by Beth Chandler and Amanda Kinder
Visionary businessman and UWG alumnus Allen Nance ‘98 visited campus recently to speak about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.
The first is the talent to see the future, he told students. People find success because of their ability to foresee a need. They are the first to develop a product or service and bring it to the market.
The second is to believe in something, said Nance, the president and CEO of WhatCounts, one of the largest e-mail marketing firms in the world. He spoke to several classes in Richards College of Business and student organizations as the Executive in Residence, Spring 2012.
“Entrepreneurs have an internal confidence that just can’t be taught,” he said during his March visit. “In negotiations, for some people ‘No’ is just a starting point.”
The third is the ability to build a team. Success is rarely about one person. His “wicked smart” staff of 500 is responsible for his firm’s continued success, he said.
Lastly, entrepreneurs should be skilled at capital formation - knowing where to procure and how to effectively use capital, he said.
Nance should know what he’s talking about. In 2004 he was among Georgia Trend’s “40 under 40.” His company delivers billions of targeted messages on four continents in more than 35 languages. WhatCounts has received numerous awards and was named three times an Inc. 500 company, representing the fastest-growing enterprises in the United States. In 2009, the Technology Association of Georgia named WhatCounts one of the state’s most innovative companies. It has also consistently ranked among Atlanta’s Pacesetters representing the city’s fastest growing private companies. In 2010 WhatCounts partnered with a global multi-billion dollar private equity firm to help the team reach new heights.
Nance received his bachelor’s of science from UWG and his master’s of science from the Georgia Institute of Technology. In 2007, he founded the Southern Foundation, which raises money and provides scholarships to teenagers who are the first in their families to attend college.
He is active in the Young President’s Organization (YPO) and has helped launch new businesses through Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) and FlashPoint accelerator program.
Through it all Nance’s management style has evolved, he told students.
“In the beginning it was simple: do it my way,” he said.
But that didn’t work for long, especially as WhatCounts continued to grow.
Next he tried a very casual “fluffy” style where he spent a lot of time making small talk and asking how people’s days were, “It felt very fake though and it wasn’t adding anything to the business.”
Then he realized that focusing on team building would make the firm and its employees successful.
“I stopped focusing on what I would do and started focusing on how to make each employee successful. If they’re successful then I have already succeeded.”
Nance’s parting wisdom to students was to be active in extracurricular programs and to take advantage of opportunities. Present experiences teach life lessons that will be applicable later - in the real working world.
The roots of his company can be traced back to several initiatives he took and programs he participated in while earning his master’s degree, he said.
“If you get an opportunity, take it, you never know where it could lead you.”