start-ups give back
Just because we’re living through the most tumultuous time in human history doesn’t mean we can’t still do some good. In fact, it’s all the more reason to. It’s so refreshing to see those that have seen success with startups give back to their communities.
”I just love business, it’s like a craft for me. I go to the beach and I’m reading business books. I’m obsessed with business podcasts. I’m really trying to be a student of the game.Ted Alling
Using Startup Success to Do Good in Your Community with Ted Alling
Katie Hankinson (00:01): Hi, I’m Katie Hankinson
Mickey Cloud (00:03): And I’m Mickey Cloud.
Katie Hankinson (00:05): And welcome to Building While Flying, our new podcast from The Sasha Group where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever-changing skies.
Mickey Cloud (00:22): Thank you, Ted, so much for joining us. I’m super excited about today’s episode. Ted is a great person, a great friend and an awesome business person. So Ted Alling is the co-founder and partner in Dynamo Venture Capital Fund; the co-founder of Chattanooga Prep, a charter school here in Chattanooga, Tennessee; and is the co-founder and CEO of Access America, which is one of Chattanooga’s probably… The story I know the most about the Chattanooga entrepreneurial ecosystem and it’s a huge success in our mid-sized market here. And if there’s one person who’s responsible for why VaynerX is in Chattanooga, Tennessee, it’s Ted Alling. So, Ted, thank you for joining us today.
Ted Alling (01:01): Thank you. I’m excited to be on here. We get a little rainy day here in Chattanooga, but we got a lot of great things happening.
Mickey Cloud (01:09): Yep. Awesome. Well, I gave a little bit of your quick blurb there, but would love if you could maybe just quickly explain your current role and then we’ll go backwards from there.
Ted Alling (01:21): Okay. So currently I’m a partner at a fund called Dynamo. So it’s a early stage logistics seed fund. We invest in the best logistics startups all over the world. We get $40 million dollar fund. This is our second fund. So I’m a partner there. You can see some here, some of our companies, behind us that we’ve invested in. So I do that.
Ted Alling (01:51): Then, Mickey’s a great mentor. My wife and I are sort of school called Chattanooga Preparatory School. After we had our exit with Access America, we were looking at a way to make a big impact. So we started the school about three years ago. We’ve got 210 boys. It’s my everything. I love it. We’re molding global leaders. I could talk about that the whole time. Down there, my wife and I are down there a lot. They’re eighth graders now, so we’re actually planning high school right now.
Mickey Cloud (02:22): That’s so awesome.
Ted Alling (02:22): For the next couple of years, we’re going to have some Chat Prep kids doing these podcasts and-
Mickey Cloud (02:27): Amazing.
Ted Alling (02:28): …be working at Sasha.
Mickey Cloud (02:29): Yes. Love it. Well, Ted, you and I are good friends now going over six years, but I would love for our audience to get to know you better. So could you wind us back to the beginning and give us that comic book 001 story and tell us a little bit about your life and your career that led you to where you are today?
Ted Alling (02:45): Yeah. That’d be great. So I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, the oldest and three boys. My dad’s a doctor and my mom’s a nurse. My dad’s a oral surgeon. Something that made a big impact on me I think at an early age… a lot of things… but something my dad did that I took for granted. Every night, he would call his patients. He’d go to the front room and call every patient… still does, still practices a couple times a week… and he would check on them. Then if he knew them, if they were from our hometown, he would go and visit them. So I grew up thinking that doctors did that, but obviously, you don’t get calls. He still does. People are shocked. So it was just built into me to care more about things. My mom is… Even my would even say my mom’s a harder worker than he is. So anyway, I just had a lot of love growing up in a really great family and a great community.
Ted Alling (03:45): I say all the time I was a very average student. I think I graduated around 300 folks, I was right in the middle there. I was an average athlete. I played football in high school. Then I went to Samford University in Birmingham, not too far away from home, but it was really great college there. I had a really great experience there. I joined a fraternity and got really involved with that. Then I met my two best friends there. In college, we talked about wanting to start a business together. At the time… This was… I graduated college in 2000, so it was really before the whole social network movie came out and tech startups. We just really clicked with business. I think my starting a business classes, I was like, “Wow. This is really….” I was not very good in school and once I started doing that, that felt really… I would do well in those classes.
Ted Alling (04:41): So in college, we talked about starting a Smoothie King franchise. Our partners are actually from Chattanooga. So I’m from Birmingham. So we ended up not doing the Smoothie King franchise in Birmingham. It just didn’t work out. Actually, my wife, Kelly, to give her credit, she’s was like, “Nah. This is not a great idea.”
