Tag Archives: career

Career Blog: Interview Tips

Last week one of my close friends was asked to interview for a new position at his current employer. Since he knew that I am often asked by my company to run interviews, he wanted to bounce ideas past me. This request turned into a full on mock interview. My friend told me that my advice helped and I wanted to document (some of) it for my readers.

[Behavioral Questions]

I am often asked to run the behavioral interviews; while I follow the rules of the interview process (scoring, feedback, etc), I always rely on my intuition and instinct when recommending a candidate. For me to make a decision, I need to get to know them as well as I can in the 30-60 minutes I am allotted (not just how well they answer canned questions). I level set with the candidates and tell them general things I am NOT looking to hear. I am often asked to interview college hires and they typically use the group project example for overcoming conflict (“someone in our group didn’t do the work and I had to tell my professor/confront the person”). I politely let them know that almost every candidate will use it and they won’t stand out; I then hint at other areas they might use (since they don’t have much experience).

I notice that most people have issues with conflict questions: that is completely understandable due to the corporate world’s focus on teamwork. Most people will avoid conflict at work at all costs, so these questions are difficult to answer. My suggestion is to make up a villain in your head. Don’t pull this person out of thin air, combine a few difficult co-workers and maybe add a dash of an estranged relative or friend to give you something to work with. Think about how you dealt with several uncomfortable situations and turn them into one person. Think about this for a few days before the interview.

The point of any behavioral interview is to understand your thought process. Many of the questions DON’T have a happy ending, the questions just want to see how you can handle a no-win situation. There is no shame is calling out that you can’t satisfy the question as long as you articulate why. Always mention the added impact of attempting futile endeavors (other efforts suffer, stress on resources, etc) – it shows you know when to cut your losses.

General Thoughts:

  • I have always said that first interviews and first dates are very similar. If you are terrible at one, I am guessing you will be bad at the other
  • Remember, both sides have something to gain from fulling/taking this job. As the person being interviewed, don’t think that the company has all the cards. I’ll admit that this mentality is easier if you looking to switch jobs, not unemployed.
  • Like any long term relationship, you want to know what you are getting into. Google/internet search the company you are interviewing at and also pull a few different job descriptions (from other companies) for the job you are looking to fill. Have a complete idea of what will be asked of you.
  • Don’t be too guarded on an interview, open up and let the interviewer get to know you. On the other side, don’t get TOO personal (don’t talk about how you have 15 cats unless you are running a non-profit shelter).

[Job-Specific Questions]

This section is obviously harder to give advice for since specific details are needed. One of the key things I can’t stress enough for both your resume and interview is to focus on delivery. Have statistics on processes fixed (example: “I reduced customer complains by 35% by doing the following…”), money saved, people mentored… anything that shows you have been keeping track of your own personal job performance (if you are not doing that now – DO IT). When preparing for the interview, think about all the problems you have dealt with or continually face at your current or most recent job – how do you deal with them? Mistakes and problems are how people learn, use that education as the backbone for your discussion – the people you are interviewing with probably have the same problems (any maybe you got to the solution sooner).

For skill gaps, have talking points that discuss how fast you came to speed on stretch assignment at your other jobs. This is not a sure-fire technique because some things are hard requirements, but it’s better than nothing.

[Conclusion]

Keep the first date idea in your head: nobody wants to date someone who is angry about an old flame (or job), egotistical, incompetent, too shy/introverted, or just plan old weird. If you think you are lacking in a certain area, PRACTICE! Get in front of the mirror to work on your delivery and eye contract. Find behavioral questions on the internet and practice answering them (I like to type it all out and keep a database of answers). I love the interview process; if I am the one being asked the questions… being able to prove I am the best person for the job and finding that “Ah-ha” moment in the interviewer’s eyes when they agree is awesome. On the other side, finding a great candidate and helping someone move on with their career is extremely gratifying.

