Comox Valley’s Bob Wells was named as one of the winners of BC’s Forty Under 40 in the latest edition of Business in Vancouver.
Bob is the owner of My Tech Guys and has volunteered for organizations such as Rotary, Comox Valley Youth Music Centre (CYMC), Child Development, You Are Not Alone (YANA) and ElderCollege.
“It was pretty amazing when I found out. I think I am the only person on Vancouver Island to win, and only a handful of winners live outside Vancouver so its a tremendous honour,” said Wells. “It was a great end to an awesome year.”
Wells and his wife Michelle started 2011 with the birth of their son Quinn on Jan. 5. The award goes to individuals that are leaders in their fields but has a focus on those that also volunteer in their community. Past winners include Michael Trotman, CEO of Trotman Auto Group, (owners of Comox Valley Dodge), John Starkey of Expedia.com, CEOs, lawyers, doctors and administrators.
Bob gives credit to those around him who have helped him over the years. Support from his teachers in high school to his local Rotary club that sent him on a Youth Exchange to South Africa, (and his mom who let him go), friends, mentors and of course, the wonderful customers who let him do what he loves to.
The person who has given him the most support is Michelle, who he met in high school and she became his campaign manager.
“Without Michelle I would never have run for city council back in 1993 when we were still teenagers, or bought a computer in 1995 when we moved to Victoria because I thought they were just a glorified typewriter. I was taking theatre education, psychology and political science so why in the world would I ever need a computer,” Bob said.
Within months of purchasing the computer Bob and Michelle created B&M Web Designs, and within their first year they would have several high profile realtors as clients and were working on the Vancouver Real Estate Board website and MLS.ca, two of the biggest real estate sites in Canada.
“Although the work was plentiful, he never saw himself working on computers long term. The next year the Ministry of Education offered him a job developing Fine Arts Curricula and he jumped at the chance.” said Michelle.
Although excited and passionate about the job at the Ministry, Bob found that he was not cut out for government work, and decided to leave eight months later.
In 1997, Bob decided not to finish university and moved back to his home town of Salmon Arm to start the Silicon Garden Computer Co-Op with the encouragement of Michelle.
“I finally relented and realized computers might be in my life forever. As a gamer, I was okay with that as the best games were on computers at the time,” said Bob with a smile.
He spent nearly a year with Silicon Garden working on websites, training customers, working with the first deployment of high speed cable modems in BC and honing his networking skills.
However, the fact that Michelle was still at Camosun College brought Bob back to Victoria. Back in Victoria he worked for several DotCom companies and realized most of them either had bad financial planning or unrealistic goals.
Then, Shaw Cable offered him an entry level position in the call centre. He took the job hoping he might be able to work with the TV production department and get him back to the more theatrical side, and of course it would also give him an inside track to high speed internet so he could game online.
On his first day at work, (and the launch day for Shaw@Home), Bob went from his entry level position to head internet tech with a company cell phone, laptop and vehicle.
“They even gave me a credit card to take big wigs out for dinner and buy geeky things for my office if I thought it was necessary,” said Bob with a laugh.
At 24-years-old and being a big gamer, Bob arranged LAN parties with staff which not only was great fun, but also stress-tested the network.
“I have to say there is nothing like getting paid to play video games on cutting edge technology,” said Bob.
Michelle was very supportive even though Bob worked 16-hour days, seven days per week for three months.
“At the end of three months Michelle and I were able to take a week and do the West Coast Trail. And with the overtime I accumulated in my first two years we took a three-month honeymoon to South Africa. I can’t imagine many companies letting an employee take that much time off, and Brad Shaw even personally approved it himself for all the work I had done,” said Bob. Bob spent nearly six years with Shaw working with every department in Victoria. He even got to work on TV and radio as the Shaw Internet Geek, answering customer questions and showing the latest internet websites and trends.
“By far Shaw was the best work environment I have ever worked in. For such a large company they had a great culture and I really miss that,” said Bob. In 2003, Michelle graduated from Camosun and Bob gave his letter of resignation the same day so they could move to the Comox Valley.
“As a dental hygienist, Michelle was offered several jobs before we even moved here. The original plan was I could get a job at Mount Washington and be a ski bum,” said Bob.
However, he was told he was overqualified to be a computer tech for the Mountain.
Instead, Bob was offered teaching jobs at North Island College and Excel Career College, and chose Excel as they offered more freedom with how he taught. Within a year, is he was head of the computer repair and networking program for Courtenay and Campbell River.
He was also invited to join the Rotary Club of Strathcona Sunrise, but Bob thought that at 29-years-old he was too young to be a Rotarian.
Michelle convinced him that he should join so that he could volunteer in the community.
“Although I initially joined Rotary to focus on youth exchange, I was blown away with the all the projects and programs available to participate in. From local playgrounds to water wells in Africa, to natural disaster relief, being part of Rotary has allowed me to make a meaningful contribution to my community and the world,” said Bob.
