Fall 2011 issue -- Ask Mike Watkins what he does for a living, and he won’t have an easy answer. Some might consider him a programmer—and he has been writing code for the last 24 years. He calls himself an algorithm designer and an ideas guy. Mostly, though, Watkins just can’t stand inefficiency and tries to correct it every chance he gets.

“I can’t sit still in a regular job when I see the problems caused by some procedures and plans and policies,” says Watkins, 34, who has his own payroll processing and management company in the Washington, D.C. area. “I wind up feeling very constrained and feeling that I can do more. I have a passionate desire to pursue what I think is possible.”

Breaking Free

Watkins first felt this way working as an accountant for a large property management company in Virginia Beach. There, he observed lots of inefficiencies. Frustrated, he created an IT system to speed up the accounting process and proposed other ways to save time. But managers—who knew little about software development—rejected his ideas and admitted they felt threatened. Managers were micromanaging rather than creating the conditions necessary for success. They chose to remain hamstrung by the inertia of failing processes and their own unwillingness to be challenged or to enact significant change.
 
“Managers told me that if I built these things they wouldn’t have a job,” explains Watkins. “They said, ‘What would you do if you lost your job because of this?’ I said, ‘I’d find another job.’” Watkins ended up using the IT system only for himself, freeing up 60 percent of his time.
 
“Managers told me that if I built these things they wouldn’t have a job."
Rather than continue working below his full potential though, Watkins soon opted to leave and started his own company: InnoSci Technologies Inc ., a technology organization that provides a variety of IT and cloud-based web services. Currently making a living from his payroll processing and management service, Watkins has several InnoSci projects brewing at once.
 
Since January 2010, he has hired two employees and worked with contractors and collaborators to help businesses with networking, software, and website design and maintenance. InnoSci will soon release its payroll-processing software, software that speeds up the task of managing payroll, making direct deposits, and making direct deposits and payments. Payroll will take less than ten minutes for mid-sized companies, Watkins says.
 
Working with a small team entails more effort and responsibility—Watkins once spent three days awake solving a critical issue for a client—but his U.S. Navy background helps. During his five years on nuclear submarines, he held more jobs than most of his peers, jobs that included maintaining Navy networks and computers and helping his department go paperless.
 
“I’ve got a lot of initiative to take on any job,” says Watkins, who initially joined the Navy to pay for college. “Those achievements helped me not be afraid to do more.”

Setting Others Free

To Watkins, who first encountered free market ideas while pursuing an accounting degree at George Mason University, the mass of government regulations is another big, annoying inefficiency. He believes that when government tries to predict the market and supposedly ensure against risk, it ends up encouraging businesses to take less responsibility and impedes the free competition that fuels the economy.
 
“With every regulation they pass, it patches up a loophole and creates another, and the loopholes become harder to find each time. You can’t fix that,” he comments.
 
While he can’t correct overreaching government, Watkins is working on a project to help small businesses succeed in spite of it. By the end of the year, he plans to launch a website suite of tools for starting and growing a small business, including information on accounting and applying for patents. Right now, these tools are scattered among different sources, and the idea of starting a business can be daunting. Watkins will offer lots of this content free because he enjoys helping small businesses, but he hopes to find a balance between helping others and helping himself.
 
“I’ve always tried to help other people, and it’s sometimes been a problem for me. I want my own success, too,” says Watkins.
 
After months spent in the trenches programming, Watkins is coming up for air and ready to find collaborators to move his new project forward. If you happen to run into him at a happy hour in D.C., don’t be surprised if he introduces himself as a problem solver.

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