In 2004, a series of work circumstances convinced Avi Smith-Rapaport to transition his part-time information technology gig into We Care Computers. Over time, the startup evolved into a thriving IT company. Avi told Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price about the many benefits of networking and the importance of truly listening.
NAN PRICE: Have you always wanted to own your own business?
AVI SMITH-RAPPAPORT: Well, I wanted to be successful, I just wasn’t sure how.
NP: We Care Computers has been around for 13 years now. How has the company evolved?
ASR: It started with just me. I quickly realized We Care Computers could not be effective if it was just one person doing everything. I couldn’t answer the phone while I was trying to help someone, while I was trying to write invoices, while I was trying to respond to anything.
So I was lucky in that sense where I knew enough to bring in help early on. I also knew I didn’t want to increase my technical knowledge. I was more interested in building a business. So I brought in smarter people than me—at least on the technical side of things. That worked quite well.
It’s so important to have the right people in place—to have people I can count on to do things I used to do. Now I can focus on what I really need to be doing.
We’re still small. There are about 10 of us. We keep innovating into what works in the workplace and is still relevant. For example, these days being a managed service provider is a big thing.
NP: How was the transition for you from being an IT professional to becoming a business owner? Did you take any business training courses or did you just go for it?
ASR: That’s a good question. I have a degree in international business management. So I did take some business courses, which were super helpful for me.
The mentors in my life have also been a huge help. Through networking I met some people I became quite close with who have run businesses for many more years than me. These mentors turned me onto other resources and suggested business books and business principles, those kinds of things. I’d also just ask questions and listen and be around them whenever I could.
NP: You mentioned networking. We Care Computers is a member of several Hartford-area chambers of commerce, including the MetroHartford Alliance. The company is also involved with the Connecticut Better Business Bureau. Do you feel like those connections have helped as far as networking and building clientele?
ASR: When I started We Care Computers, I didn’t really know anyone. I grew up in the New Haven area. Once I moved to West Hartford, I became involved with the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce and learned how to network, which was fantastic.
I joined a bunch of other chambers and then I also became involved with some other networking groups, such as the BNI: Business Network International and Leadership Greater Hartford just to expand my network.
With business and other things, a lot of it is who you know and how they feel about you. So networking seemed to really work well for me—and still does to this day.
NP: It sure does. You connected with Innovation Destination Hartford at a Leadership Greater Hartford networking event. What seems important to your story is that 13 years in, We Care Computers is still continuing to build its network.
ASR: Another thing that has worked well has been being involved in the community. We sponsor local non-profit events and fundraisers for organizations including FoodShare, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and West Hartford youth baseball and softball teams.
NP: That community involvement also helps to build recognition.
ASR: Right. And I feel like the community supports you back when you support it.
NP: Who is your target market?
ASR: We are business to business, our focus is primarily small- to medium-sized businesses.
NP: Have you had a certain direction for the business, or did you have to change along the way to meet the needs of your clients?
ASR: We’ve always been doing the same type of IT work, how we package it is different now—and I think more relevant and better.
Back in the day, there were computer repair companies that you would go to when you needed them and they would fix things. A long time ago, the business model changed and became more proactive.
So now a significant part of our business is monitoring our clients’ environments. We make sure all is running smoothly, backups are being performed, security is up to date and other important items for our clients. Being proactive is huge.
One of the biggest thing for us is our monthly maintenance plans. We determine what our clients will need and then we build a plan. In the past, companies had big projects. They may spend $5,000 for IT in one month and nothing the next month. It’s really difficult for a business to budget like that. With a monthly maintenance plan, they always know their costs.
When we started, I placed a lot of importance on communication—just being upfront with our clients about what we’re doing, so there aren’t any surprises. I try to do things the way I want to be treated. I don’t want to be just a number, I want things to be efficient. If you’re technologically advanced, you may want to text or email to get whatever you need done. Some people don’t like that, they prefer the phone. So we have that available for those clients.
NP: So you really focus on meeting a customer’s needs where they are.
NP: Tell us one or two things we don’t know about what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.
ASR: Being an entrepreneur can be scary. I was just driving one day and it dawned on me that there are nine other people who are counting on We Care Computers. This is how they make their livelihood. To me that’s a super powerful thing. Sometimes I can’t even grasp the enormity of it.
NP: Any advice for others? You noted the importance of asking questions and listening.
ASR: There’s so much you can learn from someone else’s experiences. Being a good listener is very helpful.
I think it’s always best if you can have fun and enjoy what you do. Being an entrepreneur can be hard, you have to be able to accept the challenges and work through them.
Having a support structure is enormous. Anyone who is self-made has very strong people behind them. Counting on and trusting others works well.
To learn more about Leadership Greater Hartford, read our interview with President Ted Carroll Community Impact: Leadership Greater Hartford.