A look at a group of millennial problem solvers and how they’re changing the face of modern business
Photos Will Caron and Jasperdo / flickr
In today’s fast-paced and high-tech business realm, start-up tech companies are emerging at a rapid pace to meet the demands of the Internet-age. What’s more, these new, tech-savy companies tend to operate in a collaborative spirit that echoes the values of the millennial generation. This is the business model of the future, and it’s very different than the corporate model that has dominated world business until today.
MuBeta Solutions LLC, founded by college students Collin Paran, Chris Wheeler, Sergio Stringfors and recent graduate Courtney Jones, is one of these modern, collaborative start-ups. But unlike the bulk of these new companies, which tend to provide wholesale solutions or services to only a specific range of problems or clients, MuBeta was built to be a fully customizable solution generator.
“We are problem solvers,” Paran explains to me over lunch at The Old Spaghetti Factory at Ward Warehouse. I met the four of them there as it’s right across the street from The Box Jelly, the collaborative workspace MuBeta uses. Workspaces like The Box Jelly are another example of the shift away from the old corporate business model to the new start-up model.
“We don’t follow a single set of guidelines for every single company,” says Jones. “We tailor our solutions to client needs. Depending on what they’re asking for and what they need, that will determine what we give them.”
“And we do a lot of research,” adds Paran. “We try to pick companies that we care about and that will work well with us, because we’re not just going to throw some software at you and call it good. There’s a ton of companies that do that. As we grow more high-tech, we need to maintain that human interaction.”
“Politics and fitness, for example, are radically different from each other, so our solutions will be too,” explains Stringfors. “Our system works by customizing everything around a company’s specific needs. We examine the company structure, the financial health, operations—everything—in order to target the specific markets these companies are involved in.”
“When it comes down to it, we ask a simple question,” says Paran. “And that question is: What is your goal as a company? Then we figure out the best way to help you accomplish it.”
Changing the way we do business
Each of the four founders plays a different role in the development of these custom solutions, allowing them to build a comprehensive business strategy for their clients that covers all the bases and works uniformly. Jones develops custom marketing and advertising strategies, Wheeler builds custom software, Paran analyzes data and then translates it into a format that is useful to the client and Stringfors works on improving the client’s business structure and finances.
“A lot of times you’d have to go to different agencies to get your software done, to get the marketing done, to get your finances done,” says Jones. “We’re offering all of that in one place. It’s a one-stop shop for growth in your company.”
The team’s collaborative strategy works well. For example, Paran might build a math algorithm based on data he analyzes and then work with Wheeler, who can build a custom piece of software around that algorithm for use in a client’s website.
“We all speak our own language, but we’re applying it all together,” says Jones. “You don’t typically find that [in business], especially in Hawaiʻi. To be able to do that makes us unique.”
A start-up helping other start-ups is very different from the old, corporate structure of mainstream business, too.
“I think our generation is craving this sort of business model,” says Paran. “Our generation is sick of this industrial complex-style of business where you start out as an intern and climb your way up. There’s just so few that end up successful in that system. We’re not rejecting everything about the old way of doing business, but I think the corporate model is quickly becoming outdated, so companies now need to learn how to operate in this new environment. They need to make adjustments, and we are the solution—our generation is the solution.
“So some of what we do for our clients that are older businesses is educate them on things like how to use the Internet to their advantage,” continues Paran. “Because otherwise you start to see businesses you care about like—and pardon me for saying this—like the Honolulu Weekly, that don’t keep up with technology or choose not to, and they start to die. And it’s sad because they produce something good. If we were around at that point we could have saved the Weekly.”
“Traditional companies are very structured and box-like,” adds Stringfors. “We can reach a wider audience without needing the tools traditional companies use. For that reason, our company and the companies we help take off much faster than they would in the traditional system. When that happens, it’s vital that every single person in the company be able to expand their creativity and potential. And this really makes employees in tech start-ups work harder than they would in traditional companies.
“It’s also why collaboration between companies and between skill sets is so important,” continues Stringfors. “Employees in traditional companies tend to work within groups that share their skill set, but the problem with that is their creativity reaches a cap very quickly. When you collaborate you view a problem from different perspectives, which makes the end product, the solution, stronger and helps us reach it faster.”
“When I first started programming, a lot of the resources for software development were locked up in industries,” says Wheeler. “Now that the Internet has … evolved to the point that it’s at now, a lot more of the powerful resources for programmers have become available for anyone to use—it’s called open source. Because of this, 15-year-old kids like David Karp are able to build tumblr. So things are definitely very different today than they were even 10 years ago.”
