This blog is a part of my volunteer efforts to build a strong entrepreneurial community in South Florida and worldwide.
I recently spoke with Miami entrepreneur Ivan Mladenovic, who launched his company Preemo, a hyper-local tech solutions for families and small businesses, in 2009.Hi Ivan, What is your business?
We provide computer repair, tech consulting, and training to families and small businesses throughout Miami-Dade and Broward. We focus on the customer experience - making sure each client feels like they've have a "Preemo" experience.
Where did you get the idea? What is your personal experience in this industry?
My background is actually in film production (degree from UM), however I've always love technology, and started my first computer repair company at age 14 (The IT Group). I love reading and learning about new technology, and sharing my knowledge with others to help them leverage their own tech better. Preemo is the business model to generate revenue from this previously "free advice."
Any particular reason that led up to this venture?
I worked in the entertainment business for a little over a year, realized that film/tv business was not only a long path to success, but also filled with people I didn't want to associate with (agents, managers). If I was going down a long path, I wanted it to be my own. I started my business in my kitchen (attached pic) and basically started telling people that I'm fixing computer - again. My business picked up pretty quickly, and within 6 months, I moved to an office space in South Miami.
Who are your direct and indirect competition? How are you different from your competition?
Direct: local computer repair store, IT consulting companies, Geek Squad, CompUSA, Staples
Indirect: home theater companies, web development companies, VoiP companiesDifferences: I haven't seen another company providing pre-paid technology support in the way that we do. My clients hate to be billed hourly, so I started with a fixed price model. But that required more money to market my services, especially since I wasn't in retail. So I tried the pre-paid model, and it's been working quite well. Now I can charge for anything we do - giving advice, personal shopping for a client, installation, repair, maintenance - and the client only feels it as a decrease in hours, not an hourly bill every time.
It's important to note that TechTime (the pre-paid program) allows clients to purchase 5, 10, and 20 hours at a discounted rate as well. So we charge $85/hour for on-site services of any kind or consulting, but if you buy 5 hours ($65/hour), 10 hours ($55/hour), or 20 hours ($45/hour). Hours are valid for 12 months, and are transferable. So you can buy 20 hours, and offer 5 to your mother to setup and learn how to use a new computer, maybe use 2 hours for a client that may be having issues, use hours between home and work, etc. It's been great because our services are being used more often, and for a variety of different things.
What is your special value that you offer to your customers, that your competition doesn't offer?
Besides the above reference TechTime program, we also offer in-store fixed price services, as well as the high-end concierge. We have a program that caters to almost anyone that steps inside of our doors - and we're able to take care of them with the utmost care. Take a look at our reviews.
I always challenge any new prospective client to calls anyone in our existing client base - I'm confident that any one of the 100 would give a good review of our business. We make sure that customers leave satisfied, and that their computer problems are solved.
How big is the market? What is your business model?
The market is quite large, obviously, as most people today have a personal computer of some kind. I like to think of it this way: if every person that owns/drives a car also has a computer (we can agree that's true most of the time) - then there should be just as many computer repair shops as there are car repair shops. And it's not even close. As far as I know, I think there are about 100 or so computer repair companies in Miami-Dade. My office is actually in a car repair district in South Miami, and we probably have 40 car repair shops within 1 mile of our offices. I haven't found many studies with actual computer repair statistics, but we are averaging 15-20 computers a week, and it's growing every month.
Our business model is three fold: One is fixed price in-store services, two is pre-paid TechTime and three, our newest service, a technology concierge for of athletes, celebrities, and high net worth individuals.
Who are your top customers?
Our top customers are small businesses, less than 20 users, independent contractors, like realtors, insurance agents, etc. and finally (and my favorite) families that want to leverage technology better, but don't know how.
How did you get your first customers? What are your ways of getting customers now?
My first customers came from referrals. Actually I had one person, Monica Betancourt of EWM Realtors, who really helped me a lot. She introduced me to probably 20 clients to date. She also brought me into the EWM offices in Coral Gables regularly, and made it clear that "Ivan's my tech guy" - Realtors, especially, need lots of help with technology since they need to be networking, selling, buying, etc. So referrals are probably the #1 way we get clients. That is why testimonials are very important to us.
