A Brief Precursor...
When I was in college, I grew to want a gaming computer. A bunch of my friends had gaming computers, and even more had consoles.
I quickly understood that I was not very good at working the dual-joystick console controller, and understood that PCs had the potential to be vastly more powerful (but also required a much bigger investment in hardware).
At NC State
As I did not have the money to buy the parts immediately, I watched a great deal of videos on YouTube on how to build a computer, read a bunch of online forums, and read about the components typically used in a gaming computer (circa 2010-2013).
When I graduated from NC State in December of 2013, I moved home for about 6 months to save up some money. I also started working in the engineering field right after graduation, so this allowed me to start saving up money for a new computer rather quickly.
My Start With PC Gaming
About April 2014, I bought the initial parts to my new gaming computer, and had a friend from college come over and help me build it. That first build must have taken us about 6 hours. It was painstaking, and I was very nervous. I really didn't want to break anything, as I'd then be out the money for the replacement.
When it was all done, I fell in love with it, and almost immediately wanted to upgrade it. These things happen when you start installing your favorite AAA games and turning up the visual settings. I upgraded a few things over time; the CPU cooler (twice), the GPU (several times), the internal lighting (3x), and then I upgraded the case.
Launching Top Flight Computers
After some time, I thought to myself..."I enjoy building/working with computers, I'm pretty good at it, let's get paid to do it". So on December 15th 2015, I launched the website for Top Flight Computers, and the company was officially operational. And then the battle really started....ohhhh boy.
As I started my company near the end of 2015, nothing really happened in 2015. So let's skip right to 2016.
The First Year
Being that Top Flight Computers was my first company, I was starting from scratch. I had a website, barely (trust me, it looked very different from how it looks now).
I had a Facebook Page, but I had no idea how to use it really. I was a novice at web design (I was somewhat familiar with coding, but not the actual layout part of the design), and had only used Facebook as a normal "user". I had issues gaining views and likes on my Facebook Page.
I was also using a "email@example.com" as my main business email, because Gmail is free. Needless to say, I was a rookie at running a business, and it was a trial by fire...to put it lightly.
The first 6 months had almost zero engagement on social media, and no emails. I didn't know about Google Analytics at this point, so I didn't know if my website was getting traffic either.
I was essentially flying blind. Those 6 months were nerve-wracking, as I am sure you understand. Knowing your technical skills are good enough...and not getting any engagement, is very tough on a person. I nearly shut down the company.
The First Build
Then, out of the blue in August, I got a response on a Facebook post in an NC State group for students and alumni called "Wolfpack Students". I had tried posting in WPS a few times, to no avail.
Then, this girl responded to my post, and ended up telling me she was looking to get into PC Gaming, had never used a PC before (had only been on Mac), and wanted to have a powerful enough system to run VR games at high quality.
Now, me being the technical person that I am, I knew that running VR games at high quality required some serious hardware. I was elated to have the chance to build a really powerful system.
I have since changed a few things about my business since that first sale, but that computer remains the most powerful gaming computer I have built to date. Powered by an i7-4790k and a GTX 1080, running an SSD/HDD combo, and using a closed-loop liquid cooler on the CPU, it dominated the games the client played on it, and continues to do so today. She is still very happy with her system a year and a half later.
The Next 7 Builds
From that point, I built 7 computers till February 2017. One was for a friend from high school, one was for a friend from church. I built another for a dad for his daughter, and one for a mother for her daughter. I built a computer for a friend from Boy Scouts, and one for a guy I met on Facebook. I even built one for my grandmother (her Vista computer needed a refresh).
I was feeling pretty good about the build frequency, and was anticipating a pretty good year in 2017. Oh how wrong I was going to be...but I'll get to that soon.
2016 had been a trying year, but had ended well. I had a firmer idea of my brand, of what the company needed to be, and how to approach things overall. I had certainly made mistakes, some quite costly, but I had a pretty good idea of things (or so I thought).
Lessons from 2016
I revised my quoting spreadsheet, upgraded my website (I've been using Squarespace since October 2016), learned more about posting on social media, revised my pricing, gained more confidence in my brand, and started networking professionally towards the end of 2016. 2017 was looking to be a pretty good year.
The Second Year
2017 started out on a high note. I built the system for my friend from high school, the PC for the mother to her daughter, the system for the guy I met on Facebook, and a new computer for my grandmother...all by about the first week of February.
I didn't have any new inquiries for builds or services for a few weeks, but I was anticipating getting some work in from people getting tax refunds and buying computers with them. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, and any "normal" work didn't come in either. That was moderately depressing, but I decided to push on, and keep doing what I was doing.
The Long Pause Between Builds
I ended up not getting any major build work till August 4th. That was pretty hard to take.
The 9th Build
Thankfully, I was contacted by an NC State student, who was looking to get an ESports computer designed for Overwatch playback at 144fps in 1080p. He had a 1080p monitor at 144hz, and thus needed to run at 144fps.