I know it’s hard out there and you might not be doing something you enjoy, but keep working at it by making the steps you need to be where you want. Good luck getting the job you want.

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Career Blog: Telecommuting aka Working from Home

It’s the American dream: roll out of bed, put on your slippers, and start your work day. Your commute can be as short as reaching over to your night-stand, grabbing your laptop, and turning it on. Almost any worker would love to be able to work from home and an ever increasing number of companies are allowing their workers to do it. Being a frequent remote worker, let’s talk about the pros and cons for corporations and for the workers

PROS:

  • Workers have more flexibility with home/work life. Theoretically, this enable workers to be more productive. The ever decreasing line between home and work becomes almost invisible (which isn’t for the weak at heart).
  • Reduced office overhead: Reduction in real estate needs, network strain, office equipment, office supplies
  • Reduced stress on transportation: Less traffic on the roads, less people on the trains
  • Better labor pool for organizations (essentially every market)
  • Privacy: Assuming you are working alone at home in a home office, you can be a loud as you want, have conversations on speaker phone, don’t have to worry about offending someone sharing a cubical wall with you
  • Better tools: My monitor is better at home, my chair, keyboard, and phone are all better in quality and functionality. Hell, my internet connection is MUCH faster at home. If I could use my own PC, that would also be better.
  • Reduced Costs: In a time where companies aren’t giving out raises and are given no options to reward employees – working from home allows workers to save money on travel (gas, train fees, parking, wear on your car), food (I buy when I am in the office), and clothes.
  • Not involved in rumor-mongering

CONS:

  • Less face-to-face time inhibits team building
  • As a worker, if you are not seen and heard – are you being forgotten? (See the last few paragraphs)
  • Invites the possibility of massive slacking
  • You aren’t as informed of issues/chatter that might impact your job
  • Infrastructure cost: VPN and virtual desktop infrastructure like Citrix are needed so workers can actually work (I have a whole counter point this issue, but I will save it for another article)

The last two years I have found myself working from home more often and it is most definitely a perk to my current job that I enjoy a great deal, but with great power comes great responsibility. Many managers fear that their employees are sitting at home and performing personal tasks and errands instead of working. I cannot speak for other remote users, but allow me to share insight into my remote work day:

6:45 AM – 7:30 AM: Eat breakfast, catch up on personal email, get my mind ready for the work day
7:30 AM – 9:00 AM: I start my day and catch up on emails and paperwork
9:00 AM – Noon: I am in a block of teleconference meetings during this period – EVERY DAY
Noon – 1 PM: Assuming I don’t have a lunch time meeting, I will go to the gym
1:00 – 2:00 PM: This is the witching hour for project managers – I don’t know why.
2:00 – 4:00 PM: More Meetings
4:00 – 5:00 PM: People don’t seem to set meetings at this time as they are leaving the office, I typically catch up on emails
5:00 – 6:00 PM: I cook dinner and eat with my wife
6:30 – 8:00 PM: I typical check emails, speak with my manager who is finally coming up for air, and do any reports/paper work that I need to get done.

10 hour work day every single day. Some days I don’t leave my desk for 8-10 hours. Slacking? I don’t think so. Now let’s review a day in the office.

NOTE: I car-pool with my wife unless there is a situation that would warrant me driving another car to the same location, because of this, I am on her schedule the days I go into the office because she has more specific requirements around when she has to be in and when she can leave.

5:50 AM – 6:30 AM – Wake up and get ready to go to the office
6:30 AM – 7:10 AM – Traveling to the train station (this can take 20-40 minutes depending on traffic)
7:10 AM – 7:45 AM – Take train into the city, walk to office building
7:45 AM – 8:15 AM – Get PC started, open email, run down to the cafeteria to get breakfast (oatmeal if you were wondering)
8:15 AM – 9:15 AM – Conversations: either in the cafeteria or people coming to their desks, the good morning hellos and water cooler talk starts. I am usually 5 minutes late to my 9 AM
9:00 AM – Noon: Same block of meetings
Noon – 1:00 PM: Lunch (typically at my desk answering emails)
1:00 PM – 4:00 PM: Same block of meetings
4:00 PM – 5:15 PM: Travel home
5:00 PM – 6:15 PM – Gym
6:15 PM – 7:15 PM – Dinner
7:15 PM – On: Veg out on the couch

