Many thanks to Chris Neklason, co-founder of Cruzio, for speaking with the PIE students earlier this week. Chris told us the story of how he and his wife started Cruzio in the pre-internet era in the mid-1980′s, and the many transformations that have happened in both the ISP industry and within the company.
In the beginning, Cruzio charged $5 a month for basic services like email and customer support. But this was before the time of the standard Operating Systems that we know today, which have internet protocols built-in. That meant that Chris and his staff had to spend hours on the phone, doing support to teach their customers how to use their computers. Once Operating Systems came in, bringing with them easy-to-use internet browsers and large email clients, there has been a big paradigm shift. Now, everyone knows the basics: how to use a mouse, a keyboard, check their email, but only thanks to the patchwork of local ISP’s like Cruzio who laid the groundwork for the internet.
Chris also shared Cruzio’s business strategy of “hyper-localization.” By hyper-localizing, Cruzio does not directly compete with the email giants like Yahoo and Google. In today’s ISP market, the basic services are a commodity. The real value-added for Cruzio is in they’re exceptional customer service. Because they rely on their direct customers for their funding, they must answer directly to their customers needs. The opposite is often true with the larger ISP companies who are public. The public companies must answer first to their shareholders, who are they true customers, and answer second to the users of their products. “Small business’s will spend money with the people they know, mainly because they trust them,” says Chris. By building a network of local customers, Cruzio has built up trust in the small business community to reinforce its hyper-localization.
We used the idea of hyper-localizing to bridge to the topic of the job market, and Chris gave us his two cents about choosing an organization to start a career with. “The smaller the organization, the more of a launch-pad you have to excel. By working at a smaller organization, you learn more general tasks and have more room to move horizontally and vertically in the organization,” says Chris.
Thanks again to Chris, and to the students who came and asked great questions.