Ted Alling (04:59): So I took a job with a global logistics company based in Minnesota. It’s called C.H. Robinson. So I started with them in Birmingham and they transferred me to Nashville. I just knew I wanted to get into sales and marketing and really enjoyed the industry. So I did that for two years, and I came on a sales call here in Chattanooga. Barry’s family owned a brick distributor. They did brick in southeast Tennessee and all over. So anyway, showing them some ways they could save money. Me and Barry were, “Man, do you think we can do this on our own.” mean there are you do this on our own?” And I was like, “Yeah. Of course, we can.”
Ted Alling (05:35): So I was lucky. Super fortunate again that Barry’s dad invested in us. So we started then and I’m really been big about goal setting. I started that at an early age, and I got my kids doing that now. Just really setting goals so high that it scares… it makes other people laugh [inaudible 00:05:59]. So I’m always setting crazy moonshots. So back then, I said two things. One, I want to be the best place in America to work. If we’re the best place in America to work, we’re going to attract the most positive people, and positive people are productive people. Second, we need to be a $100 million company. Barry’s way more conservative me and he was like, “Okay, psycho.”
Ted Alling (06:21): So we ended up… I could a lot about it, but in 12 years, we grew Access America. We’re a third party logistics company. It’s a middleman between manufacturers and trucking companies. We really worked hard about developing leaders. I thought a lot about that of what we did. We had a really good time doing it. We really believe in our people and we worked hard to develop them and make it a real entrepreneurial type environment. So we grew it for 12 years. We grew it to 490 million in sales. We had close to 600 employees. We sold it in 2014.
Mickey Cloud (07:02): Yep.
Ted Alling (07:03): So that was that story. Then we did something called Lamp Post Group, which is where we first met Mickey. We believe Chattanooga is the best mid-size city in the world to start a business, and so we took a lot of our profits out of Access America, once we sold it, and invested back into the community. We invested in 25 companies. Companies like Bellhops, Ambition, Chattanooga Whiskey and Steam Logistics, Reliance Partners Insurance… a lot of different companies. We have a lot of failures as well. But we really made it Chattanooga-centric. That really helped jump start a lot of neat things, I think, here. We had a property company and an accounting company. So that was that, and now I’m doing Dynamo and Chatt Prep.
Mickey Cloud (07:53): Yep.
Ted Alling (07:55): My kids ask me what I do [laughs].
Mickey Cloud (07:59): Yep. You talked about Access America and your story and then Lamppost Group. Whenever I hear those two companies brought up, I always hear Ted, Allan and Barry; Ted, Allan and Barry. It’s like you’re a trio who’s one. So talk to me about what those two guys mean to you, Barry Large and Allan Davis, and how you guys have navigated friendship… because you were friends first… and building a company together. There’s a cliche out that says you shouldn’t go into business with your friends, unless you are willing to lose that friendship. But I think you guys have disproven that, and you are longtime best friends, longtime business partners. How have you made that work?
Ted Alling (08:38): It’s funny. Me and Barry were talking yesterday, and it just feels like the older we get, the more your ego go hopefully gets a little bit smaller. I think it was something we really had to watch. Side note, I heard some other wisdom than yesterday, and I should bring this up while I’m thinking about it. A guy that I really respect, one of the wisest guys that I know, he said to me, he said, “Ted, the advice that I’ve taken away the most the last couple years have come from people that are over 65 years old.” I thought that was really interesting, especially in the world that you and I live in the startup stuff, it’s not really catered to that. This guy who I value more than anybody told me, he’s like, “The advice I take away most are from people over 65.” So that was really just, I just want to throw that in there.
Mickey Cloud (09:29): Yeah.
Ted Alling (09:30): But Barry, Allan and I, we had a really… We were in the same fraternity. We were dumb 18 year olds, and we just really established a bond then. I coach a lot of startups now, and the first thing you got to do is find people with complementary skills. That’s just a no-brainer. I think early on, we had the trust with each other, obviously, because we’re never going to cheat each other. We can call each other out on anything, because we got so much blackmail on each other. I think, though, we just knew which lane each of us stayed in. Those guys, they’re a piece of me in a real way. We have a ton battle scars together.
Ted Alling (10:23): Early on, it’s interesting, I was CEO and people would try to give me awards and I’m like, “I’m not taking it, unless they’re with me.” So that was early on, and I see it in most startups that I’m involved with, the founders don’t end up together. It’s not like… It usually doesn’t work out. There’s a lot of reasons for that. I don’t know if you have a lot of venture capital-backed companies, but I’ve definitely seen with future rounds, power changes at the table. If you raise a series B with somebody, you need 10, 15 million bucks, you got a new boss. That’s the deal. I’m a VC, so say here. But he’s like, “Don’t trust a lot of VCs.” says that. But you do see that as you get older, you get more people on your board.
