From teaching to building custom web servers to writing a book, his entrepreneurial spirit is strong.
Riju Thomas promises that he sleeps. In bed most nights by 11 p.m. and up at 4:30 the next morning, he crams the most into every waking moment.
At 27, he is the president of RNJ Tech, a company he created in June 2017 that custom-builds computer web servers. He has two full-time sales staff and employs four to five contract workers as needed.
With sales last year of $1.768 million, that would be enough to fill a workday. Add to it that he is working on earning his MBA at the University of North Florida and at the end of this semester will have his Master of Science in Data Analytics from the University of Central Florida.
Then there are two other projects. He is co-founder of Oakheart Health, which will develop medical applications for artificial intelligence. He wants to launch this company by year-end.
He also is the chief financial officer for Roots For Life, a nonprofit with the goal to build schools in Kenya.
And he is writing a book, “Success Redefined.”
Thomas said education and his devout Christian faith are the foundations of his life. Upon graduation from UNF with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, he became a math teacher at Westside High School.
“Here, we take education for granted. In Kenya, for example, there is not that much access. I can learn so much more. If given the opportunity to learn I am going to take it,” he said.
Even on a beginning teacher’s salary, he banked enough money to start buying residential rental properties. He left teaching after a year to follow his entrepreneurial spirit.
RNJ Tech came about from a friend’s suggestion. Custom servers sounded like an interesting niche business. It didn’t bother Thomas that he knew next to nothing about building servers. He turned to Google to learn the trade.
When he began his business he faced the problems of developing a customer base and raising capital. He has teamed with companies that sell servers, which in turn send him referrals.
Financing his fledgling company was another matter. When he started RNJ Tech, he wasn’t old enough to rent a car.
He worked with Bank of America, which eventually gave him a $10,000 line of credit. He maxed out four credit cards buying materials to build his servers. His record of prompt payment and carrying little debt led to banks extending his credit line.
“It’s not easy to start your own business. To get a business started you have to be willing to be uncomfortable. To get something you want you have to be persistent,” Thomas said.
He overcame the discomfort of making cold calls. He forced himself to write follow-up emails to the point of fearing he was becoming a pest.
“To get that first client I had to get my foot in the door. I had to build relationships and treat them to the max so that they know they were valued. I will do anything to keep my clients,” he said.
Over the holidays, a shipment of server parts was stuck in Atlanta. Waiting for the delivery would have meant breaking a delivery promise to a customer. Thomas found where the parts were, rented a truck, drove to Atlanta and upon returning built the servers in his home garage and shipped the products to his customer.
“My father told me, ‘Don’t chase after success. Chase after excellence. Then, success will chase after you.’ ”
Thomas has been accepted in the University of North Florida Coggin College of Business Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, where he is creating his Oakheart Health business.
“He is one of the most humble and hardworking young men I have ever met. He has such a welcoming personality. He opens his doors to anybody,” said Karen Bowling, vice president of jobs at UNF and director of the center.
“If I were a betting woman, I’d put my money on him every day of the week. He is the kind of person customers want to do business with and employees want to work with. He has everything it takes to be successful,” she said.
Thomas praises his mentors, a group of older men who also attend The Church of Eleven22. He especially holds Yancey Montgomery and Blair Wygle in high regard. They call him about once a month to check on not only RNJ Tech but to make sure Thomas has a well-rounded life.
Thomas serves as a mentor by sharing his experience and motivation with his friends from college and church. The group of a half-dozen are involved in a yearlong fitness challenge that consists of pushups, situps and running challenges. Each throws in $10 per month. Last man standing will win the pot.
Thomas puts as much energy into relaxing as he does his work life. On a recent Saturday, he went fishing at 6:30 a.m., attended a baby shower in the afternoon and a wedding an hour later, made a quick pop in to see friends at a Jacksonville Icemen hockey game and finally ended the evening at a birthday party.
He rises before dawn to start preparing for the day. He visits the gym, reads the Bible, meditates and plans his day in a hardbound journal. The notebook is filled with reminders, appointments and ideas. Within those pages, he said, are the germs for his next new business, whatever it may be.