Matt McCormick’s 8th grade algebra teacher, Mr. Eisenreich, told him that someone who likes math should, “Become an engineer.” So that’s what he did.
He graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 1996 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, and took a job selling automation equipment in Minneapolis. He hated it but wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Every engineer should spend time as a salesperson.
In 1998 he took a C programming class for fun. This became his gateway drug to programming, and by the fall of 1999 the UW’s computer science department had a new TA with a degree in engineering – not computer science. It all worked out. After getting a Master’s Degree, the computer science department asked him to lecture on operating systems for a year. Then it was off to Seattle to be a software developer for Microsoft.
After four years as a cog in a giant wheel, he quit to freelance as a software developer for small businesses. Through a variety of random events, he ended up starting a small side-business fixing broken cell phones. At the end of 2008, a friend convinced him this should be a real business.
By early 2022 that small side-business the business had 3 retail locations and another division doing mail-in repairs for K-12 schools. There were over 20 employees and about $3.2 million a year in sales. But starting in early 2022 Mr. McCormick decided to sell the retail stores and focus exclusively on the K-12 mail-in business.
Today the company has 8 employees and fixes iPads, Chromebooks, and PC laptops for over 500 schools all over the United States and is expected to do $1.2 million in sales – and growing.
In addition to running a successful business since 2008, Matt has gotten married, had two boys, and now lives in Madison, WI.
Where did the idea for Tech Unwreck come from?
I broke my own phone twice in 3 weeks back in mid-2007. The first time I paid $350 to get it replaced (I was told it couldn’t be fixed) and the next time I figured out how to fix it myself for 1/3 of the price. Figuring other people must have this problem, I put my programming skills to work and built a small website offering cell phone repair and took out some Google Adwords. Within weeks, people from all over the country started mailing me their phones to be fixed.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
At the moment, a good chunk of my day is spent on marketing. We have a great service but not enough people know about it so I currently spend my days emailing customers, prospects, and even vendors looking for people to interview on our podcast (and then doing all the prep work to make those podcasts happen).
Besides that, my days are split into 2 parts: boring administrative work (yes, not every part of a job is fun) and doing meetings with my staff to make sure they know what’s expected of them and that they have the things they need to succeed.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Focus and support. You can’t try to do 3 or more things at the same time. You’ll do them all poorly to average and that won’t cut it. Better to do 1 thing really well. For example, right now I’m focused on building a solid catalogue of interesting interviews and blog posts for K-12 technology administrators. I have to carve out time each week to do that.
In addition, we need to explore some other marketing areas so I have a consultant and a long-time employee that I meet with once or twice a week to talk strategy, create a list of weekly todos, and then review that list each week (and set up new tasks for the next week). I give these people a lot of leeway in how they get things done and try not to interfere (for that will take away my focus on my tasks), but it is important to give guidance, support, and accountability.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The fact that 50 million K-12 students all over the country have pretty much gone 1-to-1 (a device for each student). The world was trending this way pre-pandemic but the pandemic basically made 10 years worth of technological advancement in K-12 schools happen in less than a year. While I wish the pandemic had never happened, that trend has been very good for our business.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I start each week writing down the 2-3 major things I want to accomplish that week and then each day I write down the 3-5 smaller tasks to accomplish that day in service of those major goals (and those major goals should be in service to large, longer term goal).
What advice would you give your younger self?
My biggest regret was that I did not network enough in college. I should have spent more time in professors’ office hours, joined more clubs, and met more people. The same goes for my first job at a big company (Microsoft) – I should have joined a mentor program and spent more time getting to know more people on a professional level.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Retirement accounts with a vesting schedule (or pensions based on years of service) are a bad form of employee retention. If you can’t keep your employees happy, engaged, and hard working without the “golden handcuffs” then you have a more fundamental problem. Do you really want someone sticking around just for the payout in the future and not because they believe in doing good work? Don’t get me wrong, I think a retirement plan for your employees is critical, I just disagree with vesting schedules because it is a lazy way to retain employees.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Stop trying to complete your todo list – you’ll never do it. Trying to get everything done just causes a lot of stress and often pulls you away from doing the really important things. This is much easier said than done, but it is important to realize.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Building my business in a rapidly growing industry. Seriously, our company started out fixing iPhones with the release of the second version (the iPhone 3G) and that industry exploded over the next 10 years. As the market has saturated with independent repair shops, we’ve switched gears to working with K-12 schools where 50 millions students are being supplied with devices. It’s a huge market and lots of room still for growth.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
We moved one of our stores to a new location thinking it would be no big deal. The business for that store was cut in half over night as a result. This story does not have a happy ending because, in the end, we had to close that store. That was a really painful lesson – we had a successful retail store and we should have stayed put.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’d like to see someone build a good identity verification system with a rating for each person that could then be used by other services. For example, you would verify a person is who they say they are and they would get a base rating. As they interact with social media or ecommerce sites or other things, their rating would go up or down based on behavior.
I know, this sounds a little bit too much like Black Mirror but a lot of the problems in today’s online world come from a lack of accountability (or trust). For example, imagine Craigslist used such a system and I wanted to buy a bicycle from someone. Seeing they had a good digital reputation would give me a lot more faith in buying from them (this is basically what eBay does with seller/buyer ratings but spread out to the entire web).
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently spent about $100 on a good, waterproof backpack from Fjallraven. I absolutely love it and considering I had my last backpack for about 20 years, I think it’s worth the investment.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I actually love a small service called FollowUpThen.com. It allows you to forward (or BCC) an email to a time related email address and then have it bounce back to you at that time. For example, if I ask one of my employees to check on something via email, I can BCC [email protected] and then archive the email (get it out of my inbox). Then exactly 2 days later that email bounces back into my inbox and I can make sure the task got done. Since I use my inbox as a todo list, this small tool has been fantastic in keeping things clean and organized.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’m going to give two recommendations. The first is Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive. It is definitely dated but the fundamental theory and advice in the book is incredible – even timeless.
For a fun read that is also inspiring, read The Idea Factory by Jon Gertner. It is the story of Bell Labs and how they basically invented the world we live in today – from the semi-conductor to fiber optics to cellular networks and much more. I had not idea what a huge impact that organization had on our world.
What is your favorite quote?
A slight modification to an Emerson quote: “Everyone is my superior in some way and therefore worthy of my respect.” I think we often forget this in our interactions with people, and if you doubt me, just take a well educated white-collar worker to a Walmart in rural America and watch their disdain for the patrons. It’s a bit eye opening.
- Stay focused on the most important issue facing your business. Not issues, but single issue. If you have other big issues, get other people focused on those.
- Build your business in a growing sector because the sector’s growth will help you recover from the inevitable mistakes you’ll make and allow your business to keep growing.
- If you’re at a large organization (whether it’s a university or a company), spend time networking and learning from people that know more than you – because everyone knows more than you about something.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.