University of Toledo fullback Zac Rosenbauer, front, started a technology business called InSourc with some of his friends and classmates including Nick Stalter, background. THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
Not if, but when. There is a point during every offensive meeting, every film study, every practice, where the University of Toledo football team will hear fullback Zac Rosenbauer's voice. If the Rockets have gathered — for any reason — he will have a question.
“He asks a million questions. He's infamous,” UT tight ends coach Bryan Gasser said. “He asks questions even when he knows the answer. I think sometimes he asks to make sure I know the answer.”
The redshirt senior from Lima has an insatiably curious mind. He wants to know not only how things work but why. Everything about the offense, Gasser said, Rosenbauer wants to know from the ground up. For as often as Rosenbauser might ask why, most of his time in college has been spent asking, “Why not?”
As a Division I football player with a major in information systems and a minor in German, Rosenbauer already has enough to keep him busy. But that's just not the way he is. He had a wild idea that officially came to fruition Thursday with the launch of InSourc, an agency and start-up partner that specializes in web development. Rosenbauer recruited many of his friends with no office and barely any money, but the venture already is profitable.
Nine months in, and on the backs of overworked college students, InSourc already is being hailed as innovative.
“It's really the only business I've ever been around that doesn't need funding,” said Adam Salon, UT's director of football operations from 2011-13. Salon left the program to pursue his own full-time career in the finance world, and serves as an adviser to InSourc.
“Zac had a unique vision, and started winning clients from the beginning.”
The whole venture started with a simple football idea. Rosenbauer figured he could make easy money creating recruiting highlight tapes, where demand was high, but he didn't have the money to pay for a professional web site.
So he decided to build it himself. In the process, he found more of a calling than highlight tapes.
“I was like, well, I don't want to do this for free because it takes hours and hours to do,” Rosenbauer said. “I figured out that I liked web development and programming a heck of a lot better than I did making highlight tapes for athletic recruiting.”
As Rosenbauer's position changed from defensive end to fullback, he still wasn't sure what he wanted to do when his undergraduate studies were finished.
He spoke with Salon about law school, thought about Germany — he speaks German fluently — and tried to find good applications for his expertise.
Then he thought about Toledo as a city. A lot of manufacturing has left, and many people moved away. Smart people grow up here, but many of them leave at the first opportunity. It's an even bigger issue in the tech and start-up world, in which young professionals from all over the world move to Silicon Valley or big cities on the East Coast.
Why not Toledo? Rosenbauer said the city offers distinct advantages. For one, the cost of living and the cost of business is incredibly inexpensive. Second, the area has boatloads of universities — meaning bright, young minds — within a four-hour drive. Third, the start-up expenses are low-cost and low-risk for a tech venture.
With a few Facebook messages, some convincing, and the free WiFi at the Starbucks inside the UT bookstore, Rosenbauer roped in a few friends. Rosenbauer was certain, just absolutely convinced, that the idea was destined to change the tech scene in Toledo.
But it was going to take a ton of work and a lot of patience.
“It was funny because every time I would meet with him at Starbucks, he would have these big, grandiose ideas of where we're going to be,” said Darrell Pappa, a UT senior who helps with server architecture for InSourc. “And I'm like, ‘Hold on — we're still in Starbucks!’”
InSourc now has a spacious office within UT's engineering campus. The work being done is professional, but the office has an unmistakeably college feel. A foosball table sits just beyond a couch, where hotly contested FIFA battles take place on XBox. A mini Rockets fridge has three beers and no actual food. In the L-shaped office, caffeine is the only necessary food group.
There are plans to make a shrine for employee of the month, though Rosenbauer said, “The first month, it's going to have be that giant bag of coffee. That's definitely our employee of the month.”
The team members don’t have official titles. They pick on each other constantly — Rosenbauer makes most of the company's passwords some variation of “IHateDarrell” — but they’re dedicated to a fault. The InSourc guys often stay in the office until 4 a.m., trying to make everything right. They spend more time at the office than their actual places of residence.
“There's food that's slowly being eaten out of my house,” said Nick Stalter, who specializes in web development for InSourc, “so I think other people still live there.”
Steven Chaney, who works with iOS apps, is an electrical engineering major who hadn't really thought of start-ups. Chaney, like most of the students recruited for the project, had ideas of taking a more normal route to the real world.
“Then we got to do internships in the summer and said, ‘Wow, this isn't all that great,’” he said.
Despite the workloads, they all stayed because they think there is something bigger taking place. Rosenbauer is certain he can attract start-ups to Toledo and keep developers in this area by training them to do agency work that can compete with even the biggest companies.
For someone not even finished with college, Salon said this type of idea is almost nonexistent. Gasser said Rosenbauer — who isn't from Toledo — always “gives more than he receives, in every facet of life.”
This is what Zac Rosenbauer wants. He intends to see it through.
“I'm not from Toledo, but I feel like I'm from Toledo,” Rosenbauer said. “I've been here five years. When I say I'm going home, I mean Toledo.
“I'm going to stay here. I believe in this community.”