Jeff Freemyer | The “Zoom Backstory”: Launching One of the First Business Satellite and Distance Learning Networks

John Corcoran 6:20

Wow, wow. And it was a combination of different things that was making this technology so available, you know, you have a lot of different pieces that have to make this possible, you satellite dishes, you got affordability of the technology companies that are interested in it, looking back on that period. Now, does it? Did it feel like it was just the timing that was ripe? For this sort of technology to emerge?

Jeff Freemyer 6:46

Well, absolutely. We ultimately named the company Convergent Media and it was a convergence. The frequencies that were utilized for satellite television prior to the early 80s required a very large, receiving antenna 2.8 to 4.6 meters in diameter or large remember those huge satellite dishes, he,

John Corcoran 7:12

like rural houses would have them in their yard or something like that. And

Jeff Freemyer 7:15

I designed some of those, as well as larger motorized 4.6 meter antennas that you would see on cable head ends. And if you go to a cable headend, if you know where one is locally, you’ll see one of our antennas, most likely there they’re still around 3040 years later. So what happened was, that was called C band. The FCC announced in May k u Bahn legal, which was a frequency that could use much smaller antennas because the satellites were much higher powered. And so if you think about a dish network or directv, much smaller dishes. Yeah. So we literally designed the very first Direct TV antenna in 1985, I believe. And so now they’re ubiquitous is, as you know, but yeah, at that time, that was the mid 80s was the first time you could start using smaller antennas. And that’s what transformed business television right away to put in a much smaller antenna in an office anywhere from a high rise in Manhattan, to a butler building, middle sided building a Federal Express and Calgary. In Canada. We put in antennas all over the United States, we put in a system in 1988 for Federal Express, literally at every one of their 800 vocation times, Fred Smith made it required. You had to watch FX TV every day, it was you had to log in on your time sheet and there was training and corporate announcements and, and so forth. So yeah, the early days of everything that’s going on now. The pioneering aspects were done via satellite and they were adult started in the mid 80s and just evolved through the 90s and

John Corcoran 9:28

and really prior to that, if you think about it, you know, companies had no other real way to communicate using a video medium with their distributed workforce at all did they

Jeff Freemyer 9:42

I know I mean, they could record something you know, and send that around, but I’m not aware that virtually anybody that was doing that yet satellite television transformed the ability of corporations to be able to communicate, right yeah, video and done. I’m going to use this as an opportune moment, as I like to say that there have been studies by UCLA and others about communication within the American culture. And 55% of the communication value is in body language. Hmm. So for example, I can, you know, see your body language changing as I tell a story it much more meaning tensing up as I’m waiting.

Jeff Freemyer 10:31

And 38% is the tone. Yeah, and only 7% is the words written. Communications only provide 7% of the message. So on a phone call, you have 45%, because you had 38% for the tone. So the remaining 55% is his body language. As you know, you can only have that in person or video.

John Corcoran 10:56

Yeah, I mean, that’s why even though I’ve done new podcasts for 10 years, I didn’t even publish the video for the first nine years. But I always interviewed people over video because I felt like it was such a better connection, you get to know people a lot better when you’re doing over video, even before Zoom using Skype video. Now, the expansion of satellites opens the door for more distance learning, e-learning, that sort of thing. Channel One was a big name. I remember when I was in junior high in high school. It was really prevalent. So explain to those who are listening what that was for those who don’t know?

Jeff Freemyer 11:35

Sure. As you mentioned earlier, it was distributed to 12,000 high schools around the entire United States, there are 8 million students that watched during homeroom every day, I was distributed via satellite. So we manage the 12,000 satellite antennas, over a quarter million televisions, miles and miles and miles of cable. And the bottom line was it was all to deliver a good morning america like program to high school students during homeroom was 10 minutes. And two minutes of that was advertising. That’s what all the equipment was done. It was given free to every school. And it was all paid for by the advertising which was sold, of course. But the schools felt like it was worth providing the current events basically, every day. And for those of you who watch Anderson, Cooper on CNN, one of his first roles as a news reporter was on channel one.

John Corcoran 12:44

Yeah, that’s cool. And BMW was another early case study for you to tell us that sorry.

