With a blonde ponytail hanging down his back, Jim Kilmer says that just because the average age at his company is 26.2 years old doesn't mean inexperience follows youth.
In fact, their fresh faces are a comfort to their clients in Cleveland, a city that, on the average, is grayer than most major American cities.
"You're always hearing about teen-agers and high-schoolers designing Web sites and programming things," says Kilmer, manager of systems development and spokesman for the OPAL Group in Independence. "It's actually conditioned a lot of traditional corporate management into thinking that youth is the way to go with that. Even though we're not fresh out of high school, it has helped our cause, because when we walk in and start talking about these things, they kind of take it in stride and say, 'They must know what they're talking about.'"
There is no question that these young men know what they're talking about. Their customers include Apple Computer, Wolfgang Puck Soups, Williams Petroleum, the National Institutes of Health and Case Western Reserve University.
"The fact is, we're young," Kilmer says. "It hooks them. They expect us to be good and exciting, and I'm pleased to say we haven't disappointed anyone. Credibility is the hardest thing to build, but once you've got your name out there, have a few high-profile clients and have people willing to sing your praises, it happens."
Here's how Kilmer and his OPAL Group team built credibility in their first year of business.
Land corporate backing
The OPAL Group provides an array of computer network, software and hardware services to companies with annual sales of $5 million to $50 million. The company's average project runs from $10,000 to $100,000.
For now, OPAL Group is still a subsidiary of a management and venture consulting firm in Pittsburgh by the same name, but Kilmer and his colleagues have the option of buying out the parent company and going off on their own.
The five men worked independently for the OPAL Group in Pittsburgh before customer demand led to last year's creation of a technical services arm of the company.
"Rather than just walk in and become employees of the OPAL group, we decided we were going to band together and form our own company," Kilmer says. "We put the team together, put a modest business plan together and pitched it to the OPAL Group. We said, 'You give us funding and we'll do whatever you need for about a year in repayment for that, and in the meantime, we'll go about building our own business."
Establish community ties
Four out of the five members of the company are graduates of Case Western Reserve University and Kilmer sits on an advisory committee for the Great Lakes Science Center.
Other partners held positions with MetroHealth Medical Center and Key Bank before becoming part of the OPAL Group. The men have many ties with local companies and higher education, which has not only helped build their client base but spread the word about the company, which has only been marketing aggressively for a few months.
"We're bringing in business about as fast as we can handle it," says Kevin Jacobs, the firm's enterprise systems architect. "All of us come from fairly well-established backgrounds. We didn't just graduate from college. We have a lot of contacts from our previous employment.
"We have a very rich pool in which we've established ourselves as experts in our previous lives."
How to reach: The OPAL Group, (216) 986-0710
Morgan Lewis Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.