touchless attendance tracking. Development of this feature began prior to COVID, but it just so happens to be great for a world that's trying to go contact-free. Other ongoing developments include features for online registration, class size limiting, and automated wait lists. In a nutshell, PerfectMind's mission has not changed from efficiency, but it has expanded to fully consider the health and safety of school owners, their staff, their students and parents.PerfectMind also feels that an important factor in the success of any martial arts school is the relationship between the instructor and the students. The automated communications tools featured in PerfectMind allow instructors to remain in contact with all their students via either email or any type of social media – all in real time. Overall, this provides the level of communication (and in turn safety) necessary for martial arts school owners to survive and thrive in today's world.
The Agile Principles of PerfectMind
Being agile in software, business and life can lead you to success in these unique times (and in any other time). Being a software development company, PerfectMind leverages a delivery methodology aptly known as Agile. Just as the name connotates, an Agile team maintains a customer-centric focus so they are ready to make changes quickly in response to new developments in customers' requirements (see sidebar for some Agile definitions).
Over the past 10 years, PerfectMind has used this Agile philosophy to successfully meet its customers' needs. Now more than ever, they are constantly engaging with their client base, especially their martial arts customers.
"You have to realize that our business was built by a martial artist who owned a martial arts business, so we understand the needs of the business and we also understand the needs of the customer," explains Sanei.
PerfectMind discovered that just as there are many different martial arts, so too are there many ways of running a martial arts business. And just as no one style is right, neither is one system of management. PerfectMind's challenge has been to make its features flexible enough that any school (or business) can use them, while retaining their efficiency. This is the philosophy of "agility."
One of the strongest features of PerfectMind is that the entire solution is built on a portable platform. This enables schools to use the "base" of the platform and customize it with as many unique features as they need to meet their requirements. Having the base also allows PerfectMind to turn around a development request in weeks as opposed to months or years. This speed is what allowed PerfectMind to release a host of new, COVID-countering features in a timely manner.
PerfectMind and the Reopening Economy
With the slow reopening of our economy, the martial arts school owner continues to struggle to regain business. Sanei and his team have been working with their clients over the phone daily. PerfectMind has even gone the extra mile for the worst-hit schools, deferring payments and providing a vast number of resources (webinars, whitepapers, etc.) free of charge.
However, as any martial artist knows, not every fight can end in victory. Even with financial support and extraordinary technological help, some schools have been forced to shut down.
"It's very painful to see our customers dealing with this situation," Sanei admits. "[When schools] close…it's sad."
But getting discouraged by loss is a luxury none of us has during these times. Instead, PerfectMind is working harder than ever to come up with features that will ensure the survival of their schools. This is where their new relationship with TSG will come in. Now PerfectMind will be able to leverage other products and services from its parent company. This includes a service called TrueCoach, a trusted online coaching platform used by over 20,000 coaches and gym owners worldwide.
PerfectMind feels that its existing library of features together with the new features being deployed during the pandemic should provide all the support needed to allow most martial arts schools to reopen. Sanei says that his company and team are ready to assist:
"The challenges they may face [during re-opening are many]," he said. "Some staff were furloughed or may have been laid off, [but] we will help them train new staff or retrain the people they currently have."
This shows the heart of PerfectMind: concern for the individuals who make up the schools, as well as the businesses!
Partnership in the Post-COVID World
Going forward into the post-COVID world, PerfectMind fully understands that the reopening of our economy will be a slow process. The worst-case scenario is that schools start to close, not because they are financially failing, but because the owners become disheartened and give up. The PerfectMind team is countering with a plan centered on education and making other knowledge resources available to all PerfectMind clients. For example, new informational webinars are being produced regularly, and when the PerfectMind team sees a customer who could benefit from one, they reach out to let them know rather than hoping the customer will simply stumble across it.
One of the most unexpected business downsides caused by the pandemic was the sizable increase in hacking. With this in mind, and considering my interest in FinTechs (see the previous Budo Banker Blog on FinTechs) and other online businesses, I asked Sanei about PerfectMind's security protocols.
One of the first tasks assigned to Sanei when he joined PerfectMind 10 years ago was to lead the company to the cloud. He and his team decided to move their platform to Amazon Web Services and were one of the first users of this extensive platform in Canada. The reasoning behind this jump was simple: AWS could provide security, scalability, robustness and availability at all times.
He noted, "In today's cybersecure world, it's not a matter of if [you get hacked] but when, and with AWS you have some of the most secure online platforms on the market."