Jeff Freemyer 12:50

So we learned the outsourcing model from Ross Perot, and EDS Electronic Data System who provided information technology services for the fortune 500, large governmental entities, entities and so forth. So when BMW came to us and wanted to be able to use interactive distance learning, video training, Corporate Communications by the CEO of North America, to all of their 400 plus. dealerships, we provided every aspect of that on an outsourced basis. We had a television studio, in their North American headquarters that we owned, we had everything from editors to we had a network anchor talent type, everything that we had 150 hours of new content every hour, so we produced all the content and distributed it at every one of their offices. So going back to the Hewlett Packard model, every time a new car was released in Germany, we were among the first to see it when when the early version was sent over to the United States we would film with the leading sales trainers. The product introduction and then that again was released out to every dealership and service training was done the interactive distance learning the list goes on.

John Corcoran 14:38

And there are many other fortune 500 companies that you work with during this time. So what was it like as you expanded and more and more companies got on board and started to see the potential

Jeff Freemyer 14:51

Well, being able to tell the success story of Hewlett Packard and and Federal Express and so forth as we went forward made it easier and easier, we didn’t, we didn’t have to sell the concept anymore, we had to ensure that we were the best provider of services, and equipment. And fortunately, we were able to, in 1993, acquire our largest competitor out of Manhattan in New York City. And we were in Atlanta, we merged the two operations and became the dominant player. So we combined their customer base with ours they had, they had been very instrumental for IBM. So IBM became a major client. And like, for example, at IBM, I’ll use that example. So Lou Lou Gerstner became CEO. And one of the first things he did, I don’t know, if you remember the commercials, he went around and handed everybody airplane tickets and said, get on the road and talk to our customers and come back and tell me what they want. And take me on a few of the visits. Well, when he became aware that IBM had a network that had a TV, where every 25 people within the company would congregate, he was just amazed and immediately began to use it. To communicate literally, he could communicate to virtually everybody in IBM, North America. anytime he wanted, and he used it all the time. Fred Smith was the founder of Federal Express. I, one of my relatives, it turns out, was the chief pilot for the private aircraft for Fred Federal Express. And I was talking to him one time and telling him what we did. And before I could really tell him much he knew all about it. Fred told the board that if you come to me and say you have to cut costs, there’s only two things that I would tell them. I’m not cutting. One is ethics TV, because I want to be able to talk to everybody in the company at one time as well as allow my trainers and senior team to and the others the private aircraft, because when I are our senior leaders want to get out in the field and be face to face with someone at a you know, a location other than Memphis. I want them to be able to do that

John Corcoran 17:25

spotting Good job security for those in your family. You and Yeah,

Jeff Freemyer 17:30

exactly. Yeah. So that was a fun story when we cross notes and realized that, that

John Corcoran 17:38

you’d be working with Fred for quite a while I guess he really? Yeah, by

Jeff Freemyer 17:41

then. Then about 10 years. In fact, my second major network when I joined the company was to build the Federal Express network. And so again, we had success story after success story, we ultimately had about 20 federal, US agencies, apartment offense, Air Force, you know, you can if you name a governmental agency, the odds are they were a client, we provide a distance learning the post office so forth.

John Corcoran 18:17

Um, yeah. Now, I don’t know if you if this is a question that’s relevant. Well, you were Convergent Media until 2002. So it might have been a relevant question to you. But we know when you have these technologies evolving, a lot of times it marches down the cost, right? So like early on, you’re charging $80,000. Now, of course, anyone’s a Zoom subscription, like everyone has these days, can have a conversation across the world like we are right now. So how did you deal with that at Convergent Media? Was that a concern over time as you marched along from the mid 80s to 2002, when you left Convergent Media that it was that a concern that you had to deal with? Where is the cost going down? And does that affect you or not?

Jeff Freemyer 19:07

Well, absolutely. You’ve mentioned Zoom. So I was talking recently to a friend and I told the story of my mother one Sunday, recently at Sunday dinner turned to me and said, Hey, I’m using Zoom to talk to my 80 something year old Sunday school friends. Have you used it yet? And I turned to her as a mom. I’ve been using video conferences since 1988. And back then, each, you use the video conferencing room. We converted an entire large office into our video conference room, there was $50,000 worth of equipment on both ends. We were communicating with EDS in Dallas. We were in Atlanta at the time so you get the point $100,000 worth of equipment to do what Now you don’t have to pay any additional for the equipment and it was thousands of dollars an hour for the communication between the two locations. And it was only literally two locations you couldn’t do, what Zoom is capable of with multiple locations. That’s just an example of how it’s changed over those 35 years. In our experience in the business television world Sure. The equipment costs went down, I know at least half over my 15 year tenure with Convergent Media

John Corcoran 20:39

and that did that affect the business? I mean, did revenues drop off? Or were customers increasing?

