By: Breana Patel
I had the pleasure of interviewing Skyler Ditchfield, Co-Founder and CEO of GeoLinks, the Fastest Growing WISP in America. His dedication and work ethic have earned him various accolades in including “Top Innovator in Diversity and Inclusion”, “World’s Top 5 Best Businessmen of 2017”, and 2018 “Entrepreneur of the Year”.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
One of my favorite stories to look back on was when I was about 7 or 8 and my elementary school decided to ban candy. While other kids at school complained, I looked at this as an opportunity and bought candy off premise to sell them to my classmates at 1000% markup. The school did eventually caught me, and I had to stop.
Fast forward, and I took my first real corporate job as a Network Engineer II at the Private Network Management Center in Silicon Valley servicing high-level clients . When the company relocated to the East Coast, I declined the transfer offer and returned to my home town of Ojai, California where I proceeded to build a network business from scratch with $550 in startup capital. I grew the company to nearly 3M within 4 years (in a town of only 8000 people) and then sold my shares. Following this venture, however, things plummeted.
With replenished motivation, I found a whole new lease on life. I regained my health, and aggressively got back in the I.T. space allowing me to climb out of debt.
Fast forward a few successful startups later, and I founded California Internet, now GeoLinks, with my cousin Ryan Hauf. We are now the fastest growing fixed wireless provider in the country, and the fifth fastest growing overall telecom.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
Our company has a strict policy to leave all egos at the door and always adhere to a “Best Idea Wins” mantra. This encourages team work and levels the playing field so that pride doesn’t get in the way of moving the business forward. When all else fails, however, it is the job of management to remind everyone of the common goal and allocate tasks accordingly to role and skill set.
Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?
In today’s modern workplace, creating and maintaining a positive company culture is paramount in attracting and retaining top talent, thus it’s imperative to never forget as a leader that you’re only as great as the team you’re surrounded by.
Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”?
1. Know that first, and foremost, you must lead by example. If you haven’t done what you’re asking them to do, it’s highly unlikely for them to do it unless they are following in your footsteps.
2. Money doesn’t necessarily inspire everyone. People are often more motivated by recognition, and fear of letting down their peers. I find it incredibly beneficial to overall morale to issue constant public recognition and praise for both individual and team wins. I do this via company-wide emails, verbal shout outs in the office, and 1 on 1 meetings.
3. Innovation is fostered by embedding the culture of being ok with accepting failures.
4.Adapt Management style to respond to different personality types.Know that you will have to adapt your management style to different personality types — not everyone communicates or receives in the same way.
5. You must clearly define both individual and team goals — in order to lead your team in the right direction, it’s important for everyone to understand where you’re headed. Team goals also help peers motivate peers. I see this happen within my sales team daily. And, at the end of the day, make sure your team knows that if they’re struggling to reach said goals, that you’re always available to help out and brainstorm possible resolutions. For example, if I have a sales rep who is up against a tough deal, they know they can come to me to brainstorm innovative ways to push it across the finish line.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
You need to get them to buy into your vision. Reward your team with recognition and make sure you curate genuine relationships so they care about who they are working with and for. Also, if you have bad employees, get them out, fast. Don’t tolerate people that are not absolutely excited to be there.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The first story that comes to mind happened a few years ago when one of the telecom tower owners we were working with was having major permitting issues with a state agency. In an effort to ward of compliance regulators, the owner released cougars to literally stalk and surround his tower. Maybe not the story you were looking for, but I found this quite comical.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I founded GeoLinks with the mission to close the U.S. Digital Divide. I am determined to bring connectivity to every unconnected Anchor Institution in America over the next 7 years. To accomplish this goal, I am aggressively looking to change the landscape of Internet across America by influencing the reform of broadband funding and spectrum policy on both a state and federal level. GeoLinks has successfully connected more schools than any other ISP in both 2016 and 2017, and we became an instrumental lobbyist in the passing of AB1665, the Internet For All Act, that brought $330m in new funding to the state of California.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.