One of Us :: Reza Gharieb
Q. Please introduce yourself.
A. My name is Reza Gharieb and I started “Data Doctors”.
Q. What made you drop out of college and 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 $300?
A. Yeah. 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 “Data Doctors” 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 car myself all the way there, that's 23 hours if you don't sleep -- and found that if you keep drinking a coffee, you can make all your calls. Once you've hired agents, they can be dispatched by cell phone.
Q.What's the best part about running your own business?
A. You can call yourself whatever you want. My title is Chief Inspector. Calling myself "CEO" of a one-person start-up after taking the bus to register my articles of incorporation felt a bit arrogant.
Q. Why did you sell your business to a big company?
A. Start-ups are more nimble and can be more innovative, but they lack the one thing that big companies have – and that's leverage. When I came , I acquired their leverage. I had looked at other ways to grow, like franchising, but decided against it. You can franchise donuts and hot dogs, but even that's not easy. I also didn't want to take on investors; they just want to cash out. At the time, we started to see Starbucks go inside Barnes & Noble and Target, and we began to see one brand could live in another, in harmony. I could envision Data Doctors right next to Sears electronics. It was kind of a match made in heaven.
Q. Most founders leave when they sell their business – why have you stayed?
A. I'm basically still there out of spite. (Laughs.) Why don't founders stay? They usually lose control. If I'm so damn smart, I should be able to convince Sears of the best strategies for the company. I'll leave when I feel it's done – but frankly, I think it's all just starting. You can argue that Geek Squad is still in its early stages.
Q. Any advice for other entrepreneurs hoping to make it big?
A. Starve yourself. Don't take the money. Do it yourself. I recommend a diet of ramen noodles and very little sleep. If you don't love your business, someone else will love it more than you, and do it better and be more creative. I have an irrational love of technology. I don't care how much I get paid.