I grew up in Choctaw. My dad is a Tinker retiree and my mom has worked for the same homebuilder since 1977. I’m the oldest of their three children; I have a brother and sister, seven and five years younger. My parents had me when they were really young, before any of their friends had children. So I became that smartass little kid who hung out with all adults and developed a passion for the music they listened to, including The Beatles, Floyd, Zeppelin and The Doors. My grandpa’s acreage opened up to hundreds of yards of pasture. So, I grew up throwing dirt clods, racing go-karts, riding bikes and jumping people’s fences to fish in their ponds until they yelled for me to get out. In junior high, I was into the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game, which grew my imagination. When I was 13, I had spotted fever for six months and my paternal grandmother cared for me. I wasn’t into high school. But I loved college at UCO, learning about psychology, ancient medieval history and more all in one day. My counselor finally told me to pick a major — and graduate — before my G.I. money ran out, from my six years in the Marine Reserves. I chose journalism, but was never cut out for it. I once was assigned to cover a student’s suicide for The Vista college newspaper and I turned in 12,000 words on the person’s life, family and friends, to which my editor asked, “Um, when and why did he kill himself?”
With a bachelor’s in journalism, how’d you wind up working in the IT field?
By accident. It was January 1995, my last semester of college and the early years of the World Wide Web. I wanted to change my internet service provider (ISP) from AOL to ioNET and when I called twice, I was disconnected and then put on endless hold. I hung up, called back and asked their address. I strolled in their offices at Council Road and Northwest Expressway wearing jeans and a grungy plaid shirt, found the receptionist on the phone, sat down, filled out my own order and — when the second line rang — answered “ioNET” and starting completing orders for her. A man in a suit came in and asked, “Do you work here?” and after I‘d explained myself, asked “Do you want to work here?” I’d taken two computer programming courses at UCO, but really learned everything on the job sitting next to a contractor. I was thrilled. They paid me to help build the internet and over the next year, I moved from developer to operations, using UNIX to make sure things ran correctly on computers. On the day of the Oklahoma City bombing, I called Sue Hale, former editor of The Oklahoman, who’d spoken to my class at UCO, about getting a slick of Page One of the next day’s newspaper to post on the internet. Sue subsequently recruited me to help launch the forerunner of newsok.com in the spring of 1998.
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Where else have you worked?
I worked as director of content for a former Christian ISP who, sadly, treated their employees as commodities. Then, I worked for American Fidelity Assurance Company where CEO Bill Cameron started a small internal subsidiary to compete with, and better, his parent company. It was great. I wore shorts and t-shirts for three years and, when they wanted us to move upstairs and wear khakis and polo shirts, moved on to Advanced Financial Solutions (AFS) check imaging company, where I managed the internal web development team for five years. I worked the following five years for Metavante technology services provider, a year and half as a strategist for Century Martial Arts, and then was recruited by Gary Nelson, my mentor at AFS, to work for him at iThryv online banking platform.
What led you to start your own company?
Gary abruptly laid me off in the economic downturn; in April 2009. He said, “I told you that you should start your own company and today’s the day.” I thought, “All right, let’s do this.” I sold jobs and then called on my partners, who then worked for former employers, to build them at night. Eventually, my friends quit and joined Clevyr fulltime. Early on, we worked from a building in front of The Red Cup coffee shop at 31st and Classen. We bought our current 7,000-square-foot building three years ago.
I spied a ping pong table, cupcakes and more in your break room. Are you intentional about employee appreciation and engagement?