Ted Alling (11:26): And, as a co-founder, you got to be like, “Uh-uh (negative). I’m not going anywhere with this person.” So that’s a big thing. But those guys… I love recruiting and sales and marketing. I don’t mind running the flag out front. Barry’s the type of guy, early on, when we were still at Samford, he’s reading the Wall Street Journal and the numbers. I say this all the time, he’s got just the best gut instincts on stuff. I hate it. He will not give me any stock advice. I’m like, “What are you doing over there?” Really lean on him for that.
Ted Alling (12:09): Then Allan does… Allan’s best skills are he remember really well. When we failed on things, Allen’s like, “Remember that time this?” I’m like, “Oh, yeah. That probably won’t work, because of that.” There are just always lessons learned. We called him Yoda in college, this wise guy. So anyway, the way his brain works is more scalable things. He’s good at looking at something and “Okay…” I think a lot of it, like Access America in the early days, me, Steve and Chad, he saw what we were doing and, “Let’s figure out how to replicate to make something big.”
Mickey Cloud (12:53): Yes. Those complementary skill sets, it’s the thing I… The first time I met the three of you, it’s so obvious when you see in person and how you work as a team in those things, so what I was hoping you’d bring up when you talked about it. Then also just the fact that you guys… They’re a piece of you. Those are real human connections and those take priority.
Mickey Cloud (13:14): So I guess I want to talk a little bit more about when you guys were building Access America. I remember someone telling me the story about Access America and they summed it up by saying you all brought data and technology to the trucking industry at a time when no one else is paying attention to data or thinking about technology. Literally, the story of to track truckers’ routes, they used pen and paper and you guys digitized that to find the most efficient routes and then leveraged that in that relationship between the manufacturers and the trucking companies.
Mickey Cloud (13:44): In hindsight, that seems so obvious, like, “Oh, let’s just track one of the most efficient routes and we can use that to help partner and and sell that as a broker.” But at the time, it probably wasn’t very likely obvious that that was going to be anything of value. So talk to me about that. Did you know you had something that the market needed, but they just weren’t asking about? Did you get skepticism that was brought to you? I guess, what were some those early day plan?
Ted Alling (14:13): That’s a great question. I think early on we weren’t thinking that way. I think a lot of that was figured out by Allan and Chad. What I think we really did and I think a lot of your customers… I’m thinking of Sasha, your client base. Every company’s a technology company. I see, especially with Dynamo, I’m looking at a lot of robotic stuff and we’re looking at manufacturing software and a lot… It’s crazy. A lot of stuff is still pen and paper, and we’ve got these cell phones that are… there’s so much… I think we’re still in the second inning on this stuff or even the internet. I was thinking about the internet about just how we’re not even scaling out… A lot of businesses will not… We just looked at a machine shop the other day. The amount of machine shops that don’t even have a website is a big number.
Ted Alling (15:16): So I think we got into Access America, and we started figuring some stuff out and we just did a great job of seeing what our competitors weren’t doing and listening to our customers and not coming in there trying to just pitch what we were doing, but really… I’ll give you an example. So Komatsu was one of our biggest customers. They got a big plant here in Chattanooga. I came in there wanting to pitch our truckload product. They said, at the time… So Komatsu would manufacture these huge excavators, and they were shipping them from here to Tacoma, Washington. So to ship one of those thing on an oversized, over-dimensional load, the price amount was literally, it’s 26 grand. You got to get permits and it’s…
Ted Alling (16:16): So the guy over there had an idea. He was like, “I think we could put these on rail cars.” In my mind, I was like, “No. We can truck, truck, truck.” Then I’m like, “I need to shut up here.” These guys are a lot bigger than I am customer-wise. We ended up figuring out… We had a warehouse in Birmingham, Alabama, and I’ll tell you what, in my life, I’ve never called harder trying to get clients and sell harder on trying to fill up our warehouse with inventory, literally. I bet I made 150 phone calls a day, literally. I was really striking out there. But everything came together. So this warehouse had three rail spurs. It had-
Mickey Cloud (17:05): Okay.
Ted Alling (17:06): Norfolk Southern and CSX, and they came into one point. Anyway, so we’re dealing with Komatsu here in Chattanooga. The Burlington Northern’s an interesting line. It runs east-west. Actually, the furthest east at the time, it might have changed, was Birmingham. So we’re sitting there talking to Komatsu. I came in wanting to pitch one thing, and now they’re saying this.
Ted Alling (17:29): What we figured out is you could get an 80-foot flat car. So we truck from Chattanooga to Birmingham, put the two on these excavator, and it would take an extra two weeks, but it cost nine grand and we got the two. Then we had another… We made a agreement with a place out in Seattle or Tacoma, to take them off and then truck them there. But we saved him insane amount of money. Looking back, it ended up we ended up doing hundreds of rail cars a month and saved our Birmingham warehouse, which was one of the biggest failures we ever had until that happened. Then looking back, getting in with Komatsu led to Caterpillar to New Holland and Volvo and, all these different folks.
