Dan Caruso on bringing the West Coast entrepreneurial mindset to Boulder

Insight on Boulder’s entrepreneurial future from one of its most successful founders

By Paul Hagey Jun 19 2020

With the March 2020 sale of Boulder-born massive company Zayo Group, Dan Caruso continues his epic run as one of Boulder’s most successful entrepreneurs while leaning into efforts to help guide his hometown and Colorado to even greater entrepreneurial heights.

Dan co-founded the Boulder-based North American and European fiber network company in 2007 and continues to lead it as CEO; the company had a $8.31 billion valuation in early March when its $14.3 billion sale to private equity firms Digital Colony Partners and EQT Infrastructure closed.

The company reported that Zayo’s 600 Boulder employees and its 600 to 700 others in Colorado would continue with the company. Zayo owns a network of physical broadband fiber cables and secure data centers throughout North America and Europe; it makes money by leasing access to this broadband infrastructure to companies and providing related services.

Boulder plays a critical role in the company’s success, Dan says. With its “free-spirited background,” it helped the company operate more like an innovative West Coast company and helped attract top talent. In fact, its frontier vibe helped pull Dan from Chicago and inspired he and his co-founder to found Zayo Group here.

Dan, having summited an entrepreneurial Everest in Boulder, works to further spur the local entrepreneurial environment by investing in programs through he and his wife Cindy’s charity group The Caruso Foundation and from his position as chairman of the board for Endeavor Colorado, the Colorado chapter of the global group that supports high-impact entrepreneurs.

Dan and Cindy Caruso. Credit: Dan Caruso.

The Caruso Foundation donated $2 million to CU in 2018 to spur entrepreneurship at the university — $1 million to a connection between the engineering and business buildings and $1 million spread out between the University’s startup-spark program New Venture Challenge, the university’s startup accelerator Catalyze CU and a variety of programs that encourage diversity in entrepreneurship such as CU’s gender equality effort End the Gap.

[Read about the cross-pollination between CU and Boulder entrepreneurial ecosystem]

Why give back? Dan says he asks himself that question fairly often. It provokes a simple answer: “I have an innate sense of an opportunity to serve as a positive influence in a lot of people’s journeys.” It also provides a simple, human joy. “You feel good when you’re helping others. You help enable people who will help others. It has a multiplier effect.”

“You feel good when you’re helping others. You help enable people who will help others. It has a multiplier effect.” — Dan Caruso

The entrepreneur

In many ways, Zayo Group might be Boulder’s most successful startup, at least from a financial perspective, and Dan led it every step of the way.

Dan began his startup life in the digital infrastructure world in Chicago with local network firm MFS Communications, which sold to a larger company in the late nineties. Now free, several former MFS execs looked at a map and picked the Denver area for a new venture, which eventually became internet service provider Level 3 Communications.

Dan helped grow Level 3 and, feeling the pull to found a new company, left. With an awareness that the broadband industry would continue exponential growth, he and fellow former Level 3 exec John Scarano co-founded Zayo Group in 2007.

Dan wanted to headquarter the company in Boulder for its high-energy environment. The first office sat above Nick and Willie’s on the west end of the Pearl Street Mall. When it outgrew Boulder, the company briefly moved to Louisville, and then returned to Boulder at its current location along the 28th Street Mall in 2013.

Zayo Group network snapshot. Credit: zayo.com

Zayo timeline

  • 2007: Founded in Boulder.
  • 2011: Completed 13 acquisitions.
  • 2012: Acquires AboveNet, bringing the Zayo network to 45 states, seven countries with 20 data centers.
  • 2013: Moves into its current headquarters at 1805 29th Street and introduces Tranzact, which streamlined access to its bandwidth offering.
  • 2014: Zayo raises $400 million in its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange.
  • 2017: Zayo completes three acquisitions: two fiber infrastructure companies and a data center
  • 2019: Zayo shareholders approve sale to private equity firms Digital Colony and EQT Infrastructure.
  • 2020: Completed 45 acquisitions through 2019. Its $14.3 billion sale completed on March 9.

Boulder future

With Covid-19 forcing all of us to confront new desires and also with adapting company policies, Dan says more companies will focus on quality of life when choosing where to headquarter, which puts Boulder and Denver in great positions.

The area has lower traffic and taxes and offers the same or better access to recreation and nearby getaways, and has nearby access to a tier 1 airport in DIA. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, major tech companies have opened Boulder outposts in recent years, including Google, Apple, Twitter and Amazon.

While Boulder has become a notable innovative hub, it will see even more growth in years to come, says Dan.

Buckle up.

Paul Hagey

Paul Hagey is BLDRfly’s founder and editor. When not wrangling video, audio and words in the name of story, he’s riding his mountain bike, trail running and hanging with his awesome wife Jen and their young daughter. paul@bldrfly.com