Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
- Gary Hoover began his entrepreneurial journey at an early age. His question about enterprises was, “What separates the losers from the winners?” He began subscribing to Fortune Magazine at the age of 12, and has acquired most of the issues back to 1930. He also began keeping a list of ideas for new businesses.
- Gary studied economics at the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman and two other Nobel Prize winners, served as a securities analyst for Citibank on Wall Street, worked as a buyer for Federated Department Stores, and headed up acquisitions and strategic planning for the May Department Stores Company.
- At the age of 30 he created the pioneering book superstore BOOKSTOP, which helped transform the way books were bought and sold in America. BOOKSTOP was sold to Barnes & Noble for $41.5 million cash when it was 7 years old, and became a cornerstone for their industry-dominating superstore chain.
- After he and his partners sold BOOKSTOP, Gary returned to his first love -- understanding businesses -- and he launched the company that became Hoover’s, the world’s largest Internet-based provider of information about enterprises. Hoovers.com covers thousands of companies around the world. In July of 1999, Hoover’s went public and in March of 2003, the company was purchased by Dun & Bradstreet for $117 million. Like BOOKSTOP, Hoover’s has changed the way we do things and today employs over 400 people.
- Gary also ventured into the travel business with TravelFest Superstores, which failed when airlines stopped paying commission to travel agencies, and the museum industry with new conceptions of what a museum is and should be. He continues to add new ideas to his list of business ideas, now numbering over 200.
- In the 2009-10 academic year, Gary served as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas in Austin. There he focused on inciting and inspiring entrepreneurial thinking among students of all types, graduates and undergraduates, inside and outside of the business school. He reviewed approximately 400 business plans and ideas in this role, and also taught a Foundations of Entrepreneurship course.
- In 2009 he launched www.hooversworld.com, his iconoclastic blog of book, idea, and travel reviews. In 2011 he started a video blog, which can be found at the same website or at http://www.youtube.com/hooverbits. His book, The Art of the Enterprise, is available online. His series of lectures on the history of the movie, airline, auto, retailing, and computer industries, as well as his Eight Principles of Successful Enterprise, can be viewed at the McCombs Today blog.
- Beginning in 2010, Gary started teaching students of all ages Entrepreneurial Thinking through his own Hoover Academy. Over 300 people have graduated from Hoover Academy programs ranging from 3 hours to 12 weeks. He is also now offering online video courses.
- In the summer of 2012, he incorporated his fifth startup, Stratipad, to produce business and social science strategic simulation games for the iPad and other tablet devices.
- In the fall of 2012, Gary was appointed Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the top-rated School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin.
- Gary lives in Austin, Texas, with his 55,000-book library. He speaks to conferences and corporate groups and works to encourage innovation and entrepreneurial thinking on every continent and in every industry, for profit and not for profit. He is an enthusiastic supporter of the University of Chicago, where the Hoover House dormitory opened early this century.
- [Photo by René Lego Photography]
- WHY DID YOU ORIGINALLY COME TO AUSTIN?
- The reason I picked Austin to move to for my first business was the ratio of the demand for books to the cost of opening and operating a bookstore, because it had to be either here or Madison, Wisconsin, or the Research Triangle in North Carolina. aND This was the biggest city, the fastest growing, and it had the weakest competition.
- WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND IN ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
- I've started four companies. The first one was a Bookstop, and it became one of the biggest bookstore chains in the country, and then Barnes & Noble bought it, and it was their entry into the big book superstore business. We were really the first chain of book superstores, really modeled after Toys 'R' Us, which is an older company.
- Hoover's, I am in love with business and business information, and that fit because I only do things that I'm really passionate about, and that one, I got into it and realized I wasn't the right guy to lead it. An old friend of mine, he had a better vision for it, and he turned it into a big success. So I kind of sat shotgun and learned from him.
- And then the third one, Travelfest, which I thought would make me wealthy, although that's not my primary goal in all these, I do things that are interesting and I think will benefit society. The airlines stopped paying commission on airline tickets, and we couldn't get to profitability. It just crashed our profitability, crashed our ability to raise capital.
- And then the fourth one, we were going to be the first chain of for-profit museums, I still think is my best idea. I got half the money raised. I hit the recession of '08 and couldn't raise the rest of the money.
- My only conclusion from all that is you can't know how they're going to turn out. All you can do is find something you love, where you think there's an opportunity, a real human need for what you're doing, and throw yourself at it.
- The key is building something of value, building an enterprise that's of value to people, first and foremost, the customers, and if you do that, it can also be very valuable to the employees and to the stockholders and to their suppliers. They're among the people who do the best from a successful organization.
- ANY ADVICE FOR NEW ENTREPRENEURS?
- I do believe, no matter how much time you devote to it, do your homework, understand it, look at all the potential competitors, and good things and bad things. Learn from them, things you're going to copy, things you aren't. Parallels, you're always looking for business models that, well they're doing in their industry what I want to do in this industry. And just the more you know, the more potent you're going to be and the higher odds of success of your idea.
- Entrepreneurs have really high levels of self confidence. They believe in what they're doing, but I think it comes from doing your homework, from becoming an expert, from looking at the data and saying, "No, I know this is the way the world's heading, and I'm in the right spot." And that's what gives you the confidence to say, "Well, I'm right. Even if today was a bad day, this is a great idea, and I'm going to make it happen."
- WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS THE SECRET TO YOUR SUCCESS?
- I believe nothing is more important than making life better for your customers. And I believe everything, all the other great things that a great enterprise can do -- create great jobs, make stockholders rich, whatever -- that all flows from your customers, and you have to care about them, in a sense love them, and you have to be able to put yourself in their shoes. Once you do that, there is no detail that doesn't matter, and the smallest thing can have an impact.
- Everything you do, think about is there a better way to do it. Once you get in the habit of being creative, you can't stop.
- WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR AUSTIN?
- I just think this town is still in the early stages of what it can be. And whenever I say Austin, I mean the entire metropolitan area, because, for me, the most exciting parts of Austin are San Marcos and Georgetown. What's going to happen to Marble Falls and Fredericksburg? Some of those people aren't going to like to hear this, but those are all going to double and triple in size over the longer pull and still be really wonderful towns. So I really couldn't be more enthusiastic about Austin and its future.