Ted Alling (18:21): So I would tell… Looking back, and I tell a lot of our startups, I’m like, “Once you find market product fit with one client, man, you got to go pick of their competitors are in that space that you understand.” Because the truth is, a lot of people are just lemmings. They’re just hit the easy button and if they’re in with them, they’re in with them. So we did a lot of that, just listening to clients and figuring out what to do.
Mickey Cloud (18:50): No. You created a new offering just because they asked and you were like, “Yeah. Well, we can do that,” and…
Ted Alling (18:55): Yeah. It’s easier for startups do that. Incumbents, they just want to hold… That’s why I say, during this COVID stuff, you see a lot of Fortune 100s and 500s letting go of folks and people are playing defense… same thing, 2007, 2008. Literally, our financial lanner was like, “You need to go to the bank and take out as much money as you can and hide it under your mattress.”
Ted Alling (19:27): So we’re sitting around the table hearing that, and I’ll never forget Allan said, “I think we need to be hiring people.” And we’re like, “What the hell? Did you guys hear this?” Looking back, in one of our biggest offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota, we have 170 employees in there, we made some hires that year in real estate. I can remember this, the folks we hired, and they were in real estate, and after 2007-08, it was in the gutter. But we got some people into the industry then that are still VPs and directors and stuff like that, and we hired them then, and they were rock stars.
Ted Alling (20:04): So I think it’s just thinking differently than everyone else. That’s what I would tell your audience right now is you can just pedal to the metal. Right now is I don’t want excuses. How many Zoom calls have you set up this week? Because now, everyone’s used to doing this. I hear a lot of our startups are really growing through this.
Mickey Cloud (20:29): Yeah. We’ve certainly felt that. We took a little bit of a punch in March, April, as the whole world did, but we’ve just been in growth mode since then. So I’d love to talk, the word pivot is a word that has gained quite a bit of traction in past decade plus, but I think it really relates to what you were just talking about in especially in a post-COVID pandemic world. What’s the best pivot you’ve seen from a company in the Dynamo portfolio this past year as it relates to COVID or other opportunities? As you’re encouraging them to put pedal to metal, who are the ones that are actually taking up on that and have maybe found an opportunity and have, like you did with the rail offering, who’s done a really great pivot in your world recently?
Ted Alling (21:13): I could say one, for instance, is Stored is in Atlanta. They pivoted before COVID. I’ll come back to that. I think Stored came in, wanted to be more of a B2C, so they are… At first, Sean, who’s amazing, he first pitched us and wanted to be more of a B2C storage rental type company. We introduced him to some different folks. Same thing, sat and listened to people’s problems. It sounds like, I don’t know, crazy talk, but it’s all he did.
Ted Alling (21:50): So he listened to those problems and what he found is… So like at Access America, we aggregated in America 80% of trucking companies have less than 20 trucks. So we aggregated all these small people with software into a huge our own fleet. So he’s doing the same thing in a warehouse space. So in America and I don’t know the exact numbers, I think it’s around 76% of warehouses have less than three warehouses. So there are a few in Murphysboro, Nashville. A few little companies that have one or two here.
Mickey Cloud (22:28): Access America had one in Birmingham.
Ted Alling (22:30): Yeah. That’s right. Actually, that’d be the perfect client for Stored. So he is just aggregating all this warehouse space in America onto a platform. The big warehouse companies make you sign three-year, triple net lease. Man, that’d be scary to do right now. The big guys have to do it obviously. So he has really found a neat niche by doing this and the company is exploding. It’s just one of our big winners. I think I’ve been lucky with the industry that I just ended up in, logistics, just because stuff continues to move even through COVID.
Mickey Cloud (23:17): You already sold Gary and then me on why a company like VaynerX should invest in Chattanooga and open up an office here. You mentioned you’re someone who likes to carry flags for things, so what’s your latest sales pitch on Chattanooga and how’s it maybe changed over the past 20 years?
Ted Alling (23:34): I think right now I’m really in the localism. I’ve never been more bullish, honestly. I think the next five years are going to be the greatest years of our life. I think… This sounds crazy. I think we really, as a community here, have to manage the growth, because it’s happening big time. Houses, there’s not many houses for sale right now. Things are going quick around town. I think this work from home thing has just really… I know dozens of people that have left New York and in California and have like, “You know what? Let’s just go somewhere where there’s no traffic and I can leave my office and be on a trail in five minutes.”
