Shaun Olsen of CloudWyze

An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Shaun Olsen (founder, CEO, and president) of CloudWyze, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of CloudWyze – what problem were you trying to solve and why?

In the area of technology, our city didn’t offer the options that were available in larger cities. In 2012, CloudWyze was formed to ensure the businesses in our native city of Wilmington were providing the same opportunities for success that businesses in larger cities enjoyed as a result of their connectivity. But it didn’t begin there.

In 2002, as an IT startup veteran and Wilmington local, I ventured out with one of our first managed IT services company, focused on providing secure, solid access and premium customer service. In 2004, we expanded our offering with the acquisition of an AV commercial cabling company. We continued our vertical integration again in 2006 by adding a data and voice division of business.

The years that came next following the recession proved a pivotal time for internet technology. For the most part, Wilmington was deprived of the latest dedicated internet services that larger cities were privy to. So my team and I took things into our own hands, leveraging our growing client roster to gain investments to bring the necessary technology to the city ourselves. Years following, we gained some major local clients and began to be sought out to help other communities.

In 2015, we (CloudWyze) decided to look beyond Wilmington into the rural communities of North Carolina. Smaller counties, like Nash and Halifax, lacked quality, reliable internet. This brought forth another issue of the digital divide among the smaller counties where residents and businesses lacked access to the internet. In doing more research, it became quite obvious that this problem and opportunity were immense. In 2018, the company pivoted and raised funds to expand our vision from businesses to entire counties.

In 2020, the COVID-19 crisis exposed to all the geographic and socioeconomic inequities of access to the internet. As of today, we have over $30M in planned projects to provide internet solutions to eight counties in rural North Carolina and look forward to continuing to grow our footprint, our services, and our team.

What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?

Prior to pivoting to service entire communities, the basic business model was pretty straightforward and one could easily tap into industry experts to determine the best “recipe” to follow to grow a good, profitable business. This was simply not interesting to me, nor did it fit my character. When the opportunity to use prior knowledge to help large communities presented itself, I latched on and was determined to create a model that would work, especially when others failed. After changing legislation, convincing investors, and selling equity, the mode was created and funded, but funding is still a challenge. To make a huge impact faster, we need more grant funding that is less restrictive and will allow for infrastructure deployments and operational growth.

What does the future hold for CloudWyze?

The future for CloudWyze is bright as we continue to seek ways to better serve our customers and those who support our efforts. Our mission is to empower communities through technology, and using that mission to make lasting impacts in the areas we serve is what drives us. We will continue to make the communities we are already involved with better and expand our footprint to all those who align with our vision. Last year was a defining one for CloudWyze in every way, and I welcome the challenge for each year to be our best year.

What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Wilmington?

Wilmington has always been a unique community, in part, because of the amazing quality of life and atmosphere (e.g. our beautiful beaches), but, as an entrepreneur, these resources can challenge the typical entrepreneurship culture. Over the last 10 years, however, this has begun to change as organizations (like UNCW), the county, and the city have become more intentional around ways they can invest in young professionals and startups. That “intention” has triggered organizations to recruit more professionals to the area, thus building companies of high value and, while startups do tend to compete for these professionals, having more of these growing companies around provides more security for folks relocating to the area.

We have seen this first hand and believe the scene in Wilmington is growing. There is more culture here, with Broadway shows, international festivals, and larger venues, and our downtown skyline has tripled with more buildings rising every day and more reasons to not leave particular communities because needs are being fulfilled closer to home. This allows for more bike trails, city trails, and parks, and, one of the greatest assets, the ocean, continues to attract highly educated, international executives, who, after they’ve played 800 rounds of golf, welcome the opportunity to share their time, treasure, and talent with startups. I’m excited for what the future holds for Wilmington and look forward to the unique startup culture that will continue to develop in the coming years.

What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Define success, surround yourself by those who support your goals, and never give up. Remember, you can do well by doing good.

 

For more exclusive interviews, see our full Profile of a Founder series

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