Larry Dukhovny, MyBizGeek
After getting his first computer at age 9, Larry Dukhovny began his life as a self-proclaimed computer geek. This passion for technology prompted his career path in IT consulting. After freelancing for six years, Larry founded MyBizGeek in 2013. Passionate about believing in yourself and the value of your service, Larry now advocates for building inner confidence to accelerate your business and attract new clients.
Episode 33 – Larry Dukhovny, MyBizGeek
[00:00:56] Sanjay Parekh: After working as a freelance IT consultant for six years, Larry Dukhovny started MyBizGeek in 2013. MyBizGeek provides quality tech support and IT consulting services for businesses in New York City. Here today to talk about what he’s learned after nine years in business, how to build confidence when you’re starting out, and the importance of balance, is Larry Dukhovny.
Larry, welcome to the show!
[00:01:23] Larry Dukhovny: Hi Sanjay. Thank you very much for having me.
[00:01:25] Sanjay Parekh: First off the bat, before I ask you to give us your background a little bit, I'm going to clear up one thing, because I know there's at least one listener out there that's wondering. Any relationship to David Dukhovny of the X Files?
[00:01:35] Larry Dukhovny: No, that's a question I get a lot, but unfortunately there's no relationship.
[00:01:40] Sanjay Parekh: Man. I was hoping you were getting some residuals off the X Files or something at least. So, why don't you tell us a little bit about you and your background and how you got to where you are now.
[00:01:52] Larry Dukhovny: Sure. So, my family's originally from Ukraine. My parents moved here to New York maybe 40 years ago.
And there's always been an entrepreneurial spirit in the family. My brother, when he was younger, had a retail beauty supply business in Brooklyn. Eventually sold that and has been doing real estate. He’s had his own real estate office for a very long time, in the New York City area. And, myself, I've been a computer geek my whole life. I got my first computer when I was nine years old, and I like to joke that since that day, I haven't gotten up from the computer chair since then.
However many years it's been, like over 25 years, there hasn't been a day that I haven't spent most of the day in front of the computer. For better, for worse. It's always been a passion of mine and something that I love doing and something that I always like to share with people.
So, from there, I was always a tinkerer, always a computer geek, always involved in the computer scene in New York. Eventually it became clear to me that people in the business world need high quality computer help, and I was a freelancer for a while. Worked under some very smart and respectful people in my youth, and then eventually started my own consulting firm.
[00:03:38] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, I think we're kindred spirits because I got my first computer, I think when I was around seven years old. And I think I still have, yeah, I still have that first computer as well.
[00:03:51] Larry Dukhovny: Amazing.
[00:03:53] Sanjay Parekh: So not only am I a computer geek, like you, I'm also a pack rat and save, especially my technology stuff.
So, I’ve got to ask you, your brother's beauty salon, or not salon, shop, supply shop. Did you work in that shop as well? Did you help him out?
[00:04:06] Larry Dukhovny: Yeah. Just based on proximity I've become my brother's de facto IT support over the years. When I was in high school, I used to help him with deliveries to his clients which was actually a good experience because it started the road to building confidence to working with clients. In New York there's so many kinds of people. To speak to different, so many kinds of places to visit and to get that exposure is just really important to build your confidence and ability to interact with people.
[00:04:50] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, yeah. And that's really a lot of times, like that's the number one skill for entrepreneurs is being able to interact and convince people and sell to people.
[00:05:01] Larry Dukhovny: 100 percent.
[00:05:03] Sanjay Parekh: A lot of people, a lot of entrepreneurs try to outsource that. And really you can tell a lot of them that, as the founder, you're the best salesperson for your organization. So, you've got to be comfortable with that.
[00:05:13] Larry Dukhovny: Yeah, there's somebody that was a really good salesperson once told me that nobody's going to be more passionate about your service or product than you.
[00:05:23] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Okay, so you did deliveries in the beauty supply shop and like you, I'm also the IT support for not only my family, but extended family as well.
