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Hacking in High School Led to High-Tech Global Company

Jason Vazzano and Kurt Steckling, co-CEOs of Vectorform, are creating virtual reality and other leading-edge technology for major companies in Michigan and around the world.

Jason Vazzano and Kurt Steckling, co-CEOs of Vectorform, are creating virtual reality and other leading-edge technology for major companies in Michigan and around the world.

Some of it is so secret, it’s developed in a room with no windows.

In an interview together in their Royal Oak offices earlier this month, they said that even before they started their high-tech firm, they were finding ways to push technological and mechanical boundaries as Brother Rice High School students. They constantly found ways to pull pranks that put them on disciplinary probation.

“I think we met in detention together,” Vazzano said. “Kurt and I have always had an ambition to push what’s possible — whether that’s making our cars go faster or just hacking things to do things that aren’t necessarily possible. If there was a boundary, we’d break it.”

Vazzano, 38, and Steckling, 39, point out they are close in age — just 13 days apart — and have similar interests, which includes home automation. But Vazzano, perhaps because he has a close-trimmed beard with a few grey whiskers, looks older than Steckling, who is clean shaven.

In dividing up responsibilities, Vazzano handles more of the sales, while Steckling focuses more on operations.

They started the company in a downtown Detroit office building while still in college. They’ve grown to 140 employees, under $25 million in revenues and additional offices in Seattle, New York, Munich, Germany, and Hyderabad, India.

They designed the NBC interactive touch-screen maps used in the 2008 presidential elections.

And one of their latest projects is a virtual reality training simulations for DTE.

In an edited conversation, the founders talked about how their tech company came into being, where virtual reality technology is headed and what companies and other entrepreneurs should — and shouldn’t do — to be successful:

Question: How would you describe what your company does?

Vazzano: Simply put, Vectorform is an invention company. We invent digital products and experiences predominately for the Fortune 500. You can think of us a outsourced innovation.

Q: Tell me about what it was like when you started to get interested in technology?

Steckling: In the beginning, we were primarily a web applications company. Web applications back then were the most cutting edge technology in business. If you can thing back to that time, we didn’t have online banking systems. There was no Google was in its infancy — and only librarians knew about it.

Vazzano: Remember, this is a time when people thought technology was a fad.

Steckling: There were articles: “Is this a flash in a pan?” “Is all this going to go away?” And yet, on the other side, you had a group of economists who were saying the technology is so profound, there will never be another downturn. You had these two schools of thought. In reality, it was somewhere in between.

Q: Is that how you got into virtual reality?

Vazzano: We recognized early on that VR really is the next big thing. We found out who the players are. We went after talent. We also worked closely with people who were leading the way engineering the hardware.

Q: What is your company’s strength?

Vazzano: Companies realize that we have the ability to blend design and technology that makes an experience that is human, and highly meaningful. That’s the value we provide. One thing we should mention is invention not always the best business model because when you build something once, it’s not very scalable. So to scale the business, we also invent digital businesses. We’ve spun off three to date.

Q: One of the big criticisms of tech companies has been there isn’t a lot of gender and racial diversity. What would you say about that?

Vazzano: We are over a third female, and that is very high for the tech industry.

Steckling: We fight and compete for the best employees. It’s a war for talent, more so even than it is to find customers. We are more than happy to take anyone of any background. But, generally speaking there’s a limiting factor: Who’s available. If you have 10 applications for a position, you are going to have a hard time finding one who is ethnically diverse. Hopefully, as we grow as an organization, we can find kids at a younger age and help to train them and get them interested in the business. That’s the most realistic path to more diversity.

Vazzano: It is a problem. We have high school interns because we are desperate to develop talent.

Q: What advice would you have for companies looking to the future?

Vazzano: It’s necessary to experiment.

Steckling: Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s age-old advice, but it gets lost. Human beings are risk-adverse. We desire certainty. You have to let that go to an extent if you are going to get anything done. Innovation can be messy. You have to embrace that.

Q: What is the biggest secret project you can’t talk about?

Steckling: I think, probably, some of the coolest stuff we’re working on would be in the autonomous vehicle space. But, we really, unfortunately, we can’t go further than that.

Vazzano: We see autonomous vehicles as the gateway, not the goal.

Q: The gateway to what?

Steckling: The gateway to a new lifestyle.

Vazzano: OK. That’s enough.

T. Daniel Witsil contributed to this report. Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or

Jason Vazzano

Age: 38

Title: CEO, cofounder

Education: University of Detroit Mercy, bachelor’s degree in information systems  

Family: Wife, Kristine; son, Xavier, 4; daughter, Aria, 2 

Hobbies: Snowboarding, photography, mountain biking, home automation

Cars: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, 2014 BMW X5

Kurt Steckling

Age: 39

Title: CEO, cofounder

Education: Attended Michigan State University, studied finance

Family: Wife, Cheryl; daughter, Sasha, 5; son, Conrad, 3

Hobbies: Radio-controlled aircraft, snowboarding, robotics, home automation

Cars: 2016 Audi S7, 2014 Ram pickup

Originally Published by the Detroit Free Press

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