Jared Grugett, president and chief marketing officer Hawaii Dialogix telecom
In 2004, with just a few dollars in his pocket and two years out of college at Hawai‘i Pacific University, Jared Grugett was in Houston, Texas, to watch the Super Bowl. A buddy of his, who had been quite successful with hedge funds, paid for Grugett and a dozen other friends to watch the New England Patriots knock off the upstart Carolina Panthers. While there, Grugett met with an executive at Direct Telephone Company—the vice president of its Hawai‘i market—who told him that the company had decided to sell its Hawai‘i assets. In an act of youthful bravado, Grugett told the CEO, right there in the Cheesecake Factory over drinks, that he was going to buy the company. The executive laughed at his audacity.
It was the first of many moments of doubt, but Grugett followed through with purchasing Hawaii Direct Telephone Company and merged with Dialogix Telecom in 2009 to form HDT. The two companies shared the same vision: provide Hawai‘i with affordable high-speed internet and services in a rapidly evolving industry. But in a market dominated by Oceanic Time Warner Cable and Hawaiian Telcom, HDT struggled for years to make that vision a reality. “You’ve got to get over your ego,” Grugett laughs. “In all that we’ve been through in being small and building [HDT with] blood, sweat, tears and credit-card debt, my ego’s been destroyed. It doesn’t bother me anymore. There’s going to be good days and bad days.”
People told him to walk away. Grugett admits he thought about it often, but he believed in HDT’s potential and even passed up several lucrative job offers from companies on the mainland. “I’ve never quit anything in my life,” Grugett says. “The vision was real, the vision was true. If I’m going to fail, I’m going to go down kicking and screaming. You’re going to have to bury me alive to get me to stop chasing the dream.”
Finally, in December 2014, more than five years into its journey, HDT found a private, individual investor. With this new source of funding, HDT has grown to become the third-largest internet and telephone provider in the state, expanding from about 10 employees to more than 50 and making waves with exciting new projects, including a free high-speed Wi-Fi network in a nine-block region of Kaka‘ako, which HDT recently introduced at the neighborhood’s Eat the Street and Honolulu Night Market events. HDT launched gigabit (what HDT bills as “Hiperfiber”) internet service at several downtown office buildings and is bringing affordable internet service to Hawai‘i residents at its baseline of 25 megabits per second for just $15 a month. In February, the company unveiled HDT Defense, a suite of cloud-based managed security products for businesses.
“I meet a lot of entrepreneurs here in Hawai‘i, and I thought that [Grugett] was one of the few guys who really got how to run a business,” says Chuck Harris, a good friend of Grugett’s and a partner with The Shidler Group.“Ultimately, Jared’s really, really strong point is the sales and marketing side and, quite frankly, his vision.” Grugett’s infectious enthusiasm and ability to communicate with younger demographics have been an asset in relaying his vision. He routinely drops words like “dude,” “cool” and “awesome,” and he describes his job as finding a way to make internet “sexy.”
Naturally, Grugett’s youthful energy is reflected in HDT’s corporate culture. The company’s small office space near the Honolulu airport is decorated with a spray-paint mural and HDT swag. There’s the sound of blenders churning out smoothies in the kitchen as part of the company-wide effort to get fit. Grugett holds monthly “State of the Union” meetings to update the team about the company’s goals, revenues and losses. “The culture of the company is truly just [our personalities],” says HDT co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Stephen Hon. “Jared is a good, modern millennial leader, and I think people are attracted to that and want to work for him.”
Grugett has put in the work to develop professionally as well. He actively seeks mentorship and advice from fellow CEOs through Vistage International, a peer advisory group for CEOs, business owners and executives. Being open to criticism can be difficult for those in positions of power, but Grugett likes to joke that he’s earned a Ph.D. in what not to do. The importance in that, he says in all seriousness, is learning from his mistakes. Given HDT’s rapid success over the past 18 months, his advanced coursework appears to have served him well.
“We’re just scratching the surface of what we want to do here in Hawai‘i,” Grugett says. “We have new products that are very, very exciting coming to market soon that will really shake things up. There’s just so much opportunity. Our main focus is to really continue our vision. We’re only 18 months in. I’d love to have this conversation 18 months from now and see how far we’ve come.”