Brad Sandt acknowledges that 1,700 percent revenue growth in the last two years might be considered a remarkable achievement for k12itc, his technology management company and service provider for school districts.
But what does the president and founder of k12itc think?
“I always think we can do better,” Sandt said. “The bottom line is that what we’ve put together substantially resonates in the market, and there’s a lot of need.”
As the former technology director of Kansas City’s Park Hill School District, Sandt knows firsthand that 21st century schools need reliable, affordable and innovative computer networks to educate students from the first day of kindergarten to high school graduation.
“We really focus on the students and teachers as our end customers,” Sandt said. “How are they going to use and consume the technology? And how do we make sure that it works?”
The future indeed looks promising for k12itc’s cloud-based computer management system, which is used by more than 40 school districts in four states. The system streamlines and reduces the cost of computer networks for school districts by letting them share server space. It also offers a 24-7 help desk staffed by IT specialists who make it their job to anticipate and swiftly react to problems.
“Got a problem? No problem,” Sandt said. “You pick up the phone and call us. Our staff will be able to fix the issue in a matter of minutes through remote access. With our help desk, teachers are able to focus on teaching and not worry about technology hang-ups.”
The company also offers specialty services tailored to school districts’ needs, such as a Wi-Fi on school buses.
“Many school districts today are buying laptops and iPads for their students,” Sandt said. “And some rural schools may have a bus route that’s one hour one way, and so a student spends two hours on a bus. So if you take those two hours and extend the opportunity to do homework, you’ve effectively added 25 percent to the school day.”
PICKUPS AND SERVERS
Depending on its size, a school district may have up to 50 computer servers to handle its technology needs. But even a very small district with only one server is likely wasting money on it because of unused capacity, Sandt said.
“Think of it this way,” he said. “Let’s say you go buy a big Ford F-350.”
You need the truck for towing, Sandt said, but you’ll only use it 10 times a year. Most of the time, it’s going to sit idle—unless you share it with someone else.
“And then the next school down the road can go and use that F-350 next week, and then the next school down the road can use that F-350 the following week when nobody’s using it. You’re maximizing your asset.”
In essence, Sandt said, k12itc buys the F-350, or computer server, and rents out space on it.
“So rather than the school district owning a box that they’re getting 50 percent use out of, we own it,” he said. “We carve out 50 percent to them, and then we can put another customer on it. Not only does it help with efficiencies, but they don’t have to have the knowledge resources to keep the server up to date with changing technology, which is a weekly process.”
Sharing resources that way enables k12itc to provide greater flexibility in meeting the technology requirements of schools, no matter how general or specific.
“We have a wide range of specialized services,” Sandt said. “We can do them in a turnkey fashion, where we’re handling all of a district’s technology support. Or we can augment with just a little bit of service to meet a particular area of need. A district may want to hire and maintain an on-site employee who works on their equipment and simply want remote help for the more sophisticated networking.
“We’re not inventing proprietary stuff here. We’re figuring out how to apply technologies that exist in a more efficient and tailored way to our market. It comes down to making sure that technology is not a bottleneck to the educational process, but that it reinforces and supports while saving the district money.”
Sandt’s desire to constantly improve and be the best goes back to his teenage years, when he worked at his family’s hardware store north of the river.
“I grew up in a family business, so I’ve always been interested in developing entrepreneurial work, which can open the door to other things,” he said. “And I always liked tinkering and building. The computer thing really interested me in terms of designing and programming. When I was 13, my aunt gave me a programming book for Christmas, and it evolved from there.”
His increasing fascination with computers led Sandt to become a student tech intern for the Park Hill School District. After graduating from Park Hill High School in 2000, he continued working remotely on Web pages for the district during his freshman year at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he felt unchallenged.
“I found it a little frustrating,” he said. “In some of the computer classes, they were teaching langua-ges that were 20 or 30 years old.”
Wanting to learn at a faster clip, Sandt returned to Kansas City to pursue an independent college study program while continuing to work for the Park Hill School District. At 20, he became the district’s lead network engineer in charge of its entire computer network.
And upon receiving his degree in management and information systems from Park University, Sandt became the district’s full-time technology director.
On his own time, Sandt also began securing freelance consulting work from other school districts. His entrepreneurial sideline was formalized in 2010 with the founding of k12itc, and in 2012, he left the Park Hill School District to take the company to the next level.
“The amount of work and contracts was picking up,” he said. “And we had a lot of potential opportunities in the works. We were kind of at this tipping point.”
By the end of 2012, k12itc had increased its number of employees from three to 15 and its number of client school districts from five to 20.
“It was a whirlwind from there,” Sandt said. “At the same time, we had to make sure that we weren’t dropping the ball in delivering service to customers. It’s really tough to stay disciplined about not trying to go after every last piece of business when you’re growing and trying to establish yourself. But delivering on great customer relationships and building great references helps us be much more substantial long term.”
GROWING WHILE HAVING FUN
The gains have been dramatic, and that’s partly due to the k12itc team’s familiarity with the inner workings of public school systems.
“My background and a lot of our staff’s background in K-12 is just a unique vantage point,” Sandt said. “When we’re talking with customers, they quickly understand that we have a very intimate knowledge of their needs and their processes and what goes on in their organization. The biggest aha moment for them is, ‘Hey, they get us. They understand us.’ And that’s a big thing.”
The 3,500-square-foot k12itc office space—without a cubicle in sight—also encourages company success.
“I’ve never been a big fan of cubicles,” Sandt said. “I feel like they build silos, and people don’t collaborate as much. We wanted a very open office environment.”
While his work ethic might be considered “a little crazy,” Sandt said, he prides himself on having the passion and drive to “do whatever it takes to get the job done.” It’s a position that has won approval from Sandt’s wife, Krista, who works as k12itc’s sales and marketing manager.
“Most of the time, my wife will tell you, I’m working evenings and weekends,” he said. “We have a 1-year-old now, so we’re certainly trying to make sure that I’m more available now when she’s awake. But I might work until 1 in the morning on stuff. If one of my team members has a project that they need extra help with at night, I’ll be there helping them.”
Still, there are perks to being part of the k12itc experience, such as Sandt taking his whole team to last year’s game seven of the World Series at Kauffman Stadium. Even during the most hectic times, Sandt tries to show his employees that they are appreciated.
“Our busiest season is back-to-school time,” Krista Sandt said. “Every single one of our customers starts the same week, so it is 12-hour days. Brad has lunch and dinner brought in every day. He has an ice cream truck come by, just to keep everyone happy and working
and making it fun.”
Whatever it takes for k12itc to help schools avoid or quickly address technology hang-ups.
“Problems happen,” Brad Sandt said. “We would never suggest that our customers won’t have an issue. What we want is to be designed to be there as quickly as we can to fix the problem. I just want to make things better.”