Joshua Erdman was newly married, on the verge of becoming a father and between jobs when he launched a computer services company, Digital Foundation, in 2003.
Erdman, who had studied computer science at Cal Poly before dropping out in 1998, recalls feeling “stressed and scared” and intimidated by the idea of operating a business. But he was also thrilled to tackle a new challenge.
He already had experience as a network administrator for a now-defunct website development firm, and in 2001 he started a company on the side that would have provided phone and network wiring for local businesses.
He abandoned that concept and refocused his business plan, establishing Digital Foundation, an “IT department for hire” that sets up computer backup, antivirus, email, spam filtering, Internet and remote access services.
Clients such as the Madonna Inn, Guayaki, Native Trails and the Toews, Samberg and Murphy law firm are charged a monthly fee based on the size and complexity of their networks.
“Running a computer management business was actually the idea of the Madonna Inn and Guyaki,” said Erdman, who had worked with these clients before as a network administrator. “They called and asked that I continue to manage their computers.”
Erdman called his parents, telling his father that he was starting a business — a first in his family.
“I asked for $1,500, which he quickly mailed me along with a letter of encouragement,” Erdman said, adding that his father has been his only investor. “I still have that letter.”
Today, Digital Foundation has 10 employees, nearly all of whom started as part-time employees while attending Cuesta College or Cal Poly. The company has grown at least 15 percent each year since it started and is profitable, said Erdman, a 36-year-old father of three.
“We have almost tripled our sales within the last four years,” he said.
He attributes much of the company’s success to defying the traditional stereotype of the tech nerd with no personality, he said.
“We have the ability to be personable and have a sense of humor,” he said.
Digital Foundation’s biggest competitors are TechXpress, TekTegrity and Clever Ducks, as well as a host of individual home office computer-support businesses. Erdman believes customer service is what sets his company apart, noting that it is positioned well here because it’s not too big or small.
“We fit right in the middle — have all the knowledge a business needs to thrive and the infrastructure in place to always provide that small-town feel,” he said.
In the next five years, Erdman sees a shift from “less servers to more services” as companies use more Internet-based services, or those in the “cloud.” He also anticipates increased sales.
“When I look at the economy and where it has been, we didn’t downsize,” he said. “We kept growing, and when the economy picks back up, we expect to keep growing and growing faster.”