Tech to Us provides managed IT services for businesses and remote home technical support services for home users. The company has been located in the Hartford Trust Building since it launched in 2010. In April 2018, Tech to Us expanded its offices.
Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price spoke with Tech to Us Founder & CEO Guy Citarella about the company’s evolution and future plans.
NAN PRICE: Have you always been entrepreneurial?
GUY CITARELLA: I’ve always wanted to start my own business. My business interest began when I was a kid. My family on my dad’s side owns businesses, so I was exposed to it at a young age. My goal was to eventually start my own company and at some point, I just decided to go for it.
NAN: Was Tech to Us your first startup?
GUY: Yes, I had done some freelancing on the side prior to launching Tech to Us, but this is my first startup of any major consequence.
NAN: When you were first starting out, was it just you?
GUY: It was me and one other person, a close friend, who was an employee. I was intentional about not having a partner. I’m 100% owner of the company.
That’s what I would recommend for any founder who’s looking to start up: If you lack a certain skillset that you absolutely need to have, then bringing someone on may be fine for you. If not, then keep full ownership. For me, keeping 100% ownership means at least I have some value for my time and all my investment in the company.
NAN: What were the biggest challenges you faced as you were starting up?
GUY: Two major things that always come to mind are marketing and finding good quality people especially on a startup budget.
Hiring is especially challenging when you’re just starting up. Now we’re finally able to pay more for quality talent. But during the startup days, the first couple of years were hard. And, when you’re running a service-based business you need people to execute your service. You’re not just selling or shipping a product or working in a warehouse, you’re customer-facing. You need high-quality people for these interactions. So, it’s always a challenge to find qualified people.
And then the other thing would be marketing, which is always a challenge. Everyone goes into business thinking: My service is great. I’ll just do this, this, and this. And then the customers don’t show up. They don’t just come knocking at your door. You have to go get them and find them in reasonable numbers, which isn’t always easy.
Finding quality people and marketing are still challenges to this day, in different ways.
NAN: Tech to Us is now in its eighth year. Tell us how the company has evolved.
GUY: We started with Tech to Us doing direct-to-consumer, remote technical support —home users. We still do that today
Also, the company was originally doing a lot of call center services for a mixture of customer care and tech support. We eventually eliminated any of the customer care services and focused on just providing technical services. Just over a year ago, we began providing managed IT services for businesses in addition to direct-to-consumer technical support. It was part of the reason for our expansion.
NAN: Was that based on customer need?
GUY: Yes. I think the future of our business—where we have the biggest growth potential—is based on our managed IT services. We have a tremendous opportunity to service businesses locally and nationally. Not that we’re getting away from our home user services—they’re currently still a very large part of our business, so we’re not moving away from that. But we have expanded in managed services and we already have many clients.
NAN: Speaking of customers, how have you been building your customer base?
GUY: Since we’ve been around for eight years, we get referral business and people who have used us in the past continue using our services. We also do web marketing. Obviously, the internet is a big draw for this industry—people searching for tech-support. For businesses, we do regular campaigns with cold calling and cold emailing. We also get a good amount of inbound leads from our website.
With marketing, the toughest challenge is balancing the cost of marketing with the return on investment. That’s also why we’re going more local for our B2B managed services. There’s a better value proposition of being able to go to a client’s site and meet to face to face and provide our IT expertise in person.
NAN: Do you have a specific target market?
GUY: For our home users, it’s really anyone. But our demographic is 90% are 55 or older. On the B2B side, we target smaller companies usually with 10 to 100 employees. We provide services across multiple verticals—pretty much any vertical with more than 10 employees needs IT support.
NAN: Let’s talk about the expansion. How many employees do you have now?
GUY: We recently hired a couple sales representatives for business development, so we now have 15 employees, which is a good size for us. We may expand and add more technical staff as the year goes on.
NAN: How did you choose the business location? Why Hartford?
GUY: In terms of choosing the Hartford area as our location, it was just a matter of luck in terms of an office space that fit our needs in our budget at the time. We’ve been in the same building ever since, even though the building changed ownership this past year. The location has worked out well for us.
We’ve been here for eight years and it was a good choice. I wouldn’t change anything. I personally love Hartford. I moved downtown two years ago, so I get to walk to work every day. Hartford is a good, centrally located city where it’s affordable to do business. It provides those extra city resources and pulls in a wide area of people, so you can be downtown without having the high expense.
The city is up-and-coming. Hence why I moved here. I see a lot of potential here in Hartford—it’s obviously grown a lot over the past several years. You can see the difference.
NAN: Tell us something we don’t really know about what it’s really like to be an entrepreneur. Anything that surprised you?
GUY: As an entrepreneur, you have to realize that the rest of the world doesn’t operate like Silicon Valley. Venture capitalists aren’t going to come knocking on your door dropping millions of dollars.
Tech to Us is a bootstrapped company from the ground up, built with my own money. Being an entrepreneur is tough financially, especially at first—and, to be frank, ongoing as well. Every year, every month, it’s always looking at how much money we are bringing in versus how much money is going out.
I thought it would be much easier after a few years, but that challenge always exists, even as you’re growing the business. Because as you grow, you need to put more money into the business to grow by hiring or by investing in another technology. So, there’s always that feeling that you’re behind the curve. You’re always trying to catch up to your spending and your revenue. And, until you get that big boom, it’s difficult to maintain.
NAN: Any advice for other entrepreneurs?
GUY: The number one thing is: You think it’s going to come faster or you can get more business sooner. But it takes time and patience and it takes good money management.
For someone starting up a business, they say you should have at least six months of living expenses in the bank before you launch. I would say at least double that just to play it safe, because for about the first year of this company I wasn’t really making anything myself. I was living on what I had and what I could afford to pay myself, but it wasn’t much.
NAN: What’s next for Tech to Us?
GUY: Our goal is to grow our B2B managed IT services. That’s our big focus. Not that everything else is less valuable to us, but we got that figured out and we’re doing well with it.
Our next phase as we continue to grow will be eventually adding even more higher-level technicians to help us handle our increased number of projects. We’re seeing continued growth in our managed IT services that would definitely cause us to need such qualified people.
Our local presence as a full managed IT services firm is proving to be in demand as we service businesses in Connecticut and the surrounding states.