ITA Spotlight: Steadfast
Friday, March 22, 2019
Posted by: Kaylin Berg
Delivering more than just managed IT infrastructure or cloud services, Steadfast is in the business of “helping” others to succeed. It’s been in their DNA from the start and continues to drive their future endeavors.
In 25 words or less, what is Steadfast all about?
Steadfast is a Chicago managed cloud and hosting services provider that enables customers to focus on growing their business while we focus on their infrastructure.
What problem do you solve and how do you solve it better than the competition?
The bottom line is that Steadfast enables customers to focus their time and resources on work that grows their business rather than maintaining their IT infrastructure. We offer a full suite of hosting and cloud services, backup and disaster recovery solutions, cloud storage, and more. More importantly, however, is that we include all consultation, design, deployment, management, and on-going maintenance. For small-to-medium enterprise (SME) customers that may not have a large IT department, we handle these tasks for them so that they can enjoy all the benefits of a premium infrastructure without the time or expense of buying and maintaining hardware or staffing 24/7 IT experts. Our competition offers similar services, but they typically prefer to focus on large enterprise customers. While Steadfast supports enterprise customers, we like to work with SME customers where we can help them grow their business, not just maintain it.
How did you get started?
The desire to “help” rather than “support” originated from the roots of our company. Steadfast was built in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin by Karl Zimmerman, a progressive 14-year-old who had a passion for internet technology. Originally started as a hobby, Karl began working with companies to help them with their data hosting and security needs. Through these relationships, Karl learned there was a frustrating gap with many hosting companies – the lack of immediate and reliable support. This information fueled Karl’s determination to evolve his hobby into “Steadfast”, a comprehensive IT services company that does not waver on prompt service, reliable and superior infrastructure for thousands of clients and partners. Karl had help from his community to build his business. That sense of paying-it-forward is why Steadfast likes to work with SME customers, offering them the support they need to grow their own businesses.
How has your company culture evolved as Steadfast has grown?
The culture as a whole really has not changed. It started from seeing the need for a true technical partner and expertise and has kept that base. The main thing that has changed over time is simple - the scale. At the core, we’re still a bunch of IT nerds that really like to help business people focus on their business concerns, while we help them use IT to solve those concerns.
What are your primary goals for Steadfast?
Our intentions are humble. We hope to be recognized as a trusted partner and provider for SMEs that need help with their IT infrastructure. We have no desire to try and rule the managed hosting and cloud market. The market is saturated by competitors who are typically fighting for market share of a handful of very large, financially-lucrative enterprise customers, or large commodity service providers who offer raw resources, but little hands-on support. Steadfast wants to be “the” choice for SMEs that need premium service and want to work one-on-one with a partner who support them more as an extension of their own staff than just as a vendor.
Where do you see Steadfast in two years? Five? Ten?
We believe that more and more organizations will continue to outsource their IT infrastructure management services, as these services will be increasingly be viewed more as a utility cost. It will not make sense to burden their IT teams with the day-to-day management of infrastructure operations and the responsibility to keep up on compliance standards, etc. These utilities will be outsourced in large or full amounts so that those IT resources can be used to build new technologies or efficiencies for those organizations. Steadfast was there at the start of this evolution, starting with data center colocation that evolved into dedicated server hosting and then early cloud technologies. Over the next few years, Steadfast will continue to enable this evolution. Not only will our service offerings grow to meet and exceed these demands, but we will continue to build customized solutions for customer to take them there.
What’s the No. 1 thing on your to-do list?
At this moment we are rolling out an entirely new VMware NSX platform that will expand the capabilities of our Steadfast Simplicity Cloud Services and strengthen benefits to our customers. Specifically, we are architecting the platform to extend the benefits of a software defined data center (SDDC) to SME customers. Typically, only available to enterprise customers, the platform capabilities that we are delivering to SMEs will now give them access to virtualize rich networking and security functions that will enhance security, integrity and productivity.
In your opinion, what are some of the pros and cons of being an Illinois business?
Being in Chicago is key to our business as we love meeting people in-person. Chicago itself has a rich business ecosystem with companies of all types and sizes for us to approach as customers and partners. Even when a customer or partner isn’t in Chicago, the world class transportation system (train, plane, etc.) makes it trivial to go out and see them quickly. On top of that, Chicago is a great place to find talent, but also a relatively easy place to recruit talent to move to.
