Jeremy Hitchcock, '04
Making volunteerism pay
Written in April 2008
Jeremy Hitchcock ’04 (M.I.S.) didn’t start out to be an Internet entrepreneur but sometimes things just work out. As both Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer of Dynamic Network Services Inc. – where he started just a few, short years ago as an unpaid shipper while a WPI student – things worked out fine.
Originally started in 1998, Dynamic Network Services began as a small, volunteer organization in Manchester, New Hampshire, providing free domain name system (DNS) service to individual Internet users. DNS is the critical link between a domain name, such as, say, www.google.com, and the string of numbers that constitute the Internet Protocol (or IP) address that a computer would recognize – in this case, 22.214.171.124. Why is this so important? Because your computer doesn’t recognize the website name you type into your browser, it needs the actual IP address to get you there. Think of it this way – imagine if you had to remember a string of ten random numbers instead of something as simple as “wpi.edu”?
Dynamic Network Services, also known as DynDNS, provides what amounts to phone book service for the Internet. That is, they resolve hostnames with IP addresses, matching easy-to-remember, easy-to-type names with their less-memorable numbers so you don’t have to. Starting with free Dynamic DNS service to individual computer users, DynDNS now offers a wide range of highly sophisticated, fee-based DNS management services to small companies and major corporations alike.
During the summer of 2001 between his freshman and sophomore years, Hitchcock volunteered as an unpaid shipper with DynDNS, stuffing product packages into cardboard shipping boxes. Intrigued by what he saw, Hitchcock started to help the organization prepare to become a real company. “At the time, there was no service fee or anything like that, it was basically providing a free service,” said Hitchcock. “We ran out of room to take on new users. As a result, we started a donation campaign to our user base that said ‘hey, we can’t continue to service you guys or take on any new people, why don’t you guys give us $25,000 to buy some computer equipment and move into a data center and be able to work with new users?’ It worked – we raised the $25,000 and moved into a data center.”
At the same time Hitchcock and fellow WPI student Tom Daly ’04 (Electrical & Computer Engineering) were working on a commercial version of their service, for which they would charge a one-time fee. “We had not yet started thinking of ourselves as a commercial venture,” stated Hitchcock. But with subscriptions starting to take off, Hitchcock and Daly realized it was time to start operating like a real business. Using the skills he learned as a student in the WPI Department of Management, Hitchcock started to put together the paperwork that would turn the fledgling company into a bona fide corporation in October 2001. Still a student, Hitchcock would not become an employee of Dynamic Network Services until November of 2002. A year later, he and Daly were part owners.
Robots and tennis balls.
Hitchcock would be the first to admit that sometimes careers paths can start in the strangest of places. “I think I was in eight grade when I saw one of those PBS specials about MIT where the teams had to build robots and do ridiculous things with tennis balls,” remembered Hitchcock. “I was hooked by the team approach to problem-solving, so I wanted to go to MIT.
“In September of my senior year in high school I went to MIT on a tour and was less than inspired,” Hitchcock continued. “Everybody seemed into their own thing and didn’t seem interested in working with each other. I went down to WPI in October for one of its open houses and was really impressed by the problem-solving approach and the openness. A couple of weeks later I applied for Early Action and was accepted.”
Initially interested in chemistry, Hitchcock switched to Management Information Systems, which became his major. “What I have always appreciated about WPI is that the environment is very open. People are working together and doing some very neat stuff,” he commented. Hitchcock also appreciated the practical, hands-on work that is part of the educational process at WPI, citing the roll-your-sleeves-up experience as having a lot of value out in the working world.
“When you talk to employers in the data space, they enjoy hiring WPI students. They find them bright and enthusiastic coming out of the classroom,” observed Hitchcock. For that very reason, Hitchcock and Daly are not the only WPI graduates at Dynamic Network Services – they’ve hired four other former WPI students. In fact, even their wives are WPI graduates; Jeremy’s wife, Liz ’02 (computer science), works at DynDNS and Tom’s wife Erin ‘04, (biomedical engineering) works in R&D at Boston Scientific in Marlborough, Massachusetts.
Hitchcock stresses the continuing value of his WPI relationships, which he has parlayed into a seat on the advisory board for the Department of Management’s Collaborative for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. “Things like the Collaborative and the WPI Venture Forum have been great opportunities to study various business cases and learn from and with others,” said Hitchcock. And when it came to stocking their own board with experienced, practical advisors, Hitchcock and Daly didn’t look far, tapping WPI Electrical Engineering professor Reinhold Ludwig, who had been Daly’s mentor, to help guide them.
Poised for the future.
With their solid background in business and engineering from WPI, both Hitchcock and Daly are poised to grow Dynamic Network Services even bigger. With an expanding base of 2.5 million users worldwide, and an annual growth rate of approximately 30% each of the past five years, the company is projecting $6 million in sales for 2008. DynDNS has been ranked the 11th fastest growing company in New Hampshire and 73rd in the US among the “Top Companies in Telecommunications. It has also been named by Business New Hampshire magazine as “One of the Best Companies to Work for in NH”.
I don’t really think of this as work,” said Hitchcock. “It all rolls into fun problem-solving. I’m having a ball.”