TeamLogic IT Franchise Review: Q&A with Jon Simms and Adrienne Wong
Couple’s TeamLogic IT franchise grows quickly in Silicon Valley
Jon Simms and Adrienne Wong opened their TeamLogic IT franchise at the beginning of 2010 and have been steadily growing their business smack in the heart of Silicon Valley. Their business in Mountain View is just down the road from Google, and it’s near LinkedIn, Tesla and other beacons for engineering and computing talent.
Jon and Adrienne fit right in. They met while working at Sun Microsystems. Adrienne left the company to be home with their son while he was pre-school aged, then she started a catering business. Jon moved on to Oracle, where he stayed until the Great Recession triggered layoffs in 2008.
Jon and Adrienne are among six TeamLogic IT franchises that have thrived in Silicon Valley.
This is their story.
How did you meet?
Adrienne: We worked together at Sun Microsystems. I was a technical writing manager and he was engineering project manager. I was assigned to develop the materials for one of his products, and in the course of working together, I noticed he had a coffee cup with pictures of his two daughters. He seemed like somebody I would like to know better, but I thought he was married. At the end of the project, I learned that he was divorced, and we started a relationship. As it blossomed, I decided to transfer to a different position.
Jon: That’s the abbreviated version. We have four kids ranging in age from 28 to 13. I have two daughters from my first marriage, she has a daughter from her first marriage and then we have a 13-year-old son.
What led you to start a TeamLogic IT franchise?
Jon: I had worked at big companies in executive-level positions for more than a decade before making this decision. The last company I worked at wasn’t a pleasant experience, and I felt a little tired of corporate America. I was laid off by Oracle in 2008 and spent about a year trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. I’ve been part of several startups in the past, and I knew I wanted to start my own company. I’m more of an engineering type, not a marketing guy by any stretch, so I was attracted to the idea of joining a franchise business that already had a brand and materials that I could build from. I looked at a lot of business models — senior care, a paint franchise, a consulting business — but none of them caught my interest. I eventually looked into both CMIT and TeamLogic IT and felt that TeamLogic IT was a better fit.
What made TeamLogic IT stand out?
Jon: TeamLogic IT in my opinion had better support, better tools, and a better brand. I also hit it off with (TeamLogic IT President) Chuck (Lennon) and others in senior management.
What was it like when you started your business?
Jon: I had a technician who helped get the business started. He was with me for 3 1/2 years and left in early 2013. Whenever a critical issue popped up, I would work with him to help resolve the issue. I wanted to learn what he was doing so that I could assist him when he needed help. I also wanted to be able to offer some experience and perspective to him from my 30 years in high tech. We did very well between the two of us.
Adrienne: The Franchise Services department is very passionate and professional, yet also very human and approachable. The first time I went to an owners’ summit, as I walked into the auditorium and listened to Chuck Lennon and his team make a presentation about the IT industry, I felt like I was home. The summit had the level of excitement that I loved from working at Sun, but it was for our business and presented ideas for us. They communicate very clearly about the right way to do things, and about why we serve customers the way we do. If you take it to heart, you are in a much better position to make a solid start and get the right customers.
How is the support from corporate?
Adrienne: I’m thrilled with our support. We pay for it through royalties, but we get a lot for what we pay. One of the things I had to learn a lot about was handling business finances, putting together and analyzing reports and using QuickBooks. If I didn’t have someone to call at Franchise Services, I probably would have to take a bunch of night classes to learn how to manage the finances, and I wouldn’t have a system that’s as good as what we have. Having the systems and support allows you to really ramp up.
Jon: In that first year especially, it’s just you and another person. As much as you are trying to grow your install base, you also are trying to get processes and best practices in place for when you become a bigger company. You are trying to establish the heartbeat of this engine, which might do $100,000 in revenue in its first year to be able to handle $1 million in revenue and beyond. There’s a lot of work. You need to be managing accounts, networking, hugging babies — a lot of things to get in front of new customers.
How is your business doing?
Jon: We have focused on growing the business and have put a lot back into growing the business. If you look at our revenue growth, we grew by large percentages in our second and third year. We became self-sustaining within the first six months, and in the past year we started taking a larger salary. As we have matured, our focus is now on becoming a more profitable business while training people to do some of the jobs that we handle now. At this point, we have a business that has the capacity to handle a lot and a team that has worked together for an extended period of time. We are at the point where it can become very profitable now.
What’s it like to be part of a franchise family?
Adrienne: We have learned a lot. We started getting together with the six Bay-Area TeamLogic ITs on a quarterly basis to share experiences, to discuss issues and to talk about products and services — all the ways to run a successful business and serve customers. The corporate team will join us to offer advice on sales and business management and to test ideas for the franchise system as a whole. It’s been great. We know each other so well. There is just a lot of integrity and quality in this group of people.
