Other World Computing (OWC)

How I Bootstrapped my Zero Emissions Technology Company to $125M+ Revenue

Larry O'Connor

We work to have solutions that reflect our customer’s needs.

Larry O'Connor

Starting OWC (Other World Computing) was a lightbulb moment – what I was able to do for my own needs could benefit others. I validated the idea with my own hardware and market understanding.

Other World Computing Larry O'Connor

I got my first three customers by advertising on AOL and BBS forum. The customers came very quickly. I do remember one of the more local first customers though – asked me if he could pay me to do the installation for him. In addition to being 14yrs old at the time (something not part of my advertising) – the whole intention was to educate people on how they could do this themselves vs. paying a high cost in time and service fees for the professional installation of something that took less than 5 minutes to do… less time than it took to get a system from the 80s disconnected and ready to go out the door, let alone driven into a shop + picked up days later.

Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?

Yes and no – had been selling and working for more than 6 years at that point – I would say though fortunate with a good gut and having worked for my Dad who instilled a priceless work ethic into me.

OWC started utilizing a line of credit on an Airline miles credit card… which also then in turn supported travel and hotels at events OWC participated in, in the early years.

Who is your target demographic?

That’s very broad. I honestly took an approach of having the best solution; meant that everyone could be our best customer. And today we do have a broad line up with specific demographics targeted, but ultimately there were unfulfilled needs that we broadly filled over the years.

I don’t see any customer request as funny or strange. No dumb or outlandish questions. Maybe a better question for our customer support team today.

How did you fund the idea initially?

OWC has been bootstrapped from $0 to 125M+ today. I met my cofounders/founding team/VPs by hiring locally - initially referrals from my dad as well as kids I went to high school with.

In terms of hiring the first employees, they must be people you can trust and ideally either already know or referred from someone you know and someone that gets you. Must be able to count on tireless commitment to your vision, customers, etc. to ensure it gets off the ground. Need folks that understand it’s going to be hard work too – or could spend more time on dealing with team members than building biz.

What motivated you to start your own business?

Strong drive to be independent/not dependent on others + the desire to make a difference for others. I also felt what I was doing was a counter to something I saw as wrong in the market at that time. That these local tech shops, at least my local tech shop was charging 4X what I could offer the memory for + would make you leave your computer in the shop for 2-3 days and charge $100 (in the late 80s) to do an installation that only took about 5 minutes (less time than took to fill out the paperwork)… but still had customers drop off and leave. It was also really about timing. Market prices had skyrocketed after an earthquake caused shortages of the product, but when things got back to normal, everyone in the Apple space was still charging the higher prices they’d raised up to.

What were your family and friends first thoughts on your company?

They really didn’t understand it – but my family was supportive. Also have to understand – Woodstock/Marengo area at this time was pretty light on technology. This was pretty unique in this area – the population was less than 15,000 people in Woodstock, IL at the time and miles between Woodstock and the next city.

What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?

Everything is a learning experience… and the motivation is making lemonade out of any lemons we end up growing. Always opportunities ahead and no risk, no reward.

I will be honest in saying I am not sure I could have done this today – with a family, kids. If you have an opportunity while single – that gives you the opportunity to focus without any guilt or obligation or harm to your relationship with loved ones around you. If not – just understand that it’s usually a ton of work, a ton of time, and focus that will then need the support of your friends, family and social and other sacrifice. There is more than one way to achieve success and it’s always about working smarter while working hard too – not just working harder.

If I’d had funding at the beginning perhaps would have taken some of the load off me sooner, but the work it took and the work I put in to ensure this thing kept going is something I’d not want to change. Having a core understanding of your operation and what it took to build it is priceless – however you end up building. Bootstrapping is hard – but I also am glad to have had all my focus on the business/doing and not having to explain/update to investors, etc looking for regular updates that would mean time away from the biz.

What has driven the most sales?

Email is our largest driver today along with affiliate programs having established a solid customer base that we appreciate and are always making sure their trust and continued business is deserved. Customers are #1 and referral business is of great significance for both our brand as well as our direct operations. We earned 125M+ in 2019 revenues.

Not much is stopping us from being 3x the size we are now– although headwinds everyone faces, the tariff situation in the USA took redirected a lot of energy and resources to changes we had to make related there too. Ultimately the sky's the limit as we work now to substantially grow our brand visibility and work with the right channel partners to reach customers that our solutions can benefit. There are channel partners that fight for a slice of the demand a brand has already generated and those that actually have a great customer base that will make the pie bigger. We really are focusing on partners in the channel that can truly help OWC grow as we can them.

How do you protect yourself from competition?

Unique solutions and a customer support approach that is 2ndto none while offering solutions competitively and with high value. We don’t price up to what we could on some items – we really drive to make our solutions within budget for all that need them – seeking mass market utilization vs. within reach of only a very few.

What makes your products unique over your competitors?

So many of our products are simply without compare, uniquely engineered and without an apples-to-apples comparison. We work to have solutions that reflect our customer’s needs, with consideration both to their feedback and our understanding of pain points we can eliminate or make better in utilizing OWC expertise and that customer feedback.

Do you have any trademarks/IP/patents?

Yes – in areas of design, technology applications, and methods. We also have many trademarks. IP protection in general is incredibly important. Had I understood this/what this was 30 years ago, we’d have scores of additional patents – but all the same, glad we have done all that we have. Learned about legal trademark registration vs. just common law about 13 years after starting OWC when another organization started using our product name in the space. Since then – been very proactive.

What are the top 3-5 apps that OWC could not run without?

Excel, Eshop (OWC Grown ecomm platform), and OWC Reports (OWC grown). Our ERP as well (but confidential), Email, and Web Browser

Together these things enable our teams to communicate, determine needed actions, support customers, ship goods, and build solutions.

What are your favourite podcasts

Wish I could say yes… but the vast majority of learning has been by doing. Nothing replaces doing, although no doubt some books could have helped in the doing sooner perhaps. That being said, every business has unique aspects and you need to do things the way it is best for your business, which may not be the methods that worked great somewhere else.

What are the next products you’re working on?

We always have a full product development pipeline and at present substantial resources supporting solutions that will utilize the next generation of computer interfaces arriving in mass in Q4 and substantial enhancements to our core software storage technologies. Some of which include the first multi-platform (Windows and Mac OS) Interoperable RAID software. Let's move external storage single drive and multi-drive arrays between Macs and PCs for multi-platform environment ease. Tip of the iceberg.

Where do you see the company in 5 years?

We are known for our storage and upgrades today – as we double and triple in size over the upcoming years I expect our footprint in hardware to grow substantially as we in parallel establish and grow our software technologies and see them become important deployments for folks SaaS solutions and also strategic HWaaS provisions as well.

Would you ever sell?

There is consideration today to selling a minority stake in the company to a right/appropriate strategic partner for the purpose of accelerating growth and ability to convert on potential and opportunity that exists right now.

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