That same year Bob also started volunteering with CYMC, first helping with their website, domains and e-mail. He later joined the board and worked as public relations director, trust fund director, treasurer and president over several years.
“CYMC is an amazing organization and provides unbelievable programs for students from all over the world. The Valley gets to benefit from the outstanding classical, jazz and musical theatre performances,” said Bob. In 2006, Bob met up with Scott Swanson and they decided to start a new computer company focused on customer service called My Tech Guys.
They needed $50,000 to open a store in Comox, but were denied by financial institutions.
“We had to go to our wives and say ‘the banks won’t loan us money but would you mind if we used the equity in our houses,'” Bob noted.
Without hesitation, their wives agreed, and Bob and Swanson scraped together $30,000 to get the doors opened. To make matters more stressful, on Bob’s last day teaching Michelle found out she was pregnant.
“Although I offered to go back to teaching as My Tech Guys had an unknown future, Michelle refused to let me. I even joked that it might be twins,” Bob said.
They opened the store in Comox to rave reviews and the company was off to a great start. Six months later, complications with the pregnancy had Michelle and Bob flying to the Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, with the twins finally being born in Victoria one month premature.
Health problems with Michelle and Bob’s daughter Megan kept her in the hospital for four months before finally coming home to the Comox Valley.
“In our first year, I was not able to work even six months. Scott was extremely understanding and would not let me worry about it, telling me to focus on the family and worry about the company when I was able to come home,” explained Bob.
Without the support of family, friends and community organizations like YANA, Michelle and Bob are not sure how they would have made it as so many families can collapse under the intense pressure. The first year of My Tech Guys was very successful even with Bob out for much of it.
Once returning with his daughter from Victoria, he started to work as hard as possible.
Less than three months later, Bob and Michelle were in a car accident where they were rear-ended. On Bob’s first day back to work the following week, after a meeting to expand the company to a second store, he realized he could not remember anything that was talked about.
“My short term memory was completely gone, my body beat up, and I had extreme fatigue from all the pain. Again Scott told me to go focus on getting better and not worry about the business. At the time Scott and Mel had a newborn son. To say he was a great business partner would be a total understatement. My Tech Guys would not exist without his unwavering commitment,” Bob said.
He was off for two months before returning to a greatly reduced workload. The second year at My Tech Guys ended on a high note when they won Best IT Service from MISTIC. It was validation that there was a market for friendly geeks in the Valley and there was a real future for the company. Their customer base grew tremendously and they hired Ron Berry to be their business coach and help them with their weak area – retail.
“Ron’s first comment was that we should be a million dollar company within two years. Scott and I thought it was impossible to triple our revenue in such a short period of time, but Ron knew better,” said Bob.
Bob said hiring a business coach was one of the best things they ever did to help them focus on what is important to the company. For My Tech Guys it was a positive company culture and having happy customers. The third year at My Tech Guys focused on customers and looking for a location for a second store in Courtenay. After months of looking at locations and planning what the store would be like, it became clear that they wanted it to also sell Apple Computers.
So, Swanson and Bob bought Big Island Computers in 2009 and it became their second store. The response from customers was amazing and revenues doubled that year. More importantly, My Tech Guys won the Comox Valley Chamber Small Business of the Year. The fourth year of My Tech Guys was spent looking for a new home for the second store.
“We needed a location that was easier to find and also had parking for our vehicles. The space by Wendy’s (restaurant) was perfect for us and we were able to open it at the end of 2010,” explained Bob.
In June 2010, Michelle found out she was pregnant with their third child.
“I was supposed to become president of my Rotary Club July 1, and told Michelle that I would step down so we could focus on our family but she refused, saying that it would be fine,” said Bob.
Bob said Michelle was extremely supportive of the extra demands Bob had as president.
On Jan. 5, 2011, Michelle gave birth to a healthy and hungry baby boy they named Quinn. Swanson had gone on sick leave in June 2010, and notified staff that he would be leaving My Tech Guys to focus on his health in Feb. 2011.
Bob said it was a major blow to the company as Swanson was not just one of the founders of the company, but also integral in shaping its customer relations and corporate culture.
“It was a tough decision, but after all Scott had done for me and My Tech Guys we had to tell him to go and focus on getting better and not worry about the company. He will be missed, but his vision and dedication to the company and his family is an inspiration to us, and sewn into the fabric of our company,” said Bob.
Swanson has since moved to Parksville with his family and is doing much better. In the past year, they have serviced over 2200 new customers as well as over 4000 existing customers.
“Growth is not without its challenges. Occasionally a ball gets dropped or communication breaks down. We committed to having weekly staff meetings where the focus changes depending on what is happening. And when we find out about customers’ negative experience with us, we discuss the situation to see what we could have done better and make sure we don’t lose our warm and fuzziness,” said Bob.
Bob thanks all the loyal My Tech Guys customers, supportive family and friends, and especially his wife Michelle as they continue to focus on customer service and being the ‘Friendliest Geeks in Town.’
-My Tech Guys