Accountable to themselves

Covenant Eyes CEO Ron DeHaas stands outside the company’s facility, 1525 W. King St., Wednesday. This year marks 20 years in business for the internet accountability firm.

OWOSSO — On Aug. 21, 1992, Ron DeHaas received difficult news that would forever change his life — his wife and two young children had been killed when a tanker truck filled with kerosene rear-ended the family’s vehicle at highway speed as traffic slowed for a different crash on the opposite side of the expressway.

“I realized early on that I had a choice,” DeHaas said, reflecting on his state of mind in the days and weeks following the crash. “I look at these six coins (recovered from the crash scene) and I think, ‘This could be the legacy of my family, this could be what’s left of the loss of my family, or I could do something that would make a difference.’”

In 2000, DeHaas set out to do precisely that, co-founding Covenant Eyes, an internet accountability company that provides reports and conversation to people in their fight against internet temptation, namely pornography.

Now in its 20th year, the company — initially run out of DeHaas’ home office — has grown to encompass more than 200 employees and a 37,000-square-foot facility along King Street in Owosso.

Despite the success, DeHaas indicated the company has no intention of slowing down.

“We want to go beyond just changing lives, we want to change history,” DeHaas said. “Incremental changes have exponential results. I want to make an incremental change in behavior of people giving them the tools necessary to stop using pornography or never start.”

Identifying a need

As a result of the fatal crash that killed his family, DeHaas received a cash settlement of more than $2 million from the trucking company responsible. Though he admits he was unsure of what to use the money for, DeHaas knew it needed to be for the development of families.

In 1993, DeHaas remarried and moved to Owosso, becoming a father to two sons along the way, both of whom soon became teenagers.

It was during this time DeHaas became aware of the dangers surrounding internet porn.

“The things that were out there at the time (to combat it) were filtering, and they were lousy filters,” DeHaas said, noting filters merely presented a challenge for kids to overcome. “What I wanted was something that would provide accountability, something that would allow me to train my kids in the disciplined use of their computers.”

In search of an effective mechanism to hold people responsible for their internet activity, DeHaas called upon the expertise of 17-year-old Collin Rose, who understood computers and technology.

“I asked him, ‘Can you hold me accountable on the internet?’ Three days later he presented me with a report of all of the sites I had viewed over those three days,” DeHaas said.

After that, Rose drew a flow chart on a piece of paper outlining how the business could work. The business followed the model for about 19 years.

“(At the time) I was just so excited to use my technology love for something meaningful,” said Rose, who developed the accountability software, in a video commemorating the company’s 20th anniversary. “I jumped at the opportunity to do what I love to do, which is play with technology.”

A difficult road

DeHaas and Rose launched Covenant Eyes on March 30, 2000, though it took years before the company became profitable.

DeHaas credits Covenant Eyes’ early survival on the duo’s decision to launch Michigan Online Group as an internet service provider (ISP) the same year.

The immediate success of Michigan Online Group couldn’t have come a moment too soon, as DeHaas remembers almost scrapping Covenant Eyes completely in the first year.

“In September of 2000 we had far outspent my original estimates of getting this business going,” DeHaas said. “After some prayer, Collin and I took a trip out west to Colorado to meet with Promise Keepers (a faith-based organization rooted in helping men live with integrity). The fellow we met with sat down and he interrogated us about how Covenant Eyes would help people and how it works technically and Collin had every answer.”

DeHaas and Rose walked away from the discussion with a contract in place; Promise Keepers agreed to become an affiliate organization promoting Covenant Eyes across all its media platforms. The Christian organization remains one of company’s strongest affiliates today, DeHaas said.

While the initial contract with Promise Keepers wasn’t enough to make Covenant Eyes profitable, the agreement reignited DeHaas’ confidence, compelling him to see the effort through.

“That’s when I made the decision to spend all of my money. I did not have anything left. I literally did not buy a cup of coffee at McDonald’s. I couldn’t afford a cup of coffee at McDonald’s,” DeHaas said, noting he would often stop by friend Jerry Meyer’s business, Metro Mortgage, for a complimentary cup of joe. “We were all in.”

Turning the corner

Bolstered by the success of Michigan Online Group and growing support for internet accountability, Covenant Eyes finally became profitable in 2006, according to DeHaas.

It was that same year he and Rose opted to divide the two business ventures into separate companies, he said, with DeHaas maintaining control of Covenant Eyes and Rose taking control of Michigan Online Group — now known as DayStarr Communications.

In 2007, Covenant Eyes settled on its current 37,000-square-foot location in Owosso, 1525 W. King St., after outgrowing three separate facilities in Corunna.

At the time, the company had just 26 employees. Today, Covenant Eyes employs more than 200 people, DeHaas said, noting the company also recently expanded its service offerings in 2019.

“We now have an innovative program that analyzes whatever is on the screen, so instead of internet accountability, we provide screen accountability,” DeHaas said. “Whatever is on the screen (can be monitored), it doesn’t even have to be the internet, it might be your camera or a DVD on a computer, whatever is on the screen (of your device).”

Despite having the capability to monitor a person’s screen, DeHaas maintains Covenant Eyes’ software is not invasive, as individuals must agree to the service in order for it to be implemented; and they also have to pay for it, at a cost of roughly $16 per month.

To date, Covenant Eyes has generated more than 1 million accountability reports to those struggling with internet pornography, he said.

“The primary use of Covenant Eyes isn’t parents, it’s people who struggle with pornography and want to stop that struggle,” DeHaas said. “The best means of losing weight is to weigh yourself every day, and so the best means of fighting pornography is to have an accountability ally. That ally is the person that you depend on to monitor what you’re doing on the computer.”

The software, once installed, creates a report of websites visited and sends that to an accountability partner chosen by the customer who can review the information. That person then can initiate a discussion with the customer about websites visited.

Expanding their legacy

Though DeHaas admits Covenant Eyes has certainly come a long way in its 20 years of operation, the company has no intentions of pumping the brakes.

In October 2019, the internet firm received a 12-year tax abatement from the city of Owosso on a $350,000 building project planned at its current facility.

Over the next two to three years, Covenant Eyes intends to expand its facility by 3,500 square feet through the redevelopment an existing warehouse on the property, which, once completed, will serve as a “fully functioning customer service facility,” company officials said previously.

The Industrial Facilities Tax Exemption Certificate will reduce Covenant Eyes’ local taxes over 12 years by 50 percent or about $17,116.

Despite the substantial growth of the company through the years, DeHaas said he remains committed to supporting Owosso’s economy by continuing to attract technical people and grant dollars to the area.

“I (once) had an offer to sell Covenant Eyes. It was an attractive offer, the kind of offer you just can’t turn down,” DeHaas said. “(In discussions with the potential buyer), we both determined that when push comes to shove, his investors had to take precedence over my desire to maintain all of the employees here and stay in Owosso. The threat of moving from Owosso and losing the employment we have, I could not bear that. This company is so important to this community.”

As he reflects on 20 years in business and the loss of his family in 1992, DeHaas said what he’s most proud of is the positive impact the company has had on countless people and families.

“The behavior change even of one person — saving one marriage, saving one person’s relationship, saving one person’s job — that makes it all worthwhile,” DeHaas said. “This is (my family’s) legacy. This is their legacy.”

For more information about Covenant Eyes, visit covenanteyes.com.

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