June 26, 2018

Inside Catalyst - The Founding of an IT Company

Q & A with Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson and Allen Perkins founded Catalyst in 2007 because they wanted to create a new service model for the IT business — a better model. While working for others in the field, they saw way too many business who’d lost money to bad or unreliable IT service, to unimaginative “problem solving,” or to greedy salespeople. They wanted Catalyst to change all of that; they wanted it to save clients money. Managing Partner Steven Wilson tells us about the early years, how he defines success, and where he sees Catalyst headed.

Tell us about the spare bedroom. How did Catalyst come to be?

Allen [Perkins] and myself were working for another IT company here in town. At one point, I was completely fed up with the model and realized that it wasn’t sustainable. At the time, the focus was on maximizing technicians’ billable hours and there were a number of negative consequences for both technicians and clients. I talked to Allen and told him that I thought we could do better. He said that if I got it off the ground, he would come and work with me. So, I quit my job, registered the business name and domain name, set up a mail server in the spare bedroom, and hung a shingle.

Around 2014, we negotiated a deal with Computer Systems West and Rob was one of the techs who we brought on as a result. After a few years we made him a partner because of how valuable he had become and because he really understood what we were trying to do with the company.

What was the problem that you saw in IT? Why was Catalyst the solution?

At its core, IT is a service business. People are giving us the passwords to their entire infrastructures, so they have to trust us. And to gain their trust, we need to be honest and knowledgeable.

Before founding Catalyst, we saw a lot of companies that had problems with techs who were either completely unfamiliar or way too interested in confidential information. We’re committed to learning how our clients do business in order to keep their IT in good shape, but as independent contractors, we’re simply not interested in snooping around and certainly don’t have time for such things. We also saw many companies who’d dealt with dishonest salespeople looking for a nice commision. It wasn’t unusual for us to find businesses running hardware whose capabilities were far beyond their actual needs. At Catalyst, we believe that sometimes, the simplest tool is the right one.

What did you learn about running a business after founding Catalyst? What were the early challenges that you faced?

More often than not, being honest means selling less and one of our top goals is communicating honestly with our clients which helps us to build long-term relationships with them. A lot of the companies we came to work for had previously viewed IT as a cost center. The only time they talked to their IT providers was when those providers were trying to drum up work or sell them something. It took us a long time to regain the trust lost by other IT providers.

How has the company evolved since its infancy?

Several times, we have really taken the business model down to its basics and updated it. We just recently changed all of the backend software and solutions so that we could offer the best automation and proactive monitoring tools possible. We’ve been able to do this by cultivating a group of very loyal customers who trust us.

How did you think about success at the beginning, and has that definition since changed?

In my younger days, success revolved around making money. Money is crucial, but now, I really enjoy seeing the camaraderie that our techs have. I like seeing our staff grow and tackle the opportunities of life. It’s much less about personal acquisition and more about how successful we can be as a group so that our clients, staff and community can benefit.

What have you found rewarding about building this company?

I don’t notice anyone watching the clock. We have managed to keep that small-company, friendly feel so far, and I hope that we can maintain it as we grow.

What do you see in Catalyst’s future that excites you?

I’ve seen so many IT companies grow to 10 or 12 employees and then implode dramatically. I think we have hit on the perfect mix of people, process, and technology to manage that growth and we've put together an outstanding benefits package and work environment. I’d be really excited to see us double in size in the next few years.