RIT donor's company benefits from Rochester's tech expertise
RIT donor's company benefits from Rochester's tech expertise
The Lite-Brite wall hasn’t been installed yet.
But there’s a cubicle that has been turned into a ball pit. And the kitchens are stocked with free snacks—cereal, pistachios, wasabi peas, granola bars and others—on each floor of Datto’s offices in The Metropolitan. Those features, colorful décor, and the multiple monitors on every desk, along with televisions screens broadcasting sales closed and Seinfeld episodes, declare this is a high-tech company with a youthful bent.
And like most youth, it’s growing rapidly. So rapidly that when the company merged and was acquired for $1.5 billion earlier this month, the founder, Austin McChord, was able to hand over a $50 million donation to his alma mater and one of the biggest suppliers of his employee pool—Rochester Institute of Technology.
The data-protection company that started its Rochester office with five employees three years ago has grown at an astonishing rate and now is revamping a total of five floors, totaling 75,000 square feet, so it will have room for 400 employees very soon.
“It’s just explosive what’s happening,” said Heidi N. Zimmer-Meyer, president of the Rochester Downtown Development Corp. “What we have in our community and particularly downtown allowed that to happen.”
McChord started Datto in the basement of his father’s office building in Norwalk, Conn., in 2007, and the company’s headquarters are still in Norwalk today. Datto’s gone a little more upscale lately, adding offices in Boston; Portland, Ore.; and Reading, U.K. It now has 1,400 employees.
The Rochester office was added in 2014 at the RIT Center for Urban Entrepreneurship, located in the former Rochester Savings Bank on Franklin Street for the last two years. As the first company to take advantage of the Startup NY tax-free incentives, the company was expected to grow, but no one could have predicted it would grow this large this soon.
“Datto is leading the pack in so many ways,” Zimmer-Meyer said. While the fastest growing, it’s just one of 155 startups that have landed in downtown Rochester, she said. Access to high-tech graduates from RIT is one of Rochester’s selling points to such companies.
Datto’s merger with Autotask Corp. as part of its acquisition by Vista Equity Partners brings with it new offices in Richmond, U.K.; Beijing; and Sydney, making the company more balanced between domestic and international business, said Jason Elston, director of North American tech support for Datto. Though situated in Rochester, Elston has been managing tech support across Datto’s footprint. Now, however, he is taking on the myriad tasks of merging of Datto and Autotask.
Elston, formerly head of tech support at RIT, joined Datto when the Rochester office was set up with a handful people. But that level of staffing didn’t last for long.
“We have always been kind of busting our buttons as far as office space,’” Elston said. The Franklin Street offices felt too small in just a few months, he said. Additional office space was created in The Metropolitan about nine months ago, but there has been considerable shifting in that time.
The company currently has just under 200 employees in Rochester, with a large segment working in tech support. Renovations at The Metropolitan anticipate moving staff from Franklin Street so the local employees will be under a single roof, and hiring even more people as a result of the merger and continued growth. Datto will have offices on floors 11 through 15 of The Metropolitan, featuring a large event space on 13 where the staff can enjoy free weekly lunches together, and slides that connect floors 13 and 14 and floors 12 and 13.
“The Autotask relationship is going to open more doors for us,” Elston said, helping Datto compete against much larger providers of computer services such as Cisco, Dell, HP and others. “Our sales people are champing at the bit.
Previously Datto focused on selling data protection hardware and capacity to contractors who provide information technology services to small companies that can’t manage IT departments of their own. Autotask also sells to those contractors but its market includes direct sales to the end consumers and additional products. The two companies overlap in only about 10 percent of their current customers.
McChord was on vacation and unable to be interviewed for this article. He’s in Rochester two or three times a month, Elston said, for Datto business or to work at RIT, where he is a trustee.
Zimmer-Meyer praised McChord’s gift to RIT as being both generous and genius in the way it will support development of the kind of students he will hire in the future, as will other high-tech companies in Rochester. Thirty million dollars will go toward creativity and entrepreneurship facilities, activities and scholarships, while the other $20 million is being set aside for expanding cybersecurity and artificial intelligence studies at RIT.
Companies that produce “software and code-writing are based in Rochester because that’s one of our strengths,” Zimmer-Meyer said. Indeed, Elston said RIT grads are common among the applications for Datto’s Rochester positions, but many of the Norwalk jobs have also been filled with RIT grads from New England.
RIT connection or not, plenty of people are trying to work for Datto.
“I’ll put a posting up for tech support and I’ll get 150 resumes,” Elston said. Out of those he picks the 12 or 15 best to hire and sends them all to Norwalk for two days of “Datto University.” Elston said they’re not all binary computer experts, as some of his best trainees have come from gas station employment where they’re used to working on a problem until they can solve it. A good team of trainees includes several types, he said.
“I like a self-starter,” Elston said. “We want the super-technology (person) with the retail worker who can smile through the phone. … We aim to strike that balance between customer services and tech.”
After a travel day the pack returns to Rochester to complete the two weeks of training. During a recent visit to the office, the training room, which looks out of the east side of the building toward Tower 280, was filled with trainers undergoing their own training.
McChord will continue to be the CEO of the newly merged company, imbuing his particular brand on a growing sector of the high-tech world.
“He prides himself on a direct attack model,” Elston said, meaning that customers who have a problem will reach a real person on the first attempt to contact the company and that person will attack the problem without shifting the call through a series of electronic menus. “That person is a tech and will start working on your problem,” Ellston said. “He doesn’t want any hoops jumped through.”
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