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Ted Rayburn: Colorado Springs IT company thrives on outside-the-box approach to its employees

March 19, 2017 Updated: March 20, 2017 at 9:57 am
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Navakai has tried different approaches, trial and error, and has found, for example, some siloing is not a bad thing.

Navakai in Colorado Springs slipped through a crack in the door to become the happy, healthy IT company that it is today.

Not that Shawn Morland and Davin Neubacher were trying to sneak in to Colorado Springs - they were beset by circumstance. You see, they showed up, as scheduled, to sign the loan establishing their business the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

As loan officers watched TVs nervously, the partners solidified their future. One officer later told them their loan was "the last one in Colorado Springs for a long time."

It was coincidence, but beginning a business in that environment had to have an impact. In the case of Navakai, the result was a company focused on customer service and setting industry standards - and a company that counts its blessings.

Navakai provides business- to-business desktop and server support, network engineering and technology planning for their customers, who include Westmoreland Coal, The Resource Exchange, Perkins Motors and other local businesses, as well as customers in several states. And they do their job in a refreshingly collegial and relaxed way that is at the same time extremely productive.

After hearing about Navakai, I met Neubacher and got a tour of the offices on Tejon Street downtown, with its reception area that features a keg of beer for clients and an area for children to read or watch TV on colorful beanbag chairs while they wait for their working parent. A rooftop patio has a grill and a sheet attached to a wall for employees and their families to watch movies under the stars.

Here, Neubacher says, "family comes first."

Sounds pretty relaxed. But I also saw a lot of work getting done. Navakai has tried different approaches, trial and error, and has found, for example, some siloing is not a bad thing. Neubacher found that creating departments allowed network engineers and server support staff "to do what they do best" without distractions.

Another counterintuitive quality of Navakai: Its customer-service representatives are not trained to speak the language of techs - rather, the language of ordinary customers who need tech help. Likewise, Neubacher's training is not in technology but in business development. He puts great value in being able to view his and Morland's company with a customer mindset.

I saw a company that takes its work seriously but doesn't take itself too seriously. That is evidenced by its hilarious ads - if you haven't seen them around, visit navakai.com for a sample.

That attitude isn't just good for public relations. Neubacher said the company started out as a "big fish" when Colorado Springs was a small pond for IT. Rather than rely on that reputation, Navakai chose to swim with the rising tide of tech companies and has thrived on the competition.

Why am I singling out this business? Because I believe its philosophy of work and life in balance should matter to a city that wants to 1) keep up with its larger neighbor to the north in keeping and attracting young, highly skilled workers (in technology and other sectors); and 2) ensure a diversified local economy.

Neither is likely to happen unless we encourage employers who understand productivity comes with happy, healthy workplaces.

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Ted Rayburn is business editor for The Gazette; 636-0194 or ted.rayburn@gazette.com.

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