By: Bennett Loudon
Mark Murphy had a successful career of almost 20 years as an executive in the high-tech communications industry, with a track record that would have probably led to even more lucrative top-tier job opportunities that would provide long-term financial security for his family.
But an entrepreneurial spirit drove him to venture out on his own in 2011 and start Greenlight Networks, a new company in the highly competitive, complicated and capital intensive industry of high-speed internet service.
“This is a tremendously difficult business. It’s difficult because it needs scale and it’s difficult because you need to have relationships with regulators in Albany and in other places,” he said.
The gamble paid off and now the biggest obstacle to continued success is keeping up with the enormous demand. Greenlight, now based in new office space in Henrietta, delivers fiber-optic internet service to customers using existing utility poles, which means the pace of growth depends on the cooperation of the owners of those poles — Rochester Gas & Electric Co. and Frontier Communications.
“When I first heard that he started this company I said, ‘Who starts their own internet service provider?’ It’s kind of a crazy idea,” said Dave Grabert, Greenlight’s vice president of engineering. “The thought that somebody could just start their own business competing with the likes of Frontier and Time Warner Cable and other companies out there was amazing to me.”
Greenlight offers the fastest internet service in the state at a price that is as much as 33% less than some other providers. On top of that, Greenlight has an impressive customer-satisfaction rating of more than 70%, Murphy said.
“We’re really proud of that,” said Murphy. “That means that people are telling their friends and family to absolutely and positively get Greenlight.”
“The other thing we see on social (media) is people are really eager and upset because they can’t get our service more quickly,” he said.
A $100 million investment in 2018 from billionaire Thomas Golisano, who founded Paychex, provided the capital necessary to build Greenlight’s network infrastructure. And in 2019 Greenlight entered a joint venture with LeChase Construction Services LLC to take over construction management for the expansion of Greenlight’s fiber optic network.
Thomas Bonadio, founder of The Bonadio Group who currently serves as senior counsel of the firm, as well as a member of the Greenlight board of directors, introduced Murphy to Golisano.
“I think his personality and the fact that he’s well liked helped him get the support he needed to build his company,” Bonadio said.
“(Murphy’s) friendly, he’s likable,” Bonadio said. “This is not an easy thing to get into. You need a lot of expertise, like Mark has, and he’s very talented and he knows his industry very well.”
Greenlight has about 80 employees now and the new space they moved into in the fall has enough room for the 150 workers that will eventually be needed.
“What Mark really brings to any team I’ve been on with him is just the confidence in knowing that if you’re talking to Mark about something, he’s done his research. He knows what he’s talking about, but he’s also not going to be the authority on anything,” Grabert said. “What he’s really looking for is his team members to be subject matter experts. He knows he can lean on all of us to help him make informed decisions.”
Despite the financing and operational resources, Greenlight is still facing the challenge of “timely and affordable access to get on the utility poles,” Murphy said.
Gaining access to utility poles can take a minimum of six months, and up to six years in some cases.
“We’ve been engaged for the last two years now with RG&E and Frontier to try and find a better way to do this,” Murphy said.
Murphy said he’s hoping for government action to streamline the process, “but in the meantime we’re kind of stuck with a process that is not keeping up with the pace we need to be successful and to get our service out to customers.”
While high-speed internet was once considered a luxury for affluent neighborhoods with customers seeking glitch-free online gaming and entertainment streaming, the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many people to work from home, has demonstrated how crucial dependable web access is to the economy.
“This is how people are earning a living and its how kids are trying to learn in school,” Murphy said.
As a privately held company, Murphy declined to provide information about revenues, an exact number of customers or growth projections. But the company certainly has tens of thousands of customers.
Murphy, 51, is originally from Binghamton. He formed lasting relationships at St. Bonaventure University, where he studied economics, which led to his successful business career. He also received a master’s of business administration degree from the University of Notre Dame.
Murphy said he trusted the advice of a college friend who told him: “If you’ve had a proven track record of success along the way, bet on yourself and make it happen.”
That friend also wisely told Murphy to make sure his wife was on board with those plans.
“There are a lot of sacrifices that you’ve got to make early on. At the time I had a nice career going and I could have certainly taken a move and gone to another part of the country and continue to work for Time Warner Cable or Frontier at the time,” Murphy said.
Murphy wore several “hats” at first. But as the company evolved he hired experts to take over specific roles. And he credits those employees with a lot of Greenlight’s success.
“I’ve hired folks that are very capable, that have great track records of success along the way. We jointly come up with goals on a regular basis and how we’re going to measure those, and they run their businesses and I try to stay out of the way as much as I can help myself,” Murphy said.
Murphy said making a successful business is “about building a culture where everybody feels like they’re part of the team and can make a difference.”
“He’s a good leader. He attracts people that really like to come to work every morning because it’s a good place to work,” Bonadio said.
Title: President and founder of Greenlight Networks
Education: St. Bonaventure University, bachelor’s degree, economics (1991); University of Notre Dame, Mendoza College of Business, master’s of business administration in marketing (1994).
Family: Wife, Margaret Murphy; Son, Jack Murphy, 18; Daughter, Caroline Murphy, 17.
Interests/hobbies: Spending time with family, golf
Quote: “I’ve hired folks that are very capable, that have great track records of success along the way. We jointly come up with goals on a regular basis and how we’re going to measure those, and they run their businesses and I try to stay out of the way as much as I can help myself.”