Favorite recreational activity in Austin: Boating on our lakes
- Austin native Dan Graham serves as CEO of BuildASign.com, a three-time ABJ Fast 50 award winning and two-time INC5000 company.
- Dan earned undergraduate degrees in Computer Science and Philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin and a J.D. from the School of Law at UT Austin. In March 2005, he co-founded BuildASign.com and bootstrapped the company to great success. Since then, BuildASign.com has grown to operations in four countries with 200+ employees and $30Million in revenue, having taken zero funding.
- Dan also serves the Austin community in a variety of capacities including the Board of Directors of Austin Pro Bono; as a member of the Cities of Service Steering Committee for the City of Austin; Board of Directors Vice Chair of Small Business for Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce; and Chair for UT's Innovation & Science Enterprise Advisory Board.
- TALK ABOUT THE LAUNCH OF BUILDASIGN?
- BuildASign was a concept that we developed and tried to sell to local sign shops. We spent about 6 months taking it basically door-to-door to sign shops, showing what the capabilities were, the design tool that we have online, and explaining how it would help reduce costs and provide a potentially very large additional revenue stream for the business.
- We just had a really hard time making that sale. And we ended up continuing to develop the product with the idea that we would sell it or license it, up until the point where we actually launched it online to prove out that it could make money, and it did make money. And at that point, we went from trying to sell
software to trying to figure out how to get our signs produced.
- So we went back to the same sign shops that we had been talking to and said, "I know we talked to you about selling software, but now we have all these signs that we need to order." Becuase you know, our website looked very professional; it had a 3-day guarantee turn time, and all we had was a 100 square foot office with 2 computers in it, so we were going back to sign shops saying, "Hey, can you make this stuff for us?"
- And we ultimately decided to get into the sign business back in the beginning of 2006, and bought a printer, opened up a shop, and it's just been growing rapidly ever since.
- WHAT IS YOUR TROOPS PROGRAM?
- The BuildASign Troops Program is something that we started back in 2008. One of our executive's sister's was in the military, and they were throwing her a Welcome Home celebration. He had the idea that we could give away Welcome Home banners for families of returning military, or we could put up templates that say things like, "Welcome home, Daddy."
- They could upload a photo of their loved one, and we could really help with that celebration. To date, we've given away over 200,000 banners to families of returning military, which is over $7 million dollars in retail value.
- WHAT IS THE KEY TO BUILDASIGN'S SUCCESS?
- I feel like customers, employees, and the community are really overlooked by a lot of businesses, and those are three things that I think are extremely important and if you take care of those, then the business tends to take care of itself.
- TALK ABOUT YOUR CONNECTION TO AUSTIN...
- I went to UT because my parents are here, in Austin, all of my friends are here, in Austin, it was a good school, and I really just loved the city.
- This is the place where I want to grow old. I feel like there's a lot of opportunity to give back and really watch Austin develop as a community, as a place to work and live, and to raise a family. That's why I stayed here. That's why I'm still here today, and why I chose to start my company here.
- I ran this morning in the Gorilla Run, where I was wearing a gorilla outfit along with thousands of other people, then I'm coming here to talk to you and do this interview.
- I'm going to the Startup Olympics after this, where we're competing in all kinds of crazy events, from giant Connect Four, to beer-pong, to darts, to an obstacle course. And then after that, I'm taking my wife and kid to an old-fashioned drive-in movie. And I think that is a fairly typical day for us, and there's just so much here that it is exciting to get involved in.
- ANY ADVICE FOR STARTUPS?
- You have to have the right founder team. I've seen a ton of businesses just fail because maybe they don't recognize their own weaknesses or they bring people on with non-complimentary skill sets to their own, and the business will stagnate.
- There are all kinds of programs, both free and paid, to get involved in, that will help you get your company from point A to point B, wherever those two points may be within your development cycle. There are incubators here, like Capital Factory. There are venture companies here.
- WHY AUSTIN FOR A STARTUP?
- You don't ever run into someone who hears what you're trying to do, hears you're trying to be an entrepreneur, and asks, "Why are you trying to do that? That's crazy. Why don't you get a job?" We're really supportive here, as a community, of entrepreneurialism, and I think that stems from how much we really admire the individual and people going out and blazing their own path. Entrepreneurialism just really fits perfectly inside of that Austin culture.
- WHAT DOES AUSTIN LOOK LIKE TO YOU IN TEN YEARS?
- I really think that in ten years what we'll have is an entrepreneurial area, or district, that's probably centered downtown that really acts as a hub for businesses in every stage of development. And having that be an awesome place for resources, to meet people, to get funding, and will really be a magnet for talent around the country to come down here to begin their businesses.