Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad, remembers the first time he saw the Internet – in a research laboratory at the University of Minnesota, circa 1990 – and likens the moment to the California Gold Rush, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal.
By 1994, the former computer-science student had dropped out, turned a side job repairing PCs into Geek Squad, and was sending employees dressed in nerdy ensembles (too-short dark pants, white socks) to fix computer glitches at local companies or homes.
Eight years later, the Richfield, Minn., company that Stephens started with $200 was acquired by Best Buy for about $3 million. Today it has 20,000 employees in 1,038 Best Buy stores and seven stand-alone Geek Squad locations.
Q. What made you drop out to start a business?
A. In the early ’90s, a degree in computer science could really only get you a job in a large corporation. Lots of people were leaving college with a lot of debt. If you take that on, then you’re screwed. There’s no way to break out of the cycle. I didn’t want to have to worry about paying off student loans. And it’s easier to do a start-up in your 20s, because you can be selfish – you don’t have a family yet.
Q. Did you really start the company with $200?
A. Yeah. I had a mountain bike and a cell phone. I was still a student at the time, but once I realized it was a potential business my grade-point average started to drop.
Q. You grew Geek Squad without taking on debt. How?
A. It was very easy. If you think about it, the reason that most service companies stink is that you don’t need much money to get into them. All I needed was business cards and a phone number. If I did a good job, if I worked enough hours, if people liked me, I’d get referrals. I grew it one step at a time, one employee at a time. Then I was making enough profit to expand to other cities. In Los Angeles, I didn’t need an office – I drove the Geekmobile [one of the company's logo-emblazoned vehicles] myself all the way there, that’s 23 hours if you don’t sleep — and found that if you keep buying a coffee in the Beverly Hills Hotel Polo Lounge, you can make all your calls. Once you’ve hired agents [the company's "geeks"], they can be dispatched by cell phone.
Continue Reading: “Making Geekdom Cool and Profitable”
Photo by publicradio.org.