John Fazio sometimes avoids his personal biography — “it’s a bit too colorful,” he says.
While teenagers, Fazio worked with Chris Alfano at competitive video-gaming center CyberZone in the Neshaminy Mall. They got to know each other and, during their first year at Drexel in 2006, raised $120,000 in private funding to build upon the CyberZone concept. But, they needed more capital than they could raise in six months to meet their bigger vision for a team-oriented video gaming center — not unlike Howie’s Game Shack in California and Arizona.
So, instead, the pair decided they’d quit school and make the money themselves.
They dropped out of college — Fazio leaving the varsity soccer team for which he was recruited to play — and launched collaborative coworking space Devnuts, to harness the collective contacts and projects of the pair and their friends, as Technically Philly reported last month.
Dropping out of Drexel wasn’t Fazio’s first school experience cut short by his own curiosity.
During his junior year, he was expelled from Lower Moreland High School for, well, for computer hacking.
“I have some more… direction now,” Fazio says.
He missed his senior prom and graduation. The soccer player lost West Coast college offers, though Drexel said in December 2005 that they were willing to take a chance on him.
“I was busted with a list of all of the user and teacher [school network] passwords.””I spent months telling our [school district’s system administrator] that the system was full of holes. They were using these old Novell network implementations that weren’t updated, there were SSH vulnerabilities and serious buffer overflow exploit on IIS,” Fazio says now. “I wrote [the administrator] a letter about asking if I could fix them and work for him, maybe get out of some class. He wrote back threatening to expel me because in order to gain the info I had, I must have broken the [school’s] computer rules.”
Anyone who was ever a teenager who liked to challenge authority knows that threats don’t always bring youth into line.
“When I got that response I just used the exploits to get passwords and gain access to everything, eventually redistributing the file system allotments and the router tables so that I could download and store mp3s,” he says. “I got busted because some kid who got caught stealing finals ratted me out to save himself.”
He says that those experiences have fueled his drive to improve public education, like working with the Science Leadership Academy. Fazio says he wants to find ways to engage different types of students, like a smart, if trouble-making kid with a love and real skill in navigating complex computer systems.
“Chris and I were both school rejects. We learned a ton in school but never could fit into the system — we got bad grades and high test scores,” Fazio says, noting that there are many like them. “We need a revolution in schools today, and [technology might] have the answers for some.”
Now Fazio, 22, Alfano, 23, and new partner Matt Monihan, 23, are launching a new venture, Jarv.us, a brand to handle their information services and other larger builds.
“Devnuts was created as a means to bring freelancers together to work on bigger projects, a collaborative company built on contractors,” Fazio says. “As we got bigger and bigger projects and began putting employees on salary, we started pulling away from our original business core and began more of an information systems company. We were building software for businesses totally customized to their workflow.”
So, clients who need heavier development, like small business solutions and applications, are being handled by Jarv.us, a different business structure than Devnuts, though the Northern Liberties address and many of the faces are the same.
Of about 30 active clients to date, three are remaining with the Devnuts brand because they pay for their developers, and 27 will be clients of the Jarv.us brand because they pay for solutions.
More simply put, Fazio says, “Devnuts sells people and Jarvus sells software.”
It has something to do with branding.
Where the Devnuts crew is a good sell to those that need a variety of skill sets for smaller, more specific jobs, it’s not a brand Fazio thought was a strong sell to more serious clients: Jarv.us is that.
And, Fazio says, that wouldn’t have happened if he and Alfano didn’t team up with Monihan, who actually graduated from Drexel and came on as a partner in August.
“Once Matt came on board — he helped us get more disciplined, tighten up operations and workflow, offer more accountability to clients and out of the systems — we began to build the structure for the company of Jarv.us.”
The founding pair found Monihan, a 2005 graduate of Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, through a client and first met him at Honey’s Sit ‘N Eat in Northern Liberties.
“This is the team we want to have,” Fazio says.
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