With the online support of AWS, together with the highly trained, 24/7-availability support team employed by PerfectMind, the resources available to today's martial arts school owner are unprecedented. PerfectMind has committed itself to an ongoing and strong partnership with martial arts business owners. Together, they believe we can all succeed in the post-COVID world.
"Martial arts is going to remain our main vertical," Sanei says emphatically, stressing that PerfectMind can serve the needs of any school regardless of its size. This why the PerfectMind team is looking forward to next year's Martial Arts SuperShow (which hopefully will be held without restrictions in Las Vegas as usual), where they plan to not only meet their clients face-to-face (maybe for the first time in months) but also all other school owners looking for a leading-edge, cloud-based and fully automated student and operational management tools to ease the school's back-office requirements.
When I asked Sanei about PerfectMind's new priorities now that he is CEO and heading into unchartered waters, his impassioned response was reflective of the company's original vision:
"Our number one priority is to make sure all the businesses [we serve] are fully operational post-COVID," he said.
With the full commitment of PerfectMind and its new partnership with TSG, success for schools seems within reach. Being agile in today's business climate is going to be as necessary for today's school owners as face masks are. Yes, it will take some time to get used to it, but to succeed (or stay healthy), you need every tool available, and that is exactly what PerfectMind is prepared to offer.
A Breakdown of Agile Software Principles
Still not sure what Agile is or why it's such a perfect fit for our industry? Rather than continuing to list features, I have provided a list of principles that Agile follows. Although these are not the only principles of Agile software, they are the ones that I believe will resonate the most with martial arts school owners.
1. Ensure customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of product or service.
The martial arts school owner knows the importance of this only too well. Being flexible in when and how you teach your art will ensure that more of your members are enjoying their experience.
2. Always welcome changing requirements, even in late development.
Having to quickly adapt to remote classes is a perfect example of a changing requirement embraced by many martial arts school owners.
3. Promote close and daily cooperation between businesspeople and developers.
This is similar to the relationship between instructors and their students. For there to be an effective team or school, the instructor must nurture the relationships with students on a regular basis.
4. Projects are built around trusted, motivated individuals.
Like any dojo, where the quality of instructors and staff is paramount when it's time to delegate responsibilities, Agile relies on having an effective team where each member can work on their own while remaining part of a network.
5. Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication.
This is a no-brainer! Every school owner and instructor knows that the best way to teach is with your students in front of you. Remote classes are convenient, but they can never replace the personal touch.
6. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design.
This principle is something constantly stressed in almost every martial arts business seminar. In addition, regardless of what exceptional technical upgrades you made to your business (also a good thing), your personal and school's martial arts technical ability must be constantly improved (which includes your curriculum).
7. Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential.
This is for your business and your curriculum. Using a leading-edge software tool will simplify your daily business processes. Keeping your curriculum simple and safe in today's litigious society is just smart business.
8. Regular reflection on how to become more effective, and adjusting accordingly.
Constant communication between you and your staff is the best way to ensure quality and motivation. Having regular staff meetings or instructor seminars will keep your team sharp and agile. If, in the future, we need to once again adjust our processes (and classes) to ensure the viability of the school, you must be certain your business is agile enough to continually embrace change.
Helpful Tools to Face COVID-Caused Restrictions
When you start adding up all the small in-person interactions you have in your studio each day, you might realize that there are many conversations, questions and inquiries that you could address through digital means instead. Especially during this time when you want to reduce contact as much as possible, online booking is a fantastic tool. PerfectMind's software allows your members to book themselves in for classes, private lessons, seminars or any other service your school offers.
Many of us are familiar with contactless tap-to-pay methods on point-of-sales systems, but minimizing contact wherever possible is ideal. This is where contactless check-in methods for students or members can be extremely helpful. PerfectMind's feature PerfectFace captures and stores the faces' unique characteristics while never storing a personal image and simultaneously using advanced encryption.
Class Size Limits
If you are integrating online booking into your operations, you will want to make sure you are limiting class capacity as well. You will want to make sure members or students can have at least 6 feet (2 meters) of space around them and set class limits accordingly. Using PerfectMind, you can easily limit class sizes to ensure that students are able to stay distanced for the duration of the lesson.
You've always worked with students and members in person because it's what you know and what you've always been great at. So adding virtual classes to your schedule won't just save room in your studio, but it will make your services more accessible for more people. PerfectMind will help you determine the best video-conference platform for your needs.
Finally, digital tools can offer a helping hand when it comes to paperwork. If your members or students need to access, print or sign documents, they don't need to come to your facility anymore! Not only will this cut down on the risk of transmission of the coronavirus, but it also will save time and effort for your team. Use PerfectMind to create, save, print, upload and organize your documents securely in the cloud.