Photography by Austen Amacker
When he was little, Chris Stegner didn’t think much about technology.
“I had an Atari, I guess,” he says. “That’s pretty much it.”
Instead, he and his brother roamed the acres behind their house outside of Oklahoma City, ending up pretty much every day in the “crick” at the back of the property, disappearing from breakfast to dinner. “It was literally everything you need to have a good, healthy amount of trouble,” he recalls.
It’s an unexpected beginning for a man who’s now running what might be South Florida’s most acclaimed start-up, a Fort Lauderdale-based company that has grown to 55 people with offices in three countries in less than two years. He calls it Very Big Things, and the mantra is simple: create groundbreaking digital experiences and technology.
Since its inception in April 2018, the company has collected 18 awards, including a nomination for the tech equivalent of the Oscars. The company’s work includes building the internet and app technology for Boatsetter, which aims to become the Uber of boating, and Papa Technologies, the Miami-based startup that offers “grandkids on demand.”
For Stegner, Very Big Things is a culmination of his life, as if all the random and varied jobs he’s had in the past two decades have worked to get him to this point. It started when his parents were forced to close their business when Stegner was 10. They moved to a rough neighborhood in the Seattle metro. It was there he had access to his first computer in his fourth-grade class, and he immediately found something that seemed to call to him. “I literally fell in love,” he says.
When he was 12, Stegner talked his parents into buying a computer. Eventually, he taught himself how to create 3D graphics and websites. After creating a site detailing what he had learned, the page took off, becoming the foremost authority on 3D programming.
Within a few months, Stegner went from never having a computer to having companies from around the world advertising on his website. His site was acquired by another company about a year later, and while Stegner doesn’t remember the number, he says it was
enough that he didn’t need to worry about money for years.
Once the internet bubble burst in 2000, Stegner gave up on computers for a while and ended up selling cars after high school. He was living in downtown Olympia, Washington, and making six figures but miserable, in a thankless job and a city he found far too dreary.
At 22 he quit his job, moved to Florida and took a $20,000-a-year computer programmer position. After his first day, he came to a realization about doing a job he enjoyed that made little money: “I am so happy.”
Stegner then spent more than a decade at several tech companies, improving his programming abilities and learning how to talk to clients. This included time at a venture capital outfit working with mostly new companies on scaling up and tried a few start-ups of his own. It was, he says now, the training he needed to create his current company.
Very Big Things began with Stegner partnering up with six of the coworkers he worked with over the years. It has more than tripled in size and added offices in Croatia and Ukraine.
In November, Stegner sat down at the company’s headquarters off Oakland Park Boulevard. The company had already outgrown the space and was planning a move into offices behind the Sistrunk Marketplace & Brewery in early 2020.
In the company’s short history, Stegner says they’ve had a meteoric rise largely due to a shared vision the employees have of going after big gains. While many tech companies take on small projects with success measured just by turning something in on time, Stegner says Very Big Things goes after “legacy-worthy products” that will be seen for years as a success.
“Every person on the team has the same goal: to create something really incredible,” Stegner says. “I’m one of these wackos who thinks he can change things in a big way.”