Ted Alling (24:17): So I’m really trying to think through, “How do we manage this growth here?” So that’s… I don’t know. We just have a lot to offer. I was walking on the river yesterday and just like, “Man, this place is really a special place.” The thing I think you feel, and you’re definitely one of the leaders now of just this Chattanooga can do spirit, I think there’s just a lot of people that want you to win here, and you just don’t get that in other places. A lot of forward thinking leaders that really want to tackle some tough stuff. One thing that I’m super passionate about is really developing our middle-class African-Americans here. That’s one thing we’re doing, obviously what we’re going to do with the school. It’s crazy.
Ted Alling (25:08): But we’re not Atlanta or Chicago or New York or whatever. So we have problems here, obviously. A lot of really great opportunities, and I think if we get the right stakeholders around the table that are talking about things and having real authentic relationships, we can… A lot of really good stuff’s happening. We had a really great social justice town hall last week at school. A lot of people were all saying the same thing.
Ted Alling (25:41): I feel like also just on the cycle on how venture capital and stuff works, it’s a seven-year cycle. So I think there’s going to be a lot of wealth creative here in the next couple years with founders and we’ve seen it with a few that have come here and made some money and now they’re about to reinvest in the next thing. So that builds an ecosystem here.
Mickey Cloud (26:04): Yeah. That’s what I want to touch on next. I think that’s a great tee up for Chattanooga Prep. You grew a company from nothing to 490 million, exited it, got into venture capital games. You are now continuing that. You could have done a lot of things with that wealth and a lot of typical things. You could have given donations, you could have sat on local nonprofit boards and helped out here and there, but you and Kelly, K-Dog, decided to start a charter school for boys. So why do that?
Ted Alling (26:29): Oh, I think it led to a lot of different reasons. My wife grew up all over the world, and so she had a real neat upbringing. She lived in Hong Kong and Malaysia and she’s born Dominican, so she… When we moved here, she worked for Habitat for Humanity. So she’s really had a heart of philanthropy. I think I… I mentored, and still do, mentor a young man who’s a senior at TSU. He went to Howard. He had a big impact on us. So there’s a lot of things that influence, but I think, ultimately…
Ted Alling (27:09): And there’s a girls school in town, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, and so we visited there and that was it. That was it. We had to do this for boys. Some of our urban schools in town, the average ACT is a 13.9 and it’s out of 36. You have no really chance, honestly, if you’re that low. Then we see at our school… we just brought in 70 boys a couple months ago… out of the boys, 70 boys came in sixth grade; 29 of the boys were reading below a second grade level. Second.
Mickey Cloud (27:47): This was the new class, because you started…
Ted Alling (27:49): Yes. That’s a couple months ago.
Mickey Cloud (27:50): Yeah.
Ted Alling (27:51): So you’re like… The sad thing is a lot of the parents, the moms, they think their son, they come in like, “Hey, our son is gifted and talented,” and he is gifted and talented, but he’s so far behind, and they didn’t even know that, which relates to a lot of poverty issues. It’s really neat what’s happened at the school, and you can attest to it. But just, I really believe, if I had our top 20 Chatt Prep kids, eight graders on, they could compete with the top 20 kids in London or Silicon Valley or wherever. They’re hungry they’re focused.
Ted Alling (28:31): We’re really working hard now on our strategic plan for high school, because we got 70 eight grade boys who are about to go into ninth grade. One thing, there’s a great quote about, “Once you’re exposed to things, your brain expands. It can never go back to the same size.” We have a great chess team. Kelly and I last year took five boys to New York to Brooklyn for a chess tournament, and they talk about it all the time. They’d never flown. They went up there. The world just changes. So we have to expose these kids to so much stuff, and so we’re really thinking through what high school’s going to look like. I believe we got to get the kids out of that building and down here and in law offices and accounting firms and hospitals. Once we find out, really give an individualized learning experience for a kid, but once we feel like we find out what makes them come alive, throw fertilizer down on that.
Mickey Cloud (29:32): Last question, though, before I let you go. So we love this idea of building while flying analogy for entrepreneurs, because it speaks to the nimbleness, the flexibility, the fact that you walk into a prospect’s office and you think you’re selling one thing and by the end of the conversation, you’ve dreamed up something new that you’re going to do for them.
Mickey Cloud (29:49): But also I like this analogy because pilots are notorious for and renowned for their in-flight checklist so that when shit literally hits the fan, they’ve got training and they’ve got a checklist to go through and keep them calm under pressure and make the right decision. So when you back’s against the wall, when you got to make a tough decision for your business, what’s your process? What’s that internal checklist for you that helps you get through it?
