Navakai, a lean team of Colorado Springs-based IT consultants, moved into a new office space last Friday — a move short in distance, but great in altitude and cultural identity, according to its founders.
After more than a year of searching for the ideal office space for Navakai and its 14-person staff, founders Shawn Morland and Davin Neubacher found a spot in the heart of downtown, in a 4,000-square-foot penthouse suite atop the historic Hibbard Building at 19 S. Tejon St.
Navakai’s move from a cramped space at 619 N. Cascade Ave. into the bright and airy top-floor suite — equipped with a westward-facing, rooftop patio, kids area and kegerator — means the business can continue the growth it has maintained since shortly after opening 15 years ago, Morland and Neubacher said.
“We like where downtown is moving — granted, it is taking a while to get there,” Neubacher said. “I think people are realizing that if you have a good downtown, a lot of other things will fall into place. We’re paying about double what we would pay up north, but it’s worth it. We think we’ll get that back. It’s a commitment, and it also attracts the right staff. Being downtown is part of our culture.”
The term Navakai — a word invented by a business consultant when Morland and Neubacher started the company in 2001 — means “to navigate the choppy waters of the IT world.”
And that’s what they do.
After working together in sales at former Internet company Vanion in 2000 and 2001, Morland and Neubacher (after a few cocktails one night) decided they were ready to give it a go alone.
They kickstarted Navakai with a team of five on Sept. 1, 2001. Later that month, on Sept. 11, the two went to the bank to sign for their Small Business Administration loan.
“I remember sitting in the front, waiting for our banker to come out and grab us, and we were watching the screens and watching the replays of the towers collapsing,” Morland said. “I remember waking up that morning and even wondering if I should go to the bank.”
Despite the national tragedy that was the attack on New York City’s World Trade Center, getting up and going in for that appointment turned out to be a good call for the two entrepreneurs.
“Our banker called us that afternoon and said, ‘Boys, I think you got the last loan in the country for a while,’ ” Neubacher said, reflecting on the economic tumult that began soon after.
The next month or so was decent: The company began building a client base and its staff was seemingly optimistic about the future of the firm.
“We wanted to fill the gap between provider and customer, and really be an innovator to help customers use these products in the most effective way possible,” Morland said. “We really saw ourselves as consumer advocates.”
But, despite their purist perspective of the IT industry, hard times hit and so began “the year of chirping crickets,” as Neubacher referred to it. The company was forced to bootstrap, firing the only three employees it had to save themselves from folding on their five-year office lease.
“That sort of growth just wasn’t going to happen after 9/11,” Morland said. “I think that really set us back a couple of years.”
“I think people are realizing that if you have a good downtown, a lot of other things will fall into place.”
– Davin Neubacher
It took two years for the ball to get rolling, but their business finally began to pick up and Navakai has hired a person each year since, swelling to around 14 full-time employees (including Morland and Neubacher).
As the team grew, Navakai moved from office to office, landing at 619 N. Cascade Ave. for the past three years. In the past year or two, Neubacher said their space near Colorado College was too small for the growing team, so its owners considered buying their own building — but the market was tough and the two were dedicated to staying downtown, maintaining the office culture their employees had come to expect from the company. That culture, influenced by Neubacher’s childhood in Hawaii, is bright, airy, colorful and full of boards and brews.
“This was sort of 11th hour,” Neubacher said. “We took the elevator up and it opened right to the lobby and it had the right paint, the right look, good cubicles, and we were kind of like ‘done.’ Then we saw the conference room and the patio — it’s just so Navakai.”
For Morland and Neubacher, the benefits of having an easily accessible and inviting space are clear: getting away from those IT stereotypes associated with poor customer service and non-transparency.
“From a marketing perspective, especially with new clients, it’s important that they know we’re not the wizard behind the curtain,” Morland said. “I think it is important for them to be able to look behind that curtain and see who we really are.”
Neubacher agreed with that sentiment.
“The biggest compliment I think we’ve ever gotten is from people who say, ‘You guys don’t even seem like an IT company,’ ” he said. “That’s huge. For customers to say that when they visit our office it’s cool and eclectic and doesn’t seem like an IT shop — that’s like the biggest high-five ever.”
Editor’s Note: Navakai provides IT services for Colorado Publishing Company, which owns the Colorado Springs