In the last three years, Rocket Fiber
co-founder Marc Hudson has expanded an admittedly precarious and bold pitch for a high-speed internet venture into a successful, rapidly expanding Detroit startup in the face of major, multimillion-dollar competitors.
Hudson first pitched the idea for Rocket Fiber in 2013 while working as a software engineer for Quicken Loans. He says he thought of the idea while reading an article on Google Fiber in Kansas City, and the subsequent influx of technology and entrepreneurship following the launch.
Hudson says a light bulb went on, thinking it could be a "game changer" for Detroit. He pitched the idea through the Cheese Factory, Quicken Loans' internal ideas website where employees are encouraged to pitch concepts big or small that could improve the company.
This idea was definitely big and quickly caught the eye of Dan Gilbert, who backed the project financially
The gigabit internet connection, which launched commercially in January, is 1,000 times faster than the average residential connection. The service is currently being used both homes and businesses in Detroit.
"Since January, we've been lighting buildings all over the central business district," Hudson says.
So far, Rocket Fiber has put down over 20 miles of fiber optic cable in Detroit. Various residential buildings in downtown and Midtown such as the Willy's Overland Lofts, Cadillac Square Apartments, and the Forest Arms Apartments already have Rocket Fiber connections available.
Hudson says Rocket Fiber is actively working to expand farther into Midtown, Brush Park, and New Center. They recently connected their first commercial customer in Corktown, as well.
“In 2017, we'll be setting our sights even bigger than just the downtown area," Hudson says. "We've always said that we want to expand, we want to grow, and we think there's a lot of opportunity to continue to build this company and network in the city of Detroit."
Although solid plans aren't in place yet, Hudson says he hopes to eventually bring Rocket Fiber into the suburbs.
Beyond physical expansion, the company plans to soon break into the cable market, providing HDTV cable channels and on-demand services.
"We're still trying to work the bugs out," Hudson says. "TV is actually pretty hard to do, it's actually harder to do than the internet." Still, he says announcements regarding the new service will be made in the "not too distant future."
Hudson will be the keynote speaker at Southeast Michigan Startup's High Growth Happy Hour starting at 6 p.m. at Cafe Con Leche in Detroit. There will be time for networking and drinks, a casual chat and Q&A. The event is free, but advance tickets are required
. Hudson will highlight Rocket Fiber's expansions and how the company has scaled an innovative tech startup across the city. To encourage this sort of growth from other ventures, Hudson has shared five of his tips for growing an innovative startup in the city.
"I've been involved in a bunch of different startups, pretty much since I was in college, high school even," Hudson says. "One of the big difference makers for me in this startup environment was having partners. I tried to do a lot of it alone in the past, and it doesn't matter how well-rounded you are, there's always going to be some skill set that you just don't have."
Don't just have partners—have good partners
"For me, having Edi and Randy as my partners has been a huge part of the success of the Rocket Fiber story," Hudson says of Edi Demaj and Randy Foster. "They were the ones that we showing up, and doing things, and following through, and not just saying they were interested but showing they were interested. … So, to me, it's one thing if someone shows interest but if they actually jump in and roll their sleeves up and start building with you, that's a pretty good indicator that they want to be around for a while."
Trust the partners you put in place as you grow
"As a founder of a company, you have a vision, you have a dream, you have an idea and you want to do everything," Hudson says. "As you grow, you really have to trust in the people you put in place to pick things up for you because you can't be everywhere at all times. You have to have people you can trust to take and run with things. And you as a founder, a manager of those people, you need to be able to let go sometimes and let them go and build things. It might not be the exact same way that you would have done it, but that's OK."
"Perseverance is one [tip] that is talked about a lot but is still understated," Hudson says. "There are so many times when this project, this idea, could have died along the way for different reasons. It was all about just rolling up our sleeves and just understanding, in our case, that this project was so important for the city of Detroit and for our organization that we weren't going to let the normal things that get in the way slow us down."
Ignore the noise
"We have a saying within our organization which is, 'Ignore the noise.' I think there's a lot of noise out there when you're building a business. It's other people trying to do something similar, it's your competitors dropping press releases, it's the naysayers telling you it can't be done. At the end of the day, it's really about putting the blinders on, focusing straight ahead on you, on your business, your dream, your vision, and shutting everything else out."
Lexi Trimpe is a freelance writer living and working in Detroit. You can find her on Twitter @LexiTrimpe or on Instagram @thewestvillageidiot.