We are a technical solutions provider for customers in the private sector and government agencies like the Department of Defense and NASA. Basically… a bunch of geeks and nerds looking for difficult problems to solve.
Did you ever feel like you couldn’t quite keep up in a class? Odds are you’ll remember that feeling when you walk through the doors of Geeks and Nerds in Huntsville, Alabama. Founded by Dr. Jonn Kim, Geeks and Nerds is a leading provider of technical solutions for NASA, the Department of Defense, and a growing list of private sector companies. For the past three years, it has been included on the US Chamber of Commerce’s annual list of top companies in the U.S. Yet to understand its services requires not only a brilliant mind, but quite possibly a security clearance.
Dr. Kim is an energetic and eccentric CEO. Growing up in South Korea, Dr. Kim’s quirkiness and penchant for questioning did little to earn him favor among his teachers. “South Korean culture emphasizes order,” says Dr. Kim. “In school, we had to memorize all of these things, and I remember… thinking, ‘this is awful.’ But I couldn’t question it, because it was not an environment open to questioning things.”
Later, working on projects for NASA and the Department of Defense, Dr. Kim still felt his unique approach to problem solving was being stifled. However, Dr. Kim has never looked at the obstacles in his life as barriers, instead he thinks of them as “deflectors.” As he tells his staff and clients, deflectors aren’t there to halt your progress. They exist, instead, to point you in a better direction. That unique perspective on problem-solving has remained at the core of Dr. Kim’s approach to leadership.
“I’m probably the most unorganized person,” says Dr. Kim. “We don’t have too many people like me. It would be too chaotic. I tend to surround myself with people who are very meticulous, and who are very defined in their roles. I pose the questions then allow them to explore the tactical options to get the job done.”
Dr. Kim’s view on entrepreneurship is equally refreshing. “I don’t consider it to be all about making money,” says Dr. Kim. “It’s about optimizing your life. Which means, you optimize your talent, you optimize your financial gains, and in doing so optimize your happiness.”
Walking through the Geeks and Nerds offices, a place where a person’s quirks and idiosyncrasies are celebrated, it is clear Dr. Kim’s unique approach has done more than simply build a successful company. It created an environment where the team at Geeks and Nerds is more than just productive, they are happy.
Photos by Ed Kashi
Following their non-traditional mission, Geeks and Nerds office out of an old restaurant. Through the middle of an open area lies a 100-year-old bar that often serves as a meeting space.
Optimizing their community is a prime goal for Geeks and Nerds. "Whether it's alternate energy or organic farming," explains Dr. Kim, "I feel like this is the kind of research that we need to do. Providing a technical solution to everyday problems of the community."
Geeks and Nerds' employee backgrounds vary from physics and coding to office management, but one thing remains constant: they are all looking for a difficult problem to solve.
In the next 10 years, Dr. Jonn Kim would like to see Geeks and Nerds focusing on the "R&D side and revolutionary technologies, while trying to sustain the business."
Because the Geeks and Nerds mission is constantly evolving, it is difficult to classify their company. "We're completely unfocused and filled with challenges," says CEO Dr. Jonn Kim. "But our customers like us, because we solve in a very innovative way."
From NASA and the Department of Defense to small start-ups, Dr. Jonn Kim tried working for different companies for over 20 years. In 2004, he applied his unique vision and ingenuity to founding Geeks and Nerds, and he hasn't looked back since.
Geeks and Nerds extends the ideologies of their company culture into the community. Over the past 2.5 years they have distributed approximately $200,000 in scholarships. But for CEO Dr. Jonn Kim, "It's not about simply giving scholarships to people who are seeking esoteric degrees. It is about people wanting to better themselves, and how Geeks and Nerds Foundation will be able to help them get to the next step."
The open layout of Geeks and Nerds' offices promotes a culture of collaboration and innovation.
Geeks and Nerds Corporation is a technical solutions provider for customers in both commercial and government markets, including the Department of Defense and NASA.
Q & A
After several hours of head-spinning talk about technology, we sat down in the 100 year old bar with Dr. Kim.
As an entrepreneur, what’s been your biggest challenge?
I think understanding people is always hard. The more successful you become, you carry a bigger target on your back [laughs]. I think relationships with people have been the most rewarding thing and most painful thing at the same time. I’ve been able to develop friendships and relationships with our employees. But there are people who don’t like me outside of the company, because of our success, and that’s difficult.
What do you see as your role in your community there?
We have this thing called “Geeks and Nerds scholarships.” We’re helping students by paying their education. And we’ve been providing financial support for these students. And it’s getting to the next level. We are actually forming a nonprofit called Geeks and Nerds foundation this year rather than giving funds to the schools. So we’ll be able to directly help the students to accomplish their goals. And I think our mission is making our lives better. I have optimized, I feel like, my life, and helping my employees optimize their goals, and helping the community. And a lot of things we do, whether it’s alternate energy or organic farming, or harvesting energy in a different way, I feel like this is the kind of research that we need to do: providing a technical solution to the everyday problems of the community.
What does the future hold for you, both personally and professionally?
The things, research wise, that are exciting to me right now is rethinking about energy. You know, I’m rethinking about electricity a lot lately. And I don’t know why we started using electricity. And there are plenty of other sources of energy that we could maybe harvest and use without going to the rod of electrons. I see Geeks and Nerds working with more universities going forward. We can help them with business ideas and they can help us with the research end. And to sustaining the business, having good employees, having a good place to work, and staying happy. I don’t plan on retiring any time soon.