Jeff Freemyer 20:45

Well, that effectively, that’s one of the reasons we went to the outsourcing model. Because prior to that, we had a very large revenue blip every time we would buy equipment and install a network for Fortune 500 clients. And then we had minimal ongoing maintenance and service revenues. So by doing the outsourcing model, we in the case of BMW, for example, we took over not just the content delivery, but the content development, and we had a five year agreement, roughly $10 million a year. So all of a sudden, instead of building a couple million dollar network up front, and then having that revenue go away, except for maybe a few hundred thousand a year. Now we’re, we’re doing $10 million a year in business. Interesting. So yeah, from a business model perspective, you realize we don’t want to be the one just selling the equipment up front, we want to get more recurring revenue. So you moved into that area. Right. So you mentioned channel one, earlier, but literally June 1, roughly the time the Olympics were in Atlanta, so big time, memorial time for me literally June 1, we signed the five year relationship with BMW and a 10 year $100 million relationship with channel one. So between the acquisition of our main competitor in 93, and those two relationships, it really transformed the business and gave us the resources to serve in a very cost effective way or the remainder of our corporate clients.

John Corcoran 22:32

Now, you met a young Verne Harnish at some point, author of the book scaling up mastering the rajarhat Rockefeller habits 2.0, founder of an entrepreneurs organization, how did you guys connect and what role did he play in your career and your development, business growth?

Jeff Freemyer 22:50

So he wrote an article in executive education, which was a publication distributed to leaders at the time in the early 90s. The article was titled, a company of owners, and it was about companies, large companies that distribute such as Microsoft distributed stock ownership widely throughout their team members. And so since all of those companies and many more were our clients, I wanted to approach him by co authoring an article, a company of communicators. And so I tried to figure out how I could meet him. turned out he was one of the speakers at a neat magazine customer service program out in San Diego and I would use any excuse whatsoever it gets, ran out, ran out to the conference in San Diego registered, walked up to a table to be able to get myself organized as the gentleman there if I could use some of the table. He said sure. Well, it was Vern. So just randomly out of you know, 1000 plus attendees. The first person that I can do is burn. So I of course went to hear and hear him speak and we quickly became friends. He helped me when he came as a coach and a mentor helped us burn likes to talk about 10 X’s you know 10 X in a company 10 X and even dawn so forth. So he helped us 10 x convergent from the time of our acquisition or main competitor 93 to roughly went from about 10,000,040 people to roughly 400 people and just under 100 million in the early 2000s. He helped me join What time was the entrepreneurs organization? I’m sure you know Vern, also family Did at MIT, what was at the time called the birthing of giants, which is a degree program in MIT and entrepreneurial leadership. And for a number of reasons, I wanted to get a MIT degree. So he helped who would elect? Yeah, they selected 60 entrepreneurs from around the world to participate. And he was kind enough to select me in 1997. So I participated in that 9798 and then graduated in 99. And in parallel, I became very active in Atlanta, in Waco became the education chair, and then ultimately, of the Atlanta chapter, and then ultimately, the president of the Atlanta chapter. And then I also joined YPO young presidents organization, which was a larger company at the time, you had to have 10 million in revenue per year to join YPO, as opposed to a million a year for what’s now EO. And I became the liaison between the Atlanta EO chapter, and what was the largest YPO chapter in the world, now named Southern seven, because it includes seven southeastern states. And then I was, with his help had a event in Aspen, in Colorado, of course, the February after 911 burn was one of our speakers, we had the former prime minister Bhutto of Pakistan, it was a really a great success, which it’s one of those where I get to stand on the shoulders of other giants. But it was recognized by the leaders on board of the chapter. And so I was offered the opportunity to become the education chair for two terms for the chapter and just met incredible resources somewhere, we’re still friends, to this day, definitely mentors, people that I can reach out to, at any time.

John Corcoran 27:09

Talk a little bit about, you know, as I think it was about 18 years that you were with Convergent Media and the role that he played, and particularly your forum and your peers and all that kind of stuff in in your development, overcoming challenges, growing the business, all those types of things.