Like you go on family vacations, and you always get those technical questions, right? So, at what point in time did you start thinking, so you were doing freelance stuff, when did you think that, Hey I need to actually start this as a business, and I want to do this as a whole thing?
[00:05:54] Larry Dukhovny: So, through high school and the beginning of college, I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go with my skill set. And New York City is just a place abundant in opportunity. So, to find your place in this large machine of a city, it's a bit of a struggle in your youth. So, I dabbled in a few different things, do I want to pursue and develop my tech passion, do I want to be the person that eventually gets burnt out and becomes a park ranger, or do I want to start off with something completely unrelated to tech from the get-go? But there's a famous quote that when you do what you love, you don't work a day in your life. So inevitably I ended up doing tech anyway, it's my passion and I enjoy every day that I work on this sort of thing.
But in the beginning, I worked with my brother in the beauty supply business. My father was in real estate. My brother eventually sold the beauty supply business and went into real estate. And I tried to work with him in real estate. The biggest difficulty I had in real estate is that it's a real dog-eat-dog kind of industry.
And my personality is more like, I know that I am honest and trustworthy and I'm passionate about the service that I can offer. And in real estate it's like you have to be very aggressive sometimes. Not necessarily like violent or angry, but just you got to push hard. So, I felt a lot more comfortable in IT.
[00:07:51] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, I imagine too, real estate in New York City, it's a whole different level as well in terms of how aggressive you need to be compared to other cities.
[00:08:02] Larry Dukhovny: Yeah, you’ve really got to claw your way up the ladder of respect.
[00:08:10] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, because of that then you were like, Okay I'm going to do my own thing. And so how did you decide to start this? Were you by yourself and you were like, hey, I'm just going to put a shingle out. Did you get a co-founder? Like, how did you figure out that path of really getting started?
[00:08:27] Larry Dukhovny: So, the biggest driver of clients, then and now, has always been word of mouth and referrals. That's something I'll go into more detail on later. In New York, it's really hard to stand out in the sea of millions of people, as in any large city, but in New York it's really, you can get lost in a sea of bodies out there and voices.
Even way back in my college days, I had a lot of people recommend me as a good person to speak to for technical questions and technical support. And then eventually, I was involved in a lot of peer groups, not even that I was specifically looking to be part of peer groups, but I just had a passion. To get a little technical there was a Linux users group in Manhattan that I just became part of because I became friends with these people just based on their technical backgrounds. And somebody was like, I have a client that is my client that is looking for extra help. So do you want to be part of this group of consultants that work with this very large client? And I was like, Yeah, I've been looking to find my way in the tech industry. I'd love involved in that. That was, I believe when I just turned 21, I started working in Manhattan, with, actually, this person that became a very good friend and then later my business partner. And that was kind of the springboard for everything that came after.
[00:10:17] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Okay. So, networking through these groups is how you found your way originally. And so then, kind of transitioning, has it remained to be a word-of-mouth business for you or are you doing other things to get the word out about the things that you can provide?
[00:10:38] Larry Dukhovny: The problem, the challenges that we've had is that traditional marketing, you have to put a very large amount of money into it to get enough visibility, and enough eyeballs on it to have some sort of effect. As a small business, sometimes it doesn't make sense, like even if you put a couple thousand dollars into Google Adwords or Facebook ads or LinkedIn ads or anything like that. Unless you have an ad running 24/7 and somebody sees it. Maybe sometimes somebody will need to see it 10 times before it's moved from their subconscious into their conscious mind for them to act on it. So, you run an ad maybe five times over the course of a week. It's not going to have an effect. As a small business, we always try to focus on guerilla marketing in any way, shape, or form that's possible. So, either being part of a peer group, trying to explore the verticals in the tech industry. So, we have wiring companies that we work with. They don't do tech support, they don't want to do tech support.
They do low voltage wiring, that's their specialty. They do security cameras, they do door access controllers, but they have clients all time that are like, You guys did a great job of wiring, do you want to do our tech support? No, we don't do that. But here, speak to our partner. We dabbled in web development when we were just starting out and quickly realized that's also something we don't really do very well.
