Credits: CHIP MINTY
Eric and Karena Crawford never intended to start a successful business. All they were trying to do was put food on the table and keep the lights on while Eric looked for a job and while Karena awaited the arrival of their first born.
As it turned out, Eric never found that job, and by the time Karena delivered their baby girl, Norman Nerds was a full-blown home computer repair and service company. The phone was ringing so frequently, Eric hardly had time to work, let alone send out resumes.
So, not too long after they brought their new daughter home from the hospital, Karena saw the writing on the wall. She was going to have to quit her job and help Eric answer the phone and schedule service visits.
It wasn’t exactly the future they had envisioned, Karena said, but it seemed like maybe Norman Nerds was what they were supposed to be doing.
It all started 13 years ago when they were laid off from their jobs, just as Karena learned that she was pregnant. Karena eventually found another job, but the search was more challenging for Eric, a computer science graduate with experience in interactive multimedia web development and streaming media.
The problem was that he was over qualified for most positions, and the market was still saturated with refugees from the dot com crash of the early 2000s.
“Jobless, child on the way, no insurance. That was brutal,” he said. “I was out of money. We had no money. We were broke. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want to stand on the street corner and beg for food and money,’ but what could I do? Gambling was not an option.”
That’s when he had a brainstorming session with a friend and remembered a business he noticed while going to school at the University of Texas – Dallas. It was called Nerds on Call, and they would drive to people’s homes and repair their computers.
So, that was it, Eric said. He made a flier, printed several dozen copies and headed out to neighborhoods to start his door-todoor marketing campaign. Meanwhile, he had a homemade sign in the front yard of his small home on Flood Avenue.
Two weeks after his marketing campaign began, he got his first customer, a home-based travel agent whose computer had crashed. Stuck, with no way of serving her customers, she called Eric, who came to her home and fixed her computer on the spot.
“She said, ‘you saved my life today,’ and she gave me a hug,” Eric said. “Sometimes, hugs are as good as pay.”
After that call, Norman Nerds began growing steadily through word of mouth and referrals. Today, Karena and Eric work long hours, side by side.
Karena earned her degree in marketing from the University of Oklahoma, and had no computer experience when Eric established Norman Nerds. But, through the years, she has pitched in to help with repairs Eric brought home and has developed her skills.
Now, she’s driving to calls about as much as Eric, helping with problems that range from the most complicated malfunctions and the nastiest computer viruses to teaching customers basic skills, like how to turn on their computers.
Through the years, the company has diversified, Eric said. In addition to residential computer repairs and service, Norman Nerds has expanded to helping commercial customers with services that include server installations, internet-based phone systems, credit card processing security, wiring for automation and home theater installation.
Somewhere in the early stages of his business, Eric said he discovered that his job had changed from working on computers to helping people. He still works on computers, but, while he’s doing that, he’s talking with customers and developing relationships.
Those connections have led both of them to community involvement in the Norman Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Norman, the United Way, the Norman Rotary Club and Journey Church.
“Norman is a big, small town,” Eric said. “If you do good work, and you do it with integrity, word will spread.”
For Eric and Karena, Norman Nerds was a surprising success, but as it turned out, the two Norman High graduates were fulfilling a need in their community.
Generally, computer science majors think about landing good jobs, working in the IT departments of large companies and corporations. They don’t think about working on home computers or for small businesses, Eric said.
But, individuals and small businesses don’t have the financial resources for IT departments, and sometimes it’s harder to find service when their systems go down. That’s why Norman Nerds has been so successful, fulfilling a demand for timely service. There are no contracts, just a flat, hourly rate, Eric said.
Computers can be complicated, and most people don’t understand how they work, Karena said.
“You have to have patience and empathy,” she said. “The biggest compliment we get is that we talk to people like they’re humans, not like they’re computer nerds.”
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