I am much less productive on the days that I go into the office and I am far less inclined to come home and sign in after a long day (and I don’t have kids to deal with – which is another point I will get to). A major productivity impact is the office environment itself: I have to be concerned about volume control (I am loud, everyone around me lets me know…), who is overhearing sensitive job related conversations in the isle (which often forces me into hiding in conference rooms or un-used offices). When I don’t put myself in a private location, I am often interrupted on calls from people stopping by to ask questions or just to say hi – this is a perspective that people who have had offices for years tend to forget (it’s easy to have an open door policy when you know it can be closed and people will respect that). All that complaining aside, working from home is most definitely a privilege – and like any privilege, it shouldn’t be abused. A worker shouldn’t run out for 2 or 3 hours at a time and not be accessible without telling anyone. W@h shouldn’t be used for daycare: to this point, when I have children, I will be going into the office every day. A child cannot understand why you can’t talk to them during a teleconference and I don’t want to have to explain it, that’s when it’s time to give up the dream (at least until they are in school).

The managerial fear of workers abusing the remote office is strong. In my experience, managers seem to think that if a worker isn’t in the office, they aren’t working. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure there are people who abuse the system, but I am willing to bet they would have performance issues in or out of the office. If someone isn’t getting their work done, revoke their right to work remotely – its that simple. The same managers who worry about their employees not being on-site are usually stuck on the phone all day themselves, barely leaving their offices and most definitely not out shaking hands and kissing babies, what value does it add to manager or worker? Managers need to resolve their trust issues and have confidence in their ability to adjust to managing remote workers. There has been a 74% increase in remote work since 2005,there are now 17 million people telecommuting at least once a week and 20.7 million people working part time and starting business in their homes, remote work is not a fad, and should be a means for a company to reduce costs to off-set rising operational increases and health insurance costs.

Just because you can work from home all week, doesn’t mean you should. Assuming you don’t live hundreds of miles from your home office, you should set up a schedule with your team and manager so you are all in the office at the same time. Once or twice a week is really enough to “feel like part of the team” and getting the benefits from remote office. The hybrid approach allows companies to save on real estate if they go to a “hotel-office” set-up, where people come in and work in unassigned cubes. In my opinion, this is absolutely the best possible work arrangement.

The corporate world is at an interesting crossroads: Personal and home-based technology is surpassing the tools available in the work place. Companies that need to lock down their employees due to security risk concerns are not keeping up with productivity and communication tools that are revolutionizing the way people function in the other areas of their lives. In many cases these tools are free (I know this is a security issue for most companies), or have very low cost secure pay models that have little to no downside (I am looking at you Google apps). The corporate world needs to get a handle on what is going on with technology and how people work because they are letting money fly out the door by paying for tools that just don’t work as well as low-cost alternatives. I am mentioning these tools because they will only further-enable the remote worker revolution.

More to come true be-loggers.

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A Note to Current or Potential Employers

Congratulations! You have “googled” me or saw my website on my resume and you have now hit the “HR Jackpot”. I want to thank you for visiting this site and expressing an interest in me as a potential (or current) employee. I am fairly confident that you will find me to be a unique and honest individual. As you shift through this site you will be bombarded with my experiences, personal stories, personal research, and hard earned lessons documented for others to benefit from. I have professional information mixed with personal because technology has made that line disappear and I view everything as relevant anyway. You will also find some “bad language”, a few artistic nude paintings that I found interesting, and some very strong opinions. I thought about removing them to avoid this conversation, but I decided against it.

