Crafting a consultancy
Entrepreneur taps training, experience in tech business
Growing up in Barbados, Ryan Brathwaite was drawn to computers mainly because his uncle in the U.S. was doing something with technology and it “sounded cool,” he says. But he had a knack for technical tinkering, too. So when he had a chance to take computer science in high school, he was eager to apply programming to solve a problem. His idea: a program to handle airline passenger reservations and transfers.
“I’d been traveling from a young age, to spend summers in Boston with relatives,” he says. “The whole system kind of intrigued me. There always seemed to be some sort of problem with ticketing — so I had an idea to solve it.”
But his youthful enthusiasm hit a wall that could have shut off his path to a technology education and career.
“I was taking the class and I didn’t even have a computer at home. I would write the code out on paper and have a friend enter it,” he recalls. “At the end of the year, the teacher failed me — he didn’t believe I could have written it.”
He was taken aback, and his parents were upset too, as they had seen him working on the project. But, he recalls, “Back then, it was ‘Whatever the teacher says, goes.’”
Reflecting on it recently, he says, “If I had allowed that to hinder me, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
Today, at 40, he is CEO and president of Tech Wave Group, providing information technology consulting to clients ranging from individuals, small businesses and nonprofits to large institutions. On any given day, he might be providing help with network and security issues, web design and hosting, computer training or custom software applications such as inventory systems and databases.
Brathwaite moved to Boston from Barbados as a teenager in the early 1990s. He finished his last two years of high school here and went on to Northeastern University to study computer science. When financial aid didn’t cover all the bills, he landed a technician job at Verizon (then Bell Atlantic) while still a student.
The company paid his college tuition and later sent him to Certified Novell Engineer network proficiency training at Clark University. Promotions propelled him to systems engineer and technical lead roles. At one point, being the only technical person in a marketing group allowed him to add business development and planning expertise, he says.
Then came a setback. He had survived mergers and cuts in the telecommunications industry over six years, but eventually, after turning down a relocation to Texas, layoff was inevitable. He had been aiming for higher rungs on the ladder, but the corporate experience instilled indispensible skills.
“They taught me some intangible things,” he says. “There are people who work for Verizon their whole lives and never meet the CEO. I was in meetings, going to conferences, meeting the CEO — in a way, I got ‘Business 101’ thru Verizon. I learned confidence no matter who I’m meeting with, from CEOs to peers.”
With a realization he had valuable expertise to share, he took the leap to entrepreneurship, and Tech Wave was born.
His first client was actually Verizon. Working for his former employer on a contract basis provided some stability for two years as he got his new business off the ground. One of his first clients outside Verizon was a small downtown law firm that became a longtime client. Another was Grove Hall Neighborhood Development Corporation, right in the neighborhood he knew since childhood.
From there, the business grew to a fully functioning IT consulting firm, almost solely by word-of-mouth connections. Tech Wave Group now has an office in Dedham with meeting space and a computer lab and a satellite office in Dorchester, and clients have included such major institutions as Boston Medical Center and Boston University.
Brathwaite spent a decade coaching young men in the Christian Youth Basketball League. Long hours in the business and a growing family at home (he and his wife have two children, ages 3 and 1) leave scant time for sports coaching now, but mentoring is still part of his approach. He enjoys providing internships to students, and over the years, a number of Tech Wave employees have been people he once coached on the basketball court.
“It’s a privilege to see someone grow from a teen into a grown man, a college graduate, with that potential that he could work for me,” he says.
Despite his bruising brush with that doubting teacher in high school, Brathwaite has developed into a confident teacher himself.
“I’ve learned from a lot of mistakes. I’m an organized person and I like to streamline things, so it’s easy for people to come in and follow the system. They leave knowing conceptually the different areas of IT and what they entail.”
Tech Wave keeps Brathwaite almost too busy to pause and plan for the future. But he would like to be able to hire more people, who would start as computer technicians and technical support specialists. And while he’s pleased that Tech Wave has grown through word-of-mouth, he aims to devote more thought into additional marketing efforts. Another goal is to capitalize more on the firm’s Minority Business Enterprise certification, which could help connect him to more customers.
Recipe for success
One of the good things about being in business for himself is flexibility, Brathwaite says, the freedom to take care of tasks and appointments during business hours. On the other hand, IT consulting work involves long and unpredictable hours.
“When the buck stops with you, if there’s an issue, you have to be the one to do it,” he says.
The best business decision he’s made? To treat every client like they’re the only client.
“I know it sounds simple,” he says, “but I think that’s what grows our business. We’re not just offering technology. We have a personal touch.”