Matching the framerate with the refresh rate matters greatly in the fast-paced world of ESports, and while the human eye can't detect speeds faster than 60fps...there's a significant decrease in input lag when gaming at 144fps. It's sorta the same thing as "going from a normal hard drive to an SSD"...only going from 60fps to 144fps in framerate. You won't go back...
But back to his system. It was also the first system I built with the AMD Ryzen CPU (Ryzen had launched a few months before), and Ryzen totally dominated. The 12 threads came in extremely helpful while gaming+streaming, as was expected. The computer ended up over-performing, to the great delight of the client.
The Next 3 Builds
I ended up building 3 more system using AMD Ryzen in the past few months. Two were entry-level gaming computers, but had the ability to upgrade easily (I had used a motherboard that had the proper slots, and had used a power supply with enough juice for a major upgrade in GPU).
The 3rd was a pretty powerful system, sold to a guy who wanted to build a new system...versus trying to upgrade his current computer. All of these Ryzen systems were also my first builds to go on YouTube, complete with part reviews and build vlogs.
The New Target Audience
As of now, I have sold mainly (ok, all) gaming computers. However, I'm working on changing that to more workstation-grade systems. In March, I started using LinkedIn more heavily than I have previously.
Planning For The Future
I find it relatively easy to sell a gaming computer..I'm a PC gamer myself. I know what gamers are looking for, and I know what they need. I also know what their typical budget is, and if they're also looking to upgrade soon after purchase/buy an additional extended warranty.
Those 4 things make it a little tough to scale a custom build company by selling mainly gaming computers...so I knew I needed to change something.
Professional-Grade Workstations (Animation, Video Editing, CAD, Audio Editing, Rendering)
I knew for a long time that workstations cost more than gaming computers, but I wasn't really sure why initially. Then I did some digging, and found that the software that most powerful workstations are used for...is both intensive, and is designed to take advantage of available hardware (most of the time).
While you CAN edit video with a normal gaming computer...it's not advised. Editing will take longer, and rendering will take MUCH longer. If you do work professionally, you need it done in a timely manner, among other things.
So thus started my re-targeting to the workstation clients. The people who do things that require purpose-built computers for their specific applications. I would be focusing on designing computers that would be powerful enough to handle the applications, while remaining quiet, stable, and still look clean inside.
What Made The Switch Make Sense
I take great care to make sure that all computers built by Top Flight Computers are put together properly, and that all of the cables are managed to my high level of quality. I knew that businesses are more likely to purchase more than 1 computer.
They are also more likely to purchase extended warranties, and might be interested in getting an additional local service package.
Focusing on Strengths
I knew that Facebook was NOT the ideal platform to reach those people, so I started updating my LinkedIn profile, and reaching out to people in those industries. I also started revising my website again, to make sure I was providing the most professional image I possibly could.
If I was not going to be able to "run to the price floor", I needed to make up for it in website ease-of-use, professionalism, courtesy, passion, build quality, local service, and the drive to do what needed to be done.
I recently redesigned my listed workstations to provide high performance, low noise, low internal thermals, high reliability, long system life, and of course...one GOOD looking build. All of my systems are custom-built, with great care taken in system design and build.
I view each system delivered as an advertisement for TFC, and I just can't drive a system to you that I'm not happy with. I can't do it as a system designer, and I definitely can't do it as a business owner.
The New Advertisement
I had spent a great deal of money on Facebook Ads over the past years, to no avail. It took me a long time to realize that people just don't buy custom computers based on Facebook Ads (or at least, they buy them very rarely).
This was an expensive learning experience, but one that I will never forget. It also made me realize that I needed to find a better way to reach more people.
Conventions & Trade Shows
I had been contacted about having a booth at a gaming event at UNCG earlier this year, which I accepted. That event, "Game-A-Thon" went very well, although it was not without mistakes (one of the contact forms on my website was not fully connected, so I lost all the emails that had been entered).
DBAP Gaming Challenge
Thankfully, the organizer of Game-A-Thon was so pleased with my performance, that she gave me a recommendation on LinkedIn, and then invited me to an event at the DBAP this past summer.
That was a raging success. We had about 40 people stop by the booth, I'm not sure how many cards were given out. There's one thing to see an ad for a custom computer on your news feed...it's another thing entirely to see it in person...and then game on it (on a massive ultrawide monitor).
Needless to say, I get much better engagement at gaming conventions and trade shows. You can be sure I won't forget that.
2018 is looking to be a really good year (really though). I have learned more in the past two years than I ever thought possible, and I really think it's going to start paying off soon.
I'd like to give a special thank you to my parents, my brother, and my girlfriend. You guys have been with me throughout all of this, and I literally could not have done it without you.
It is impossible to thank all of the people who have helped me in any fashion...I'd be typing for at least another 4 pages. I just want to say thank you all for your support, guidance, and feedback. I hope that I can repay the help at some point, I would like nothing less than that, you deserve it.