(Pictured above: David Eisner on stage at the MSP 501 Awards Dinner at Channel Partners Evolution, Oct. 11.)
When he was just 13 years old living in the leafy suburbs of New Jersey, David Eisner would board a bus bound for the Port Authority terminal in New York City every weekend. From there, he would make his way to a small paint store in lower Manhattan that was operated by his extended family. After stocking paint all day, Eisner would reverse the commute and return home.
Young Eisner did this in the early 1980s, a time when the Port Authority was overrun with pimps, drug dealers and vagrants. Then, the city’s crack epidemic was one the rise, the murder rate was soaring and a new mafia war was just getting started.
Despite the mayhem in Manhattan, young Eisner thrived. In addition to providing him a window into humanity, the experience endowed him with a love of work that has carried him far. Not only is Eisner the CEO of Dataprise, a $50 million MSP based in Rockville, Maryland, he’s also the Channel Futures Lifetime Achievement Award winner for 2018.
Channel Futures selected Eisner based on his business achievements, community activism and thought leadership. Consider his business success. Eisner is an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award recipient and a Tech Council of Maryland's Executive of the Year award winner, too.
From humble beginnings in 1995,Dataprise has risen to No. 34 on the MSP 501 list. The company is not only a trusted adviser to leading organizations from Washington, D.C., to Seattle, it’s also a pillar in its home community in Maryland, where Dataprise promotes volunteerism among its employees, makes technology donations to organizations in need and sponsors charity drives for the likes of Feeding America and Toys for Tots.
Then there’s Eisner’s thought leadership. In 2015, he authored a business book, “Why You Should Build Your Business Not Your IT Department: A Guide to Selecting The Right Technology Partner.” Aimed at small businesses, the book makes the case for why entrepreneurs are better served if they hand over the mundane tasks of technology administration to a third party.
“You lose money by spending your time fiddling with technology,” he writes. “You wouldn’t try to be your own lawyer or your own accountant, so why be your own IT guy? You could be making a lot more money doing the things you do well.”
For Eisner, that is fiddling with technology. From the first computer he ever owned, an Apple II that his parents bought for him when he was 13, to the latest innovations, Eisner is happy whenever he has a technology challenge at hand.
“My vocation is my advocation. If someone stuck me in a little cube with a keyboard from 6 a.m. to whatever it was and said, ‘Code this up,’ I’d do it,” Eisner says. “For me, being involved in technology and solving puzzles is really what gets me going. The hardest part of running a business, which is the ins and outs of client interactions – which I do love – has not always been my biggest passion. My biggest passion is the technology for the technology’s sake. I’m the original ‘geek,’” Eisner says.
His interest in tech led him the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in computer science, respectively. After finishing school, Eisner took a job at IBM working as a system engineer and marketing assistant. While he admired the computer giant and its process excellence, he chaffed at the layers of management and lack of agility. (This was three years before Lou Gerstner would be named CEO with a mandate to teach the big elephant how to dance.)
Restless and ambitious, Eisner left IBM after a year. For the next five years, he worked in systems integration and software development. Then in 1995, he formed Dataprise. A single man at the time, the 28-year-old had only a rent check and car payment to worry about. Bolstered by the introduction of Windows 95 from Microsoft, Eisner and his early partners found plenty of work among small and midsize businesses. Happy to crawl under desks to install modems, connect PCs to the internet and otherwise upgrade operating systems and applications, they thrived on assignments that netted them $50-60 per hour. After a busy week’s work, they could pay their bills and get on with their lives.
Though happy, the young team wasn’t exactly thriving. After five years in business, Dataprise employed just five people. Then one snowy Wednesday in January, Eisner got a call from out of the blue. It was from a contractor working on a fast-track science project. The caller asked if Eisner would come over to discuss on opportunity. With snow raining down, Eisner and his partner braved the weather to see what the project was all about. When they arrived at the address, Eisner worked his way past welders, construction workers and computer technicians to find his contact.
“Are you the guy from ‘Datajunk’ or something?” the man asked.
“Dataprise,” Eisner replied.
“Well, see that stuff over there,” his contact said, pointing to a massive data center under construction. “You can’t touch that. Nor can you touch those mini-computers and sequencers over there. But what I want you to do is give me a proposal to support 300 Ph.D.s that are coming in here next week to do some geosequencing. If you can support those eggheads and their PCs, then you can have a contract,” the man said.
“No problem; we do this every day,” Eisner replied.
That afternoon, Eisner and his partner returned to their office where they crunched some numbers. To support 300 scientists and their PCs, they figured, they would need five new full-time employees. With nothing to lose, they wrote up a $1 million proposal and returned to the office complex that Friday. His contact took one look at the bid and said, “If you can be here by Monday, Tuesday at the very latest, you have the gig.”
That weekend, Eisner and his team reached out to every technician they knew. By Monday, they had their five new employees. On Tuesday, they signed the $1 million contract, which more than doubled their annual revenue.
The deal with the organization, which went on to develop the technology for Celera Genomics, was the single biggest success, percentage-wise, in the history of Dataprise. Rather than celebrate, however, Eisner and his colleagues poured the proceeds of the deal back into the company. After paying their support technicians, they used the rest of the money to hire their first salespeople.
“We always believed that if you pay the company first, you grow; you don’t strangle a small company,” Eisner says.
The decision set the tone for how Dataprise evolved. With cash flowing into the business, Eisner had some freedom to experiment. Enamored with deals that paid out over time, he created what would become one of the industry’s first IT managed service offerings, “Dataprise Signature Network IT Support.” Frustrated by the hourly rates that other IT consulting companies charged, customers flocked to Dataprise’s alternative monthly gold, silver and bronze support plans.
With a solid footing in managed services, Eisner has turned his focus to the next big thing, which he believes will be mobile app development. As digital transformation takes off, he believes having a mobile app of one’s own will be as important to customers today as having a website was to them 20 years ago.
While Dataprise looks to make the most of the opportunity at hand, Eisner is quick to remind himself of what he learned over the course of his career, which he dates back to the time he first stepped off the bus at New York’s Port Authority building.
“Love your work, put money back into your business and community, and exceed customer expectations to the point where you get invited to their office holiday party,” says Eisner. “That’s what worked for me.”