In 2007, when ImOn Communications first launched in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, it was operating with fiber assets bought from another company that was going through bankruptcy. Meanwhile, its very old headend and leased switchboards operated on an old switch. Today, ImOn owns its switch, has an upgraded headend and delivers fiber-to-the-home offerings to residents and businesses with anywhere from 10 megabits to 10 gigabits of internet service.
In the 11 years since its debut, ImOn has adopted a different approach to the business. “We changed our emphasis from leading with cable to leading with internet. We’re really known more as an internet provider that also will do cable and telephone,” says CEO Patrice Carroll. “We’ve gone from predominantly residential service to about 80% residential and 20% business. It’s from small business to the very largest businesses in town.”
At first, ImOn operated under the radar, but that changed after a couple of years as a pretty significant price war raged on with competitors, Carroll says. Over time, ImOn decided to step away from the discounting and focus on its connections with customers and communities. “From there, everything started falling into place. Things like giving the installers an extra 15 minutes [for appointments] so that they can explain to the resident absolutely everything that’s going to go on and get their feedback,” she says. “We decided our service wasn’t defined by the demarc. It’s defined by the customers’ experience using it.”
The shift in mindset has helped ImOn’s team make some tough decisions, such as ending its carriage deal with Viacom a few years ago because of price. It turned out to be the right bet, with ImOn losing 400 customers vs the 1000 expected with the drop, Carroll says.
Twenty three of ImOn’s 35 original employees, including Carroll, are still with the company. Today, ImOn has 115 employees and growing—just recently adding Dubuque to its service footprint.
“We talk a lot about not getting out in front of our headlights. Patrice has done a nice job of allowing us to grow and take risks, but making sure our cash is in a position to do so,” says vp, finance/CFO Jeremy Wild. “It’s really been an effort by the management team to make sure we’re growing at a rate where we can maintain hold and remain cash aware.”
A pivotal milestone in ImOn’s history was the historic flooding in Cedar Rapids in 2008. With the town underwater, ImOn helped some businesses get back online, telling customers to just let them know when their regular provider could get them back up and running and they’d switch it off. “Many of those people liked the service so much they said, ‘hey, can we just keep you as our provider,’” recalls Bernard Dutchik, vp, corporate development. “That was kind of the genesis of ImOn becoming a provider to businesses in town. It was done not so much through a lot of planning and thought, but ‘Hey, we’re a community member here. How can we pitch in and help?’”
That community spirit is an important part of ImOn’s makeup. The company uses the fleet one day a month to deliver Meals on Wheels. Employees get time off to work on volunteer projects. ImOn also provides WiFi in many parks in its footprint. The idea is to make sure that employees know that this job is personal and to treat customers like neighbors. Marketing vp Lisa Rhatigan recalls the story of an elderly customer whose cable box needed replacing. The woman was very upset because the DVR included a recording of her husband being interviewed on the news, and he has since passed away. “When the tech went out and realized he couldn’t save the DVR, he called the local station that had done the interview and got her a DVD,” Rhatigan says. “No one asked him to do that. It is just so indicative of the way people feel.”
– Amy Maclean
- ImOn purchased infrastructure in 2007 from the former McLeodUSA.
- ImOn was the first to bring fiber optic technology to the Cedar Rapids area with the introduction of 10Gig business Ethernet services in 2009, followed by the introduction of fiber-to-the-home services in 2011 and residential gigabit service in 2015.
- ImOn has provided free community WiFi service to various communities, including downtown Cedar Rapids, various parks in Hiawatha, Iowa, and the Iowa City Ped Mall.