Maven Wave and the Rise of the Underdog

How Jeff Lee’s risks have paved new ground for Maven Wave and for information technology worldwide

Jeff Lee has always liked being the underdog. In fact, his need to face overwhelming odds initially inspired his entrepreneurial quest. It’s also what led his company, Maven Wave, to position itself at the pioneering stages of cloud adoption, long before its campaign for marketplace acceptance.

“When the odds are against you, it is the most exhilarating; it is the most gratifying, fun, thrilling thing,” Jeff says. Even more so, he offers, is doing it with others, when “you’re all part of this sort of against-the-odds story.”

From the beginning, Maven Wave—a consulting and technology solutions firm Jeff cofounded with his brother, Jason Lee, and colleague, Brian Farrar—sought out cloud-centric opportunities about which the founders felt passionate. Most Google partners at that time simply focused solely on software license sales and some e-mail cloud migration; such companies worked as brokerages, if you will. No one offered to help businesses adopt the Google platform when it came to their processes and methodologies.

Recognizing this niche, the cofounders went to work developing a management and technology firm zeroed in on end-to-end problem solving. “It was the perfect match with Google’s innovation and our capabilities,” Jeff says. However, after two years of substantial time and up-front expenses, Maven Wave had yet to see any returns. Those around Jeff never outwardly predicted failure, but he could hear it in their minds. “That was absolutely fuel for me,” he says.

Most business owners would have been worried. Not Jeff, who after twenty-two years of achievement in consulting and technology had repeatedly proven himself the quintessential dark horse. His résumé reads as a perpetual success story, starting at Accenture leading large-scale change programs. After stepping out on his own, Jeff founded and served as CEO of Fathom Solutions, which he sold to Cognizant in 2004 at the age of thirty-five. After that, he chose to oversee a vertical practice at Cognizant, leading engagements totaling more than $150 million, before launching Maven Wave.

Meet the cofounders and partners leading the way at Maven Wave: Jason Lee, Brian Farrar, and Jeff Lee. Photo: Caleb Fox.
Meet the cofounders and partners leading the way at Maven Wave: Jason Lee, Brian Farrar, and Jeff Lee. Photo: Caleb Fox.

Jeff notes a lesson from his mother as the number one inspiration for his business and life achievements: “Empathy with clients, with employees, with business partners, with investors, you name it,” he says. “If I really understand what they’re feeling, we can have laser-productive conversations that are effective, we can find mutually beneficial solutions, and we can move forward.”

Jeff’s unique combination of compassion and motivation proved invaluable in the beginning stages of the Google partnership. “It was definitely an investment, and you might say a gamble . . . It could make you anxious at times,” he says. But as the venture progressed, the developing relationship bolstered Jeff’s confidence. “We were seeing enough elements of success to know that we were on the right path.”

Eventually, Maven Wave’s wager paid off, and Google opened the door to marquee clients like Harley-Davidson, Crate and Barrel, and Rockwell Collins. From that point, Maven Wave extended its working relationships by offering additional services like big data and user experience and design. To that, Jeff says, “The greatest victories come after a moment when it appears you have lost.”

Jeff attributes Maven Wave’s success to its highly curated culture of tremendous talent. “We bring to a client this combination of folks that specifically address the seam between business and technology, and it leads to successful projects,” he says. Aside from the obvious capabilities, what sets his employees apart is what Jeff calls the X-factor: a combination of charisma, success instinct, and interpersonal fortitude. “One of Chicago’s strengths seems to be a high preponderance of this X-factor trait,” he says. “Maybe it’s related to Midwestern values or maybe we’ve just been lucky, but we do have a strong network in Chicago. Great talent seems to know other great talent, and that’s the way we find them.”

Extraordinary personalities aren’t reserved for the staff alone. Unlike most companies, Maven Wave’s leaders share equal responsibility and “entirely and consistently” avoid defining a hierarchy. According to Jeff, “Roles, definitions, and titles mean little to us. Everyone says that, and that’s fine, maybe everyone means it. I know we mean it.”

Currently, Maven Wave is experiencing 35–45 percent quarterly growth. Couple that with market research firm In-Stat’s expectation that the United States will spend $30 billion on cloud initiatives in 2015, and Maven Wave’s future looks bright. The idea of Jeff helping to usher in cutting-edge business practices still comes as a surprise to him. Up until this point, he has simply focused on doing what he loves. “I think that the ability to achieve something from scratch, you know, creating your own company from scratch, and creating your own ecosystem of clients and great talents and your teams—there’s nothing more fulfilling than that.”