Archive for Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Growing tech company finds needed talent in Baldwin City

Reflective Group President and CEO Mike Bosch looks at the work of an employee at the technology company's office in downtown Baldwin City. Bosch and his two partners, Casey Morford and Josh Strohm, moved the company to the community a year ago.

Reflective Group President and CEO Mike Bosch looks at the work of an employee at the technology company's office in downtown Baldwin City. Bosch and his two partners, Casey Morford and Josh Strohm, moved the company to the community a year ago.

June 19, 2013

Caleb Watts wasn’t swayed by a fancy office when he decided to accept an internship with Reflective Group after earning his bachelor’s degree last spring from Baker University.

The young business management graduate’s interview was conducted in a storage room of a Lawrence dental office, which at that time was Reflective Group’s home.

“I was sitting at a wooden table on a 5-gallon bucket thinking ‘what did I get myself into,’” he said.

Watts nonetheless took the position, realizing now famous technology companies had grown from similar humble roots. It paid off, and Watts was promoted in his first year to his present position of vice president of operations and finance.

He also never had to settle into the storage closet office. A week after his interview, Reflective Group CEO and President Mike Bosch and his partners Casey Morford and Josh Strohm moved their 2 1/2-year-old company to Baldwin City. The move came after Bosch decided against relocating the business to his hometown of Dallas.

“Everybody in the company grew up in a small town,” he said. “They wanted that quality of life for their children. I was the exception, but my wife is from a small town.

“When I was traveling a lot, I saw the value of a small town. We had neighbors mowing our grass while I was away and helping shop at the grocery store.”

Bosch said he also realized Baldwin City offered more than small-town quality of life. It also offered the company an important resource.

“I realized the very thing we look for in a tech company exists in a small community,” he said. “That’s a very talented, stable work force with a great work ethic that many learned from growing up on a farm.”

When Reflective Group moved into a storefront at 622 High Street last June, four employees occupied desks in a small front section of the building. The remaining space was the home of a real estate firm. Now, the real estate company is gone, and Reflective Group’s 16 Baldwin City employees squeeze into office cubicles trimmed to fit a building Bosch said the company has outgrown. Two other employees work from home, including a graphic designer in Salina, Bosch said.

Reflective Group emerged from a friendship Bosch and Morford developed at their church. Both were computer geeks who had their own technology companies, Bosch said.

Bosch, who has a Master’s of Business Administration from Baker, went into business for himself after serving in the military and working in logistics for UPS.

“Thankfully, my successes were slightly bigger than my failures,” he said. “I made about every mistake out there.”

Morford, who earned a Master’s of Computer Engineering, and his partner Strohm, a 2004 graduate in computer science from Baker University, had developed a web hosting infrastructure that was a solution Bosch needed to grow his own company. Eventually, the three realized they all had talents and skills that would mesh if they merged their ventures. Morford still provides the engineering muscle to make his “hair-brained ideas” work, Bosch said.

From the start, the partners’ attitude was they could build their own technology solutions when what was available was inadequate. They also shared a business philosophy founded in their religious convictions that places more importance on doing the right thing than on profit motive, he said.

What has fueled the company’s growth, Bosch said, has been offering customers Cloud technology services in a variety of areas. Among the Cloud services and products Reflective Group offers are web hosting, web development, software migration and support, app development and engineering. With an in-house graphic designer, writers, video production capability and engineers, the company offers more than cookie-cutter website design or product services, Bosch said. The partners and employees take the time to get to know a customer so that they can craft presentations and products that fit individual needs, he said.

“Now that we have all this in house, there’s very few projects we can’t figure out the right solution,” he said. “If what’s available doesn’t work, we’ll build it ourselves.”

Bosch said the company was fortunate to have employees who understand business constraints.

“The question we always asked ourselves was how we’d do it if it was our money,” he said. “A lot of them (employees) are former business owners. We’ve been able to find in this community really talented people with advanced degrees but who also really get business because they’ve been through it. That team and that idea is what has driven our ability to create value for customers.”

There is enough demand to grow the business, Bosch said. Putting the brakes on expansion is the limited bandwidth available in Baldwin City. To get around the problem, employees work staggered hours or at home, he said.

The ultimate solution is bringing gigabit Internet to Baldwin City, Bosch said. True to his and the company’s can-do spirit, Bosch and his partners have decided to actively work for that solution. They have started Dawn Fiber, which will be doing business as FreeState Broadband to bring gigabit fiber Internet to underserved communities. Kennis Mann, a former engineer with Black and Veatch with 30 years experience with electrical and fiber optic utilities, has been hired as president and CEO of Dawn Fiber.

Bosch says candidly FreeState Broadband intends to be the gigabit Internet provider for Baldwin City and Lawrence, fully aware of what that requires.