But we have partners now that are great at it because that's all they do. And they also once again will say, we have a client that's looking for full time IT support, but we only do web development. And we'll be like, Yeah, we're more than glad to help. And we have security companies that work on security as a service and compliance and all that sort of thing. And, again, their focus is security. They don't do IT support. They're not structured for that. So, they'll reach out to us.
[00:12:48] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, no, it's good. So, I've got to ask you, so one of the things that you touched on was confidence. And one of the things that I think is critical in your business is conveying or convincing people to be confident in you. Because the thing that you're touching in terms of doing IT support is really now the lifeblood of a lot of these companies, right? If your computers are down, if your internet access is down, most businesses grind to a halt at this point.
It didn't used to be this way 20, 30 years ago, but now it is this way. So how do you convince a prospective client to have confidence in you as a company, as a group, for them to be able to hire you with kind of not having to worry about stuff? Or do you find that clients do worry about stuff and eventually does that go away?
[00:13:40] Larry Dukhovny: This is actually my favorite topic to talk about with everybody, especially prospective clients, because you know I have this perspective now but going back many years, but it wasn't clear to me when I was starting and that's really, I think the core of our business growth and my personal growth as a business owner being able to provide this sort of service is that when you're starting out, especially as a freelancer and especially in a city like New York, the marketplace is extremely intimidating and you have these confidence issues.
You think to yourself, who am I to step into this super established marketplace and make some sort of waves in it? I don't have the training, I don't have the background, I don't have the degrees, I don't the certifications, but what I've learned is that, as many people as there are in the world, it's still hard to find somebody that's truly passionate about something. Somebody that's truly talented, somebody that's honest, trustworthy, and can bring all those things together into a service that builds a long-term relationship and makes our clients feel comfortable.
So, I always compare it with trying to find a doctor in New York City as a similar experience. There’s a doctor on every corner you can step out of your house, and you'll see a sign on the corner of every building for doctors. But nonetheless, people still have a hard time finding a doctor that's thorough, trustworthy, honest, and somebody you can depend on, rely on, that you feel comfortable with. And there are a lot of services out there that allow to search for doctors in your area, go through reviews, but nonetheless until you either have a recommendation from somebody that had a good experience or go through 10 doctors until you find the one, it's still a difficult experience.
[00:16:07] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. And even if you get a review or a reference for a doctor or an IT support group, it's still about personality sometimes, right?
And you've got to mesh with it. Just because somebody meshes with that person doesn't necessarily mean you're going to.
[00:16:24] Larry Dukhovny: Also, 100% true.
[00:16:25] Sanjay Parekh: Let's pivot a little bit. So, your business, like we talked about, is the lifeblood of other businesses. So how do you manage that and create the separation between work and life and create a balance between the two? Because you could be at home after work and somebody's computer system goes down and they're going to call you to be like, hey, I need this back up. So how do you deal with that?
[00:16:54] Larry Dukhovny: So, there are two facets to this that we try to optimize for it to make sense for us and for it to make sense for our clients. One is that, especially when a lot of small businesses, especially small businesses that are going through a growth stage at the moment, a lot of people when they start out, they don't have a lot of capital or they don't have a lot of time. Time, I think in many cases being the biggest hurdle. They don't have their IT situation optimized and everything figured out to be smooth and redundant and foolproof.
So the first thing that we do is, we look at it as trying to steer a large ship back onto course slowly but surely. When we come in, we'll say as a business owner the reason that we come in is so that you can worry about your business, your expertise, the reason that you're in business, and that you don't have to focus on the IT aspect of it.
That's our specialty and something that we've been dealing with for decades. The main thing is we will look at all the things that a lot of business owners will think are solid. Their servers, their internet connectivity, the devices that they provide for their employees to be able to do their jobs.
It's working today. Is it going to work tomorrow morning? Nobody can answer that question, but we have the experience to have the visibility to instantly see whether things are stable and solid or not. So, if they're not, we make those recommendations and optimizations so that, at the very least, we can say that we're taking the situation, from being held together by glue and string to things are solid enough that you don't have to worry every night, whether in the morning things will be operational or not, is the very first step. But then the second step is things inevitably go wrong eventually anyway, or you wouldn't need IT support.