If you went through the trouble of finding me, here I am. I have nothing that I am ashamed of and I have nothing to hide. I don’t write about direct work engagements or provide anything close to specific details, so don’t waste your time looking for those kind of corporate nuggets. I hope you enjoy this this blog and appreciate that I am giving you a better view of who I am as a human being. I welcome and encourage questions on the materials presented here, it will surely make for a more interesting interview.

Take Care,
Joey Lombardi

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Productivity Boost: Doodling

In the last few years, I find myself doodling quite a bit while sitting on long and boring meetings at work. At first it was during teleconferences, but it has expanded into actual meetings. I am following everything that is happening, but I need to do more. The other day I found this article that states doodling might be a good thing: Doodling Improves Productivity.

How does it work? The scientists hypothesize the mental load it takes to absentmindedly draw is significantly smaller than the demands of a full-on fantasy, which leads your mind entirely away from the event you’re supposed to be engaged in. That trickle of attention devoted to doodling appears to keep you focused in the present time, while giving you a release valve from a frustratingly over-long group session.

The article goes on to say that the boost is for light doodles (like shading in boxes) and not full out art projects. So do you doodle at work? Does it help or hurt your focus?

(Image Credit: Luke Ross & DC Comics)

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The Rise and Fall of Computer Joey: Part Three – The Finale

So You Want to Start Your Own Business?
The Rise and Fall of Computer Joey: Part Three – The Finale

Click Here for Part One

Click Here for Part Two

The first two chapters of this story recounted how I ended up owning and running a computer repair shop and the problems that went along with it. This chapter will tell you how I got out.

One major omission in the first two chapters that I really want to address is business clubs. A business club is a group that you pay money to join and the purpose is to give and receive leads. On paper it sounds like a great idea, but if you factor the prerequisites, they don’t work out for a lot of small business owners. The first issue is that you have to be an established business (I managed to get around that when I joined my first group because I knew somebody in the club). This in itself is a problem: there are a few foundation professions in each of these clubs – a lawyer, a realtor, an accountant, for some reason a chiropractor, usually some kind of printing press person, and then unique small businesses. You can be the only person of your profession in the club, so there is no competition within the club.

Here is the problem: if you are starting a business, you usually need a lawyer, an accountant, and probably have worked with a real estate agent already. You have the foundation of your infrastructure (and most businesses have a computer guy already that knows their set up). Matt and Anthony have a huge network of friends that are willing to do freebies or favors for them, this is a huge part of the reason we managed to stay in the black. They had a great network of people I started to consider friends; there was no way I was going to give someone else business over them. So I didn’t give leads and never got any, and I was getting charged 350 – 400 dollars per quarter (If you are curious, the clubs I joined were BNI and LeTip). They usually meet at a diner or small restaurant really early in the morning or for lunch which was hell on me due to my day job.

Leads not coming from the clubs were a source of frustration to Anthony. He questioned my “sales” ability at the meetings, but he never did come to a meeting when I asked him to go and see what it was like for himself. That caused a little bitterness because I think if he attended he wouldn’t have wasted any more of our money. After a year or so of fruitless meetings, we both agreed it was time to stop.

As 2005 ended and we entered into 2006, I started to have a renewed passion for my day job. I had finally gotten some backup and I wasn’t on call 24/7. This allowed me to do a little networking and figure out that I didn’t want to be technical much longer (working at the store probably had something to do with it as well). Meanwhile Computer Joey became more of a chore. Anthony was pushing me to build and sell computers on the cheap, but Dell was running a deal where you can get a computer, monitor, and printer for $322 (and there was support, sure it was in India, but if you wanted to call someone you would eventually get help, not the case if you bought a CJ special). There was no way in hell I could build a computer with a Windows Operating System for under 400 dollars and make a profit (raw materials cost me about 270 – I refused to buy total crap – and windows cost about 88 dollars – toss in shipping and you are at 380ish). At some point I gave up and ended up building 5 or 6 systems and Anthony built out a nice display area in the front of the store. They sold ok, but again, I made like 40 dollars on the computer and if the customer had an issue, I lost any profit we made.

