When Skyler Ditchfield was a child and his school banned sweets from the campus, he’d bring in candy to sell to his classmates.Even as a kid, the 36-year-old Camarillo resident had a knack for giving people what they wanted when the powers-that-be wouldn’t provide it.
Now he does the same thing for places that internet providers like AT&T have deemed too rural or remote for high-speed internet.
Ditchfield’s company, GeoLinks, began by providing fixed wireless internet connections to rural schools, hospitals, Native American reservations and other institutions using radio waves instead of cables and wires.
Ditchfield said that because large internet providers won’t run wiring to rural areas, thousands of people are being left behind in today’s fast-paced and interconnected world.
“We’ve brought internet into schools in communities that don’t have internet,” Ditchfield said. “These kids are usually in poor areas, being as rural as they are, and it’s giving them a real opportunity to utilize the internet at school, utilize state testing, have access to more educational materials and getting them included in what’s going on.”
As GeoLinks has grown, the company began moving into suburban and urban markets, competing directly with large corporations to supply internet to businesses and, to a lesser extent, homes across the state.
Now GeoLinks is expanding nationally. It’s the next logical step for Ditchfield, who uses his skills in business and technology to make GeoLinks run.
He spent most of his life working in telecommunications, including stints repairing computers in Ventura County and managing networks at the Silicon Valley offices of MCI Worldcom, where he helped clients like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs.
Seven years ago, Ditchfield founded GeoLinks with his cousin Ryan Hauf, who serves as chief technology officer.
As a hobby, Hauf set up a small wireless network to provide free internet access to about 40 people in Ojai. Ditchfield’s entrepreneurial mind saw the potential to make a profit.
“I said, ‘Do you want to make a business out of this and not make it a charity?’” Ditchfield said. “And he said yeah, so a month later, we were off and running and had three or four thousand dollars a month in billing.”
That’s peanuts compared to the $14.9 million the company says it earned last year. Ditchfield expects that amount to climb higher; GeoLinks has its eyes set on government contracts that are north of $170 million.
The company that began in Ditchfield’s weight room now has 49 employees and is looking for more to help fill the 38,000-square-foot building on Camarillo Ranch Road that Geo- Links moved into in July.
The office, once home to mobile game developer Zindagi Games, looks like a Silicon Valley headquarters. It features plenty of open space for the company to expand, as well as a gym, game room, full kitchen and indoor basketball court.
“We spend so much of our lives these days at work. You want to enjoy it, right?” said Lexie Olson, GeoLink’s director of marketing and communications. “For example, when I’m having a tough day, I like to take my lunch break in the gym. It promotes overall health, happiness and wellness, and we see increased productivity because of that.”
Olson, who was hired in June, said that while the amenities helped, the company’s success and family-like atmosphere convinced her to move from Los Angeles.
“I was attracted to the fact that there was a really cool, innovative startup in Ventura County that offered a really cool company culture,” she said.
Ditchfield said a healthy office culture contributes to a business’ success, but the customs of a successful business don’t come from an on-site gym or a stocked refrigerator in the kitchen.
“You don’t have to have this (facility and amenities) to build culture,” he said. “You have to have the right people and the right attitude and the right energy and leadership style. That’s where it all starts.”
It seems Ditchfield has found the right people; GeoLinks began to see the fruits of their labor in the past year. The company was named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies in the United States in 2017, and this year Ditchfield was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce.
With this success, Ditchfield doesn’t want his employees to rest on their laurels. He said the company succeeds or fails together, so it’s important that everyone keeps working hard.
“We’re still a startup. We’ve still got to hustle and grind,” he said. “We shouldn’t be checking out at 4:45. If you’ve still got a project that needs to get done, stay and get it done because every dollar out of this company’s pocket is really a dollar out of each one of our pockets.”