A love of collaboration, continuous learning, and facing challenges together has kept NeuStyle founders Jack and Rick Baker on the right path for twenty years

What ingredients go into making a tech company successful? It’s a question that’s asked every day in Waterloo Region. Learning from the lessons of past successes and failures drives everyone from the young entrepreneurs at the University of Waterloo’s Velocity and Concept programs to the startup, scale-up, and corporate members at Communitech to the fast scaling businesses in the Accelerator Center here in the David Johnston Research + Technology Park.

For the NeuStyle Software & Systems Corporation team, the ingredients that have driven their success over the last 20 years are family and culture. Founded by father and son Rick and Jack Baker, NeuStyle is a custom development shop that recently moved its office into the R+T Park.

“We’ve been working together since Jack was ten,” said Rick. “Which helped me a lot because I never understood the tech stuff – I still leave that all in his hands.” While Rick is an experienced entrepreneur, business owner, and engineer, his true passion has always been business leadership. Over the last five years, he’s taken that passion for leadership and Jack’s deep understanding of systems engineering to create NeuStyle. The company works with clients to develop custom solutions for software, infrastructure architecture, networking, routing, and more. “There’s a wide range of things that have been from small software solutions to enterprise portals, to solving assembly line problems through to building a little app to do this or setting up a system to do that,” said Rick.

Having worked together over the last ten years, Jack and Rick continued to grow the business while navigating the shift from on-premise systems to hosted, cloud-based solutions. “It’s interesting when you look at what we were doing 20 years ago and what we’re doing right now,” said Jack. “We’ve migrated with systems and software across the board, mainly to deal with serving our clients.”

The transition has meant a change in their office space needs, which is why they chose the R+T Park for their new space. “We really started as your typical office. You have some computer equipment, we’re building some software solutions for customers, and then all of a sudden, it kind of migrated to now we’re hosting some of the software solutions we’ve created,” said Jack.

As R+T Park tenant SAP moved into a new space in the park, NeuStyle was touring potential new spaces and looked at some of the previous SAP space available. “It was right near the end of the tour and we were just walking downstairs where they showed us the cafeteria,” said Jack. “Then we walked by some double doors and I said, hey, that’s a server room. They said oh, yeah, that’s for rent too.” The rest is R+T Park history.

NeuStyle is the continuation of work that Jack and Rick have been doing for the last 20 years. In addition to seeing changes in the demand for cloud-based solutions, they’ve also seen a growing need – and gaps in – cybersecurity.

Jack said there had been a significant shift in the industry in understanding the importance and risks of cybersecurity in networked products. As a leader in solution design, NeuStyle works to keep ahead of the trends. “We’ve definitely adapted over the years to deal with it because we do much of our own private cloud work.”

The NeuStyle team is eager to share their experience with partners, potential clients, and startups in the R+T Park. They’re looking into creating a package of the lessons they’ve learned to help newer companies avoid potential pitfalls. “We’ve pretty much had to grind through every process. We think it would help to have some sort of thing that would be available to startups.”

Being in business for two decades, NeuStyle has seen the rapid growth of the tech ecosystem – including hiring sprees from well-funded startups and tech giants such as BlackBerry and Google. Both Jack and Rick said that competing for talent hasn’t been an issue because they’ve focused on creating a culture that people work in. “I don’t think we’ve lost any employees to any of the big companies,” said Jack. “We have a different kind of company than most I would say. Part of it is just the method in which we do things. We try to keep things fairly casual, but still have process in place.”

One of their secrets is being open to new ways of doing things. “Anyone on our team can come and present something new and say here’s this cool thing I’ve found.” Building an appreciation for continuous learning into their culture means every day is an opportunity for their team members to grow.

“I don’t really know exactly how other companies go about hiring, we hear stuff, we see stuff,” said Rick. “For us, there are three things that we look for in the people we hire – technical competence, having an achievement orientation, and a pleasing personality.” Using this system, Rick said they’ve been able to build a team of people who work well together.

Technical competence is relatively easy to gauge and the typical metric used in most technical role interviews. The second one – achievement orientation – is unique. “People who have an achievement orientation understand what it’s like to truly be a member of a group,” said Rick. “That involves feeling a need to not let other team members down and doing the best you can be doing. In a smaller shop, it’s really difficult to have people who are not achievement oriented.”

When it comes to personality, Rick said that is the biggest hurdle to get over. “That doesn’t mean that we all have to be outgoing. We can be very introverted, or we can be somewhere in between. But we need to be courteous and polite to one another. And we need to be respectful of one another,” said Rick. The approach has worked for NeuStyle. “We actually do the personality and achievement orientation interview before we do the technical competency interview,” added Rick.

This process lends itself to hiring people who can aspire to NeuStyle’s values – courage, confidence, conviction, curiosity, and consideration. “Each one of those is well defined, but from everything that I’ve learned, call it, business education, educating business leaders, leadership training, I think courage is the elite of all of the business functions,” said Rick. “It’s an elite piece of character that allows us to really excel at work. We’ll always face challenges that test our fears – and if people aren’t testing themselves, they’re not growing.”

It’s this combination of being a team, a love of continuous learning, and the courage to face challenges together that has kept Jack, Rick, and the NeuStyle team moving forward for twenty years – and decades to come.

 

This article was originally published in the David Johnson Research + Technology Park Newsletter

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