When Craig Rabe was 11 years old, he was determined to start a business that helped people by the time he turned 25 years old.
Inspired by the well-to-do people in his neighborhood, Rabe was first bitten by the entrepreneurial bug while mowing his neighbors’ lawns. Even at a young age, he enjoyed working hard for others and the flexibility of self-employment. “I’ve always been about business,” he said. “I’ve always liked building things and helping people.”
Why was 25 his benchmark age to be a business owner? “I figured I would be out of college, and 25 seemed old,” he said with a laugh. He was also inspired by the stories of successful businesspeople. One book that made a particular impression was Iacocca, the 1984 best-selling memoir by the legendary former Chrysler chairman, Lee Iacocca. Rabe admired the integrity and determination of Lee Iacocca, who as an Italian immigrant, rose through the ranks of automobile moguls and changed the industry forever.
It was computers, not lawns, that would shape Rabe’s career endeavors. When Rabe was 10 years old, his father, a civilian engineer for the Air Force, brought home a TRS-80 computer. “I was amazed by what could be done on it,” Rabe said. Spending hours on the computer, he didn’t just play video games, but learned to program.
With a growing interest in computers and technology, he enrolled in Clarkson University to study electrical engineering. After receiving his degree, Rabe joined the sales team of Arrow Electronics, selling semiconductors and computer systems to manufacturers.
Time To Fulfill A Dream
Rabe worked with Arrow Electronics for four years, but upon turning 25 in 1996, he was still searching for a business to start. Determined to not only fulfill his childhood goal, he’d also met the woman who would become his wife and didn’t want to be working for someone else when they got married.
Rabe brainstormed business ideas with renewed vigor. Recalling Iacocca’s story, Rabe wanted to be a light to others, to work hard and be helpful. Looking for who was underserved in his community, he noticed that existing computer stores focused on techies and those who were computer-savvy. “There was nothing for the novice computer user,” he said. “I wanted to help ordinary users connect with technology.” In 1996, at 26 years old, he launched The Computer Café.
He opened The Computer Café in a storefront in the Boston suburb of Arlington, MA, using computers he’d built with samples of the latest generation of processors he’d received from a friend who worked at Intel. “It was not a café where we served food,” Rabe said. “Instead, it was a place for people to use computers, learn about computers, buy computers and get their computers repaired in a warm, friendly, and unintimidating living room–vibe setting.”
But it wasn’t just beginning computer users who needed his help; local businesses also began to reach out to him for his personalized service. Wanting to expand beyond “break-fix work,” he launched First Class Networks in 2013. “I wanted to offer small business owners a more proactive approach,” he said.
Meeting The Rising Threats Of Cybersecurity
While serving small to mid-sized businesses, he recognized that cybersecurity was clearly becoming a present danger and threat. In 2018, after reading a story in the Washington Post, Rabe was compelled to act. The story told about how Chinese government hackers compromised the computers of a Navy contractor and stole “massive amounts” of highly sensitive data related to undersea warfare. Closer to home, Rabe learned that clients had been scammed out of multimillions of dollars.
“I knew I had to do more to help,” he said. The next year, he closed The Computer Café, moving his entire team to an office so he could better serve and protect small businesses. He built First Class Networks into a Managed Security Services Provider (MSSP) and expanded his cybersecurity team. Today, First Class Networks is the go-to resource for IT support and cybersecurity protection for small to mid-sized businesses in Greater Boston.
A Love Story Foretold
Rabe’s desire to help people also led to meeting his future wife, Suzanne. Theirs is a meet-cute story that no Hollywood screenwriter could duplicate. At a restaurant one night in Boston, while waiting in line to use the facilities, he noticed a few patrons, that he previously met, cut in front of Suzanne in the ladies’ line.
“I said, ‘Excuse me, you cut in front of this girl,’” he recalled, and they went to the back of the line. “I didn’t even know her. Afterward, she came over and said, ‘That was very nice of
you.’ We talked for a bit and realized we had an extraordinary number of things in common, as well as her getting an apartment earlier that day five houses down the street from where I lived at the time in Arlington, MA.” Before the end of the night, she informed him she had recently seen a psychic who told her she would meet the man she would marry after she saw a hot air balloon. She revealed that earlier that evening, she sat in a restaurant with a hot-air balloon hanging over the table that she was seated at. “She told me that night about the psychic and the hot air balloon,” he laughed. “My thought was, ‘This girl is crazy. I have to prove her wrong.’ But I did not prove her wrong, and she wasn’t crazy.”
Rabe and Suzanne have been married for 22 years. They have two children, ages 20 and 19. The couple have lived in Winchester, MA for over 20 years, and Rabe enjoys being involved in different ways to support his community. Rabe served four years as president of the Winchester Chamber of Commerce, from 2018 to 2021. He is also a member of the Winchester Rotary. “It’s a great way to give back,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure working with so many great people in Winchester.”
In addition to volunteering in his hometown, Rabe is on the board of directors for the Boston chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. He also volunteers with Food Link, which has distributed the equivalent of one million meals to families in need in the Boston area. Rabe was moved to contribute his time to Food Link after attending a Boston Bruins game and observing that the leftover food in the luxury suites was being discarded. Hating to see food go to waste, he requested to take it to a food pantry and later discovered Food Link’s mission to rescue surplus fresh food that would otherwise be wasted and deliver it to people in need.
For his tireless efforts on behalf of his clients, the Arlington, MA, Chamber of Commerce has honored Rabe as Entrepreneur of the Year.
Like his early inspiration, Iacocca, Rabe continues to be motivated by integrity and determination. Twenty-five years after opening The Computer Café, Rabe is just as committed
to helping businesses leverage technology to improve their cyber security and grow to new levels. “I’m always about helping business owners so that their technology works for them,” he said. Excited about his mission, he adds, “I’m working hard to continue building the company. I feel like I’m still in start-up mode and we have a lot more businesses to help.”
For more information on First Class Networks, visit www.firstclassnetworks.com.