Michael Baer is president of Fusioncorp, a Lexington-based tech company engaged in digital design, development and marketing services.
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Q: Tell us about your company.
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A: We are almost exactly on our 12-year anniversary. I have two business partners, Daniel Boone and Justin Burnette. We literally started 12 years ago in a closet. Daniel Boone started with a computer in a broom closet designing Flash websites back in the day when websites were cool if they moved around. Now, that is irrelevant technology, so kind of staying in the theme with technology evolving. That’s kind of what our company has done. We do websites, mobile apps, applications, infrastructure. We’ve been getting into an enterprise level experience and then branching off into a product level, which incorporates some augmented reality, creating 365-day experiences. So, there’s some cool stuff going on out there.
Q: Talk to me a little about your company’s culture and work environment.
A: We kind of subscribe to the thought that we want everyone to take pride in what they do. I’m not a programmer. I don’t know how to code. My background is in finance. We have a design team and we have a development team. And we have front-end and back-end. And we don’t expect everyone to do everything. We want people that are personally motivated to want to be a part of our company and want to be a part of the growth and make an impact every day on not only our company, but Lexington as a tech community.
Q: And for folks who are not familiar with the terminology “front-end” and “back-end,” what does that mean?
A: Our company is split into small business division, an enterprise level division, and then a product division. And so, your front-end is more like small business WordPress people working in the CMS framework and then the back-end tends to be more enterprise-level database development, more infrastructure, the bigger projects.
Q: How would you describe the Lexington tech scene?
A: It’s young and it’s emerging. And there’s actually a lot of really talented people in Lexington and talented organizations and they get put into little pockets, which is a lot of the importance of the tech community coming together and working together. Ultimately, if we want to have some sort of common motivation or growth, we all have to be inspired together.
Q: Is it a competitive environment locally, and do you compete for business on the national level or international level?
A: Everything really. We do compete locally. You know, it’s such a young industry. There’s not really bad blood in our industry, locally. We do compete nationally and we do have international customers as well. That’s the beauty about being in this industry: you can brick and mortar here in Lexington, but it doesn’t require you to be in Austin to be an emerging tech company. You can do that here, as long as you have the talent.
Q: One of my recent interviews was with Conrad Carney of Xooker which is the result of collaboration between his company and Able Engine — Luther Andal, who I also interviewed recently, the game developer Super Soul, and Fusioncorp. Is that kind of collaboration becoming more common?
A: It’s almost necessary when you start to get to that level of sophistication. That Xooker application is an incredibly impressive platform that has brought together local talent. And by bringing these different companies together, we produced something that is not something that’s been produced in Austin or San Francisco. Having different expertise is what it required to build this platform. And so, it’s a perfect example of collaboration.
Q: It’s been suggested that smart tech investors should look at alternatives to Silicon Valley or the Northeast — that there’s plenty of talent, skill and affordability in the nation’s interior, places like Lexington, do you agree with that?
A: All of that is true. I think the most important part about that is keeping the talent. We certainly have talented people here in Lexington. We have a young community that wants to be involved, and wants to learn, and wants to be a part of it. We have to give them the opportunity to stay here and that’s the biggest risk that we run. We have talented people that are capable of doing the exact same stuff that they’re capable of doing out on the West Coast or up North. It’s more about creating an environment where we give youth an opportunity to not only be proficient, but to stick around and to work for local tech companies.
Q: Are we doing enough locally to develop those skills and expertise in digital?
A: The best thing that we can do is get all of those like-minded people together in a room, figure out how do we join forces to educate people, and then how do the local communities back that to where we can support the economy.
Q: How important is applied, or practical, technical experience?
A: That’s really all it is right now. It’s ‘show me what you’ve done. Show me what you can’t do.’ It’s not necessarily ‘let me see the plaque on the wall,’ and ‘what was your GPA?’ I need to know what you’re capable of.
Q: What trends are you watching right now?
A: There’s some really cool stuff in the mobile space. Currently our product division is working with some professional sports franchises, some amusement parks and museums, creating 365-day experiences using augmented reality and the app industry. If you’re at an amusement park and you’re waiting in line, how do I create an experience that is beneficial not only to the person standing in line, but from a data standpoint for the company that’s engaging with their audience? So, there’s some really cool stuff out there.
Q: I know that you’ve been organizing an education technology summit of local tech leaders and thinkers. How’s that coming along?
A: We have pulled together a really cool list of people that are going to be participating. It’s going to be on June 14. We have local business owners, policy makers in Frankfort, professors at UK, teachers at Lafayette, KSTC, the Chamber, the Economic Development Office, the people responsible for the career path academy in high school. It’s a group of people that are motivated. Not everybody knows the right answer. But once we get all together in a room, that’s our hope: to kind of start to shape or mold some of the actual languages and some of the technical details of the opportunity we’re giving to our youth.
Q: So, you hope this will be the first of many?
A: It should be the first of many if we do a good job. Yeah.
Q: And how do you want people to reach you? By email?
A: By email is best. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: And is registration required or is this something you could just show up for?
A: I prefer to just email me so we can make sure we have the right amount of people there. It’s not a registration. You don’t have to pay. It’s open. It’s just people ready to jump in and help.
Tom Martin's Q&A appears every two weeks in the Herald-Leader's Business Monday section. This is an edited version of the interview. To listen to the interview, find the podcast on Kentucky.com. The interview also will air on WEKU-88.9 FM on Mondays at 7:35 a.m. during Morning Edition and at 5:45 p.m. during All Things Considered.