After attending Rochester Institute of Technology and earning a Business Management degree, Marc-Anthony Arena decided to enter into the entrepreneurship space. Arena currently works on simplifying people’s digital lives through his business, Teknosophy. Established in 2011, Teknosophy provides in-home services in Los Angeles, CA and Rochester, NY to help computers run faster and remain virus free. With almost a decade in his current venture, Arena is able to share a lot of valuable information in his interview.
Can you share some books/movies/ shows/ podcasts that have helped you get to where you are today?
Why Software Sucks, which talks about how programmers are too lazy to fix flaws in products, so they just add tons of new ones every day.
The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which uses the metaphor to explain one-directional commercial software versus Open Source, which accepts feedback from its users.
Get out of your own way by Bob McIntosh, which reminds perfectionists that you could spend your whole life perfecting a project and never actually release it, in other words "awesome is better than perfect"
and finally, The E-Myth, which talks about how people start businesses to get away from tyrannical bosses, but end up working for the worst tyrant possible, which is the ambitious person inside of themselves. It helps you take that routine that you've come to loathe and turn it into a recipe which you can turn around and teach others.
At what point did Teknosophy turn from a side gig into a full time gig? Why did it happen at that time?
My business was a side gig for 2 years. At the turning point, I was in a corporate job that I hated, but it did teach me how corrupt my industry is and how honest IT companies were very badly needed. One day, it was Pizza Day, and I picked up a pizza and walked out. I'd also just written an email to all of management telling them what a joke the place was. I spent the rest of that year mailing business cards to everyone in my life, and it just blew up from there.
In the very beginning how did you go about acquiring customers? Why did you choose this route?
I guess this could be answered by the business card part. I have almost always done word of mouth, and now am referral only. It means they trust me and I'll trust them as well.
Do you mind walking me through the franchising process? What are the steps you are taking to ensure your idea stays true in the next store?
For the past 10 years I've known my method was unique, and known that more people need this advanced method of protection on their computers. For all that time, it was just me, driving around myself, only able to help 2-4 people a day. I'd tried to hire people, but I'm a horrible boss and don't want to waste my time babysitting unmotivated employees. I wanted to be paid for my knowledge and nothing more. I needed people who were motivated, independent, responsible human beings. So it just made sense to do a franchise/license model. I chose the license model instead of franchising because it's the same idea with a lot less red tape.
I don't care about the particular details of how the licensee goes about their work, because I know how soul-crushing a corporate script can be. This will appeal to independent people who actually care about the fundamental satisfaction of the client. I don't even let them use my brand name: This not only eliminates the risk that someone will tarnish it, but also it emphasizes the local licensee. The client's relationship with their in-home technician is in many ways greater than that of a doctor-patient relationship. We spend a lot more time with them, in their homes, and it turned out that the client comes to trust that technician and if given a choice, would always choose "their guy" over going to a shop who just tossed the nearest flunkie at them every time they visited.
At what point did you decide to bring in another employee? Why was it at this time?
As far as employees, as I said, I had a few technicians working for me at different times. I'm admittedly a terrible boss and am not good at babysitting/whipping people into shape. I need real responsible adults on my team.
You mentioned that you have had a ton of demand for your product, what do you think has been the “key” for all of this success?
There are a lot of "keys" as to why my business is so highly in demand. First, I perform in-home tech support for seniors so they don't have to disconnect and lug a heavy computer to a shop and leave it there for an indeterminate amount of time. Second, we're not your average "creepy computer guy". I myself have a business degree, so I come at it from the consumer's perspective, and this also means I'm on their side, protecting them from an industry that would eat them alive if given the chance. Finally, I make PCs virtually bulletproof. Many/most clients don't need me for 5 years. We turn off all nagging, all popups, all update attacks, and make sure they're not wasting money on monthly fees for fake protection.
How has failure helped you later in life? Can you share any specific lessons you have learned?
Oh, I failed so many times. It's given me lessons that no school could ever teach me. A few years back I created a startup that I hoped would bring in billions. However, I was fresh out of college and didn't have a day job for much of that time, so I was trying to start a car off in 6th gear, which just doesn't work. Since then I've learned to make sure to feed myself first, and to start off gradually, selling a few Beta products, and seeing how people like them, before trying to seek venture capital.
Another one is this: While I love making believers out of people, I've now learned not to chase people down and try to win them over. If they like my tech support service and methods, great. If after a few sessions they don't like my methods, they can go back to being abused by the Big Box stores and that frees me up to help out those who really appreciate me.
In other words, don't be afraid to fire any bad-apple clients you have!
What is some of the best advice you ever received? Some of the worst?
In that startup I created years ago, the worst advice was "get a patent"! It was given to me by accomplished but old-school people. The best advice I received during that time was "the winner is whoever implements it first", which I should have done instead. But the lesson certainly helped me in future ventures.
Recently, the best advice would be to take care of my health FIRST and foremost, because what's the point of striving to earn a ton of money if you're too sick to enjoy it?
This means turning off the phones at 5 or 6, and protecting yourself from the bombardment of needy clients, and realizing you've done everything you can do for the day. Make sure to feed your soul somehow - Read books, get exercise, do hobbies, seek out your future spouse.
What is some advice you can give to an aspiring high school entrepreneur?
I've got so much advice for young people!
First off, make sure to spend time with mentors, be it aunts/uncles or anyone in the working world, and learn how they operate and see if it's something you'd be interested in.
Next, don't think you HAVE to go to college. Yes, some careers require a degree for specific training, and yes you can make tons of friends and contacts in college. However, I know plenty of people who are naturally smart and just absorb things, and either didn't go to college or shouldn't have gone. These days, you can be self-taught, more easily than ever before.
Finally, there are opportunities right under your nose! There are plenty of needs that are totally overlooked by today's economy, and you've got the chance to find out what those are. For example, 5 years after college I still had no idea what to do with my career, and then someone pointed out to me that everyone in the world is suffering with technology, and it just gets more complicated every day. So that's when I decided to get into in-home tech support!
Provide something of value and clients will come
Start off slow to ensure you actually have something that can earn money
Find mentors and learn from them
Opportunities are everywhere - just keep your eyes peeled and leap at any opportunity you get!
My Favorite Quotes:
“I failed so many times. It's given me lessons that no school could ever teach me.”
“Don't be afraid to fire any bad-apple clients you have!”
“These days, you can be self-taught, more easily than ever before.”
“Recently, the best advice would be to take care of my health FIRST and foremost, because what's the point of striving to earn a ton of money if you're too sick to enjoy it?”
“Make sure to feed your soul somehow - Read books, get exercise, do hobbies, seek out your future spouse.”