Ted Alling (30:16): I’m thinking I just love business. It’s a craft for me. I got to the beach and I’m reading business books and I’m really obsessed with podcasts. So I’m really trying to be a student of the game. Never in the history of the world could we… Growing up, you and I would hit the library and check out a book and read about Warren Buffet. It’s like, “Oh, wow. We can get on here and he just did a podcast and he’s giving us all this information.
Ted Alling (30:49): So I think I’m really trying to invest in myself and my team. My wife says I am really good… She’s like, “You delegate everything. How do you do that?” And I’m like, “I’m just not that smart.” I am the best… I could patent being the dumbest person in the room. So I’m really good about giving people a long leash and letting them make a lot of decisions. So I think just surrounding myself with really great people.
Ted Alling (31:29): I’m the type of person if I go back to my checklist, I can pivot, but I can also if I make a decision, I’m like, “Chips are in. And if I do make a decision, it’s… And I’ve had a lot of people around me… When I say, “We’re going to be the best school in the word” and I believe it. People are like, “Yeah. That’s really hard.” I’m delusional. I’m like, “There’s no way. You don’t understand. What we’re do here is so incredible.” So it’s just bringing that enthusiasm and just that insanity that I’ve got of being like, “No. This thing is going to work.” It’s I don’t know. I can’t even explain it and didn’t give a great job there, but [crosstalk 00:32:20].
Mickey Cloud (32:19): Yeah. But I think that is such a-
Ted Alling (32:21): All my chips are in and I’m betting on this. Get through and do whatever I can to make it work.
Mickey Cloud (32:26): Well, no, I couldn’t think of a more Ted answer than that, which is, “I surround myself with smart people and then we just put our minds to it and we go to work.” I think that enthusiasm and that positivity that you bring is what truly does make you special and then also just drives a lot of relationships that you have in your life, so that’s awesome for sharing that. So, Ted, thanks so much for your time here. I know you’ve got a ton going on between Chatt Prep and all those companies listed behind you there that you’re helping out with and everything you’re doing for Chattanooga, so appreciate your time here today and we’ll talk to you soon.
Katie Hankinson (33:07): Well, now that we finished that thoroughly interesting interview, we’re getting ready to land. But before we do, Mickey and I spent some time unpacking some of the key takeaways that really stuck out to us.
Mickey Cloud (33:18): We liken this to the post-game show where we break down the really extraordinary nuggets that we can all benefit from, including us here at The Sasha Group. So get ready for it, The Sasha Sidebar.
Katie Hankinson (33:35): Let’s talk about Ted Alling, who is the partner at Dynamo Venture Capital but also a co-founder of Chattanooga Prep. He was a really cool guy. I loved how much he’s given back to the community over the years.
Mickey Cloud (33:51): Yeah. He’s someone who… We talked about it, but literally I give Ted the most credit if there’s a reason why Vayner is in Chattanooga, VaynerX is in Chattanooga, and The Sasha Group office there now, it’s to Ted. He’s the entrepreneur who got Gary excited about entrepreneurship in Chattanooga. And you can hear it in Ted’s voice, when he gets passionate about something, he gets big ideas, he pushes, he is an amazing cheerleader, coach, mentor. He really is someone whose just infectious enthusiasm really stands out, so hopefully that came through in our conversation.
Katie Hankinson (34:31): The other thing I thought just right at the beginning of his description of himself was you called it out, how much of the beginnings of his business trajectory was tied to friendship and that he really has built his business around a couple of really close friends.
Mickey Cloud (34:47): Yeah. His two best friends from college or now his lifelong business partners and family. They talk about each other in that way. It’s super interesting, because Gary came from a family business and that’s a huge part of the Wine Library story with obviously him and his dad, but the person who runs Wine Library right now is Brandon Warnke who’s Gary’s best friend from childhood. Then when he started VaynerMedia, it was obviously with AJ, but the first 20 employees were all AJ’s friend… Dave Zang, Marcus, Matt Sitomer came over from Wine Library with Gary. So I think there’s definitely parallels and that’s definitely something that the two of them connected on when they first got to know each other back in 2013-14 was just how they are passionate about those relationships and how they tee up business.
Mickey Cloud (35:37): And I think… I posed it to Ted, but I’ve always heard that don’t go into business with friends, because you don’t want to ruin the friendship, but I think they flipped that on its head and it’s like, “Well, no. Because we’re so close, we can be brutally honest with each other. We know what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are and that makes us better business partners.”
Katie Hankinson (35:55): Yeah. It was really founded in trust and how much you can trust your friends and fam, but also keeping each other real. I really liked that aspect, too.
Mickey Cloud (36:02): Yeah. And the three of them… Ted, Allan and Barry, specifically… are very complementary in nature, and Ted talked about that. Ted’s this culture builder, marketing, big vision. Barry’s got a really dialed-in financial business sense. Then Allan had this good way of connecting dots or at least remembering lessons that have been learned and he’s also got a bit of a tech eye as well and brain for that as well. So it’s been super interesting to see how the three of them interweave.