My customers and pricing were always a soft spot for me. Berlin, NJ has a decent size elderly population and I guess they are technologically active. Quite a few old timers came into the store with their PC’s. Once I got talking to them, I knew they were on fixed incomes and would either drastically reduce the price or just do the work for free. Honestly, I wasn’t making any money at the store, so a good deed was about the only satisfaction I was getting.

Freebies for the elderly were one thing, but I had quite a bit of friend-of-friends that wanted their computer’s worked on and had ridiculous expectations. I can’t tell you how many times somebody I wasn’t very close with would stroll in and drop the computer off and say – can I pick it up later today? It was like getting kicking in the balls twice. If you were a friend of the store, I wasn’t going to charge and people definitely took advantage of that situation.

The building frustration, lack of income, and time vacuum was coming to a head with Anthony. I was actively telling him I wanted out and was setting exit dates. First was March; it came and went. We all had a camping trip in April, I decided that weekend would be the end; Bill opened the store while we were gone. Anthony had formulated that we could potentially sell the business for some kind of profit. I was skeptical, but was all ears. After some mild inquiries, an elderly gentleman expressed interest. He came in the store and worked with me for a few days. I could tell he was a little overwhelmed and I was trying to coach him on some of my techniques and short cuts. After a week or two, he agreed to buy the business from us. I was overjoyed! I was finally free….

Two days after my exit, Anthony called me to tell me the guy backed out. I can say I was surprised but I wasn’t, and a part of me was glad that the guy didn’t pay money to figure out the lesson I had learned the hard way (there is no money in computer repair). The good thing was – I wasn’t coming back. We started to call our customer based and told them we were closing and to pick up their systems (some people would drop their computers off and leave them there for months or in some cases years – we put a sign on the front of the store and a note on the invoice that after 90 days it was our property – but it didn’t stop them from trying to reclaim their system 18 months later).

In the end, Computer Joey didn’t go out with a bang; it just faded slowly out of my life. To Anthony’s credit, once the business was out of our lives, he definitely went out of his way to show me everything was cool. It took me some time to get back to me pre-CJ grove with him, but now I call him every couple of days to check in. Shortly after the store shut down, Matt got engaged and moved to upstate New York. I am going to his wedding at the end of September and I cannot wait.

While I did not make much money from my entrepreneurial experience, I certainly did learn a lot. The first thing is how some clichés are true: Don’t ever go into business with family (and I will add friends to that as well) – they know you too well and know how to push the right buttons. I can be the most ferocious person at my day job, but Anthony could make me feel like a clueless 11 year old kid in 15 seconds. I subscribe to the “always being a lion and never the lamb” philosophy, so don’t be meek unless you want to be. Accounting is so important. Anthony’s wife handled the books the first year and I just did not pay attention, she did a great job, but a business owner needs to understand his or her cash flow and what product is moving. I didn’t take the time to look for trends.

Coming out of this experience I will tell you that if I ever do go into business for myself again, I will never maintain another physical location. I could have done so much better working out of my basement and taking house calls at a higher rate. While I am burnt out on the computer repair scene, I can see myself being a private consultant at some point in my future (and get out of the tax-hell that is New Jersey).

If you are serious about starting your own business, the most important thing is to be passionate about it. That passion will infect your customer base (and if you aren’t, they will catch that too). One thing to remember: Hobbies are not passions, learn to tell the difference. Another thing I would recommend is to try to get a part time job in the business you are trying to start (if you don’t already work in it), you will see first hand what your customers expect and what the job entails. If you have a dream, try it out and go for it, just have an exit plan just in case. Set reasonable goals and if you don’t meet them, say goodbye.

On that note, I will say goodbye to you my readers. I hope you found this tale entertaining and at least a little informative. Good luck with all you plans and ideas and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty!

