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Young MN Millionaires: Nerdery CEO Mike Derheim

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Nerds truly rule the world. Or they at least rule a multi-million dollar company in Bloomington. But what makes a nerd?

"It's somebody, and we've worked a lot to figure this out," said Mike Derheim, "the best definition is someone passionately, if not oddly, engaged and excited in a certain thing."

Derheim, 35, and two partners started The Nerdery with a couple hundred bucks. Its annual revenue in 2013 was more than $52 million.

Tragedy and vision have turned a humble farm kid into a young Minnesota millionaire.

As CEO at The Nerdery, Derheim encourages clubs to keep their excitement going, like the push-up club WCCO caught having a meeting during its recent visit.

"We find the more freedom we give people, ultimately the better the company performs," Derheim said.

The company also allows workers to make their own hours and tap lunchroom kegs in the afternoon. And you never know when you might bump into a dog hanging out at its owner's cubicle.

"You walk around sometimes and see the level of excitement in people's faces about what you're building. And that is ... I don't know how to explain it, but it really makes me proud," Derheim said.

Growing up in Minot, N.D., Derheim has always had a strong work ethic. His first job was on a farm at just 8 years old. After dropping out of college, he started working for an internet company. That's where he met Mike Schmidt and Luke Bucklin.

In 2003, they quit their jobs and founded the company that focuses on interactive web development --things like website applications, iPhone apps and building websites.

"Basically, we started with just the three of us and a couple hundred bucks and the hope we'd make it work," says Derheim.

In 2010, Bucklin, the president, was killed in a plane crash. It was devastating, but Derheim took over and carried on the company's legacy.

"We believe in this thing we call co-presidency," Derheim said. "We give people as much autonomy and control and decision-making to make sure they contribute as much to the success of the organization."

At 35, Derheim embraces the millennial generation and thinks others could benefit from doing the same.

"I have a group of employees who fit into the millennial generation that are way more engaged than workers at other companies, so I think it's a company issue, not a people issue," Derheim said.

With more than $52 million in revenue and 485 employees in 3 cities, these nerds might not just rule the world, but could change the culture of workplaces everywhere.

Every employee in the company gets the title of co-president and is encouraged to bring up problems on their internal forum called The Buzz, or in front of the Nerdatorium, where all the nerds meet on Fridays.


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