Katie Hankinson (36:32): I love how that… That’s come across a couple times with the interviews we’ve had so far, the idea that you’re not just building out your own skills and building up things where you need to develop more, but you’re also actually considering yourself for the unit, and therefore you can delegate or outsource certain areas of skills building to that once you have a trusted team.
Mickey Cloud (36:54): Yep.
Katie Hankinson (36:55): What about the whole building while flying thing? I thought he told an awesome story about the sudden pivot from being very focused on freighting with trucks to bringing in the whole train piece.
Mickey Cloud (37:08): Yeah. That to me got… I had all sorts of bells going off in my head when he started telling that story, because it is so classic. They go into a new business meeting, and they think they’re selling one thing. They get 10 minutes in the meeting, and they realize (a) this client’s got a really interesting idea of how to use freight or train in the freight offering, railroads, but I love where Ted connect it was it’s going to save this warehouse space that we’ve got in Birmingham. So he killed two birds with one stone kind of thing, because he figured out how to make the rail warehouse in Birmingham useful, while also developing a cheaper alternative for and a new offering that they hadn’t thought of before, because the client had an idea and they listened to it and they ran with it. They didn’t just say, “No. We don’t do that. We wouldn’t know how to do that.” They went and figure it out.
Katie Hankinson (38:05): Goes right back to listening all the time and flexibility, which it sounds like he is very regularly coaching his various startups that he advises on as well.
Mickey Cloud (38:17): Yeah, for sure.
Katie Hankinson (38:18): Talk a bit about the Chattanooga thing, because obviously you having headed up the office down there from a VaynerMedia and now a Sasha South perspective. I just thought it was fascinating hearing about the transformation that’s been happening, but also his optimism about what’s going to happen in the next couple years [crosstalk 00:38:38].
Mickey Cloud (38:38): Yeah. The Chattanooga story is one that does… It’s not just something that’s just happened in the past decade, which is when it’s gotten a lot of the fanfare and the press, because of the high speed internet that was put in. The quick background on that is that the local utility company here in Chattanooga back in the late 2000s, so 2007, ’08, ’09, essentially built out a concept to create a smart grid so that if power was out at your house, power at my house could be redirected via the smart grid so they can have all the business and homes connected via this to essentially get power back up and running more quickly when disaster or when bad weather hits.
Mickey Cloud (39:21): But also, as they were putting in this fiber optic network to do that, they realized, “Well, that case might all be 20% of the time. There’s other things we could do with this fiber optic network. We could run cable and internet into everyone’s home.” So they got into… The local utility company, the ConEd of Chattanooga, got into becoming a cable and internet service provider and super high speeds. So now it offers up to 10 gigs speed. It’s not the fastest internet in the Western hemisphere. So that’s been a flag that the entrepreneurial community and the tech Community here, just the business community here, rallies around.
Mickey Cloud (39:56): But the fact, I guess the secret sauce underneath that is that Chattanooga is very much a collaborative city and has been going back 50 years of how do we build the city back better? Because it was very much a city that was a manufacturing town. Then when globalization happened in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s, it took away a lot of those jobs, and so they had to reimagine what they would be and it was built around a lot of renovation and in the downtown. An aquarium got put in that became a bit of a regional tourism destination. I live five minutes from downtown, but I’m also ten minutes from world-class hiking trails and rock climbing trails and things like that. So natural geography and beauty is certainly something that is tapped into.
Mickey Cloud (40:45): But it has been a public-private citizens coming together to figure things out and so having someone like Ted in our community who’s not only doing that over the past 10 years, 20 years through his business ventures, but is now doing it, thinking about it from a philanthropic perspective, just also thinking about just from a “How do we keep people engaged and involved?”
Mickey Cloud (41:04): The big thing that… A lot of things that we’re talking about right now in Chattanooga is that because we’ve got this awesome high speed internet and because of COIVD and the pandemic and everything that, you’re obviously seeing a lot of people leaving markets like San Francisco, Seattle, New York, these big cities, and they’re trying to figure out where to go. So we’ve actually been doing some ad campaigns targeting specific companies and employees who are leaving some of these bigger cities. Stripe essentially announced they would pay people to relocate out of Seattle and San Francisco. So Ted and then a couple people of people within our chamber of commerce and our tourism company here spun up a social ad campaign targeted to people leaving who are employees of Stripe to say, “If you were going to go work remotely, you should work remotely in Chattanooga.” So I know, there’s… I have such heart for this town, and it’s because of people like Ted.
Katie Hankinson (41:54): Yeah. I feel like when he talked about how passionate he is about localism or he’s such a believer in localism, I think that’s such an interesting movement or phenomenon or just concept, the fact that there’s going to be and there already is such a shift happening and it’s only been accelerated by COVID. It’s not like it wasn’t already happening. And now anyone can work anywhere. You’re just going to see so much more of this. I’m excited to unpack that a bit more on this show I think.
Mickey Cloud (42:24): Yeah. Yeah. There’s an author named Bruce Katz who was a Brookings Institute fellow or worked at the Brookings Institute and he wrote a book called The New Localism that he’s now built an organization around. He’s been to Chattanooga multiple times. I’ve met him a couple times when he’s been here, just looking at like how do you solve problems locally? I don’t know. I think, obviously, we just went through an election, so time dating this podcast a little bit, the recording of it. At a national level…
Mickey Cloud (42:56): I’ll be honest, when I lived in New York, I didn’t pay attention to local politics at all when I lived in New York, because I just felt like it was so… that’s such a big metro area that it’s like, “How can I really impact things?” When I moved to Chattanooga, I got way more interested in local, because you see…
Katie Hankinson (43:12): The impact.
Mickey Cloud (43:13): …the impact and you can see what that means. So I’ve completed shifted my mindset just by seeing where I’m one of those people that now like local elections matter way more than national elections.
Katie Hankinson (43:30): He’s doing more in the community as well with the school, which is awesome to hear.
Mickey Cloud (43:34): Yeah. He’s rethought. They’re in their eighth grade class. They essentially are adding a class every year. So they’re in their third year right now, so they’ve got sixth, seventh and eighth graders. They’re going to start high school next year. I’ve been a mentor to an eighth grader now for the past three years. So that’s one thing is that every student at the school has a male mentor from the community who is helping these kids, because it’s an all boys School, charter school. So that’s been really, really awesome to be a part of.
Katie Hankinson (44:08): The one thing, just to end this on, which I also thought was such an interesting insight from him was about hiring during tough times and the fact that you get your pick of some really amazing candidates if you are willing to take that step. I think that’s something that a bunch of businesses would benefit from thinking about is the pool of candidates at a time when there’s a certain amount of economic upheaval is not to be sneezed at and it might be an interesting opportunity.
Mickey Cloud (44:38): So what would your question be, based on Ted’s interview, for our audience?
Katie Hankinson (44:45): I think my question [inaudible 00:44:48] is about the localism piece. I want to hear what people are experiencing in terms of how their business or their local communities are being impacted by what we are being told by media and by anecdotal feedback is a shift in where people are living and working? So what are your stories of your communities or the way in which your towns have changed, if you’re in a smaller space, because people are coming in from larger cities and how do you see that playing out over the next few years?
Katie Hankinson (45:21): Thanks for joining us for Building While Flying today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.
Mickey Cloud (45:33): If you’d like to hear more about how business owners and brands are navigating these times, tune in for the next episode. And if you’re so kind, please rate and review us, plus we’d love feedback, so let us know what you think, what you’d like us to dig into next, on Building While Flying across brands, businesses, marketing and more.
Katie Hankinson (45:48): This podcast is produced by the team at mustamplify.com. Original music by Fulton Street Music Group.
Welcome to Building While Flying!
This weekly podcast is brought to you by the Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.
In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild; building the plane while flying.
Ted Alling is doing so much good in Chattanooga.
A big part of the reason why there’s a VaynerX office in Chattanooga is Ted Alling. This guy has so much pride for his town, you can’t help but fall in love with it from his passion alone. As co-founder of Chattanooga Prep, he demonstrates this passion in the most admirable way. This school for boys prepares tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and leaders by giving them a strong, solid and loving foundation.
Ted is the co-founder and former CEO of Access America, a $500 logistics startup company. Access America eventually merged with Coyote Logistics, a UPS subsidiary. So obviously, Ted is a perfect example of massive startup success.
The driving force behind much of what Ted does is a desire to build Chattanooga into a destination for young businesses. This is why he helped co-found Lamp Post Group in 2010, a venture capital firm. They have invested $36 million into the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, all in an effort to turn their beloved city into a landscape ripe for the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
In this episode, Mickey and Ted, who happen to be close friends, chat all about startups and the good you’re able to do with their success. They discuss navigating personal relationships when they also involve business, and how Ted’s been able to beat the odds of mixing friendship with startups. Ted is such a caring, thoughtful guy. And it’s so amazing to hear all the work he’s doing with the boys’ prep school and the Chattanooga community as a whole. This is a feel-good episode for sure.
Other in-flight topics:
- Ted’s upbringing
- The early stages of his career
- Partnering with friends
- The challenges of logistics startups
- All things Chattanooga
- The reasons behind the prep school idea