Caricature done by local artist, Ondr
I decided to sit down and interview my boss and founder of TechRestore, Shannon Jean, about his business history and how he got his start. We go over some of his first business ventures, what it takes to be successful, and any advice he has for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Q: What was one of your first business ventures?
A: A landscape construction company, Hort Services. I was in the Ornamental Horticulture program at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and I ran a landscape and design company up here in the Bay Area to pay for school and living expenses. We pretty much just pretended that we knew what we were doing and somehow it all worked out. I was able to employ most of my friends and I was always amazed that people trusted us so much – with their money and their homes. It was a great experience with lessons that I still use today, 20+ years and 7 companies later.
What drove you to start TechRestore?
A: The architecture and design business brought me into the Mac business. The technology (the Mac) allowed me to present my company better, to look more professional and to charge more – all good things. I would pitch these large projects to clients, and for a long time a lot of things were done by hand and it didn’t look as great while I was pitching the project in the customers living room, asking for big chunks of money with everything designed by hand. The Mac changed my life, both professionally and personally. It allowed me to do more and make things look better so that I could move forward with more confidence. My interest in the Mac is what got me interested in the technology business.
Our discussion led us to the topic of communication.
Q: Do you believe communication to be the number one skill in business?
A: It could quite possibly be the number one skill. Being able to effectively communicate with your customers, business resources (bankers, lawyers, accountants,) and employees is essential. When you first get started in business, you’re essentially self employed, doing everything on your own. As you grow and transition to a business owner, you have to become the facilitator of information, both inside your company, among your employees and partners and outside, spreading the word to existing and potential customers. Having a big mouth helps a lot.
Q: What do you believe your biggest hurdle or obstacle has been in your business career?
A: Getting capital is always a challenge. In my first technology business I had a business partner whose main qualification was that he had a credit card with a $10,000 limit. You know how the saying goes, “it takes money to make money”. You can make money to start but if you don’t reinvest that money or gain capital it can be hard to grow your business. We ran our first Mac business, MacResQ, for about a year before we started taking any money out of the company – I was living on my new wife’s paycheck at the time and we always made sure we left as much cash in the business as we could. 20+ years later and we still do this. Cash is the lifeblood of the company.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs or business persons?
A: Don’t give up. Embrace failure. Don’t talk to everyone about what you’re going to do, because your close friends and family will be the first to tell you that it wont work. It’s always better to show people what you’ve done, vs. telling them what you are going to do.
Most people will tell you it won’t work, but it’s easy to be a critic. You should be passionate about what it is you’re doing and if you do get outside advice, get it from other business owners and entrepreneurs. Don’t ask people without that experience because they won’t be qualified to comment on it and it’s much easier to tell you what you can’t do. Many times your ideas won’t work, but it doesn’t mean you should stop. If you speak with any succesful person, they could show you a laundry list of their failures in life. Having some failures early on can help you grow as a business person. The key is to succeed more than you fail, of course.
Surrounding yourself with supportive people is important also. There were times when everything around me was crumbling in one business venture or another. Having someone at home that supported me and understood exactly what it was I was trying to create made a world of difference for me. You spend a lot of your time telling everyone else that things will work out, not to worry. Having someone in your life that can tell you the same thing once in awhile can make a big difference.
Q: Did you yourself have a mentor?
A: Yes of course, I still have mentors. One of my first employers in the tech business, Don Ruxton from The Mac Garage in SLO told me, “Outside of your day to day work you should find something that interests you that’s related to the business that can help drive you”. He was absolutely right. This advice came from someone that I volunteered my time to while I was in college to get some technology experience and ended up being my first job working with Apple products. It changed the direction of my life and made all the difference.
Q: What was your first Mac?
A: It was a Mac SE20. It had a 20 megabyte hard drive and 1 megabyte of ram; it cost me about $2,500 at the time. Those are megabytes, not gigabytes! I loved getting my hands on new equipment, but because of the constant upgrade cycle, I knew I had to find a way to fund it. I always knew how to find deals so I got involved with buying and reselling these machines.
Q: What would you say are the least and most enjoyable parts of being in this industry/ business?
A: The best part is the collaboration and being able to work with people that are much smarter than I am. Being able to help others move up, learn, grow, and provide opportunities. Helping the people that I work with advance is extremely rewarding. I love being able to collaborate with great people whether it be employees, business partners, vendors, or bankers; it’s very fulfilling.
The worst part is that this is a numbers driven game. No matter how much I focus on this being an enjoyable and fulfilling place to work, the cohesion of the team, our interactions with our customers, or the product that we sell. At the end of the day if we don’t get enough money in the door none of that other stuff matters. You constantly have to focus on the numbers, and that is not my favorite part of the business.
On the technology industry:
A: I love getting my hands on the product and being “forced” to buy the latest and greatest piece of technology on the market.
My least favorite part of this industry would be constantly keeping up with the rapid pace of change. Just when you think you’ve got a program in place that works pretty well, that’s about the time you see it start to drop off. This industry always presents new challenges so you have stay on your toes and you constantly have to to reinvent yourself. I have to say I love this business. I sometimes have to remind myself of this because just like with anything else that you do for a long time you may get jaded.
You have to have a certain personality to want to go into business. Alot of people may get frustrated but its important to stick to it. Try something, measure its effectiveness, and if it doesn’t work try something else. In the technology industry it’s often referred to as “pivoting”. Being able to adapt and readjust your business in different ways is important. I was not in the repair business when I started this company; I was moving product. I was buying product, refurbishing it, and selling it internally. Over the years we became very good at performing quality repairs because we didn’t want the product we sold to come back. Eventually as the market shifted, I saw how our expertise in repairing these products could translate into another business. Now, TechRestore performs repairs, refurbishes tens of thousands of Macs, iPads and iPhones. We also have a fast growing wholesale parts division that sprang up a few years ago to service the rapidly growing retail iOS and Android repair businesses that are popping up all over the country. It’s been a great and wild roller coaster ride that I’m thrilled to be a part of each day.