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The Right Way: Provident Security Responds to Alarms in 5 Minutes or Less

By: Steve Stormoen / Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Our series “The Right Way” profiles RightSignature power users, revealing their success secrets and the technology tools they use every day.


Based in Vancouver, Canada, Provident Security occupies a unique niche in the security industry: Provident handles every aspect of your security themselves, from alarm installation to dispatch to response, and guarantees a 5 minute in-person response to any alarm for all of their 6000+ customers. RightSignature’s Steve Stormoen recently caught up with Mike Jagger, Founder and President of Provident, to talk about security, technology, and his 16 years of fully-bootstrapped success.

What’s the story behind Provident Security? What do you do, and how did you come to start it?

Mike Jagger: We’re a full service security company. What that means is, we install alarm systems and camera systems in people’s homes and businesses, and we have our central alarm station where we receive that. Additionally, what’s unique about us is that we also have our own response teams to those alarms. We guarantee a 5 minute response to any alarm or any call for all of our customers.

Above and beyond that, we also have a full concierge service. So if you go away for the weekend, we’ll come by and pick up mail, feed cats, walk dogs, and so on. If you’re going to Disneyland for the weekend, we’ll drive you to the airport in one of our vehicles. We have an office and a station in Whistler (a resort town about 80 miles north of Vancouver –ed.), and if you’ve got a cabin up there and you need your fridge filled up before you go away for the weekend, we can do that too.

So yeah, it’s a different approach to security, and it works. I started it in 1996 when I was going to university. For our first jobs, we were doing security at high school dances. At that time, Provident was just myself and a few friends. But those high school dances led to private parties, which led to hotels paying for our services, and then retail stores and private residences, and it just snowballed from there.

What do you think the three keys to your success have been?

MJ: First of all, now that our service offerings are so well defined and we have a clear idea of what we do, we are able to say “no” to things. We go to great effort to provide a remarkable and unique service, but to do that, we have to be restrictive about which areas we can cover. So if there’s a neighborhood that we just can’t give that 5 minute response time guarantee, we’ve developed the discipline to just say, “no.”

A second key to our success would be our overall perseverance. This is a slow growth industry, if you compared to, say, a tech company. To get to where we are, with 170 employees and over 6000 customers, we could only get here through 16 years of hard work and determination.

Third, we do a good job of looking for inspiration outside our industry; of going on tours and meeting with business owners and learning what they do, then applying what works for them to improve our operations. We looked at Toyota’s lean production systems. We went to Memphis to take a look at FedEx’s disaster recovery and automation systems. This has helped us in particular with our new client installations, nailing everything down as efficiently as possible.

You started Provident Security in 1996, right as the internet boom was taking off. How do you think this generation of technology has shaped your business?

MJ: Our use of technology has been a definite competitive advantage of ours. When we first started, there were no companies that did what we did. The security industry is dominated by massive companies that provide a part of the service, alarm systems perhaps, but not the full thing. So when we went out to look at monitoring stations—very expensive monitoring stations—we found out that there was nothing available anywhere that took an alarm signal from one of our alarms and brought it to the people who could do something about it. We had to design those systems ourselves and build them in-house.

That embrace of technology carried over to other aspects of our company. We were one of the very first security companies on the Palm Pilot, back when that was a big deal. Then we were one of the beta test accounts on a cell reception carrier. And we were the first to use fully wireless data reporting, back when the only way to do that was to plug in a cable to your cell phone and your palm pilot.

Having employees and team members who are OK with new technology, with our operations changing all the time, gave us the capacity to try new things, but we’re also conscious we don’t want to recreate the wheel. Using RightSignature is a good example—if someone else is an expert at something we need, we hop on to what they do and take advantage of what’s there.

What has been the biggest challenge Provident has faced?

MJ: The biggest challenge for us has been keeping with our priority to remain completely independent. Most security companies, especially local companies like us, are directly affiliated with a much larger business. I started Provident because needed a way to pay for university tuition and for books; there was no capital whatsoever. Our initial investment was a $500 Mastercard I got, and it was the only thing I had. And since day 1 we’ve been completely bootstrapped—that 500 bucks went to paying for insurance and shirts for our first event. The cash from that event went to the next one.

Down the line, when we put together our operations system, that was a 7 figure installation. But everything we’ve done has had to come from creating—creating cash flow, and finding ways be able to afford to grow on our own terms. Certainly in those first years, that meant writing checks to myself that I wasn’t able to cash, or doing overnight patrols on my bicycle. But through it all, we were able to stay independent, and that flexibility has been invaluable to get to where we are today.

Tell us how you use RightSignature, and which 4 other online tools you use the most?

MJ: We use RightSignature most importantly for our customer contracts. There’s a lot of liability in our business: we provide monitoring for theft, burglary, fire, and so on. Our contracts are extremely important because we need to spell out what services we’re providing, and just important that we spell out the ones we’re not.

RightSignature is a great way to speed up the process of getting contracts signed with new clients. I know that any time I get a contract through RightSignature every page is going to be initialed, nothing in the contract has been changed, and every field has been filled out appropriately. When I’m travelling I use the phone app all the time, and we use the online forms as well.

We also now use RightSignature for employee documentation, since we’ve been on a push for a few years to go completely paperless. Our technology solutions are focused on identifying and eliminating waste, so we can kick out any step of the process that doesn’t provide direct value to our customer. RightSignature really comes in on the head of that.

As for other tools, Google Apps is a big part of what we do. We’ve built out pretty extensive wikis for all our different teams using a ton of video—with so many different services we do, having those procedures and policies online where our own employees can update them has been a big tool. We also have the mobile reporting systems we built ourselves, using iPhones and Blackberries. And personally, I use Evernote and Instapaper all the time.

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