Brian Gee’s company, Aragon Consulting Group (ACG), is growing at a stratospheric rate. Started in January 2006 with just seven people, the IT consulting company had expanded to a team of 60 halfway through this year. It recently raised venture capital that is expected to take it to a team of 60 by the end of next year, and possibly as many as 1,000 in four years. ACG provides clients with onsite-offshore IT consulting services by combining onsite project management with cost-effective offshore software development from its China-based engineering team. As Chief Executive Officer, Brian, 32, manages the rapid growth of his company and works with clients to map out their IT and product-development strategies. To learn more about Brian and ACG, check out this week’s Young & Professional Profile.
Aragon Consulting Group
Chief Executive Officer
San Francisco, California
San Francisco, California
Columbia Business School, MBA, 2004
Columbia University, MA International Affairs, 2004
Harvey Mudd College, BS Physics, 1997
Aragon Consulting Group, CEO, 2006, 2007
McKinsey & Company, Associate (2004 – 2006)
K2 Optronics, Product Manager (2001 – 2002)
1stUp.com, Product Manager (2000 – 2001)
About the company
Aragon Consulting Group (ACG) is focused on providing clients with onsite / offshore IT consulting services. The firm couples powerful onsite product and project management capabilities with the talent and cost advantages of offshoring software development to the firm’s China-based engineering resources.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
I play 3 key roles at ACG: 1) Client-facing responsibilities – I primarily interface with the firm’s clients and work with client executives to map out their product development and I.T. strategies. 2) Internal management – I also work to build the right infrastructure and processes internally to manage our firm’s growth. 3) The buck stops here – Finally, as the CEO of the firm, in the end, I’m tasked with making final decisions on subjects ranging from HR policy to staffing to administration to ensure that the firm can successfully deliver on commitments to clients.
Most notable milestones
The firm has experienced incredible success to-date. We started out in January 2006 with a team of 7. We grew to 20 by the end of 2006, and then from 20 to 60 in the first six months of 2007. As a firm, we’ve grown at this pace entirely profitably from day 1, which we’re quite proud of. Beyond that, we’re quite proud of the distinctive level of service we provide to our clients. We have very strong relationships across a range of industries, from media (MTV Networks) to insurance (Precedent Health Insurance) to Enterprise software (EMC).
What’s the niche?
There are a number of Chinese offshore firms, all vying to become the Infosys, the Cognizant, the Tata, and the Wipro of China. However, these firms primarily play at the commoditized end of the I.T. outsourcing value chain. ACG, on the other hand, focuses on higher end product development and more complex I.T. services. We provide a level of service and technology expertise that we feel significantly differentiates us from the other Chinese offshore firms.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenge to-date has been managing the firm’s stratospheric growth rate. Going from 20 to 60 in the first 6 months of 2007 put a heavy strain upon our existing infrastructure and processes. Since then, we have worked to significantly shore up our management infrastructure, and processes and methodologies associated with serving as many clients as we do today. Being able to manage growth, while also delivering distinctive levels of client service, I suspect, will continue to be a big challenge for us, but certainly one that we’re eager to tackle.
What’s in store for the future?
We recently raised a Series A round of venture capital to enable us to accelerate our growth. We expect to go from 60 to 150 by the end of 2008, and to as many as 1,000 4 years from now. Depending upon how well we manage our infrastructure and processes internally, we may or may not raise future rounds of venture financing. The capital we raise will help us to accelerate our growth, but as always it’s a delicate balance, as growing too fast is just as bad as not growing at all!
Best way to keep a competitive edge
In the end, in the world of I.T. services, there is only one way to keep a competitive edge – deliver the highest quality services to each and every one of your clients.
Guiding principle in life
I tend to believe that the point of life should be to maximize happiness. I’ve come to discover that Silicon Valley, and the world of high tech simply offers a more enjoyable way of making a living. Here in Silicon Valley, work isn’t just work – it’s about play too.
Yardstick of success
Friends of mine often ask what I do for work these days. I always say, “I get to go into the office and play cops and robbers all day long with my friends and colleagues. And I get paid to do it!” Honestly, coming into work is fun. Every day there’s a new challenge, and everyone in our firm is close friends. It doesn’t feel like work. That, to my mind, is the definition of success.
Goal yet to be achieved
There are too many to list…
Best practical advice
Turn off the Blackberry every once in a while… but, then again, maybe you better keep it on, just in case…
Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture
A friend of mine owns the largest franchise chain of Internet Cafes in Beijing. He recently told me, “Brian, don’t worry. If things don’t work out, you can come work for me, in one of my cafes. We’ll have you behind the counter, serving soft drinks and hot dogs.” Best motivation I’ve had to make sure ACG is successful – I worked in fast food in high school, and don’t want to go back to it!
Everyone, entrepreneurs especially, absolutely need career mentors. These are the folks who will buck you up when it seems that the sky is falling – they’ve been through it all before, so they’re the best resource to turn to when you need advice.
What motivated you to get started?
I wanted to build something special and work with friends and create a work environment that delivered considerable value to clients, but that didn’t feel like “work.”
Like best about what you do?
I love the people in my company.
Like least about what you do?
I hate answering the phone at 3am. But, I always do.
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a theoretical physicist. I thought I was going to be the next Albert Einstein. Then I got to college. Boy, was that a rude awakening! Apparently, you have to be really smart to become a theoretical physicist. Nobody ever warned me!
What was your first job?
I was a telemarketer for Kirby Vacuums. You know, the people who call and interrupt your dinner to try to sell you something you wouldn’t buy in a thousand years? Yeah, that’s what I did.
Biggest pastime outside of work
I’m fairly involved in a nonprofit volunteer organization called One Brick (www.onebrick.org). We do a ton of volunteering for all sorts of causes, and then always go out for food and drinks after every event to socialize. It’s a good cause and a good time.
Person most interested in meeting
I’d love to sit down and chat with Bill Clinton.
Leader in business most interested in meeting
I’d love to meet Warren Buffet. I’m a big value investing acolyte, and would love to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth!
Three interesting facts about yourself
1. I’m one of the co-founders of One Brick
2. I’m also one of the co-founders of this franchise of Internet Cafes in Beijing
3. I’m working on a book about business school for the Chinese audience
Three characteristics that describe you
1. I have a really loud laugh, I’m told
2. I’m an armchair, wannabe foreign policy wonk
3. Survivorman is my hero
Three greatest passions
3. Rock climbing
Wisdom of the Crowds by James Surowiecki
Who would you like to be contacted by?
We are working hard to develop new channels and partnerships. Software product companies that need implementation partners could always use somebody like ACG to provide professional services to their customers. Of course, companies who are looking for cost-effective I.T. outsourcing solutions immediately come to mind. And, finally, creative organizations who deal with large enterprises looking for turnkey web solutions also present ideal partnership opportunities. ACG is focused on “backend” technology development and solutions, while ad agencies and other creative firms focus on frontend – which makes for a great fit.