Nashville is throwing the recession out of town. The building boom cut short by the downturn seems to be back in full swing here. A huge new convention centre is going up, downtown residences, and an extension to the already way cool Country Music Hall of Fame is nearly done. Good stuff, but for me, beside the point — not Gonzeaux Innovation material.
The innovation story here has more do do with persistence of effort and entrepreneur’s who simply don’t stop until they make something happen — persistence personifies Nashville innovation — two cases in point:
1. Snappy Auctions: Debbie Gordon had a fairly brilliant idea a few years back to help people sell their stuff on E-bay. She made a success of a single shop where people drop off their stuff, using her enormous personal energy and skill. The chain of franchise stores that came later did not do so well –the market shifted; e-Bay made it easer to do single items, more people had internet connections, and franchise owners found it challenging to bring in enough transactions. So, Debbie did what good entrepreneurs do, she tried something else. She’s currently heading up a firm, S3 Consulting, that takes used medical equipment and re-sells it for universities — a great niche business. Persistence matters.
2. Mercury Intermedia: When you think of Nashville, the first thought is country music right? If you had to predict where the dominant provider of mobile apps for big players like the New York Times, TED, Fox News, CBS, and Showtime (partial list) you’d guess the silicon valley, I know I would. No, Mercury, based in Nashville, quietly dominates this high tech niche. The leader of Mercury is a visionary, Bill Tallent, and he’s had an extraordinary career moving from Genesco to Telco Research, and then a series of small businesses. How Mercury got into mobile apps is a story of simply responding to customer needs; Tallent started by doing pop-up ads. Now they own the space. It’s another entrepreneurial persistence story.
Both of these stories also illustrate it doesn’t matter where you are — you can innovate, you can disrupt. The history of innovation is filled with farm boys and people outside the big cities. If you get involved in markets, learn what’s happening, and anticipate customer needs — innovative magic can happen. When Debbie Gordon saw a warehouse of used medical equipment, she didn’t see a waste of space, or a big headache (as her customers did) she saw dollar signs. When most guys would have retired, Bill Tallent started another business.
Off to Alabama. If only I could do the rest of this road trip with Debbie and Bill…would that be some rolling Gozeaux innovation ideation or what?