And that's just the real world anyway. We have a lot of different solutions, applications, and monitoring and communications methods to pinpoint specific things that we can be alerted about. To avoid getting alerted for every single little thing, but for the critical, important showstoppers and then we can take care of them proactively.
[00:19:44] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, most of our listeners for this podcast I imagine are not in New York City, so they're not going to be able to use your services. What's the one biggest mistake or tip that you would give to any of those folks that they should think about in their businesses? Exactly what you said there, all the stuff is held together with tape and string. How do they realize that they're holding everything together with tape and string? Because obviously they don't know this until you tell them. What should they look for?
[00:20:06] Larry Dukhovny: Sure. And also, Sanjay, I just want to mention it's actually been interesting ever since Covid, a lot of people are working remotely now, so we actually have clients that we've never seen in person all over the United States.
[00:20:29] Sanjay Parekh: Oh, wow. That's great.
[00:20:30] Larry Dukhovny: Yeah. In Florida, Texas, DC, Chicago even and the West Coast, all over the place. Before Covid a lot of our clients, majority of our clients we would visit in person in New York, but so many people are remote now that it's a big focus for us as well.
[00:20:48] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. So that definitely opens up your pie. That leads me to another question in a minute, but first answer this one.
[00:20:53] Larry Dukhovny: Sure. Yeah. And to answer your question, from my experience, it's not really easy for a non techie business owner to see for themselves. Things seem like they're working, the internet's working today and the computer turned on this morning.
But there's a certain experience that you have to bring, basically like you take your car to the mechanic and they're going to stick their head under the hood and I can see the where on that little rubber fitting that I know is something that within the month is going to fail.
That's something that just takes expertise to see. But the biggest thing that we usually see with a lot of our clients is that a lot of business owners and operations managers, office managers, especially when the company was smaller, they're used to trying to do IT support themselves before the company grew to the point where they can outsource it or bring somebody in.
So, they'll try to, you know, the printer's not working, they'll try to get the printer working. The antennas are not working. They'll try to start unplugging wires and things like that. It'll working temporarily, but they may set up a time bomb for later. So, my biggest advice, and even if I wasn't an IT consultant. Like just from what I've seen from experience, like not even trying to sell an IT service, is that when it comes to something that your business relies on like the wheels of your car, don't hesitate to bring in an expert, at least in the beginning to set up a strong foundation for your business to operate on.
[00:22:41] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah. That's great. Okay, so now that I realize that you've said, you've got clients all over the place. How are you balancing that with your ability to get sleep? Because you've got people that are needing things then, that just exacerbates that 24/7 problem of when people need stuff. So how are you balancing that with that human requirement of getting sleep?
[00:23:07] Larry Dukhovny: Sure. Yeah. No, it's definitely an important consideration with machines that are running 24/7. But 90% of our clients are nine to five operational. There's a lot of people that work into the evening hours, but it rarely past 7:00 or 8:00 PM. We guarantee to our clients that we'll be available weekdays from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. We try to build strong relationships with our clients.
So, if somebody emails us with something urgent at 8:00 PM and I'm just sitting there in front of my computer anyway, I'm going to respond. But then if somebody has an emergency at two in the morning, that's a whole different story, of course. But we only have a few clients like that, especially in healthcare and other similar verticals, where it's a 24/7 business. But like I mentioned earlier, we try to optimize the infrastructure for redundancy and failover as much as possible in those situations where it's that kind of critical infrastructure.
If the internet goes down, and that's actually something that we recommend to everybody, is to have a backup connection with automatic failover. You can't do anything without your internet connection. You can't check your email. You can't have video calls. A lot of the internet-based phones now run on the internet lines, so your internet is down, you're kind of like a fish out of water.
So, the most important thing is we recommend backup internet and the hardware associated with that so that it's all automatic. And that alleviates nine out of ten issues. And then, if there's a bigger issue than that, we try to make sure that the hardware is as redundant as possible with redundant drives, redundant servers, whatever the case may be.