Jon: I feel they have been able to fundamentally change the way we do business, whether it is a new process one of them has discovered or a lesson about things not to do. Every time we get together, I try to take a couple of things away from the meeting that I am going to do differently in my business before our next quarterly get-together.
Where do you meet?
Adrienne: We rotate among the six offices. Santa Rosa is the farthest from us, San Ramon is out there, too. Menlo Park is about 10 miles away. We’re kind of smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley. Google and LinkedIn and Tesla are very close by.
What’s it like to run an IT consulting business in the world capital of computing?
Jon: It’s intimidating when you do a competitive analysis and realize there are 2,000 IT businesses that serve your area and 5,000 solo practitioners that are moonlighting on craigslist, but the business density here is high. There is a lot of competition, but that’s because there is a lot of need. There are a lot of people here who are great with computers, but there’s a big difference between just fixing a computer and what we do — combining different technologies to help companies reach more customers, become more efficient and solve business challenges. We stand out by focusing on keeping companies running and offering the right service package to protect their businesses. I can measure clients’ downtime in dollars lost per minute, and our goal is to get that number close to zero.
What makes you passionate about your business?
Jon: Helping the customer. New technologies become available every day, and by keeping tabs on those technologies and understanding how they fit into the landscape, we can make recommendations to customers that help them run a better business. Once you help a customer, you are their best friend for life.
Adrienne: What I think is very exciting is getting to know customers personally. I have a lot of pride in the service we offer. People say we’re more like white-glove service. One of the things we are known for is being responsive and doing the best thing for the company. We have a sincere desire to make them more efficient and help them become more profitable through correct use of their technology.
What are some of the customer challenges you have faced?
Jon: One of the worst phone calls you can get is from a first-time customer who calls and says: “I am Joe from XYZ Company, and our server just went down. We need somebody to put everything back together again.” You know nothing about them — where their data is, what the situation is, and it’s a pressure-cooker situation because their business can’t function without it. The good thing is that those types of experiences make customers understand the value of using backups and having managed IT services. A lot of the time that sort of situation brings us a customer who stays with us for a long time.
Normally when we bring on a customer, the first two or three months it’s all about learning how their systems are set up, what they’ve got, and making sure viruses are cleared, things are running smoothly, and they have a help desk set up. There are maintenance procedures we do every night to keep our managed IT customers secure. We also monitor the way computers and servers are running, and we get reports when a machine seems to be starting to malfunction. Every morning, our air traffic controller, who oversees client needs, checks to make sure life is good for our customers. We want our customers to be in a zone where bad things don’t happen.
What types of customers do you look for?
Adrienne: What we are looking for is customers who have at least 10 computers and a server. In terms of industries, bioscience, medical technology companies, medical device makers, health-care providers, lawyers, accountants and different manufacturers are all good clients. We look for customers who have a more complex technology infrastructure. They have grown past the point of having just one or two computers. They tend to be growing companies that have outgrown computer repair firms and have both the need and the budget for a more sophisticated IT solution. One thing we’ve learned over four years is that not every customer is a good match for our business. We keep certain criteria in mind as we prospect and seek referrals.
Jon: Biomed and biotech companies are great examples. It’s really interesting to see them working on the next generation of medicine and science. We get to see things that haven’t shown up yet — one client is working on biodegradable heart stents. From a business perspective, scientists have high dependency on technology to help them do their research, but they themselves are not computer experts. They know their field of science, but not the ins and outs of computers, and they are happy to pay someone to keep everything working.
Is there anything unique about running a managed IT services company in Silicon Valley?
Jon: I don’t think other TeamLogic IT’s have as much pressure to know how to work with Linux technologies, or even the amount of Apple technology we support. Everyone supports iPhones and iPads, but I don’t think too many other places have as many clients running an OS X server, for instance. We have companies that insist they are only going to run their company on Apple products.
Was it hard to hire IT technicians with all the competition for skilled people?
Jon: I was fortunate that when I opened this company, there were a lot of unemployed IT technicians. The economy was still in rough shape. When I first posted for a technician, I probably had 150 responses. TeamLogic gave me an opinion on the short list of candidates, and that was a great help. They had also helped me craft the job listing. From my previous positions, I was used to hiring software developers, but IT providers have very different degrees, backgrounds and a different approach to life. Fast-forward four years, and it has gotten a little harder — we may only get five or 10 responses now, but they are good people.
What has your hiring strategy been?
It takes a technician three to six months to learn the business and our customer base, so you need to hire a little ahead of the curve as you grow. We have five technicians who have worked together for some time and have a good rhythm. We have folks who know a lot about servers, folks who are great on the help desk, people who know phone systems, networking and Macs. We can serve a wide range of customer needs with the people we have on staff.
