BY ELIZABETH FRIEDLY / / ASSOCIATE EDITOR //
Zohar Shiff, entrepreneur and president of Don’t Sweat IT Solutions, had no intentions of coming to Atlanta – or the United States for that matter – while living in his home country of Israel.
“The official reason I came here was because I had a job offer to be a laundry man for $17,000 a year,” says Shiff.
Although his love for technology had been developing since childhood, Shiff’s path to a career in IT and subsequent reimagining of the industry wasn’t quite so straightforward. Shiff grew up on Kibbutz Hanita, in Israel, where children went to school for five days out of the week and spent the sixth working. According to Shiff, most of his peers pursued agriculture, passing their days outdoors in the banana or potato fields.
“And I never had interest in being outside in the sun,” Shiff laughs. “I had technical abilities, so I went to work with an electrician. I liked to build stuff and take it apart.”
He took his amassed knowledge from said electrician and applied it to his other passion – the theater.
It was the army, of all places, that allowed Shiff to explore his thespian passion whereby he went on to perform for three years, five nights a week. While gratifying, his army salary didn’t exactly cover the bills. In an effort to bridge his two interests and supplement his work in the army, Shiff began a career in stage lighting. Shiff simultaneously opened a restaurant in a spurt of entrepreneurial zeal, only to have it close six months later.
Shiff eventually moved to America, where he worked odd jobs as a laundry manager, furniture mover, and eventually a support technician for a nationwide medical software company. It was a time of change in the industry. The internet had only just begun to take hold and DSL was the latest thing. The medical offices were suddenly interested in having personal computers, internet, and email. As a result, they turned to Shiff as a guide whenever he came in on his support calls.
“I helped as much as I could while I was there, but the company I was a part of wasn’t really behind it.” Shiff wanted to do more than simply support the software. He wanted to advise and guide the customer, help them to expand.
Shiff was then approached by a colleague who wanted to start a venture, “I didn’t need to take care of the business end, just the technical so I was convinced to go back in to business.”
And so it was that several of the doctors’ offices immediately became clients of Shiff’s new IT support services. Along the way, customers began to broach the subject of Shiff coming in on a monthly basis to monitor their technology and keep it up to date, instead of on-call.
“I would advise them to run certain programs to maintain their computers and they would reply, ‘Why don’t you run it for us?’”
Shiff eventually struck out on his own and began Shiff Atlanta IT services in 2010. If the internet and email had been the up-and-coming technology when Shiff’s prior venture began, the new technological horizon was cloud computing, for which Shiff wanted to push the envelope even further. Simply put, cloud computing connects a large number of computers typically via the internet. It allows businesses to reduce their IT infrastructure, eliminate purchase of expensive equipment and only pay for the computing power they actually use.
Everything from email and internet browsing to documents and data management is now available from anywhere and on any device.
“Take for example the idea of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device),” says Shiff. “It’s one of the ultimate expressions of the idea of cloud computing. It frees users to work the way they want, where they want, without compromising corporate security.”
Shiff saw something else that as missing in the way IT services had typically been handled.
“You have a problem, you call somebody and they come, they fix the problem and you pay them per hour,” he explains. “But that puts the technician and the client in a situation of conflict of interests because the client wants the job to be as short as possible and the technician makes more if the job takes longer. The way to overcome that was to take a risk.”
Shiff decided to offer a flat, monthly fee with everything included – all remote support, technician visits, monitoring and updating of equipment and programs – in order to help ease the minds of business owners. The Shiff Atlanta brand would eventually undergo a makeover, in no small part thanks to Michael Friedman of Sosgona Marketing & Design, LLC, to be reborn as Don’t Sweat IT Solutions. The name change is a reflection of Shiff’s personal mission to make IT less daunting.
“They [the customers] always feel intimidated by IT. Some probably even feel stupid because they don’t understand,” says Shiff.
In his past work experiences in IT support, Shiff noticed his fellow technicians becoming frustrated with the customers that they were supposed to be helping. He realized there was a real need for a human connection, for a patience that had been lacking. Shiff’s friendly demeanor turned one-time jobs into returning customers, and a simple concept into a legitimate business.
“I liked the connection with the people, more than the connection with the computer,” says Shiff. “I noticed the positive human interaction and then I came up with the thought that maybe the whole computer thing is just an excuse to connect with people.”