And so that already removes 95% of the overnight issues – the chance of them happening. If they do happen, then you know, we have we have arrangements with these clients that require that kind of support where, either they'll have somebody in the chain of command that will respond first to see if it's even a critical issue or not.
Because a lot of times people will panic and pick up the red phone to the White House, wake up everybody for no reason. But we have different ways of communicating. We have a Slack channel set up with people that need to communicate with us faster than email. And I'm not specifically advocating Slack, a lot of people are on Microsoft Teams or anything like that. Something similar to that kind of service.
We have ticketing systems with various alert levels. We have text messaging, and we have priority phone numbers. And so, if it comes to that we'll be available and we'll take care of it. But there's a lot of things that we'll put in front of that to make sure either, the issue doesn't even occur, or it gets resolved, to triage the issue based on severity.
[00:26:29] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. I think your advice about redundant internet makes a lot of sense. It's funny because just recently I went into a local sandwich shop. And I wasn't able to order online there. And I asked the guy, why is the online ordering not working? And he said oh, every Saturday our internet goes out. The whole complex, everybody's not there, so it should be fine. But every Saturday, and it's been going on for a month and a half, and he is like, I need to call the internet service provider to figure out why.
Then when I went to go pay, he had to reboot the payment terminal like twice because the internet was acting up. And I'm thinking to myself, I'm like, man, you need to get on this because it is really affecting your business, even though you don't realize it. You're running a sandwich shop, but it, this is affecting your business.
[00:27:16] Adam Walker: Support for this podcast comes from Hiscox. Committed to helping small businesses protect their dreams since 1901. Quotes and information on customized insurance for specific risks are available at Hiscox.com. Hiscox, the business insurance experts.
[00:27:34] Sanjay Parekh: Let's talk about some of the technology or apps or systems that you recommend to your clients. Is there something that’s always top of mind for you that you'd recommend that listeners should think about implementing in their own businesses?
[00:27:51] Larry Dukhovny: There two things I find to be really important for anybody. There's not a lot of differentiation between businesses and techies or non-techies these days because everything's so cloud based and everything's so reliant on technology. So, there's a few things that I do for myself, I do for our business, and I recommend for our clients that I think anybody should do.
The most important thing is that from a personal time management perspective is that we get absolutely bombarded with notifications, information, data. And so, data management, time management, project management is absolutely key to stay sane for anybody these days. And on top of that to manage your communications with your team in a way that doesn't overwhelm you is also important. We use different project management, task management tools ourselves. I don't know if you want any specific recommendations, but there's a lot of options.
[00:29:04] Sanjay Parekh: Whatever you love, tell us what you love.
[00:29:07] Larry Dukhovny: Sure. We were using Asana for a little while but weren't crazy about it. We just switched to a new product called Click Up, which they've been doing a lot of marketing recently. But actually, I even switched to them before I saw the marketing on every billboard in New York. But it's actually a really great product. It's helped us to organize a lot of our tasks and inter-team communications. So, everybody's on the same page.
But the most important thing for us is to offload things from our minds so that we get the information presented to us when we need it, and not so that we're sitting there or lying in bed with insomnia because we're worrying about all these things we need to do. But if you put them in the right place with the right automations, then you don't need to worry about these things. That'll be taken care of by the computer, which is what we're trying to accomplish. And then on top of that make sure your calendar is set up properly. Share your calendar with your team so that people know what you're up to.
People don't have to text you and call you, and again, take your focus away from other things. And we use Slack or Microsoft Teams to communicate so that the communications can be there when you're available and not people calling you, texting your personal number and bombarding you. And make sure everybody's on the same page so people don't panic when, oh we have this project due in 30 minutes and I can't find our documentation, I can't find our task list and I can't reach you.
That leads me into my other point, which is the biggest concern for a lot of businesses these days, is the security standpoint in that, it's become the sort of situation where everybody has to think about computer security.