How do you keep them?
Adrienne: We make it a fun place to work. We feed them at every staff meeting and take them out for birthdays and any other life events.
Jon: We also give them an opportunity to learn new things. Our air traffic controller (who takes customer calls) just went through a lot of training that we paid for, and he learned a huge amount. Everybody has a specialized thing they can do better than anybody on staff. You give them time to go learn it so that when they go in front of a customer they are seen as experts. At the end of the day, our guys are all technologists. We expanded our office in early 2013, and during construction, Adrienne met a young man at one of the supply stores we were using for kitchen cabinets. She asked him how he liked working there, and he mentioned that it was an okay job, but he really liked working with computers. He had all these credentials, and she told him to send a resume. We created an intern position just for this guy — he came in and did 90 days with us. He learned a lot, and he made some mistakes, but you could tell this was his passion. He is a full-time technician here now and very grateful for that opportunity.
What goes into being successful?
Jon: You need to be willing to really work. I put in 11-12 hours a day Monday-Friday and may even put in a few hours on the weekend. As your business grows, you can offload some responsibilities, but the ones you keep will grow. I currently handle all the time management, invoicing and sales, and purchasing. As activity ramps up, there is more to do for each one of those things.
Adrienne: Most people who come from product development backgrounds like us are used to flowing from work to home and doing work again from home. I have to be home at 4 p.m. for our son, but then I can keep working remotely. I think we’re a little excessive, but that may just be our culture and what our business requires at this time.
Jon: But at the same time we have time to go on vacation, and things are running just fine when we get back.
What is your vision for the business?
Jon: This is my retirement plan. I want to put a business together, hire a general manager and then stay involved in the business. I like staying on top of things. They don’t call me “dadministrator” at home for nothing! My view is that the business will support our lifestyle, and my time commitments will shrink to where I can focus just on the things that are most interesting to me in the business. One of the things I look at also, and may or may not happen, is that I have a 13-year-old son that I would love to pass this business off to eventually, depending on his interests. I’m sure as he gets into high school, this can be a job for him, and to the extent that he demonstrates an interest we may want to take it the next step further.
Adrienne: I see the business as a source of pride and accomplishment. I come from a family of entrepreneurs. I am a third-generation business owner. My grandfather’s generation was very successful in many industries in China, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Singapore. My father was also a businessman, and my mother worked with him. That’s what I grew up seeing.
I would like to be able to do well enough in this business to pick up on traveling. Jon and I are avid scuba divers and campers, and Jon is an avid cycler. As the business grows and we are able to spend less time growing it, we are able to start doing some of those things again.
Jon: I’m all about having the free time again and being able to have more free time. I’m only three miles from my office, which is great. I don’t have to ever worry about commuting. The worst thing that could happen to me is getting stuck at the traffic light at El Camino and San Antonio. I do have a bike here at work, and as things get to the point where I have more free time in the afternoons, I have some great cycling routes up near the Google campus that I can get to pretty easily. And I have done that many times since we started. I do keep a bike right here.
What makes your business different from other IT providers?
We walk the walk. The systems and solutions that I provide to my customers are tested in our business. We beta test everything, so we know what will work for our customers and how it can affect their business.
I’m also proud of the networks we build. I tell my folks networking is an art form, and we take pride in how it works and also how it looks. If you go into some server rooms, you’ll see a big wad of cables and wires running everywhere — and that makes it hard to diagnose a problem if something goes wrong. If you look at one of our setups, everything is incredibly clean, cables are zip-tied and everything is documented.
Would you recommend a TeamLogic IT franchise to someone else?
Adrienne: We regularly talk with prospective franchisees. Jon gives them a clear and honest picture of what it’s like to buy and start and run one. We have spoken with people with a depth of business experience — high-up, executive-level people who are comfortable with technology. It has been a great experience for us. I’m proud of the business we have put together. We do a good job of tracking our goals and managing the issues that present themselves. I really enjoy the challenge of doing this. I think if we started over, there are some things I would do differently just because I’ve learned a lot.
Learn more about TeamLogic IT
TeamLogic IT provides managed IT services to small and medium-sized businesses. Its 50 franchise units and 200-plus technicians give the technology franchise a nationwide footprint and a massive knowledge-base with which to provide exceptional service to clients. TeamLogic helps its clients become more productive and secure, and that focus has helped franchise owners earn double-digit average same-unit sales growth for three years in a row. To learn more about the business, including startup costs for a franchise, visit our research pages. You can read interviews with TeamLogic franchise owners on our blog. For even more information, fill out a form to download our free franchise report and start a conversation. We look forward to hearing from you!