Michael Pittman had been working in electronics for more than a decade when he saw a market opportunity.
He noticed that, as more organizations used mobile communications devices, there was growing demand for a business that could customize, adapt and deploy mobile devices such as tablets and phones to serve companies’ specific needs.
It could be something as simple as a small, local plumbing company that wants to have tablets mounted in its trucks.
Mobile phone carriers such as Verizon mainly want to sell their business customers a contract for phone or data services. Device manufacturers such as Samsung or Apple mainly want to sell their equipment.
With that idea, Pittman founded Connected Solutions Group LLC in 2015 with just a handful of people working in a subleased space in the back of another company’s warehouse in Henrico County.
“In the middle is the company that needs that device with that service to accomplish something,” said Pittman, the company’s president.
“To make that device do what it needs to do, either the carrier is going to have to do it or the manufacturer is going to have to do it,” he said. “We are the third party in between the OEM [original equipment manufacturer] and the carrier that can help that customer make the device do what it needs to do.”
For instance, when a snowplow company needed to adapt and place mobile devices on its snowplows to track when the machines were actually plowing snow versus merely driving on the road or parked and idling, it turned to Connected Solutions Group for a solution.
When a professional sports team wanted to customize mobile devices to track, in real time, where concession sales were happening in the stands, it turned to CSG.
One company asked CSG to design an inexpensive system for mounting tablets and Bluetooth speakers on thousands of golf carts. The company used 3D printing technology to design a prototype.
The company has worked on a project to disable the cameras on mobile devices that are used at military installations where photography is prohibited.
“We will do whatever a customer needs us to do to make it work for them,” Pittman said.
By doing that kind of work and doing it well, CSG has become one of the nation’s top 10 fastest-growing, privately held businesses, according to Inc. magazine.
In 2018, the company had about $23.3 million in sales. Its revenue growth was 12,701% from 2015 to 2018.
That three-year revenue growth landed Connected Solutions Group at No. 8 on the 2019 Inc. 5000, an annual list published by Inc. magazine of the 5,000 fastest-growing, privately held businesses in the U.S. measured by revenue growth.
CSG was the highest-ranked business among 42 companies based in the Richmond region that made the Inc. 5000 last year.
The company has grown from just six employees when it started to 100 employees now “and we are still growing,” said James Munsey, CSG’s chief operating officer.
CSG has some employees in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and others scattered around the country, but about 60 of them work at its 10,000-square-foot office and production facility just off Meadowbridge Road in Hanover County.
It’s a nondescript building from the outside, but the inside is a dynamic workshop as CSG staffers develop and build various projects for clients all over the nation.
On one recent day at the facility, for instance, CSG employees Tim Tingle and Junior Neufville were building mobile command centers, which are box-like kits assembled from various parts that CSG obtains from manufacturers. The kits include a high-gain antenna and a wireless router that can be used to maintain communications during power outages.
“It will pull signals from areas that are hard to pull signals from,” Pittman said. “This is immediate connectivity, if for whatever reason your business loses power.”
Municipalities, police and fire departments, and utilities are among the customers that buy the mobile command centers.
CSG’s work touches a wide range of industries — almost anywhere that mobile devices are used.
“The health care space is where we have seen an explosion of innovation with technology,” Munsey said.
For instance, the company has seen a growing amount of work in electronic visit verification, or EVV, which is designed to prevent waste and fraud in home health care by having providers use electronics to verify when they are providing home services. A federal law passed in 2016 required state agencies to implement EVV systems for home health care services provided and reimbursed under Medicaid.
One of CSG’s customers is Sandata Technologies LLC, a New York-based company that was a pioneer in electronic visit verification. The company has used CSG’s services to obtain mobile devices that can provide EVV.
“Without CSG, I don’t think we could have delivered the amounts of phones at the price point customers required,” said Frank Duci, a senior vice president for Sandata.
CSG also is working with a home health provider to develop kits that include a tablet with specialized software, along with a blood pressure cuff, a pulse oximeter and other tools that can get a patient’s vital signs.
“All of those peripherals talk to the tablet through Bluetooth, so that a patient can take their own vitals,” Munsey said. “The tablet talks to the network and gets that to the health care provider, and they are able to track a patient’s health without having to be at their home every day.”
While Pittman is the founder and president of CSG, the company has an executive team made up of seven members who are partners in the business and who have worked in various roles in the wireless, electronics and technology industry for years.
Most of the executives have worked together for other companies in different parts of the industry, Munsey said.
“CSG is the culmination of over a decade of experience in different segments of this industry and all the relationships that we have developed,” he said.
Pittman, 39, grew up in the Richmond area and graduated from Hermitage High School.
“I was never much a technology nerd or anything like that,” said Pittman, who attended Virginia Wesleyan University in Norfolk but did not finish college.
“I was going to be a history teacher and a basketball coach,” he said.
Instead, he landed a job with an electronics recycling company and worked in the industry for more than a decade before starting CSG.
“I never would have thought when I was in school that this was my destiny,” Pittman said.
He is quick to add that the company’s success is not so much about the technology itself, but about the people who work there.
“It is about the group of people we have,” he said. “They know this is something special and they will go above and beyond.”
Pittman and Munsey said most of the company’s employees, even managers, started in entry-level positions.
“A big part of our culture, and what has made us successful, is we have not based hiring on a lot of educational criteria or objective criteria,” Munsey said. “It has been subjective criteria — experience, personality and how someone fits within our culture.”
“Some level of technical ability does help,” Pittman added. “But one of our secret sauces is we never pay for some super-high-dollar, extremely well-trained person. We find someone who has natural ability and then we teach them or give them the tools to teach themselves.”
Richard Roth, CSG’s purchasing manager, started out in an entry-level job in shipping in 2016 when the company still only had a handful of employees.
“I started out just filling orders and doing shipping and worked my way up,” Roth said.
“The work environment is great,” he added. “If you have a problem, there is not just one person you can go to. There are 50 people you can go to.”
The company’s rapid growth can be attributed to finding a niche that it can serve nationwide, Pittman said.
“But the really special part here, and what means more to me than anything from the technology side of the business, is the building of a special culture,” he said. “It is having people that want to be here and want to do right by their leadership and the people working next to them.”