Cause everybody's being bombarded, everybody's seeing scams and fraud and ransomware and hacking. So, the important thing, a few things that are really important is have backups of your files. Make sure if you don't have a redundant server with some sort of backup system in place, make sure that you have a cloud service.
A lot of things that people don't think about is that your cloud service has no obligation to back up your files and your email. A lot of people don't consider having a backup of their cloud service on top of the fact that you have a cloud service. You think it's in the cloud, you know, it's protected. But you should have a backup of your cloud service as well. They have no obligation to save you from any issues that they may have or that your team may cause by accident. And then the number one tip that I recommend for everybody is that a common thing that we see is that people feel like security systems get in their way of doing what they want to do with their computers.
So, something that we'll see is that password reuse is extremely, extremely common. And the problem is that you'll have some website from 10 years ago that you don't use anymore, that had the same email address and password combination that you have on every single other website that you use now, like including your bank and your main core email service and anything else.
And then that website from 10 years ago that you don't use any more got hacked and now it's public knowledge on the black market, what your username and password combination is, and now they're going to go to your every single bank website and email provider and try this combination of username and password.
And then inevitably people like, how did I get hacked? It's like you just gave it to them. So biggest recommendation is using some sort of password management program. We really like 1Password, it has really good team sharing and cloud backup features. And there's a whole bunch of other options as well, with differing levels of free or paid or team or personal. Whatever fits your situation the best, but then you have one strong cryptographically, strong master password, and then everything else you don’t have to think about, which you know is another thing you can offload from your mind. It’s not something you have to worry about.
[00:33:30] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. I love that. I love that. I am a big fan of telling people to use password managers. It is a great thing. Cause you only need to then remember one thing and everything's a lot safer. Okay. So last question for you. What would you tell somebody that's thinking about taking this leap into their side hustle or starting a small business based on their side hustle or their passion? What would you tell them about taking that leap?
[00:33:55] Larry Dukhovny: That's a great question. And, I think something that was really hard to figure out in the beginning, and something that, with some perspective, I feel comfortable giving a little bit of advice, I don’t want to preach because no one ever figures this sort of thing out one 100%. But the biggest problem that I had is feeling confident in the value that I'm providing. And you know when you work for a large established company you bring their name with you when you're going into some sort of sales meeting and you say, look, say, for example, we’ll use Hiscox as an example. This Insurance product I can guarantee you is going to be solid because it comes from a name like Hiscox. But, when you're starting out, especially when you're a lone freelancer, you're like is my service up to par?
Like, why can people trust me? Why can people depend on me? And the most important thing is that you have to prove to yourself that you believe in your service, your value, and what you can bring to the table before you can sell it to your clients. Because that comes across in your sales pitch to your clients. They can feel your confidence in yourself and in your service. So, the most important thing is, try to, especially when you're starting out and you have limited time to spend on business development, unless you’re that fortunate situation where you can just dive in. But, you know, try to find some people to sell your product to or your service and see what the feedback is. Pitch to friends and family or if your service is developed to the point that it's something that you can actually sell as a viable service and you charge money for it, go out there and do it. And don't be afraid to take on clients and see that feedback.
[00:36:22] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah. That's great. Okay last thing from you. Where can our listeners find and connect with you if they need your services?
[00:36:30] Larry Dukhovny: We have the website, MyBizGeek.com. We have contact information on there, a contact form. And then you know, anybody, if you’d like, feel free to email me, [email protected] And then we have a multitude of social media. You can just Google our name and feel free to connect.
[00:36:52] Sanjay Parekh: Awesome. Awesome. Thanks for being on the show, Larry.
[00:36:55] Larry Dukhovny: Yeah, thanks Sanjay for the opportunity. It was great speaking with you.
Thank you for listening to this week's episode of the Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast, powered by Hiscox. To learn more about how Hiscox can help protect your small business through intelligent insurance solutions, visit hiscox.com. And if you have a story you want to hear on this podcast, please visit hiscox.com/shareyourstory. I'm your host SanjayParekh. You can find me on Twitter @sanjay or on my website atsanjayparekh.com.