Wes Hays, Co-founder and CTO of BenefitMany, has been a (self-proclaimed) robotics and space nerd ever since he was a kid. He adored Star Trek: The Next Generation and loved to watch documentaries about things like the Mars rover and robotics. But don’t let that mislead you, Wes’s central interest as an adolescent was not learning Klingon, but rather, using his interests to build a business and make money.
To further explain the drive that has existed within Wes since childhood, he talked about his first big business endeavor — as a freshman in high school:
I was the nerdy guy who was always thinking about owning a business; I really wanted to own a casino. I did not play many video games. Instead, I would modify Play Station’s to play copied games. I learned how to build a computer from scratch, so I got the best CD burner for copying ($1 per CD) and would charge $6 per game. If you had a game I did not have, then I would trade for it. This is how I built my inventory. The modchips were $15, and I charged $35 to install them (soldering to surface mounted parts). My policy was that if I destroyed your Play Station, then I would buy you a new one — this never happened. However, once I used my $3,000 in profit to buy my first car, I sold ‘the business,’ which was my exit strategy since it was obviously illegal. I had 250 games, Play Station, and a few controllers, and sold it all for $400.
He has long been a master at selling his skills while continuing to find new ways to make himself marketable. When asked if he had any hidden talents, he said “If I can make money off my talents, then they are not hidden. If not, then they remain hidden until further notice.”
Later in high school, he turned his focus to learning programming, “because it gave me an opportunity to hang out with a girl I thought was cute.” He says he found that “pretty lucrative,” so he stuck around, eventually moving on to different Unix operating system. “My goal was that if I was going to sit in front of a computer, then I was going to make money at it,” he says.
Well, his plan seems to have worked out for him because by his senior year, 1998–1999, he had a girlfriend named Anna, who is now his wife. And when he’s not sitting in front of a computer making money, he enjoys spending his free time teaching their kids his trade. He’s currently teaching them programming while working on a hardware project made from DollarTree foam board. And when the kids are in bed, you’ll find him working on his own electronics projects, reading up on business, or driving around looking at properties — his most recent endeavor being real estate.
But Wes’s main goal has never just been to succeed financially or hang out with cute girls. He, just like the rest of the team, strives to use his passions and skills to help others. After having spent most of his early professional career in positions that help others, he felt like he could be doing more “to allow people to get what they really needed: clothes, food, roofs over their heads, and connections to the right people who could help them.” So, he took his many years of diverse experience and started his own company.
Aside from his very successful underground Play Station ring in High School, Wes gained a great deal of that experience at the University of Nevada, Reno, (UNR) where he graduated with a degree in Computer Science. His initial intent was to study Computer Engineering and get on the track to doing robotics for NASA but soon realized his passion for business was too strong and switched his major to Computer Science — a choice that has proven to do him quite well. Of his choice to switch, he says, “I now know I could have gotten to where I am today a few years faster without the degree, but getting introduced to hardware allowed that to continue to be a hobby today.” Sounds like a win-win to me.
After graduation, he worked briefly as a Java Developer for Bally Gaming and Systems and then took a state job at UNR working for a department called CASAT (Center for the Application of Substance Abuse Technologies), which “played middleman to companies who needed technology and those who could implement it.” After 6 years at CASAT, he began to work for himself full-time, co-founding and operating the data analytics company for churches, MortarStone, that focused on the church space, which eventually led him to the nonprofit world, and where he is today as CTO of BenefitMany.
Wes’s genuine passion for his work is extremely evident. When he writes about why he loves what he does, he says, “programming is a puzzle with an infinite number of pieces that you can assemble any way you want, to build any software solution. When combined with hardware your code/logic gets a body to come alive, and you are only limited by your imagination.”
That’s another thing: he’s big on imagination. One of the many aspects of his role at BenefitMany that he loves is discussing ideas with clients. “Finding what is possible is a big hurdle for a lot of people,” and he enjoys walking others through these hurdles and ideas. In his own terms, “Dream about where you want to be, and then let’s work backward to benefit many.”