Jeff Freemyer 27:28

Okay, sure. So, for people who aren’t familiar with YPO, or EO, there’s a concept called forum. And it’s typically eight to 12 members that meet once a month on a highly confidential basis. So as a CEO, you can feel comfortable coming in as, as we used to say, opening your kimono because the members of the forum were not even allowed to share what they learned in the forum meetings, even with their spouses. So it was very confidential . I have stories from 30 years ago that I still won’t tell anybody because maintaining confidentiality, I learned a tremendous amount and became great friends with 10, other members of EO all successful entrepreneurs. It was, it literally was an opportunity to be able to speak to someone that would appear on a confidential basis, and be able to trust that you would be told what you needed to hear, not what you wanted to hear, like, what might happen inside the company. First of all, you wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about many of the issues we did in the forum. But if you did, as you know, quite often you get feedback you would get with what people thought you wanted to hear now. Yeah, yeah. And I assure you, your forum mates would not tell you what you wanted to hear. It was all that you needed to hear. And we did things all the way from how to strengthen a marriage, to How To Grow EBIT, da, I mean, every aspect of life, personal and professional. We touched on as, as members, we brought in resources in any area that we wanted to learn more about, again, anywhere from marriage, counselors to high growth entrepreneurs to people such as Bernie.

John Corcoran 29:37

Yeah, now we’re running a little short on time. But talk to me a little bit about epi own venture capital firm because that’s definitely a new chapter for you. Right? You’d raised money before but actually joined a VC firm, I believe this is the first time for you and you did it about two years ago. Is that correct?

Jeff Freemyer 29:56

Yeah, absolutely. So as you looted Yes. I hit raise capital for individual firms that I was a leader with within but the venture capital firm provides advisory services as well as capital raising expertise for companies across all kinds of industries. For example, I’m in Kansas City right now versus my home base in Atlanta where we’re building a hemp processing and CBD extraction lab. I was in New Jersey not long ago for an opportunity that is a nine layer indoor growing facility for romaine lettuce for one of the largest produce companies. It’s been around for 103 years and in New Jersey, and they distribute all the way from Maine to Florida and all the way west to Texas. I actually met the venture capital firm because of an interest and a personal passion I have and hyperbaric oxygen therapy that is absolutely miraculous in healing diabetic wounds that otherwise results in amputations. Unbelievably 85% of prosthetics every year, new prosthetics every year, are the result of an amputation from a diabetic wound. It also is used for healing PTSD, depression, autism, I could keep going with brain health. And for those who are NFL football players, Terrelle Owens played a few weeks later, in the Super Bowl after breaking his leg way it was hyperbaric oxygen therapy. So it’s very wide range of health and wellness applications. So we’re working on a project to build to replicate success stories in that space, regionally and nationally. And I could keep going, but I think you get the point.

John Corcoran 32:06

And so what, that’s one of the areas that you’re investing in, but what other areas are you investing in, so CBD produces hyperbaric oxygen, what else?

Jeff Freemyer 32:17

Uh, so well, this is a different avenue, we’re looking at building a CBD extraction lab and hemp processing in Jamaica. So that’s a geographic diversion, of course. And we are looking at acquiring a real estate partner that would support us in acquiring small, what are referred to as critical access, or just rural boutique hospitals. They’re going out of business, many every month. And so everyone in small towns that their hospital closes, loses access, and then they have to drive 25-3050 miles to get to a hospital. So we’re putting together a program to acquire some of those hospitals. And we’ve got partners who are experts at boosting the revenue and profitability of hospitals. in that manner. They’ve worked with large hospitals and saved them hundreds of millions of dollars. So we take the same lessons and applications, apply it to smaller hospitals and can turn them from major losers that are about to be shut down to very profitable organizations and their real estate becomes extremely valuable.

John Corcoran 33:47

Interesting, interesting. Well, Jeff, this has been great. I know we’re running short on time. So I’m gonna wrap things up. But the last question I was asked, which is let’s pretend we’re at an awards banquet, much like the Oscars or the Emmys, and you are receiving an award for Lifetime Achievement, for everything you’ve done up until this point. And what I want to know is, you know, in addition to family and friends, who else do you think were the mentors? Who are the friends? Were the forum mates? Who are the business partners? Who are the, you know, various different individuals who you would acknowledge in your remarks?

