Archive » May 18, 2006
By Guillaume Doane
Eric David Greenspan looks way too hip to be head of a tech support company. At 37, Greenspan even looks way too hip to be a dad. His designer-cut stonewashed jeans and gelled crew cut belie the computer nerd or square image. But Greenspan is in fact both. He’s the father of one son, Jacob, a third-grader at Montecito Union School, and he’s CEO and founding partner of Make It Work, a Montecito-born consumer and business computer services company.
Make It Work is a spin-off and at the same time a counter to the Geek Squad, the tech support arm of mega-chain Best Buy. But unlike the 24-hour computer task force that tools around in Volkswagen Beetle “Geekmobiles” and whose employees wear computer nerd-dom like a special agent badge of honor, Greenspan has set a “no geek policy.” In other words, he doesn’t recruit at video game conventions. Rather, Greenspan says he wants to hire the neighborhood wiz kid, who while less reliable, can be trained to be more knowledgeable and at the same exhibits un-teachable qualities.
“They’re all very intellectual people who typically have the skill-set to do the job, but particularly what we’re looking for is the personality,” says Greenspan of his employees. “They have lives. They date. We have families.”
In five years, Greenspan and his partner and chief innovation officer Jeremy Anticouni have squeezed the neighborhood tech support concept for all it’s worth, offering for $100 per hour a full-scale computer service that runs the gamut – from cleaning up virus-infested PCs to hooking up a stereo to programming a radio.
The company claims to have amassed a clientele of 2,500 customers in Santa Barbara proper, 500 in Montecito, which is the equivalent of 12% of Montecito households.
Since its beginnings, Make It Work’s ambitions and expectations have been set extremely high. In media reports, Greenspan has said the revenue goal by 2008 was $60 million, a figure he maintains the company is on pace to reach, even though the target of 75 employees by this year hadn’t been met. As of this week, the number was at 50.
The company has also tried to expand globally, exploring franchise deals in Canada, Australia and Europe, all the while expanding from a $1 million per year company to a service giant by 2009, with a foothold across Southern California and maybe by that time in other states.
The best way to follow Make It Work’s growth, however, is to watch its enlarging fleet of red and white Mini Coopers, the company’s service vehicles that now number at 37. Each is stocked with gadgets such as GPC tracking systems, each is stickered with the corporate insignia, and each is intentionally, and effectively, a roving branding and advertising tool.
The flashy cars, like their hip CEO, inevitably give off an image of cool, a method that’s reinterpreted in many facets of Make It Work and has helped the business earn 2006 Software Council of Southern California’s “Software Service Company of the Year” this March.
“The thing we really liked about Make It Work is that they had a really unique approach and are fresh to what they’re doing,” said Anjay Bajaj, president of the Southern California Software Council who served on the selection committee. “It’s a small company but they really have a lot of tools and yardsticks in place.”
Mini Coopers, Giant Dreams
Make It Work is ostensibly the ultimate Montecito business, except for the fact that its headquarters are located on upper State Street, right next to Circuit City. The original Make It Work originated in 1995 while Greenspan worked a stint at a company called Investments Rights Association. But most of the brainstorming occurred at Greenspan’s Montecito apartment, where he devised the logo and a one-page business plan. He went into business with Anticouni, a Cold Spring School graduate, and they set out with a catchy, unambiguous concept: making computers work.
However, the company shifted its focus and became a Citrix provider, installing servers for huge companies such Sony and Intel. The original Make It Work sold in 2001 for $3 million to Santa Barbara-based Push Inc., but the founding partners retained the rights to the name.
Months later they revived the company with two divisions, one intent on serving enterprise customers with servers and the other focusing on home users and small businesses. Within two years, Greenspan says they “recognized that the consumer residential market was the greatest in need.”
Again, the company grew in Montecito, this time in a house Greenspan was renting in a neighborhood whose residents didn’t seem to mind bustling activity and constant traffic. How Make It Work ended up with Mini Coopers is another Montecito story. “I was actually dropping off my son at Montecito Union one day,” Greenspan explains, “and in (first grade teacher) Taffy Balch’s parking spot was a red and white Mini Cooper and on the license plate frame it said ‘Balch’s Leasing.’ I figured that must be her husband and he must be in the business. As soon as I pulled out of the parking lot I called Balch Leasing. I literally bought that Mini Cooper out of that parking lot back there.”