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The Rise and Fall of Computer Joey: Part Two – The Storm

So You Want to Start Your Own Business?
The Rise and Fall of Computer Joey: Part Two – The Storm

Click here to read Part One

The car accident rattled me. I had gotten into other accidents before, but this was the first time I was hurt. The airbag burned my arms, chest, face and it was hard to bend and twist – but I knew I was lucky to get off with the injuries I got. As expected, I didn’t sleep much that night and had to ask my mother for a ride to the store the next morning. My mother is the extremely nervous type so she didn’t do much to settle my mood. I walked in to find Anthony, Heather, and Ryan decorating the store for the 4th of July. They were very concerned and went easy on me that day. Having Ryan around certainly made it better because he is the cheeriest kid there is.

The next week I had a vacation scheduled to Mexico (which was booked before the grand opening date was set). I was on the fence about going, but after the wreck, I needed some time to relax and I didn’t want to loose the money I spent on the trip. When I got back the sheer amount of work between the day job and the store was overwhelming. I could tell Anthony was pissed that I was gone (a recurring theme), and they couldn’t do much to dig me out of the hole because they were not technical.

It was around this time that I noticed suggestions and ideas that I had for the store were getting written off as impractical and Anthony was just making decisions on the fly. I really didn’t mind as the decisions were being made, but when I stopped to look at the actions as a whole, I could see we were just reacting and didn’t have a strategy. I understand their lack of patience (to develop a plan): Matt and Anthony were running three businesses and dealing with the property itself. I had my job and the store. There were no brain cells to spare and we just kept…reacting. A perfect example is when Anthony asked his super-talented artist friend to design a logo for us. Anthony had his heart set on a baby smashing a computer with a hammer. I didn’t like the idea, but I kept getting steamrolled. In the end I figured Marc would come up with something clever because the guy is a really good. What we ended up getting was a baby who looked like he shit himself. I was embarrassed at the logo but Anthony loved it and I was stuck with it.

Things continued this way for a while. I was getting accustomed to being at the store more and incorporated it into my life: “using it as a clubhouse” as Anthony used to say. We used the work space for business meetings, social functions, and even a few community gatherings. It wasn’t perfect, but everything was coming together. I started to detect things between Matt and Anthony weren’t right (I am not going to get into the whole story because that is their business). Needless to say, the split focus was taking a toll on their partnership.

In hindsight, it was clear we were trying to do things to make the other person happy instead of doing the right thing. There were a lot of small arguments about how things were handled, misplaced paperwork, misplaced computers, and vacation time. I would come up with improvement idea and it would get shot down – Anthony would always say “Show me first” and he was right to do so. Anthony would have an idea and I would say it wasn’t financially sound (buying equipment that my customers weren’t asking for, etc) and he would say I always negative about the business.

The reality of the computer repair business was starting to dawn on me. It is damn near impossible to make a decent living doing computer repair:
1. The big companies make computers so cheap it is almost pointless to attempt to repair them at a certain point.
2. My customer base had old systems that should have been replaced, not repaired. I had to constantly undercharge so they would use my service.
3. Selling equipment was hard: I could not make systems as cheap as Dell. Even coming close would cause problems because I used low grade parts that would require repairs (which ate into the bottom line).
4. On average we made $85 per PC that came in the store. I figured out I would have to fix about 600 computers to make 50,000 dollars a year. We had about 10-20 customers per week.

I tried to focus the store into more of a service-based enterprise, but time once again was not on my side. Service involved someone being at the store to provide the service at peak hours. I wasn’t able to do that. Over the next months we flirted with different people coming in to help: We had my friend Bill (who was going through some personal issues), my friend Mike (who just got laid off and realized there was no easy money so he quietly ditched us), a few local repair people that panned out to nothing, and then we hired Todd, a college kid who was great, but didn’t have a lot of time. My issues with finding reliable help pushed me into thinking that I couldn’t trust anyone but myself to get the actual work done.

