Jay and Janet Gubert Run a ‘Silicon Valley’ Tech
Company From Their Ranch in Southeast Texas
It’s nearly 1,900 miles from Silicon Valley to rural East Bernard, Texas – population 2,272 …. not counting cattle.
Just a few miles from East Bernard is where you’ll find ranchers Jay and Janet Gubert, who like their neighbors, tend to the animals, pack hay, fix fences, and raise their children. Jay is a 3rd-generation Texan with a family history of hay farming and raising Brahma cattle. Janet, who was born in Pasadena, Texas, is a 4th generation rodeo participant, who grew up doing barrel racing, calf roping, and other rodeo events.
There is something, however, about Jay and Janet that is more common to Northern California high-tech incubators than it is to residents of East Bernard, which sits at the intersection of Texas State Highway 60 and U.S. Highway 90 Alternate, about 125 miles to the southeast of Austin.
Together, Janet and Jay own and are the top executives at VirtualTone – a cloud-based nationwide commercial business enterprise call center that offers communications solutions for business of all sizes – both urban and rural.
VirtualTone handles more than two million calls a month, serving clients in a variety of industries, including insurance, legal, construction, government, and health care.
Exceptional Customer Service
The Guberts are a prime example of savvy business owners who don’t fit the stereotype of FAST COMPANY or Inc. Magazine-style entrepreneurs. In fact, there are a lot of business savvy ranchers and farmers who live in the 72% of the United States that is rural – and who run successful businesses that would be as much at home in Manhattan and Boston, as in Blanco, Texas or East Bernard.
Relying on its own technology, VirtualTone employs a staff of ten, including technicians and salespeople, who live and work as far away as Florida, and who connect virtually to headquarters on the ranch in East Bernard.
In the fiercely competitive marketplace for communication solutions providers, VirtualTone excels at integrating its services directly into its clients’ software, enabling VirtualTone clients to provide exceptional customer service.
For example, independent insurance agents who use the popular Agency Matrix management system can integrate that software with VirtualTone’s communications solutions. Doing so speeds the process of serving the insurance agency’s clients because when customers call in, Agency Matrix in combination with VirtualTone automatically recognizes the incoming phone number and pulls up the callers’ records on the insurance agent’s computer screen. It is a seamless process.
“It’s always great when somebody calls in and [the business] knows the caller and has all of their information in front of them so that they can take an order, make an appointment, or interact with [the customer] in any business manner necessary,” Jay explained during a recent conversation I had with him and Janet as part of my RANCHCAST with LEM LEWIS podcast series featuring innovative rural producers.
I find it especially impressive that the Gubert ranch, which they call The Herding Ground, was acquired by Jay’s ancestors as part of the Spanish land grant. In fact, Jay tells me, there are cattle pens still standing on the ranch that predate his grandfather’s birth, constructed during the period when cattlemen would drive their herds miles and miles to his family’s herding ground – which is how his ranch got its name.
Jay’s grandmother was a Hudgins, part of the J.D. Hudgins family that has lived in the nearby Hungerford, Texas area since 1839, and has been exhibiting American Gray Brahman cattle for more than 80 years.
Over the years, Jay says, he’s had a few herds of Brahman cattle at The Herding Ground, although he has paired those down in favor aof F1 “tigerstripe” Hereford-Brahmans and common cows. In addition to the cattle, the Guberts farm about 200 acres of hay.
Juggling their duties at both The Herding Ground and VirtualTone is a challenge that they count on family and employees to help manage. On the ranch, the Guberts are helped by their mother, who is still actively involved, as well as uncles and a ranch hand.
“It’s not a one-man operation,” says Jay, explaining that “anytime you have something that is this large and requires a big time commitment you need lots of help. And we have lots of help.”
Although ranching is Jay’s heritage, his business skills were primarily honed in the family’s construction concrete company, Bay Concrete Products, while Janet worked in marketing for a hotel.
When still employed by Bay Concrete in 1998, Jay was presented with the opportunity to invest in VirtualTone, which went by a different name at the time. In 2004, the Guberts renamed the company VirtualTone
Over the generations, having a conventional rural business – i.e. ranching and farming – as well as a non-related business – such as Bay Concrete Products and a liquid propane gas business that the Gubert family also owned and passed down – have helped the Guberts weather the inevitable business hardships that arise. At times, profits from ranching and farming have helped sustain the Gubert family’s other businesses, and Jay believes that VirtualTone stands to help support The Herding Ground, should tough times befall it in the future.
While Jay and Janet measure success on the ranch and with VirtualTone just as any other urban business would – placing the emphasis on a strong bottom line – they also prioritize family and the flexibility that their rural lifestyle permits when it comes to spending time with their two children and partaking in family traditions, such as deer hunting and rodeoing.
Because of the technology that VirtualTone offers, and which the Guberts use to run their businesses, they avoid a lot of conventional business travel, holding key meetings relying on video conference calls that originate on the ranch. “I can do several meetings a day [compared to other business owners who] can only do one meeting if they have to physically” travel to their meetings, says Jay, in a not-so-subtle plug for VirtualTone’s conference and video meeting features.
Then again, he’s 100% correct. Just because a rancher or farmer is located many miles from the nearest urban center, it doesn’t mean that the rural producer can’t operate a state-of-the-art ancillary business – such as VirtualTone – relying on today’s video and audio telecommunications tools.
Education is Key
“It’s just like being there,” observes Jay, “With the exception that you just can’t reach out and shake their hand.”
As Janet and Jay look to the future, they hope to continue the family legacy by passing both The Herding Ground and VirtualTone on to their kids, but only after both their son and daughter leave home to get a solid education.
“School is most important to us as a family, making sure that they have a good education,” Jay says. “A great education is something that nobody can take away from you, and you can always use,” he adds.
The same is true for family values passed down from generation to generation. He summarizes his and Janet’s values this way: “Work hard, play hard, and make sure that you grow the kids up like they’re supposed to be, so that they know their ways.”
It’s a perfect formula for success in business – and in life.