Twirling around town in trendy vehicles may seem showy or inefficient, but Greenspan insists there’s more to it than image or advertising. “You have to have the car; it’s a necessary evil,” he says. “When you’re hiring a lot of technicians, you need reliable transportation to go out and provide your service. Having a fleet of cars that is constantly maintained is paramount of importance. Number two, rather than providing them with a mileage-per-use on their own car, which can be very costly, why not have your own car and get the branding of the vehicle for the business as well. These cars pay for themselves. Every day we add twenty or more new customers. And every day a number of them come from someone driving behind a Make It Work Mini.”
Bajaj says he asked Greenspan and Anticouni why they spent so much on transportation and recalls their answer was justified.
While Make It Work has extended its reach as far as San Diego, one of the company’s staples has been keeping its soul in Montecito. Greenspan and Anticouni volunteer their expertise pro bono for a slew of fundraising functions, such as “That’s Amore,” the Montecito Union PTA benefit held this February, where Make It Work provided a timed photo slideshow of every student. For two years in a row, Greenspan has also been DJ and has contributed electric equipment to the Montecito Union Carnival’s “MUS Idol,” a kid-oriented variation of “American Idol.”
As important as maintaining a Montecito presence has been, what’s mattered most for Make It Work executives is its service, never forgetting that technicians are every day entering someone’s private home. “We’re not going into a business environment where people are dressed in suits and our looking for us to get to work and get the job done,” says Greenspan. “We’re dealing with a very unique environment.
“It reminds me of a plumber that’s very popular in Los Angeles who says, ‘look, we promise, or your money back, that our plumbers won’t smell.’ What a refreshing experience. We believe customer service is terrible in the services companies throughout America, and we want to completely revolutionize that.”
The Mayor of Montecito
In 2003, Greenspan and Anticouni recruited Kyle Svenningsen from the UPS store on Coast Village Road hiring him at an entry-level position. Svenningsen, who was born in Santa Barbara but was raised in the Bay Area, had grown up building his own computers, and he eventually received Microsoft certification after he moved here in 1999 to attend Santa Barbara City College.
“Like many of our NSTs (Neighborhood Support Technician), I was the neighborhood wiz kid,” says Svenningsen, who is 23.
It didn’t take long for Svenningsen to embrace the Make It Work credo. After a few weeks on the job, he purchased his Mini Cooper, “Number 2.” His bosses returned the favor three months ago by getting him his own Mini Cooper, “MIW #25,” a special edition black commemorative, for-Kyle car.
In the matter of nearly three years, Svenningsen has built up a clientele database that reads like the guest list at Studio 54. The demand for his services is so high in these parts that his colleagues have crowned him “Mayor of Montecito,” a title that hasn’t too gone too much to Svenningsen’s head.
“I have a good busy schedule here and a good list of clients,” he says humbly. “It’s nice to work for the people I do. It really comes from being here for so long – being the guy who they say, ‘he’s cool.’”
But to people who’ve worked with him, Svenningsen is more messiah than mayor. The perception derives partly from customers whom he’s saved from a disastrous computer problem, but it’s also a testament to a person who spends most of his days translating computer language to layman. He has a firm handshake, he knows and enjoys what he’s talking about, and he doesn’t talk down to people.
“He’s got this calm demeanor about him,” says Melinda Werner, a frequent Montecito client. “Sometimes you get really frustrated and you feel like an idiot because you can’t figure it out on your own. He stays calms throughout. He has that confidence and know-how, and as a result it kind of rubs off on you.”
Svenningsen’s reputation has earned him offers for main positions at information technology companies and managerial posts at a couple of Montecito stores, but he’s passed on all of them.
“Make it Work’s my thing,” he says. “I just love the buzz and energy I feel with this company.”
The Award and the Future
Make It Work doesn’t fit exactly into the software services mold, but that didn’t stop it from being nominated for and eventually winning the “Services Company of the Year Award” at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.
It beat out regional heavyweights such as SOA Software Inc., and Tryarc LLC, an information technology consulting firm with clients such as IBM Global Services, Warner Bros., and Sony Pictures. (Among the companies nominated for Internet Company of the Year was Santa Barbara-based Citrix Online Division.)
The pedigree of the competition was “ridiculous,” says Greenspan. “I just looked at the team and I said, ‘you know I’m just happy to be here,’ and then they called out our name and we were just floored.”
If Make It Work ever wants to realize its globe-sized dreams, Bajaj says they’ll have to lower their rates to increase their range in other markets. While $100 per hour right now is “just right,” says Bajaj, $75 per hour or as low as $65 will one day be more reasonable.
“One thing we all know is that making the computers work at home is not easy. I definitely see there being a need,” he says. “The question is demand and supply and the price point.”
Either way, if business doesn’t work out in other places, Make It Work will always have Montecito.
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