Gridstorm founder Ryan Manczak provides a host of IT services to freelancers and small businesses. Finding a lack of quality providers for these types of clients, Manczak made them his focus. Gridstorm offers both on and off site IT support services while finding innovative technology solutions to help customers run their business more efficiently.
Manczak took what was once just a hobby of helping friends and family with their computer needs, and turned it into his livelihood. Being a small business owner himself, he understands the environment and can provide clients with cost-effective solutions to their IT needs. We recently spoke with Manczak about his background and where IT solutions for small businesses are headed.
Q: First, can you tell us about your personal background as it relates to your business?
A: My background is pretty diverse but most of it leads back to technology and computers. I’ve been providing IT and computer services for about 20 years in different capacities, from freelance to working with businesses and now working for myself. The majority of my experience and knowledge has been self-taught and earned the hard way, with lots of destroyed electronics along the way. I still have my first computer, a TI-994A I bought around 1981, which is now a work-station for my 3-year-old. After the first computer, I was hooked on technology and have spent untold hours learning everything possible about computers, networks and technology in general.
My first experience as an entrepreneur was providing IT support for family, friends and a handful of small businesses, mostly as a hobby. Then I completed my degree in Geographic Information Science (GIS) from The Ohio State University. I spent my post-college career working in GIS positions for larger companies and in a planning role in public transit. During this time I realized I wasn’t satisfied working in corporate environments and really desired to control my own professional direction and focus more on technology. Through my experience, I have become very aware that small businesses are lacking good IT support so that is where I primarily focus. Overall, I just love being presented with new problems and finding solutions to fix them.
Q: What types of services do you offer specific to startups, small businesses and entrepreneurs?
A: My company provides complete IT services for businesses and freelancers, from support of existing technology such as computer repair and server and equipment management, to network wiring and setup. The majority of my clients are looking for on-site technical support at their office, giving me a chance to see how they operate and the ability to offer suggestions for how to improve current operations. I also provide remote support for issues that don’t need hands on attention.
Cost is often a small business’ driving concern for decision making, so all of the services and solutions I provide are geared to either reducing existing costs or minimizing the cost of adding future services. Technology can get very expensive and there are often a vast number of options for the same solution, so I also provide consulting services to help plan for and select the appropriate solutions.
Q: What do you see as being the biggest challenge small businesses face with IT needs?
A: Small businesses tend to grow organically, starting off with a small number of employees and growing suddenly as the workload increases. Unless these businesses are already IT-based, they usually don’t know where to turn when they need to add or fix their tech needs. Most businesses in this situation either ask colleagues for referrals, resulting in someone who claims they have the right experience and can help at a rock-bottom price, or they search for another well-known business, finding IT support that handles larger clients at a higher cost . Worst case scenario, a business will find someone who will offer fixes or services that are unnecessary and the businesses will not have the expertise to know differently. The best thing a business can do is to ask for referrals, but also find out how that consultant or service provider will work with their business to meet their goals before moving forward. And if you find that one great provider, help them out by passing on referrals and they will likely help you by lowering costs or making your business needs a priority.
Q: What new technology are you most excited about for small business clients?
A: The most promising technology I see, and one that I use heavily for my business, is appliance-based services. This is basically a strategy of compartmentalizing each of your services into separate, dedicated devices or virtual machines. These could be network attached storage devices, dedicated voice over IP phone systems, routers and other hardware, or entire virtual machine clusters. The common practice has been to have a very powerful server that runs almost everything, email, website, routing, directory, database, etc. The main problem is these powerful servers are expensive, and when they have problems you can loose all of your services at once, creating lots of downtime. Now it’s easy to setup dedicated, low-cost devices that separate each of these services, or you can virtualize a group of machines and run them on a single server. The best part of a virtual machine is that it’s portable and if your server needs to be replaced or upgraded, everything can be moved over without much trouble.
Q: Are there any new or exciting your business is working on in 2013?
A: This year has mainly been focused on feedback from my clients about what they would like to do with technology. There will always be certain needs for small businesses such as internet access, book keeping, email, phone and file sharing, but now people want more services that used to only be available to enterprise businesses. They want flexibility to hire or subcontract remote employees that can work from anywhere and still tie into all of their business operations, and they want robust CRM and ERP software systems so they can track their business, interface with clients and better manage data. In the past these types of services would either be cost prohibitive or require specific hardware and software investments. Now there are lots of options available from licensed to open source (SugarCRM, vTiger, HighRise, just to name a few), and there are developers that are targeting the small business market. Many of these services are very flexible and you can either host them yourself and maintain complete control over your data, or you license them out and let the respective company host everything. I am always looking for that one solution that proves to be the best, but right now businesses in different industries operate completely differently, and they need to find the solution that adapts best to their processes not the other way around.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: The past few years of being a small business owner has taught me a lot about the importance of building good personal business relationships. I am constantly surprised how quickly opportunities appear when you put in the work to help people. I think personal interaction is something that all of the online social media sites are missing and too many businesses are focusing solely on social media. Maybe there should be a movement for less Facebook and more face time (not the Apple kind). Columbus is a great place to run a small business and there are ample opportunities, meet-ups, gatherings and events to get out and meet other business owners and creative professionals. Worst case is you end up spending some money at a local business.
For more information visit www.gridstorm.net.
Photo by Walker Evans.