TechXpress owner Bryan Sarlitt was barely out of high school in the late 1990s when he decided not to watch from the sidelines as the technology sector boomed.
He had come to San Luis Obispo from Orange County in 1997 to attend Cuesta College, with the goal of eventually earning a business degree at Cal Poly. But two years into his studies at Cuesta, he dropped out, and with the money he had saved from trading stocks, Sarlitt started a computer IT service company in his one-bedroom apartment.
“My parents were paying for me to go to school, and they weren’t real happy,” said Sarlitt, whose parents are now thrilled by his success. “Most people were questioning why I was getting into it so soon and so young. I didn’t have a lot of experience then,” he said.
For Sarlitt, now 34, the timing couldn’t have been better.
Although he faced several challenges, including finding the right staff, learning how to manage employees and working with a limited budget, Sarlitt, who made an initial $10,000 investment in the company, had found a niche in information technology services.
“At that time, all we were doing was IT support for residences and making house calls,” said Sarlitt. “We were exclusively an on-site company, and our competition then was computer stores, and most weren’t around anymore.”
As he became more skilled at hiring qualified technicians, who offered personable and consistent service, his business in the first few years grew more than 200 percent annually. In 2005, he moved into a new office on Broad Street, where he filled “every square inch of the 7,000 square feet.”
Business changed, however, about a decade later when computer prices dropped, round-the-clock computer support services like “Geek Squad,” came to town and the recession hit, Sarlitt said. In 2007-08, he adjusted his company’s business model to serve companies, government and schools rather than individual residential customers.
“With businesses it was more about productivity, uptime and security,” he recalled. “There was a lot more that we could provide in terms of the value, and much more potential for growth.”He replaced staff, gearing new hires toward working with government and schools. During the retooling, TechXpress dropped from 40 employees to 12.
“With the recession, it just put a damper on my plan,” he said. “It was the first time I had to deal with that challenge. There’s no easy answer, but the No. 1 quality is just being tenacious and persevering through it. Many businesses ended up giving up. But I felt like there was still an opportunity and that there was still hope.”
TechXpress is growing once again, about 40 percent to 50 percent annually since about 2010, Sarlitt said. The company has about 25 employees and a strong client base and depends on a steady stream of repeat customers and referrals.
In addition to IT management — the company manages computer networks for local businesses, schools and cities, including the city of Pismo Beach and the San Miguel School District — it also helps businesses nationwide with web development.
“We’re doing great right now and profitable again,” said Sarlitt, who declined to disclose financial details.
Sarlitt believes the future of his business is in managing networks in a cost-effective way and helping niche markets – such as companies that sell organic or natural products – to operate more effectively and efficiently.
While Sarlitt declined to predict where his business will be 10 years from now, in the near term, he would like TechXpress to grow at a steady pace here in San Luis Obispo.
“I want us to continue to be a niche player and a household name in the markets we’re after,” he said.