THE BASECAMP NETWORKS STORY
Craig Ganssle | Founder & CEO
I come from a family of hard working middle class people. My father worked harder than anyone I have ever known to provide above and beyond for his family. I grew up in the neighboring town to the airport of Bethlehem and when I was little, dad worked for Bethlehem Steel. Just about everyone born in Bethlehem, PA in the 70’s had parents who worked for Bethlehem Steel; it pretty much was the town. My grandfather was no exception as he was a lathe operator for Bethlehem Steel, and one of the better known ones at that. He would be on his feet for 12hr days on that factory floor lathing gun barrels for Navy ships down to the micro-meter with the naked eye (as rumor has it). In the mid ‘80’s they went under and sometimes it seems as though the town has yet to recover; even today. My father had previously been a mechanic on F4-Phantom fighter jets in the AirForce. He had a passion and love for flying you could always tell that. He later went on to work for United Airlines and eventually retired from there.
I tell you this because you’ll see the work ethic I come from. This is the same work ethic I apply today and I look for in employees and partners of Basecamp Networks.
….back to the airport.
I was a Skycap for the airport. Basically, I hauled people's bags in on a large cart when they brought everything including the kitchen sink on their trip. I would arrive on a Saturday at the airport between 4:30 - 5:00am to catch the early flights. These were usually full flights and you didn’t want to miss them because they yielded a lot of tips. I made great money for my age. Enough to buy a car before I was old enough to drive….my ‘81 Camaro. I paid attention to the people coming and going. I saw the traveling business man as a man who had it all together. I saw them as someone with money; like an image of success. I later realized it was just that; an image. I also paid attention to how my father operated his team at the airport. They always came first. Dad always told me, “if you treat your people right, stand up for them, make sure they’re taken care of, they’ll do the same for you”. Everyone there at United Airlines loved my father. At times his director would not agree with methods my father used, but he could never argue the fact that things got done, they got done right, and they got done on time.
I told you how hard my father worked for our family. When I was in middle and high school, dad worked 4-midnight. So he was home (actually working another side job) while I was in school, and then at work again when I was home. I missed my father at times. It’s my goal to leverage the power of technology to keep this from happening to so many parents everyday because they feel they have to work, work, work!
Most entrepreneurs will tell you they can remember when it hit them….that they were going to work on their own; when they had an idea, a vision that could change the world. Most will tell you they were in college, or early in their corporate career.
For me….I was 14.
As a competing percussionist in middle and high school, I played in a lot of competitions representing my school. Various festivals and concerts were during the typical work week during the evenings. My father worked evenings and made it to very few of these. My mom came to almost every one and cheered me on, but one night will always be a vivid memory for me.
I was “defending my title” as you might say from the previous year and rumor had it that another percussionist from another school was pretty good...and made a comment he was after my "title". Dad gave me the typical words of encouragement, and I know more than anything he wanted to attend; but he had to work. As it turned out, I won first place and held the title for another year. I came home that night and put my trophy on the kitchen table for dad to see when he got home. His shift ended at 11pm, but he usually stayed later to get more work done. I was always in bed already….except this night I couldn’t sleep. Dad came home...I remember laying in bed hearing him move around the downstairs; I knew his routine blindly.
I heard his lunch box touch the countertop. Then he sat down on the basement steps and took off his boots. Next the light turned on over the kitchen table; I could see the glow from my room down the stairwell. It got quiet. I got up to see my dads reaction to seeing that first-place trophy….and I witnessed a man broken down by tears. Dad wished more than anything he could have been there, but it wasn’t just for me...it was for him too. He didn’t want to miss it, and I could tell the inner struggle of work versus family...a struggle felt many generations back by so many working class people.
But it lit a fire inside me right then and there. There had to be a better way. There had to be ways to eliminate the inner conflict of work versus life. It was then that I knew I wanted to change the way people work.
After high school, I knew college was not for me; not yet. I joined the Marine Corps early at the age of 17 with my parents signature into the delayed entry program. In June of 1995, I turned 18, two days later graduated high school, and a week later left for the Marine Corps.
Those thirteen and a half weeks not only changed my life, but taught me more than just about the rest of my life combined. I learned what dedication meant. I learned how important teamwork is and how to get things done with little to no resources. I learned how to grind it out when absolute chaos is all around you. When someone asks if I can put together and connect a wireless network, I tell them I can do it in the middle of the night, in sub-zero temperatures, while getting shot at.
After seven and a half years I was given an honorable medical discharge from the Marine Corps. It was against my will, but God had different plans for me. I joined the Network Operations Team at a major US wireless carrier in June of 2000 in New Jersey. I spent 14 years with this company learning the ins and outs of not only wireless networks, but I learned a lot about corporate life and how NOT to treat employees. I think I understand why it is that small businesses are the economic backbone to this country. Corporate America destroys you of your creativity, tries to break you down like the military and make you a number; without the pride and glory of feeling like you achieved something like the military.
After about 5 years in NJ, I was promoted to a field position in Atlanta, GA. I had gone to night school in my old hometown of Bethlehem, PA at Muhlenberg College and thought going back to the field would be good. I continued education in Atlanta at American Intercontinental University at night and online. I soon realized that it was a waste of my time. I was correcting my computer science teacher and he eventually just told me I’d get an A if I helped teach the class. Awesome.
