Growing up in New Jersey, Michael Della Pia, owner and founder of LAN Masters, always had a fascination with computers. He taught himself how to code on 8-bit home computers such as the Commodore 64 and grew up with parents who supported his hobby. After graduating from high school, Della Pia went to work for his father's tool and die business. After a year on the shop floor, he transitioned into more of an IT role. For Della Pia, this was a welcomed change and one that he fully embraced.
"I started with networking and managing all the computers and setting up a server," he said. "I pretty much did all the day-to-day IT stuff. I learned a lot of it on the go. I worked in that role up until 2002 and also did work for my father's friend's businesses."
In late 2002, Della Pia's father told him he was ready to retire. Since Della Pia primarily focused on IT and not on operating the business, he wasn't in the most ideal position to take over. He and his dad put their heads together and came up with a plan.
"That's when I decided to start my own IT company," Della Pia said. "The next decision was where to locate the business. The New Jersey and New York areas were completely saturated with IT companies and, between the traffic and ongoing construction, traveling from client to client would have required a lot of time on the road. After looking into Central Florida, an area I visited every year for Disney trips with my parents, I was impressed with what I saw. This was 2003, but there was a lot of economic growth happening. I knew there was a tremendous amount of potential."
Della Pia packed his bags and caught a south-bound train to the Sunshine State. When he arrived in Sanford, he didn't know a single person. He spent the next three months going door to door from 8:30am until 6:00pm every day of the week. Despite getting thrown out of buildings and yelled at about no soliciting laws, he pressed on. Each no was one step closer to a yes. His first customer came in August and, although it didn't lead to a windfall of business, it was an important milestone. That job eventually led to others and, after doing mostly residential work, soon the commercial work followed. As Della Pia shared, the day that really "set the thing on fire" was August 13th, which also happens to be his birthday.
"On this day, the Blaster Worm virus reached its peak," he said. "At the time, it was one of the worst viruses anyone had ever seen. The local news station, WESH 2 News, gave me a call after seeing my contact number on my car wrap. They wanted to do a story about the Blaster Worm and asked if I'd be involved. They wanted to go with me to an actual virus removal call and watch the process. They asked when my next call was. Unfortunately, I didn't have one."
Della Pia continued, "Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity, I told them to sit tight while I checked my schedule. I hung up and called someone I met at a Winter Park Chamber event. I explained why I was calling and asked if she'd be willing to have them come into her house and allow me to run software on her computer to make it look like I was removing the virus. She agreed and within a few hours we were filming at her house. After that, my phone never stopped ringing. I had four appointments every day and I was booked a month out. That experience is what put me on the map."
That connection was in part thanks to Della Pia's commitment to face-to-face networking and going to as many events as possible. He did some traditional marketing and advertising, but he made sure to attend as many luncheons, seminars, after hours events and business breakfasts as possible. Della Pia has gone from working out of a two-bedroom apartment near the Mall at Millennia to a 4,000 sq ft building in Sanford. He's also surrounded by a team of IT professionals who make response time their ultimate priority.
"We work as fast as possible," Della Pia said. "If a client has an issue with their computers or network, they want someone there as soon as possible. If we're taking too long to respond, I'll hire another person. I think this has a lot to do with how much we've grown over the years."
At the end of the day, Della Pia admits that it's a tough business. When it comes to IT, you're dealing with people's problems. However, he's also quick to point out that he's surrounded by opportunities to fix those problems. That's what he enjoys most.
Looking ahead, Della Pia is committed to smart growth that allows him to manage his resources and client load. He's also focused on relevancy and ensuring his company remains up-to-date on the latest technology. In addition to LAN Masters, Della Pia is the founder and owner of a second company called The Nutty Peanut. The future growth of this business is also a top priority for Della Pia. As he shared, even though The Nutty Peanut is completely outside his wheelhouse, it's a business he loves and one that certainly wasn't planned.
"I love peanut butter more than the average person," he said with a laugh. "When my wife and I moved in together, I brought with me boxes of different peanut butter flavors. Anyway, one day I decided to make my own peanut butter. It came out better than expected and people started asking me for some. I was surprised, but also saw the potential to start a business that focuses on 'craft peanut butter' similar to the craft beer craze. I started messing around with different flavor combos and producing small batches. One thing led to another and, after selling in farmers markets and eventually online, we're now in every Lucky's Market in Florida and we just got an approval to have our products in Earth Origins. We're only two years old, but the buzz and interest has been incredible. I brought in a friend of mine from New Jersey, who's now a partner, to take over day-to-day operations. Our future goals most definitely include growing The Nutty Peanut."
What advice does Della Pia have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "I've learned some important lessons over the years," he said. "First of all, persistence is crucial. When I started the business, I did the door to door thing in the beginning of June and didn't get someone to say yes until August. That was a lot of Nos. You can't get discouraged. Keep faith that someone will eventually say yes. The founder of KFC got turned down hundreds of times, but never gave up. Lastly, in any business, there's always someone out there trying to out work you. You need to work harder than them. If you do that, you're honest and you're good at what you do, success will follow."