What are the biggest challenges you face as you scale your business?
Staying ahead of the market. In the cloud services space, things are always changing, not just the technology, but the buying behavior as well. As an example, things were going very well with sales and marketing when we were selling to highly technical buyers, but then the market shifted and now most cloud services sales need buy-in from higher level executives, that need to meet business needs. This didn’t change our operations or technology, but completely changed our sales and marketing side of the business.
What motivates your employees to come to work every day?
Our employees come from varied backgrounds with very diverse skill sets and knowledge. This is by design. Some have graduate degrees. Some have built their own skills through on-the-job hard work. Some have worked at corporate IT companies. Some have come from start-ups. The one thing in common for all these employees? They are all driven to make a difference. They all have a voice at Steadfast and all can affect change that will impact our customers, our company, and our industry in general. We have built this team by design. This team affords us a broad understanding of different experiences that our employees share and use to help us shape our organization for optimal success.
Why does Steadfast call Chicago its home?
Founder CEO Karl Zimmerman moved Steadfast to Chicago when he enrolled at Northwestern University in Evanston. During his sophomore year, he hired his first real employee and migrated his services into the current 350 E. Cermak data center facility. That building is one of the most connected facilities in the world, the heart of the Internet for the entire Midwest. That location allowed Steadfast to tap into a growing market for managed hosting and colocation that established the real foundation of Steadfast almost 20 years ago. That success, however, was heightened by support from the IT community in Chicago that not only helped to build strong business relationships but gave Karl (and Steadfast) a voice in how Chicago’s IT landscape is being built.
What was the ‘aha’ moment when you realized Steadfast made it?
Opening our data center site at 725 S. Wells was an exciting achievement because Steadfast was directly involved in the site selection, design and construction of that facility. It was the first time that Steadfast had control over the completion of our own facility and symbolized how far the company had grown at that point.
How does Steadfast interact with the Chicago community?
Aside from working with customers, Steadfast (and more specifically, Karl Zimmerman) has become an integral advocate for the IT community itself. As a board member on the Rotary Club of Chicago, Karl has spearheaded programs, such as the JOB1 program which trains Chicago high school students and helps to place them into summer internships with local corporations to give them a unique opportunity to gain professional work experience. Karl also sits on the board of directors of the Chicago Engineers Foundation, where he is working to help promote STEM education programs, with a focus on computer science. On the board for the Small Business Advocacy Council (SBAC), Karl works on programs to support small businesses success. And, as an advocate for the Illinois technology community at large, Karl serves as a member of the Internet infrastructure (i2) Coalition, where he has been traveling to Washington DC to fight for innovations in the internet’s infrastructure to politicians and policy makers. Karl recognizes that the success of Steadfast came from the support and assistance of others who were there to help. He is now paying it forward by sharing his passion for technology with others and supporting their efforts to develop innovation and business growth.
What makes Steadfast stand out?
The true care and empathy for our customers. We are IT experts that serve as an extension of our customer IT staff, not just another vendor. We support every stage of a customer engagement with the best resources possible. Our IT engineers support initial customer consultations from the start, build custom-fit services to meet unique needs, and help with deployment and migration--all included at no additional cost. And that’s just the beginning.
The technical support customers experience is very different than competitors. Steadfast does not use call centers to that force customers to wait on tiered support levels before getting to a live person. Steadfast does not use a prioritized ticketing system that many use to charge customers an escalation fee to get their issue resolved faster. Steadfast has changed the rules by allowing customers to dial directly into our data centers and getting an engineer who can help resolve issue immediately. This approach is why Steadfast maintains an “Excellent” or better Net Promoter score (50+) of at all times when it comes to Steadfast support. This level of support is something that many customers don’t truly appreciate until their service on a competitor platform is disrupted and they are sitting on phone for an hour or more just to get someone to speak to speak to them. Steadfast typically closes out approximately 93% of our tickets within that first hour that companies haven’t even responded to their customer.
What is the one thing Steadfast cannot live without?
People passionate about business, people passionate about technology, and the intersection between the two.