I got very frustrated with the corporate life. I had ideas upon ideas, but no one wanted to hear them. I was even reluctant to share them because when in NJ I had created a intranet site that changed the call out procedures and collaboration between network divisions across the company nationwide. I got a “Thanks Craig”.....and that was it. Later in Georgia, I had introduced Cisco Meraki equipment to someone with the title “Distinguished Member of Technical Staff”, which was humorous to me since he knew pretty much nothing about anything technical. But he was smart enough to steal my idea and push it through the new Corporate Enterprise Services and their new subsidiary divisions. Good for him I suppose.
The biggest challenge I had in corporate life is that we were building a network for people to work remotely, enhance productivity and become more mobile; more scalable....yet as an organization we were not doing this ourselves. The idea was ludicrous! I started trialing web based applications and apps that would absolutely leverage the power of technology to change the way we work. I was shut down at every corner whether it be by IT, management, etc. At one time my direct supervisor was tired of hearing me drone on about ideas in meetings. So much so that he pulled me aside and said this to me: “Stop trying to change everything. If you think you can do it better, then do it yourself on your own time. This is not your sandbox.”.
I left town one weekend and spent the weekend at my families cabin in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania; something I did often on weekends when I lived up there after spending 40 hours in corporate America. As I sat there in the hammock between the trees, overlooking the lake, listening to my dogs bell around his collar somewhere off in the distance, I thought about the challenging words of my supervisor. I wondered what it would be like to work from here; from this place that was my getaway. I mean, I was working for the very company that was supposed to be making this possible, right? Problem was, I saw little traction inside the corporate carrier that lead me to believe they were going to get around to doing it anytime soon, or do it right for that matter. So....challenge accepted.
My first objective was to build this company on a platform that I knew would be scalable and mobile. I did not want to be tied to a desk and I was not going to have that as an option because I had to keep my full time job. I was 30 years old, married, and had two daughters. I was not exactly your stereotypical start-up entrepreneur you read about on Facebook, Twitter, etc. I knew this was not going to be easy, but I loved the chaos and the challenge. I began working with a friend in PA to bounce technical ideas off of and best practices for troubleshooting systems. I started with $242. I didn’t have money for a server or even a new computer. I was rocking this 1 year old Dell desktop and couldn’t even buy a new computer. This was pre-cloud based storage so I bought an external hard drive and used that to store all files. The desktop main hard drive was for nothing more than the operating system; making the computer a terminal which would be disposable so to speak. Which later came in handy when a corrupt update from Dell fried my motherboard. They sent me a replacement; nothing skipped a beat.
I knew at my current corporate company they had their own internal IT division to handle issues like this. But what about the small business in this country? What about those that are the economic backbone to this country…..? I soon realized they were going to be my target market since they were left to the vices of Geek Squad or worse. I was eager to find customers, but I still had work to do on our own platform. It had to be able to support customers in the middle of the night, in sub-zero temperatures, while getting shot at. It had to be a platform where employees could work from anywhere. Work had to fit around their needs, not the other way around. I wanted people who wanted to work for Basecamp Networks. I wanted people who didn’t need a babysitter, who were not afraid to be creative and come up with ideas, actually cared about a clients network and were not afraid to speak up about what they [the client] could or should be doing different.
About a year in, the economy tanked. I wondered how I was going to survive this as I assumed companies were going to hold on to capital at all costs and make network improvements only after something possibly crashed and it was a necessity. Overhauling a network was not an option for most. It was then that I realized that the economy would never have as much impact on me as I thought… because everyone needed me. You could go into work and the air conditioner be out and that would make for miserable working conditions. The water could be off and that would not be easy to deal with either. In either of these situations, you could still work. Heck, if you had the right network, you could even work if the power was out. But if the network was down… you’re done. You might as well send people home. Wait… work from home? What is that? It became apparent to me that we supported the very component of a business that truly kept things going. It is the backbone to work. The problem is most companies' backbone is broken. They’re not utilizing the true power of what is out there. Even companies utilizing applications like Google Enterprise are not using the full power of this application.
We’re out to change work for good.
We’re out to bring the power of technology to cities and towns through wireless integration projects.
We’re out to change the shopping experience for consumers through slick mobile applications in retail markets.
We want to create an ecosystem that offers a place to call home. Your own basecamp to always come back to for advice, help, and knowledge.
We want to change the way food is grown on a global scale through technological advancements in agriculture.
We want to connect more people with ministries and charities to make this world a better place.
We want to work, but we want to work our way.
It's about improving processes, eliminating friction...being utilitarian. The Marine Corps taught me to do more with less and I put this to use throughout life….but where is this mentality in todays society???
IT'S IN TECHNOLOGY.
Today we leverage technology to save time. We use applications, devices, and software to be more mobile, save time...to better the process. The problem is so many are still thinking of this on a personal level. I want to think of it on a more selfless platform. What if we could leverage technology to give more time? But when we do….the question is…..what do we do with that extra time? Do we simply create more work? More friction?
Basecamp Networks works in two of the most grueling industries….agriculture and retail. Industries where margins are razor thin, processes are customer facing, and technology is abundant. We want to change the way people work, to save more time….for giving….because this is what brought all of us together.
Every piece of our company is driven by a selfless desire to not only achieve something, but to deliver a solution that has part of us within it. We pour our passion into what we do. We live by a standard that it’s not all about the work; but the life.
What we do when we’re not working is just as important to us. It is here that we see our everyday work have impact on our lives. We’re with family. We’re outside of our element, pushing life to it’s fullest. We’re giving, leaving a legacy, contributing. It’s about what we do with that time.