Alan Hall says he took an “incredible risk” when he launched a company in his office garage in 1988. He had a wife and six kids, and one business had already bombed. The tech startup, which involved sharing printer information, wasn’t able to expand despite angel money.
“We didn’t know how to take it to market, so we thought, ‘Why not evangelize the product to Ma and Pa computer stores?’” says Hall, a Utah resident and Brigham Young University graduate.
While his approach worked for a while, the IT field was changing so fast that those on the retail side couldn’t keep up. Hall says he failed because he still hadn’t figured out marketing.
With his next venture – which eventually became MarketStar, a global marketing and sales company – he focused on setting realistic goals that put the customer first. It was the key to taking his company out of the garage and into 100 countries.
Goal 1: Know What Your Customers Want – and Give It to Them
“I had an idea that came out of need and I hit the right spot at the right time,” says Hall, who saw that many IT processes should be simplified. Various customers couldn’t adapt to the rapidly changing IT climate, told him why – and he paid attention.
“You need to understand your customer well,” Hall says. “That goal for us hasn’t changed over time.”
Eventually, his processes got the attention of Lotus and other major concerns, and MarketStar took off. Today, the company provides retail, channel and direct sales services for businesses worldwide.
With 2,500 employees in 100 countries, it drove $4.5 billion in sales in 2006 representing such clients as Hewlett-Packard, Verizon Communications, Microsoft and Cisco Systems.
Goal 2: Root Goals in Reality – Don’t Chase Shiny Things
Once Hall designed his product to fit customers’ needs, he’d turned the key. “I find too often that entrepreneurs chase shiny things. I’ve chased my share, too,” he says. “All too often, they never get focused.” That’s one of the reasons Hall started Grow Utah Ventures, which provides help to other Utah entrepreneurs.
In 2000, Hall became “a wealthy man” when he sold MarketStar to Omnicom, the marketing communications giant that includes such global advertising leaders as BBDO Worldwide and DDB Worldwide. He’s still MarketStar’s founder and chairman.
Hall decided to split the pot three ways: First, to his wife, who risked everything with him; then to his community, by leading a foundation to benefit local charities; and third, to finding other entrepreneurs, and helping them replicate his success.
Goal 3: Be a Model for a Balanced Life
Hall started Grow Utah Ventures as part of an angel-investors network to boost 100 fledgling companies with capital, management and training. He also helps new companies learn focus and discipline.
“I have more fun helping others than making money for myself now,” Hall says. “I like to have a balanced life.”
Balance was a goal for himself and his company, and it’s paid off: Retention is high because employees know they can both meet customer needs and tend to their own personal and professional goals.
Hall emphasizes five “pillars of value.” In order: God, self, family, career and community. “People need to take care of themselves,” he explains. “You notice work is fourth,” because employees burn out in companies that put earnings above all.
Through Grow Utah Ventures, Hall has found other entrepreneurs across the country who are looking for a similar resource in their own states. He listened, and is thinking through another goal: Spread around his learning model and best practices with a new venture, Grow America – just what the customer wants.
Alice Rhein is a StartupNation contributing writer.