Wade Arnold and T8 Webware: From dorm room to board room
Wade Arnold, CEO of T8 Webware, at the entrance to their new digs in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The new space was completed in the fall of 2009. Photo by Dan Beenken.
When you walk into the HQ for T8 Webware and its sister companies at Barmuda Companies, you know you’ve reached the heart of the Cedar Valley’s innovation district. As Wade Arnold likes to say, "Some firms are on the cutting edge, we’re at the bleeding edge." For Arnold, a gifted PHP and Adobe coder, that’s exactly where he wants to stay. T8 is his baby, make no mistake. And although he has attracted some outside capital over the years, Arnold is in control of the show out here.
Arnold started out with a position in hosting support at Powersurge as a student at University of Northern Iowa. Out of that gig, his first startup was formed when Powersurge was sold off. Arnold’s dorm room in Shull Hall at Northern Iowa served as the home office for this new foray, Eccentric Hosting. This was the late '90s, a time when anything "tech" was turning to gold, regardless if they were actually making money or not (thank you, Pets.com). "Back then, Linux hosting was pretty unique stuff," says Arnold. Ten years later, the services have changed, but the mindset of being "on the edge" sure hasn’t. And while T8’s offices dwarf his former dorm room, the innovation and growth continues stronger than ever.
"Back then, we hosted about 2,000 clients," Arnold filled me in. "2,000," I said, “out of a dorm room?" "Yeah, about that," he reiterated. I’m thinking the only thing I had 2,000 of back at Iowa State was probably keg cups or bottle caps – I hope mom isn’t reading this one.
Anyway, with Eccentric as a launching pad, he took a gig doing, what else, selling hosting services for Powersurge. After a two-year stint there, it was on to TEAM Companies, where he met his early mentors, Mark Kittrell, TEAM’s CEO, and Mark Steward, its COO. For TEAM, he was again selling hosting services, this time for a massive data center with all the bells and whistles. It was out of this experience that the present day model for T8 began to take shape.
One of Arnold’s clients at TEAM, A&E Technologies (now part of Perimeter E-security), was in the business of providing web and hosting services to banks. He started helping A&E with more than just hosting space and began taking some of their work as a sub-contractor. "It got to a point where I had an opportunity to completely take over what A&E was doing, thanks to a merger that they were going through, so I jumped on it and T8 became the brand that serviced about 30 of their banking clients," explained Arnold on his transformation from employee to startup founder, once again. That was in 2005, and they are still focused on that model and industry today.
One thought keeps popping up in my head as we talk, and that is why has he continued to keep T8 in Cedar Falls? He makes monthly trips to that other silicon place, and could easily choose to locate anywhere, but he has stayed in the Cedar Valley for a variety of reasons. Thanks to Northern Iowa, he has access to talent and IT profs to bounce ideas off. The cost of living and the "ease of living," as Arnold puts it, sure don’t hurt either. And, as I gather from our talk, Stella tastes the same here as it does in San Francisco.
Their Cedar Falls location has never been a speed bump to growth, however. It has come in the form of about 240 very sticky clients across the country. Most all of them are banks and credit unions in the "regional or community" banking category. T8’s focus is on managing the customer’s online experience. Online has replaced the "in-store" experience for many consumers, "so we are really managing things from the street to the teller in the online version of that," explained Arnold.
The open work environment allows T8 employees Wade Arnold, Blake Keating, Steve Ralston, and Evan Diehm to collaborate virtually anywhere.
Did I mention they also do plenty of consulting work for some pretty high profile names? Along the way from Eccentric’s beginnings to the formation of T8, Arnold became an expert in Adobe’s Flash technologies and PHP coding. He picked up some pretty high profile clients including the likes of Deere and Co., McDonald’s, and Accenture, among many others. These projects continue to funnel in, but it’s building smart sites for banks that is fueling T8’s growth.
On the subject of growth, Arnold is quick to mention the 14 states they currently do not have clients in as a priority for his firm. In addition to geographical growth is T8’s launch of several new services including a very new Cre8 My Card platform. "The bleeding edge" at T8 right now, and the by far the biggest prospect for its growth, is still tightly under wraps as Arnold will only tease me with it during this interview. It promises to transform everything we do," says Arnold and upset a few of the "big boys" out there, as he describes them. Fear not, as I plan to cover it soon, assuming Silicon Prairie News keeps me on past my probationary status.
When pressed for advice to pass on to others, Arnold is quick to mention you have to create your own opportunities. "No one is going to show up at your door, you need to put yourself out there," he says. So with that, get out there and start something.
Learn more about T8's latest product, Cre8 My Card, in our article: "T8 Webware launches Cre8 My Card."