Joshua Edmonds knows he’s right. He knows there’s pressure to be right, and he's confident that he is.
The image that people have of a CEO isn’t one that fits Edmonds. He sits in a boardroom in Cleveland’s MidTown neighborhood wearing black jeans, a flamboyant black and yellow short-sleeved button-up and Jordan sneakers.
When visualizing a company that is tasked with outfitting a major city’s high-speed internet, giants like AT&T come to mind. Suits and ties in high-rise boardrooms instead of sneakers and a relaxed environment like the one DigitalC tries to portray.
“Clevelanders deserve a product that they can be proud of,” he says. “It’s a locally homegrown underdog narrative.”
Edmonds is an embodiment of Northeast Ohio. He grew up on the East Side before running track at Notre Dame College. He likens what he is doing at DigitalC to being in a sports arena. “We are competing to sell our products,” he says.
Edmonds views himself as an athlete — not in the sense of running or jumping, but in his competitive drive. He views himself as a member of a team and someone who has played for different teams, including his nearly four-year stint with the City of Detroit.
“I’ve told my team we’ve gone from pet to threat, from pretender to contender. This is the time when LeBron [James] came back to Cleveland again. I’m not LeBron; in this case, it’s our internet,” Edmonds says. “We’ve gone from that lottery team, to now a team that literally has [NBA] Finals odds written all over us."
Edmonds has to help others see it that way. He and his team have gone door-to-door in neighborhoods of Cleveland. They've had to adjust from being a company that mostly dealt in apartment buildings to one that now must encourage individual houses to believe in them. That is an entirely different way of working, says Edmonds.
“When I initially left Cleveland, I didn’t want to leave. I was actually feeling like my work was largely unfinished. But I didn’t think Cleveland was in a place to even get much of this done in a meaningful way,” he says. “I will always love Detroit. But there was that moment, Detroit was my Miami in a way. I went off, got my ring, but I’m like, ‘no place like home.’”
DigitalC's goal is clear. There need to be 23,500 households in Cleveland connected to their internet and 50,000 residents trained on digital skills in the next four years. If completed, the citywill award $20 million to the company.
“I think the pressure is like a bit of a roller coaster,” Edmonds says with a chuckle. “And then I’m up at two, three in the morning, pacing and thinking, thinking through every variable I can, trying to get it, 'I gotta manage that one better.' God, I think through people’s families now, I’m actually thinking about people and their kids. And, if I get this wrong, they might be stressed out. And they might have to find another place. I don’t want that at all for anybody.”
The pressure isn’t showing. Edmonds is optimistic. The attitude needed to make this project successful.