Axial's Growth 100 : Jeff Korber

Jeff Korber

CEO, SMARTdesks

Designing for the Future

Technology has revolutionized the way we work. Over the past several decades, many successful entrepreneurs have built thriving businesses based on the implications of personal computers and the internet. But before any of these businesses could hang a shingle, Jeff Korber was thinking not just about the change the internet and associated technologies would bring to how we worked, but where we worked.

Having grown a successful custom cabinetry business and with deep experience in everything from design to fabrication to installation, Jeff founded a business in the mid 1990s with the idea that PCs, the internet, and other work-enabling technologies would require the physical workspace to be reimagined. He predicted the massive, immovable mahogany desks of many professionals’ past would soon be replaced with flexible, streamlined surfaces. The primary purpose of the desk of the future would be to support the technology that would become the centerpoint of an individual’s workday and every company’s operations.

Early on, Jeff’s focus was on creating what he coined as “technology furnishings” for higher and mid-level education. “At that time, there was no real computer lab,” remember Jeff. “ Architects didn’t really know how to build them.” In those years SmartDesks built podiums, desks, conference tables that housed the giant 70 lb. Dell boxes being used then.

It soon became clear that the real opportunity wasn’t in building the desks and office equipment, but in helping the entire corporate furnishings industry adapt to a new normal. After selling the initial venture, Jeff founded SmartDesks as a wholly online business bringing together all of the outside suppliers involved in designing, manufacturing, installing, and services tech-enabled workspaces. “SmartDesks came into its infancy, providing a market for people to buy the room, design, ergonomics, fit and finish for their furniture that had never held equipment like that before,” says Jeff.

Not Your Average GC

According to Jeff, there’s a lot that goes into creating an office that’s equipped to handle the plethora of technological tools that power corporate America. From flooring systems that handle both electric and data to considering monitor arms, keyboards, and “cable management,” SmartDesks is solving problems that didn’t exist before to the computer age.

Older spaces also frequently need overhauls. Whether it’s converting old libraries to “digital commons areas” or ensuring new layouts meet ADA standards for accessibility, Jeff says his company helps convert analogue space to digital space the way a general contractor manages a new construction project from the ground up.

As offices and learning space continue to be upgraded, it’s essential that Jeff and SmartDesks maintain a flexible and adaptable outlook. “In the end, a piece of equipment is ultimately just a physical box,” says Jeff. “Part of our discovery process is knowing what’s being used and how it’s being used.”

Smart Growth

Jeff’s business model is cloud-based: SmartDesks employs virtual employees and salespeople, and they’ve invested in an online platform which allows them to easily communicate with suppliers. They do have a web store with which they are beginning to chart into the B2C waters.

Jeff’s customers already span from Alaska to Australia, but he points to room for growth. “We’re still a small business,” says Jeff. SmartDesks has made a conscious decision to invest in its own growth, focusing on being the best at what they do rather than maximizing revenue at this point in time.

With growing demand for their services and not an overwhelming amount of competition, Jeff believes some of the growth choices he has made will serve the company well. “We’re virtually debt free,” says Jeff. “We act like a big company on a small amount of revenue.”

Jeff says his most valuable asset is his customers. He believes in continuing to manufacture solely in the U.S. This helps SmartDesks avoid exposing its customers to the variables like transportation and politics, as well as logistical complications that come with outsourcing. “We’re really a just-in-time manufacturer. We can produce products quickly and efficiently, through the use of computerized manufacturing and design.”