GeoLinks using Silicon Valley-style office to attract employees

GeoLinks co-founders Skyler Ditchfield, left, and Ryan Adams in the lobby of the company’s new [Silicon Valley-style] headquarters in Camarillo.

Original Article

Ventura County telecommunications company GeoLinks hopes to lure tech talent to Camarillo with a new Silicon Valley-style office, tripling its workforce after doubling its revenue two years in a row.

The company inherited the 38,000-square-foot space — tricked out with an onsite gym, pool tables, a jukebox and arcade games by previous owner Zindagi Games — and added a kitchen stocked with healthy breakfast, lunch and snack options in the hope of filling it with around 100 additional staff.

Rebranded in June from its former name, California International, the internet service provider was “bursting at the seams” prior to the move, said CEO and co-founder Skyler Ditchfield.

“Once people kind of find out what we’re doing here behind the scenes and meet with us and speak with us, the facility kind of sells itself,” said President and co-founder Ryan Adams. “Our big focus is on our clients but also the culture. We want people when they walk through these doors not only to feel appreciated but to want to come in every single day.”

GeoLinks debuted at No. 6 on the Pacific Coast Business Times 50 Fastest -Growing Companies list in 2017, reporting prior year revenues of $8.8 million. It also ranked No. 640 on this year’s Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies.

The company has a few initiatives in the works to connect to local universities, as well as employing several graduates from Thomas Aquinas College, but “we’ll take talent, wherever it’s from,” Adams said, from project management, communications and sales employees, to more technical applicants.

Launched to serve rural broadband customers around Ojai, the company got its first real break in 2013 with the Lake Sherwood development contract south of Thousand Oaks. From there, it moved toward business-to-business services in the Greater Los Angeles market before launching its wholesale business selling to other ISPs, now around a third of its revenue.

By offering fixed wireless, rather than fiber or satellite, the company has also picked up state contracts for schools, hospitals and libraries in remote areas of California and other states. Since government grants from programs like the Internet for All Act and the Connect America Fund help cover upfront costs of installation, it joined a Federal Communications Commission advisory committee working group and the Schools, Health & Library Broadband Coalition to advocate for additional resources, including the use of “white spaces” frequencies proposed by Microsoft.

“We’re helping shape policy for how to expedite procurement of federal lands for internet services, and we’re pushing other agendas in terms of getting more spectrum freed up,” Ditchfield said. “Right now all the wireless spectrum is owned by all the cell operators. They have an abundance of it, but they’re hoarding it, and we really need that freed up to be able to connect these rural areas and low income houses.”

If company revenues and federal programs continue to grow, GeoLinks might look to open additional satellite locations for rapid deployment, like the one it already has in Santa Fe Springs serving Los Angeles customers. But the two Ojai-native founders said they would never want to uproot.

“Nothing beats Ventura County,” Adams said. “It doesn’t matter how many homes we worked that week, or if we worked over the weekend, there’s a certain energy in this building, and it’s contagious. I don’t feel like this is a job, even though there’s a lot of work that happens, to be a part of something that’s growing like this.”

The company brought on a director of corporate wellness and culture to help handle the transition from a 50-person operation to a much larger one, as well as adding fitness and nutrition programs.

Teambuilding through group activities, basketball games and yoga classes help introduce people to the leadership team, promote interdepartmental communication and enable regular wellness checks.

But it remains to be seen if the Silicon Valley approach will help it find the right talent.

Companies have to make sure they’re not focusing too much on the “soft perks” over things like time off, workplace flexibility, salary and stock options, said Maria Ballesteros-Sola, assistant professor of management at CSU Channel Islands.

“Perks come down to the underlying culture, and not the other way around,” she said, but added that “big conversations and big ideas can be generated at the water cooler and the conference room. If you have the foosball table, and people start playing to disconnect and re-energize, they might have the conversation to solve a problem or a new project.”

Early on, competitive salaries were tough to match, and raises to retain workers stretched the budget, Ditchfield said. But with the continued growth, the company has not only brought up salaries, but invested in sustainability initiatives like solar and wind at its relay stations, as well as considering onsite childcare options.

“One thing we talk about internally here is ‘what is our living wage?” Ditchfield said. “We don’t want to ever be paying anyone a level of pay that they’re suffering with. We want to get to a point where we have a minimum threshold of salary that we hire people on, and if there’s a job below that, we either need to automate it or consolidate it.”

And if there’s anywhere to promote work-life balance, Ballesteros-Sola said, it’s the Central Coast.

“It’s just imperative for us to do this organically to where we came from,” Ditchfield said.

• Contact Marissa Nall at [email protected]