By the end of 2004, Computer Joey had taken its toll on me. I was definitely not the same person I was getting into it. I was quick-tempered with just about everyone in my life. I didn’t like that I couldn’t make a decision stick with my own business (which prompted me to hire an artist to create a new logo which turned into a HUGE fight again). I could not stand the site of my customers. I was unfocused in every area of my life:
· Girls were coming and going at a rapid pace – I couldn’t even keep track of their names
· I just bought stuff without thinking – I didn’t have time to do the research which over time took a toll on my savings
· My relationship with Anthony was terrible
· My other career was suffering because I just burnt out

At this point we still were not making any money and the expenses of the building and keeping the store going were rising (oil heat was killing us), but we were still in the black. Matt and Anthony had an issue with someone renting the third storefront that added even more pressure on our already tense situation. Fights were breaking out between us more frequently and we would go for long stretches without talking to each other.

Early in 2005, I met my soon-to-be-wife Allison. When things starting getting serious with her, my mind started doing the math and I realize that something would have to go eventually because I could not keep all the balls in the air much longer. In November of 2005, I went to MCSE Boot Camp for my day job. I would be gone for 2 weeks doing hardcore studying and testing. This was good for my career and for the business because it opened up more consulting options. I left my friend Bill and Todd in charge of repairs while I was gone. Anthony and Matt kept the stress off me telling me everything was good. When I got home, nothing was done. By Christmas 2005, I had met with one of Anthony’s good friends (let’s say he is an productivity expect for lack of a better term). He suggested getting rid of the physical store, cut off the repair business, and focus on service only, my head started to spin.

Cutting the physical connection to the store opened questions around the partnership I didn’t care to answer. If we didn’t have a store and rent, what does that do with the partnership? I wanted to avoid the discussion so I tested the waters and asking Anthony questions to see how he would react, the tests failed. Looking back I was mentally and emotionally preparing myself for the hard questions and talks that would need to happen, but it would be another 6 months before it all came to a head.

(To be concluded…)
Click Here for Part Three

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The Rise and Fall of Computer Joey: Part One – The Origin

So You Want to Start Your Own Business?
The Rise and Fall of Computer Joey: Part One – The Origin

Have you ever said to yourself “I would love to work for myself”? I know I used to think that in high school and college, but the day I was offered the chance to actually do it, a little tiny voice in my head said “RUN!” I didn’t listen and the result is the story you are about to read. If you are someone with an entrepreneurial spirit, don’t take this as discouragement, take this as a “what not to do”.

This story begins with an ending. It was June of 2003 and I had just broken up with a long time girlfriend. The weeks after the breakup resulted in me moping around and hanging out at my cousin Anthony’s business (he was a headhunter). Anthony and his partner Matt had just purchased a large street front property in South Jersey and they were thinking about how to fill the available spaces. Anthony had the idea to partner up with friends and family so they won’t just have rent income, but backend on a few businesses.

For the sake of you readers at home that don’t know my cousin Anthony, he has always been like a protective older brother to me. He is 14 years older than me and gotten me out (and sometimes into) trouble many times. Anthony will save your life, but if the mood is right, he might shit on you a little while he is doing it (hey you got yourself into this mess and if he is going to bail you out, he is going to do it his way). He is like the very best kind of sweet and sour sauce.

Matt and Anthony asked me several times over the next month and each time I said no. I was 23 years old and my job had me supporting 35,000 email users in a large corporation, I was constantly getting called on problems and I was going a little nuts (85-100 hour weeks were the norm). I had just found the new religion of physical fitness and was in the gym 2 hours a day and didn’t really want anything cutting into the little “me time” I had. Anthony’s sales pitch was there was no real expense or risk to me since I wasn’t investing any real money (just for startup hardware) and it would only be costing me my time. This was like a punch in the stomach… I didn’t have enough time to begin with, how could I run a business?

