Too young to drive, now his business is doing $200 million a year
Imagine making millions from tinkering with computers in your teens! That was the story of Larry O’Connor, the tech genius behind Other World Computing (OWC). Larry’s journey from an Atari computer in his dad’s house to a thriving business shows that sometimes all you need is a spark of curiosity.
Larry started OWC when he was just 14 years old. His company was born out of necessity. Growing up in a remote area without the ability to drive, he faced a challenge with his Apple computer that needed more memory. This situation led him to learn the ins and outs of upgrading his system.
It later dawned on him that he could use this knowledge to assist others in saving money and simplifying the often frustrating process of upgrading their computers. He realized he could guide them through it, making it less of a hassle. From the very start, OWC’s mission has been to use technology to help people, and that mission continues to this day.
“I started OWC when I was 14 years old. OWC’s origin was driven by necessity. I grew up in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t drive. I had an Apple computer that needed more memory but I learned what it took to upgrade my system. It made me think I can help people save the money and reduce the headache and hassle when we need to upgrade. I could show them how to do it. I could talk them through it. It really put me on a course with technology helping people has been a mission of OWC from day one.”
Today, Larry’s company, based in Illinois, sells and makes Mac-related hardware and software, plus refurbished computers. They even have do-it-yourself kits! Their stuff is all over the globe, and they’re shipping out thousands of pieces every day. In 2016, they raked in $120 million, and they’re growing at 10 to 20 percent this year.
Larry’s tech adventure began when his dad brought home an Atari PC. That little machine lit a fire under him, and he’s been fascinated with tech ever since. At just 14, he started his first computer venture out of a tiny office in his dad’s barn, working on printer ribbons. But soon, he shifted his focus to computers themselves. He needed more memory and storage for his Apple computer, so he started buying parts and boosting its power. That’s when he realized, “Hey, I can do this for others!”
“I grew up on a farm in the country outside of Marengo, IL, which had a population of about five thousand. I was fortunate that my dad was an early adopter. He is also an entrepreneur and used a Telex machine and a TRS-80 with the giant floppy disks way back when. It was a total fluke when my parents won an Atari 400XL computer with a cassette deck (for program storage) at an event in 1981 when I was seven. They gave this computer to me, and my mom made sure it was only used for learning. Learning at that time meant programming languages,” Larry said in an interview with StarterStory.
Larry later discovered that the memory chips he had spent three days having installed could be removed and reinstalled in less than 5 minutes. He didn’t have part number details from his Apple magazines, but luckily, there was ‘The News Depot’ near his school, which had a vast collection of print publications, including Computer Shopper magazine, known for its extensive content.
While flipping through the magazine, Larry recognized the part numbers on the chips he needed for his Apple computer. He realized that he could purchase these components for a fraction of the price charged by Apple dealers and the rates advertised in the Apple magazines he read. Taking a chance, he gave it a try, and to his delight, it was a success – time to get things rolling.
Then in 1989, after a memory chip shortage caused prices to soar, Larry figured out how to sell those chips for less. He took his business online, and the best part was, nobody knew he was just a teenager. The internet was his secret weapon, and it worked wonders.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. In 1990, someone broke in and stole his inventory, and he didn’t even have business insurance. Yet, Larry saw these challenges as opportunities to grow stronger. He faced tough decisions along the way, like dropping out of college to focus on his business. He set up a website, expanded manufacturing, and kept growing.
Larry’s secret to success? No big investors and paying off debts. He’s proof that a curious mind, hard work, and a little risk-taking can lead to making millions in the ever-evolving tech world. Larry had limited resources. He started his venture with a mere $20,000. As of 2020, his company was doing $13.5 million per month in revenue.
Fast forward to today, and Other World Computing is a powerhouse. They’ve got a massive facility in Illinois, employ 230 people across three campuses, and Larry’s aiming to turn it into a half-billion-dollar business in the next five years.
During an interview with StarterStory, Larry shared what has been effective in attracting and retaining customers for OWC since its launch. He explained that while they are currently developing an assertive outbound sales capability, their core approach has been outbound marketing. This strategy has successfully brought customers to their website, channel partners, and inside sales team.
However, Larry said the company’s methods have evolved over the years. Initially, they relied on contributions from print publications, participation in trade shows, and optimizing their website for search engines (SEO), alongside online advertisements. However, the landscape has shifted. Today, their primary drivers are social media, online ads and reviews, and their website.
“Although today we are building an aggressive outbound sales capability, OWC from the beginning and still today is largely an outbound marketing force that brings customers into our website, channel partners, and inside sales team. It’s certainly evolved over the years from a substantial contribution from both print publications, trade shows, our website/SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and online advertisements to today, where social media, online ads/reviews, and our website are the primary drivers.”
Larry also stressed the importance of strong online SEO, driven by valuable and accurate content that genuinely addresses people’s questions. This content-focused approach has been instrumental in their success, eschewing shortcuts like link farms in favor of providing meaningful answers and information to their customers.
When asked if he had any guidance and advice for aspiring entrepreneurs just getting started or in the early stages of their entrepreneurial journey, here’s what Larry had to offer:
“Learn by doing, make sure you can do everything your business needs within certain reasonable limits/specialties, and always be in a position to hold your team accountable to the highest standard you can also stand up to. From there, always seek to recruit people that are better than you and that have buy-in for your vision and are fit for your culture. The vision buy-in can be one of the most important aspects and you’re hiring a team to help your organization write its next chapters, not hiring for someone to write their own.
Don’t dismiss people that don’t have a formal education – there are amazing, teachable, natively wise individuals that can grow with you and achieve greatness while being some of the best, most loyal team members you could ever ask for. And because the path you take is new to them as well, no preconceived ideas of ’the only way’ – nothing is already thought impossible.”
When asked in an interview two years ago, How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today OWC continues to enjoy double-digit annual growth, and I expect to grow past 200 million in annual revenue within the next 1-2 years.
Below is a local TV station’s coverage of Larry’s company.