Ex-Fresno State student’s tech-support business blossoms with his ideas.
By Jeff St. John
The Fresno Bee
Eric Rawn started a one-man, part-time technology support business in 1996, when he was a 19-year-old student. Now Xobee Networks Inc. is a 15-employee Clovis company with about $2 million in annual revenues serving more than 500 clients across California.
Eric Rawn can’t help but be optimistic about the future of technology in the central San Joaquin Valley.
After all, he’s building a high-tech future of his own.
Back in 1996, Rawn, then a 19-year-old Fresno State student, launched Xobee Networks as a part-time venture to compliment his tech support job at a Fresno law firm. Eleven years later, that one-man, part-time technology support business has grown to a 15-employee company based in Clovis with about $2 million in annual revenues serving more than 500 clients across California.
“It’s been really exciting, taking nothing and making something out of it,” said Rawn, now the sole owner of a debt-free business with a list of clients that includes law firms, small businesses, government agencies and school districts from Redding to San Diego.
So with his tech-support business in good shape, Rawn has been branching out into a new line of business that he hopes could take his company national – building custom software to “meet the needs that our clients have told us about over the years.”
Take the inventory-management system his company designed for Fresno-based Electronic Recyclers, one of the state’s largest electronic waste recycling companies. The software, now running at the company’s Fresno facility, doesn’t just track every piece of equipment that’s brought into the plant.
It also ties into the closed-circuit video monitoring system that allows Electronic Recyclers’ clients to watch their equipment as it moves through the recycling process, from start to finish.
That’s important for companies that want to make sure their electronic waste is being properly recycled, rather than being sent to a landfill or to another country where environmental regulations for electronics recycling are more lax, said John Shegerian, president of Electronic Recyclers.
In fact, it’s so important that Shegerian said he wants to install the same system in a Massachusetts plant his company recently bought, as well as plants he plans to open in eight other states in the next 18 months.
“That’s where we really hope to break out,” Rawn said, noting that law firms are increasingly looking for ways to manage electronically filed court documents and other electronic data. The test version of the software should be ready in about six months, he said.
Another product, Xobee’s voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP, telephone system software, is already installed in the offices of Xobee clients, he said. Such custom software products account for about two-fifths of Xobee’s revenues, even though they’re being used by fewer than 20 of Xobee’s clients, Rawn said.
So he sees a lot of promise in making Xobee’s software products available to the wider market – part of his goal of growing his company to 30 employees and $5 million in annual revenues over the next three years.
That will mean bringing in new talent to supplement that small, close-knit crew he has assembled over the years.
Some of Xobee’s employees are local, such as Mario Ariaz, Rawn’s high school friend and current senior network engineer, or Rawn’s brother, Chris Rawn, who joined the company last year as operations manager, he said.
Others have relocated to Fresno from cities such as Boston and Los Angeles, he said. “Everyone is pretty much under 30 here,” he said.
To keep his employees, Rawn offers salaries ranging from $50,000 a year for starting technicians to more than $100,000 for experienced ones, as well as medical and dental coverage and perks such as company cell phones and gas cards. “I think about everyone I’ve hired: I never thought I’d have 15 employees working for me,” he said.
But his experience has given him faith that Fresno can support other high-tech self-starters like himself. “Try to work with your current employer to work out some kind of opportunity,” he said. “If you’re really meant to be an entrepreneur, it’s going to work.”