Anthony had an answer for this as well: I was fixing 3-5 computers a week for free for friends and family (or friends of friends), and Anthony knew it was starting to get a little out of hand. His solution was “charge them for it!” His theory was that if you are wasting 15-20 hours a week doing that for people on your free time (I used to fix computers while I was on emergency all night conference calls for work), if you had a lab or could do multiple systems at once, you could make some side money. He had a good point and he started to win me over. The plan was for me to keep my job, but work 3 days a week at the store after I got done working at the corporate job. Matt and Anthony would deal with the customers during the day and take phone calls. The idea was that it would be a fun relaxing environment and we would make a few bucks… damn we were all in way over our heads.

By September I was on board. Anthony’s adorable son had come up with the name Computer Joey (there are like 50 Joeys in the family and this is the only was the poor kid could keep things straight) and there was no looking back. The boys had settled on the building and immediately started on updating it and getting a huge section that was one storefront split into two. As they rebuilt and repaired the building, Matt and Anthony also attempted to keep their headhunting business afloat, this of course added tension because there wasn’t as much money coming in as they would have liked. They turned to me: it was decided that I would start making house calls until the store was ready.

My first few house calls were comedic. Anthony and I really didn’t hammer out a pricing structure and I was terrified to give someone a bill. Anthony even came with me on my first house call because I felt so weird just going inside someone’s house. Let me tell you something… although it gets better, it never goes away; the next few years I walked into my fair share of creepy places.

This went on for a few months and the boys got the store presentable enough so we could accept walk-ins. This is around the time things started to change. I was going to the store every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday (and in the beginning on Sundays to, just to help out and get stuff together). Matt and Anthony grew increasingly frustrated with taking in calls and my method of dealing with things when I got into the store. To make it short: I didn’t like calling customers until I looked at the computers and knew what was wrong with them. Anthony thought it was best to call immediately upon entering the store to let the customer know they were in good hands. I tried it his way but I kept getting burned: customers would ask me how much it would cost to fix and I hadn’t even turned the damn thing on yet. Let me tell you, we had A LOT of fights over this. Matt was generally in the middle playing both sides to keep the peace (The other side of the building was a furniture consignment shop run by Matt’s mother; that was his little project to deal with).

I got more frustrated as the questionnaire for incoming computers that I wrote wasn’t being used, and I had no information besides a customer’s name and a phone number. Eventually Anthony got some tags and did write some more information down, and that kept up both happy as we got used to each other’s styles. We had a great deal of growing pains over invoicing and keeping track of customer information and billing. Eventually, Heather (Anthony’s wife) showed me how to use Quickbooks and I started putting everything in there and doing invoices. It saved a lot of time and trouble and I suggest you use it if you are running a small business.

Our business was starting to grow and get good word of mouth, I had customers who liked us and kept coming back. Anthony was making friends with the local business council and committees and things were looking good. We weren’t making any money, but it wasn’t expected yet (the important part was that we weren’t in any debt).

Anthony and Matt had finished the store remodel at the end of June and we decided we would have our official grand opening during the town’s Fourth of July parade. The day before grand opening was a long and rough one. I had gotten paged around 3 AM for an email issue and never went back to bed, the day was long and full of troubles and then I got out of work to go and prepare the store for the grand opening. My buddy Rob, who was getting married in a few weeks, invited me over his place for some reason and since I felt I hadn’t spent that much time with him (I was his best man) I went over there after I got finished up at the store. I spent about an hour at his house and left. I should also mention at around this time, I was dating 2 or 3 girls at any given point and they were a late night drain on me as well – so I was running on fumes to begin with. I was tired getting into my car and the main road by his house was very dark. As I ventured toward the main road over the 35 mph speed limit, but not excessively (I swear), I guess I blacked out because the next thing I knew I was flying over the median strip on Rt. 45 and going into the opposite lane of traffic. Long story short – I totaled my car and I busted myself up pretty good.

My physical concerns had to be pushed aside, I had a grand opening the next day and I needed a ride…

(To be continued…)
Click here for Part Two

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