“Think about the difference between how Google started and how Goldman Sachs started,” elaborates Paran. “You can see how that new environment is treating both at this time. It’s the difference between going in for a six or eight-hour day and staring at expense reports until your mind goes numb and having a client that needs a solution in six months or their business will fail. At that point the team has to find a solution which forces us to think creatively and look for outside-the-box solutions.”
That being said, MuBeta doesn’t just target small businesses for their brand of solutions. They also target mid-sized companies and large corporations too.
“Corporations tend to want more detailed, focused work done in a specific area,” explains Stringfors. “Small businesses tend to lack the same level of organization, and so we have to do more general structuring.”
“One thing that I’ve noticed is that larger companies tend to say, ‘well we’re already using this, how can we make it more efficient and can you do it for the same price?’” says Paran. “Whereas when we work with small businesses it tends to be more like teaching them how to think creatively and develop new strategies for growth.”
“We like working with both types,” adds Jones. “They each have their own challenges and personalities.”
“And because we get to work with different types of companies across different types of industries, it keeps our work interesting,” says Stringfors. “Every time we work with a company it’s a different customization, so it makes our lives a whole lot more fun.”
“Right, and we learn from them too,” says Paran. “Different companies have very different things to teach us, and all the while we’re teaching them too.”
The MuBeta Difference
All four founders are at the top of their respective fields and met through Hawaiʻi Pacific University networks. Paran was the student body president at HPU while Jones was president of the Akamai Advertising Agency, a student-run organization there. Wheeler is a competition programmer at HPU who has led teams of programmers to victory over schools like Stanford and MIT. Stringfors was a student senator for the College of Business two years in a row, co-founded the HPU Health Club, was vice-president of Students for Free Enterprise and founded his first company (in the healthcare field) when he was 20.
Because of their leadership skills and networking abilities, if a client’s problem requires solutions from outside the MuBeta team’s expertise, they are capable of tapping their contacts across varied networks to collaborate with a variety of potential ad hoc team-members to come up with the proper, quality solutions to the problem.
“We’re pulling in people from different majors, different backgrounds, different skill sets to solve these new, modern business challenges in a modern way,” says Paran. “We are capable of pulling in the right people for the job, no matter what it is.”
Although the MuBeta team feels confident that they could custom build the right business model for any type of company, they won’t be offering their services to just any business.
“We want to be known as an exclusive company,” says Jones. “We want people down the road to say, ‘MuBeta Solutions is helping you? How can my company get their help too?’ Companies can inquire with us and we’ll sit down and talk to them, but in the end we decide which clients we’ll take.”
“We’re passionate about what we do, so we’re careful about which companies we choose to approach,” explains Paran. “We look at a company’s ethos. What do they care about? We want to work with companies that care about their people and are hard-working themselves, not businesses that are just there to exploit people. We really want to make sure our clients’ views are consistent with our ethos.”
“We want to be able to control our own work in order to maintain a certain level of quality to it,” explains Stringfors. “If we try to take on the masses, it will water down our product and change us into another wholesale solutions company, instead of a customized solutions company. That is one of the biggest things companies face once they start taking on too many clients.”
“We have another four-member team that mirrors our setup already in place and working on other accounts and we’re already training other teams as well,” says Paran. “We’re already looking at expanding to different states and countries. We’re part of that wave of high-growth start-ups, and instead of having to export our start-ups to Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley will have to come to us.
“I think there’s a unique way people do business here,” continues Paran. “So one of our goals for ourselves is to be able to marry the two: to have that aggressive team around a client that will get the job done efficiently and correctly, but—and I know this sounds kind of cheesy—but also to have that aloha about it. You have to talk story—that’s how you do business here.”
Jones agrees: “We really care about helping other companies out. That’s what makes us happy. We have to take care of each other here in Hawaiʻi.”
This attitude of helping others that are in need is also why the team started a nonprofit called the MuBeta Foundation. A separate entity from Solutions, the foundation has already raised money for relief efforts in the Philippines following the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Haiyan, and will raise money for future relief efforts around the world as well.
“We’re working with several nonprofits in the Philippines to receive the money we’ve raised and distribute aid from those funds,” says Stringfors.
“Like I said earlier, we care about our communities,” says Paran. “It’s probably been pounded into your head, but it’s true: Think globally, but act locally. We’re acting locally by partnering with other small businesses to give to the relief efforts. …
“That’s the other thing that kind of comes from our generation,” continues Paran. “We’re still competitive, but it’s a collaborative, community-based competitiveness that’s based on making each other better, rather than beating each other down. I think, maybe because of social media, our generation tends to think larger—like the whole globe is our community. That’s what the foundation is about and, in a way, what MuBeta Solutions is about too.”
To inquire with MuBeta Solutions about whether their brand of custom solutions is right for your business, visit their website at mubetasolutions.com/contact and send them an email.