Mentoring the Next Generation of Franchisors
One of 20 winners of the 2016 NextGen in Franchising Global Competition shares his experience in turning an idea into a franchise concept.
By Amit Mehta
Geeks may inherit the Earth, but we aren’t necessarily the ones who can grow and scale a business. That was my takeaway, at least, after months of research talking with owners of top computer repair shops — the competition — in my area. Computer technicians get so caught up in the technical solutions that they can lose sight of the vision it takes to grow a business.
When I founded TechVoo nine years ago, I had no idea I had what it takes to build it into a thriving business and viable franchise model. I was a tech geek a few years out of college and Silicon Valley, using my technology skills to offer “Fast On-Site Computer Repair” and develop websites. At 27 years old, I opened TechVoo’s first brick and mortar store in Illinois. A second store followed in less than 18 months and was enjoying a steady revenue stream and profitability within a few months. Today, TechVoo has two corporate locations and a mall kiosk on its way to becoming a franchisee conversion and the first franchise location for the company. Our mall concept is focused on cell phone swapping — providing refurbished phones to replace broken ones.
Many people assume the “Voo” in our name is short for voodoo, but it stands for “Vision of opportunity.” We see a large opportunity for our clients, our franchisees and ourselves. Technology is constantly changing and is a growing business industry, which makes computer franchise opportunities so exciting.
I learned from my franchising mentors that if someone wants to start a flower business, they don’t need to know flowers, they need to know business and franchising. To make the leap from technician to business owner, I had to have a vision for the bigger prize, training others to deliver the tech while I delivered the management. The most important part of transitioning to the franchisor role is finding the right business-minded franchisee who understands how to put the business first. Talent as a technician does not necessarily translate to knowing how to run a business, but the TechVoo team can help a business owner succeed by capitalizing on his business acumen and hiring the needed technicians, even if the owner lacks a technology background. Of course, I didn’t start out innately understanding all of this.
From Technician to Company Leader
From Technician to Company Leader
I got an early start fixing computers for my high school teachers on the weekends and even became an A+ Certified technician when I was 16. After studying computer engineering at the University of Illinois, I was recruited to Silicon Valley by a semiconductor company.
I had the tech know-how but lacked the talent required for sales, which became evident as I traveled to Europe trying to sell semiconductors. Wanting to sharpen my sales skills, I went into something I knew nothing about — real estate. It was a crash course, but after working full time in it for a year and half, it taught me so much about my strengths and weaknesses. It was the toughest job I’ve ever had and the most rewarding.
A move back to Illinois also brought my move back into technology, which is the work that makes me happiest. Armed with new skills in sales, I knew I could make money in this industry. There was one big hurdle left that most “computer guys,” myself included, struggle with — laptop disassembly. To get more comfortable with that, I became a Dell Certified Systems Expert doing Dell warranty work for business customers. After three months of taking laptops apart, I could do it with my eyes closed.
TechVoo began with a desire to help people and companies with their computer problems. We fix hardware, deploy cloud services, replace servers, do IT service contracts, clean viruses, configure and install operating systems, tune up systems, put in networks and fix them, and generally fix just about anything that needs fixing. We also design, develop and implement websites and web applications.
Consumers want it done right and they want it done fast, while price is a secondary consideration. This presents a huge opportunity to provide a high-quality alternative to fixing computers. This company has grown at least 20 percent each year since opening our first brick-and-mortar store in September 2009.
The turning point for TechVoo came when I won the NextGen in Franchising Global Competition, a worldwide program created by the IFA’s Franchise Education and Research Foundation that engages young entrepreneurs seeking careers and business opportunities in the franchising industry.
Each year, NextGen engages and educates 20 young entrepreneurs (ages 21 to 35) with a passion for franchising. The winners earn a spot at the NextGen in Franchising Summit, which is a two-day educational and networking program for next generation entrepreneurs; a 90-day accelerator program with industry leaders and CEOs; an opportunity to participate in the “Fran-Shark” competition for additional cash prizes; and opportunities to network with leading franchisors, franchisees and suppliers and with other young entrepreneurs.
Before NextGen, TechVoo did not have a franchise process in place and no lead generation team. We didn’t have a solid franchise website. NextGen gave us access to franchisors who have experience in franchising; they have already been there and done that. It provides the human experience and real-time feedback to teach entrepreneurs how to get from where they are to becoming a viable franchise.
NextGen also gave me a mentor, Dan Monahan, who started World Service International. Having grown, bought and sold companies, he has a wealth of knowledge to share. No matter how well-educated you are on the basics, you’re going to hit road blocks to franchising once you start executing. NextGen peer groups have 30-, 60-, and 90-day checkpoints with their mentors and peers to provide reality checks along the way and help re-focus and re-evaluate.
The focus for TechVoo has shifted toward franchising, with a long-term goal of having 1,500 to 2,000 stores in the U.S. We are aiming for at least three signed deals this year, with one franchise location opening for business. Next year should bring three to five more stores.
When others entrepreneurs ask me for advice about the NextGen program, I tell them not to be intimidated by the upfront work that is required. A lot of people start the process and never finish it, but it’s more than worth it. Even if you don’t win, working through the application forces you to ask yourself important questions you need tobe asking.
And that’s really one of the “secrets” to entrepreneurship and franchising — have the vision to ask the tough questions, empower the right people and seize the opportunity for a better way.
Amit Mehta is the Founder of TechVoo, a computer repair and IT services company with two corporate locations in Illinois.