Our second way for getting customers is Google - we were able to rank high for the term "miami mac repair" and as a result have become a secondary option to fixing your Mac at the Apple store (also much cheaper). We're in the process of becoming an Authorized Apple Service Center, and our technicians are being certified as well to be Apple Certified Technicians. Apple products account for about 40% of our business today, mainly because we have the expertise to fix complicated issues (like broken screens, motherboards) at a fraction of the cost of the Apple store.Third way is networking. I've always been a big networker, I'm part of Refresh, Social Media Club, Red Sunset Merchant Association, and Pinecrest Business Association. Offering free, candid tech advice at these venues has really help me grow my own network, and as a result, people tend to think of me/Preemo when they have computer problems. Obviously, we have a Facebook page, an active twitter account (@gopreemo), and I'm also personally active on Twitter as well (@ivanmladenovic)
What stage are you at now? Revenue? Profitability?
We're still growing, probably still premature to see any kind of financing. I'd like to open a retail store, but I'm looking to partner with someone to do this. We did $39k in revenue the first year, and we are on pace to do over $100k this year.
How many customers do you have? Any other metrics you track and are willing to share?
- about 150 small business and residential clients
- exactly 19 clients using TechTime since launch May 1st. Adding one a week.
- 40% of our business is Mac/Apple repair
- one of the top reviewed computer repair companies in South Florida
How did you finance this company?
Preemo is completely bootstrapped by me. I actually went into business when I was heavily in debt - just had a feeling this was the best way to generate income. I share an office space currently with my father, who is an engineer, but moving to downtown South Miami in the next 30-60 days, probably at 5901 Building next to Winn Dixie.
What financing stage are you at right now? Will you be raising more money? If so, what is your ideal investor?
Right now, we would love to have a partner/investor, but probably not willing to give up as much equity as would be needed to get the right amount of money. We will certainly raise money at some point, but probably want to grow the business financials a little more so I have more to negotiate when the time comes. Ideal investor is an operations person, not an idea person. Someone that clearly understand technology, customer service, and possible has relationships with athletes, celebs, other high net worth individuals. A retired sports agent, maybe a real estate investor sick of the current market, or possibly a tech investor looking for something more grounded to invest in.
How many people work for you, including service providers and contractors?
We have currently, 2 employees (1 lead technician, 1 marketing/design intern), and 2 technician sub contractors. Only one senior exec is me and several business advisers, all local experienced business professionals.
Do you have any strategic partners? Who are your ideal strategic partners?
Lots of partners. I used to try to be all things to all people (web dev, VoiP, email marketing, social media, hosting, backup - now I refer all that out to strategic partners.
Main strategic relationship is Adrian Esquivel @TeckPert - my web/software dev company, and hosting company. We started our businesses at the same time, and he has the exact same philosophy about building websites as I do about fixing computer -make sure the customer is satisfied.
What is your growth strategy?
Our growth strategy is to beef up a little more, then open a retail store in South Miami. We're trying to conquest the hyper local market (South Miami, Coral Gables, Pinecrest, Coconut Grove) before expanding - especially since there's little computer repair resources in these areas.
What are your thoughts about exit?
We plan for extensive growth by building a national network of computer repair companies. Never want to sell to a big company (i.e. Geek Squad/Best Buy) - I think that destroys the customer service aspect.
But partnering or franchising the name with the thousands of computer repair shops in the US, and building a brand that echo's Zappos "Built On Service" model. There's nothing that make me feel like we have a great business, like a very happy client with a working computer, or helping a small biz leverage their own technology better.
Fantastic! Thank you, Ivan. Where do we go for more info?
About me: I am Irina Patterson,
was a Medical Doctor
and tech PR executive in the past, My current passion is
entrepreneurship. I'm a
volunteer for the Silicon
Valley-based Global Initiative 1M1M that offers free
online guidance to entrepreneurs
About me: I am Irina Patterson, was a Medical Doctor and tech PR executive in the past, My current passion is entrepreneurship. I'm a volunteer for the Silicon Valley-based Global Initiative 1M1M that offers free online guidance to entrepreneurs worldwide.