He has a map of the distance needed to connect them with a gigabit provider in the Kansas City metropolitan area and pegs the cost to bring and distribute gigabit Internet service to Lawrence at $70 million and to Baldwin City at $4 million to $5 million.

He’s attended conferences and participated in teleconferences on gigabit service expansion, talked with politicians and regulators on the state and federal level and met with non-profit and corporate executives and angel investors, Bosch said.

Earlier this month, the Baldwin City Council agreed to approach Baker University and USD 348 about their interest in gigabit Internet. Bosch said the willingness of others in Baldwin City to explore gigabit Internet is enough to forestall any Reflective Group move despite the constraints bandwidth limitations puts on growing the business.

“We’ll be here as long as there is light at the end of the tunnel and there are people working to make it happen,” he said.

Comments

Nathaniel Johnson 1 year, 2 months ago

Seriously? Just Google "What it takes to bring gigabit internet to a community". Hair brained ideas indeed.

-Nathaniel Johnson gruyere.emmentaler@gmail.com

0

1776attorney 1 year, 1 month ago

The mayor was a one issue candidate. Unfortunately, her one issue is pure fantasy when you understand the technology and cost issues involved. The mayor received only 1/3 of the votes while 2/3 of the cast ballots went to other candidates (and against her). The mayor did not get any type of approval or mandate from the election.

This is not to say I do not want the mayor to be successful. I hope she will take the time to understand why taxpayers are angry with the issues city hall is pursuing and change course.

Here's a simplistic example. A family with 3 kids, 2 adults, 2 computers, an iPad and 2 smart TVs only needs about 5 megabits of broadband service to utilize all of the above devices to their maximum potential. A family can get this service for $30 to $40 a month currently.

The 2 Baldwin City providers, MediaCom and CenturyLink, usually tier their service to provide more than 5 megabits.

Gigabit fiber optic broadband is 200 times faster than what a normal family can even utilize in their home. No family is going to pay $100 or more a month for 995 megabits of broadband that they cannot even utilize.

If a local business or institution wants gigabit fiber optic, let them cover the $5 million investment privately. Gigabit is not a technology for residential users at this time and will not be for a number of years in Baldwin City.

Additionally, it is not even an economic issue for attracting new business to Baldwin City. The new InterModel in Edgerton includes over 4,000,000 square feet of spanking brand new cutting edge warehouse and office space which is something that Baldwin City can never compete against and if our leaders were wise they wouldn't even attempt to.

We should be promoting Baldwin City as a great bedroom community with superior city services and infrastructure catering to residents. And then focus the city in this direction. You play to your strengths, if you're wise enough to identify them and build upon what sets you apart.

Baldwin City is 10 years beyond Edgerton as an inviting, advanced, liveable community.

0

wes_duncan 1 year, 1 month ago

Yeah, I completely agree! In an age where I carry more processing power in my pocket than what took man to the moon, we do not need to innovate and strive for something more. We do not need to evolve; gigabit Internet speeds are just silly. Gigabit Internet speeds are just as silly as fire. We do NOT need fire to cook our food and we never have! We can eat our food raw! Gigabit Internet speeds are just as silly as the automobile. Why in the world would man need a device that can travel at rapid speeds and carry lots of weight? Why do we need circuit boards and electron microscopes? The list goes on and on, all of this is over kill.

Why would we ever need more than what we have right now? Oh, wait, striving for more than what we have now is what causes evolution and the advancement of the human race.

Thank you Mike Bosch for attempting to do something that everyone else has been afraid to do. Your biggest challenge in this endeavour is not the significant technical challenges of stringing strands of glass through the streets and shooting lasers down them, it is the mindset of people like 1776attorney and the unfortunate power that they hold in our societies.

0

wes_duncan 1 year, 1 month ago

Yeah, I completely agree! In an age where I carry more processing power in my pocket than what took man to the moon, we do not need to innovate and strive for something more. We do not need to evolve; gigabit Internet speeds are just silly. Gigabit Internet speeds are just as silly as fire. We do NOT need fire to cook our food and we never have! We can eat our food raw! Gigabit Internet speeds are just as silly as the automobile. Why in the world would man need a device that can travel at rapid speeds and carry lots of weight? Why do we need circuit boards and electron microscopes? The list goes on and on, all of this is over kill.

Why would we ever need more than what we have right now? Oh, wait, striving for more than what we have now is what causes evolution and the advancement of the human race.

Thank you Mike Bosch for attempting to do something that everyone else has been afraid to do. Your biggest challenge in this endeavour is not the significant technical challenges of stringing strands of glass through the streets and shooting lasers down it, it is the mindset of people like 1776attorney and the unfortunate power that they hold in our societies.

0

Commenting has been disabled for this item.