Q&A WITH MATT LARSEN – CEO OF VISTABEAM
The 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic impacted society on a global scale. Our daily lives and routines were forever changed, due to the mandatory government lockdowns put in place to help stop the spread of the virus. As a result, small and large companies across the United States, scrambled to implement virtual workstations for their employees, in an effort to remain viable. Technology, more than ever, became an indispensable requirement for the Nation.
To help alleviate the devastating economic impact of the Pandemic, the Federal Government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress on March 27, 2020.
The states of Nebraska and Wyoming, partnered with Vistabeam to use their CARES ACT grant funds to expand fixed wireless internet coverage and service to rural communities in desperate need.
Matt Larsen, CEO of Vistabeam provides an insider’s expert view of how the project was successfully implemented in this informative Q&A.
Q1: The 2020 Pandemic was a game-changer for the industry, in particular, internet providers. As CEO of Vistabeam, what key changes did you make internally, in order to respond to the Pandemic?
A1: The first thing we did was to institute safe processes for interacting with customers at their houses and to shift office employees to remote working conditions. Broadband was essential during the early stages of the pandemic, so we had to keep the network running and add capacity to meet the demand. Fortunately, we added a lot of backbone and last mile capacity just before the pandemic and we were able to easily meet the needs of our existing customers and a big surge of new customers looking to upgrade to a better connection.
Q2: Vistabeam was selected as the partner to lead the broadband expansion plan for the States of Nebraska and Wyoming. How significant was this partnership for your organization?
A2: Our participation in the CARES Act funded broadband expansion programs in Nebraska and Wyoming enabled us to upgrade nearly all of our network facilities in both states. Vistabeam had a three-year plan to upgrade existing network and extend our coverage into nearby unserved areas. That plan was the basis for our CARES Act work, but we accelerated the timelines to get three years of work done in a few months and it took a steady, sustained effort by our dedicated Infrastructure Team to get it done.
Q3: What were some key weaknesses within the infrastructure of these communities that you immediately identified as priorities?
A3: Many of the areas that we expanded into were unserved or had poor broadband options that were unable to meet the needs for home schooling or remote work. Many had no middle-mile network options or tower facilities, so we had to build our own backhaul and towers to get to the customers.
Q4: What was the biggest challenge that you and your team faced during the expansion project?
A4: Inconsistent work by outside contractors put a lot of pressure on our team. This caused several delays and a lot of wasted time having to do the work ourselves. However, our team added new skills and capabilities to overcome this challenge and help us become more self- sufficient.
Q5: Did you experience any supply shortage during the project?
A5: Several items were in short supply, so we had to plan around shortages and longer timelines. Several of our vendors stepped up to help us get the equipment we needed, and we added a new facility with more storage and staging capacity to accommodate the huge influx of inventory.
Q6: How did the community and customers react to receiving the service?
A6: Since the pandemic started, we have been receiving 5 star reviews for our service on a daily basis. Our team has done an outstanding job taking care of our customers and rolling out free service upgrades as we add capacity.
Q7: What kept your team motivated throughout the process?
A7: Our team takes a lot of pride is delivering a quality service, and that drives them. They are all on our network and can see how important the work they do is for them and their families. The CARES Act projects also gave us milestones and deadlines that helped focus our efforts during the process.
Q8: Please share 2 key ‘Lessons Learned’ from this experience.
A8: Lesson 1: Build up your own capabilities and reduce dependency on outside entities. This made our network and team more resilient and capable of handling bigger challenges. Lesson 2: Be ready to answer when opportunity knocks. We had three years of work planned out and ready to go, so when the Cares Act broadband programs were announced we already had our roadmap and execution strategy in place.
Q9: Has this experience led you to enact internal protocols for handling emergency events and preparedness?
A9: We have added a safety officer and established protocols for safe work policies along with monthly safety meetings and regular training.
Q10: If you had to do it all over again, from an expert’s point of view, what would you do differently?
A10: We would have reduced our dependency on outside contractors and planned to do more of the work with our own staff. There are always a few things that you would do differently, but for the most part I think we did an outstanding job of executing on the projects.
Q11: What would you like to say to the customers and the people of Nebraska and Wyoming who’s lives you’ve touched during the past year?
A11: All of us at Vistabeam are thankful for the opportunity to serve the great people in Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming. We will do everything we can to earn your business, treat you with respect and deliver a quality broadband service for you.
Q12: Is there more ahead for Vistabeam in terms of future expansion within the states of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming?
A12: We are always looking to expand into areas that are unserved, but we are also planning to bring competition to new areas where we can leverage our existing infrastructure and systems to provide an extraordinary broadband experience.
Q13: What advice do you have for other industry leaders who are facing hardship and challenges transitioning from the Pandemic to now?
A13: Take care of your team. We had a “grant hangover” this spring after a very hectic work schedule for several months and team members that were getting burned out. It took some time to adjust back to a normal pace of work and get our team some rest, but we are in a great position now. I make sure to show my appreciation for the hard work that went into our broadband projects and celebrate their accomplishments.
Q14: Have you changed as a leader as a result of the Pandemic?
A14: Vistabeam added a lot of employees and maintained consistent steady growth during the Pandemic, and that led me to delegate more responsibilities to team members and trust in their judgement. It helps to have a great Leadership Team and dedicated employees.
Q15: Do you have a message for your company and your team?
A15: I am very proud of the work our team did during the pandemic and that is reflected in the growth of our company, the high degree of customer satisfaction and our ability to execute on challenging projects like the CARES Act program. They are extraordinary and I have nothing but appreciation and respect for them.