Jeff Freemyer 34:18

Well, I’m gonna have to go stream of consciousness on answering that one. But so the first one that comes to mind was my sixth grade teacher in Abilene, Texas. Dr. mercola. And the reason I bring him up is he challenged me and brought the best out of me and every, every subject, I was fortunate to be blessed to the act, identically successful. And he recognized that and again, stretched every academic brain muscle that I had, and it’s served me well all the way till today, as you can tell by the fact that he’s the first one that I mentioned. So Hopefully that’s motivational to all the educators out there, whether it’s lifelong learning or elementary school teachers.

Then I had my, I became a very avid soccer player, my dad was in the Air Force. We lived in England, I moved to Georgia and my first soccer coach. In the US for one year the first year was Keith Hamlin. And the next year was Mr. Ryan. And so they really helped me understand teamwork, hard work, and how it leads to winning. We had the most, we learned a year ago, we had the most successful team and soccer in our high school history since 1952. So it played out extremely well. And a number of my college professors at Georgia Tech that I won’t name by name, and then Bob Fitzgerald was the first manager that hired me out of college. After graduating from Georgia Tech with a mechanical engineering degree he hired me at scientific Atlanta, which is where I first learned about satellite communications, designing antennas, and Bob remained to coach and mentor for 20 years. After that, at a minimum, Ken, Ken let ik and Jim black recruit me away from scientific Atlanta to join what later became Convergent Media. They were two entrepreneurs who left scientific Atlanta when they understood what we talked about earlier, the changes that would transform satellite communications where you could go from large antennas to much smaller antennas. And they knew that would mean corporate America could now all of a sudden use satellite television. So they were kind enough to recruit me. I ultimately became CEO after they left the company. So you know, they opened the door for me that’s changed my life. Ever since another thing that just came to mind was Clark Bishop who I worked at the scientific Atlanta. So here’s the lesson for everyone. Even CEOs, I think Clark joined the company when Jim black, told me that he was going to hire somebody to manage the group that I was part of. And so I went out and recruited Clark, traffic, comm manager and team leader because I knew I could get along with him and work well with him. And he was kind enough to join the company and we partnered from the late 80s all the way to 2005 2006. And working with Vern harness shifts that time so Vern is one of course that comes up. We’ve already talked about him, he taught me a tremendous amount. Ross Perot, even though I never met him personally, he built the cut culture and electronic data systems. And I learned a tremendous amount about outsourcing about leadership, about management and communications, I could keep going and every aspect of that came from what Ross instilled in EDS or electronic data systems culture out in Dallas. He was a wonderful leader. And I could give many a story but to sum it up by the three words, excuse me for taking care of your people. Actually, that’s fine.

So, but he did all he broke out of jail, and I ran two of his key leaders that were over there. And again, I highly recommend the book in the movie on wings of Eagles where he said a commando team of all but one EDS ders and one marine commando to break the two senior EDS are out of jail during the overthrow of the Shah. The new regime threw them in jail because they felt like they were servicing the previous government. One of the members of that team was a gentleman by the name of Kane Taylor, who I ended up reporting to eds. King was very close to Ross, as you might imagine, and at the time, Ross was running for president. So I had a lot of insight into that and as we all know, those who were around during that time Time, if Ross didn’t run for president and take a lot of votes, we might have a totally different political scene back then up through now. So I learned a lot of my EDS lessons came through cane.

John Corcoran 40:17

Cool. Alright, so now tell everyone who’s listening where they can learn more about you today, the work that you’re doing today at beyond and how they can connect with you if they’re interested in following up.

Jeff Freemyer 40:29

Well, you certainly go to And that’s spelled E like Edward, P like Paul, I like India, O like Oscar, N like Nancy, E like Edward, and then the word You can reach me at [email protected]. And my cell phone number is area code (404) 22-99-965.

John Corcoran 41:00

You can tell he hasn’t been a venture capitalist for too long, because he just gave out his cell phone number that does not happen very often or else you’re just a really nice guy. So use it, use it lightly use it like do not abuse it. I don’t want to get a bad reputation. Alright, Jeff, thanks so much. You are great.

Jeff Freemyer 41:17

All right. Thank you.

Outro 41:19

Thank you for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast with John Corcoran. Find out more at And while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the Revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast.