An event was held by BoostrapStudent which featured Gary Hoover as the speaker.
I had done my research prior to the event and read about Gary, and found out he was the guy behind BookStop book stores which was later bought by Barnes & Noble, and the founder of Hoovers.com.
BookStop was the first big-box book retailer to use the “Lots of selection + very low prices” method which Gary actually modeled after Toys R’ Us, and Hoovers is now one of the leading corporate information websites on the net. I was delighted to find that Gary was an extremely enthusiastic speaker, and showed the typical “craziness” that’s seen in a large amount of very successful business founders.
He actually lives in Austin, and I will get a chance to meet with him once again at another event being held this week. I took three pages of notes because he had tons of very interesting and useful information.
- He grew up in Indiana, and started reading Fortune Magazine at around 12 years old, and was fascinated by business. He became obsessed with understanding how enterprises worked, starting with his hometown General Motors plant.
- He founded BookStop in 1982 which had a great amount of success. He loved reading books and he saw the potential of the Toys R’ Us styled business (which was very revolutionary back then), so he put the two together.
- In 1989 he sold BookStop for $41 million cash. The Barnes & Noble Superstores division which was modeled after BookStop is now worth over $2.5 billion.
- in 1990 Gary started a business information service, now Hoovers.com which eventually went public.
- Like every successful person, his big failure was TravelFest which started in 1993 and ended in 1999 when airlines cut commissions to travel agents.
GARY HOOVER WISDOM:
- He constantly focuses on the customer at the very end of the chain. He says despite what a company does, it always relates down to individual customers and people.
- Like so many other very successful business people….he is a voracious reader. Says he religiously reads at least the front page of the Wall Street Journal daily, and he goes through many books a week. He claims his house looks more like a library than a home.
- He is an avid studier of history. I was particularly interested to notice that he was a big fan of business history. I once did a post about bubbles in history as I used to study these….after his speech, I realized just how important studying these things are.
- “You can only go as far forward as you can backwards”
- He firmly believes a liberal arts education is the best, but that it doesn’t necessarily mean formal schooling.
- “You never know where the answers come from.” He gave an example of a 6 year old who told him it was stupid to put children’s books in BookStop so far away from his mom who was browsing in the cooking section.
- Randomly stumbling upon information is vital.
- It’s important to differentiate yourself if you want to create something great. He gave a good example: If you walk into a grocery store blindfolded, you wouldn’t be able to tell if you’re in an Alberton’s, Krogers or Randall’s….however you WILL know if you walk into Whole Foods.
PRIMARY THEMES OF SPEECH:
- Many of the same mistakes are repeated throughout history because people ignore what happened in the past. That’s why he loves history. I completely agree.
- He said the most powerful advantage an entrepreneur has is to know where you are, where you are going and where you are coming from.
- Everyone is always buried in little details, the real winners are the one’s who take time to look at the big picture. He gave the example of Bill Gates taking two weeks off every year for his own private “Think Week” where he simply reads the entire time.
- He had a “3rd Grade Rule” about business plans: If a 3rd grader can’t understand it, it’s no good. He also said “Present it to your grandmother”
Other Random Observations:
- He drank his bottled water with a straw (ha!)
- It seems he has more racing through his mind than he can push out.
- He openly gave out his email address and encouraged people to send him emails and business plans.
- He carries around a little black book full of ideas.
A group of people enthusiastically spoke with him for over an hour after the speech, where I took possibly the worst photo ever:
Something interesting was during the Q&A session someone asked: “How do you protect your good ideas from being stolen when presenting them.” He right away said, “I don’t believe in that. I believe in telling everyone about all my ideas.”
He then went on to explain that ideas are a dime a dozen, the trick is having the knowledge, resources and dedication to start on the idea. He even said he often won’t sign NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreements) anymore. He obviously enjoyed sharing his ideas, and actually had a couple of neat “Blankets” which were basically a portable, visual business plan. He liked printing these things out on blankets (Or tablecloths…I’m not quite sure), because he could simply crumple them up in his bag:
Overall he was a great speaker and very knowledgeable person. Hopefully I will hear more from this fellow Austinite in the future! He also ended his speech by saying Austin is still one of the greatest cities to be an entrepreneur.