Notes from Ted Alling’s “Talk Shop Tuesday”

Ted Alling was introduced by Jon Lawrence of Chattanooga Whiskey Co.

Ted gave Jon a big side hug and told the crowd how much he loved Jon.

“Chattanooga is the place best to start a business.” — Ted Alling

Ted began by showing photos of himself as a child and telling his origin story.
• Below average athletically
• Average academically, but
• Had an extremely loving and nurturing family

Ted’s father (retired) was an oral surgeon. While his patients were being treated, he would call each one of them every single night. If he knew them well, he would drop by their house to check on them. At the time, Ted thought that was normal but came to learn that it is not normal at all.

He talked about meeting Barry Large and Alan Davis in college at Samford. To this day, he considers them his best friends. They eventually went into business together.

He told the story of how Access America got started. They had two goals for Access America:

1) Make it the most fun place to work
2) Earn $100mm per year

They started in 2002, did 3 million in 2003, and grew it to $490mm in revenue by the time they sold it to Coyote in 2014. Ted says he was depressed during the process of selling to Access. The reason he sold was that Access America was on track to be a $1 billion company, but Coyote was on track to be a $100 Billion company. Six months after selling to Coyote, UPS bought Coyote for $1.6b. Since the Access America guys had some Coyote stock, everything worked out very well.

Meanwhile, they started Lamp Post Group and have since put $30 million into 22 companies in Chattanooga.

Last year, Ted was stressed out so he picked up and went to London for a year. He loved it. His kids were enrolled in a private school there. While in London, he met Jon Bradford, a logistics guru who was known as the Godfather of Startup Accelerators in London. He convinced Ted to do a logistics accelerator in Chattanooga. Thus, Dynamo was born. Ten companies will be here in Chattanooga from July to October working on technologies like driverless trucks, drones that scan items in a warehouse, and robots that could deliver sandwiches.

“If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff… will just happen naturally on its own.”
– Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

Ted’s Startup Hacks:

  1. Goal setting is super important — put it down on paper and make it real
  2. Get a life coach, get a therapist, work on your inner dialogue.
  3. “The speed of the pack is determined by the leader.” If the CEO goofs off and plays golf, then the rest of the organization will follow his or her lead.
  4. Find a mentor. Be a mentor. Mentors have already paid the ‘dumb tax’ and can cut down your learning curve. Miller Wellborn is Ted’s mentor, and now Ted mentors other people.
  5. Train yourself to serve others. Become obsessed with listening to customers. Ted will interview the heck out of customers and will just sit and look at them and listen and not say anything for over an hour. At the end, they might say, “Gosh, Ted, you are just the nicest guy ever.” “But I’m not,” Ted explained, “I just let them talk about themselves for a long long time and that makes them think I’m nice.” Learn as much about the customer as possible.
  6. Success isn’t self-made. It takes a team.
  7. Check your egos at the door.
  8. Follow your gut — because God may be talking to you. Ever get a feeling that you need to call someone? Then call them.
  9. “You can’t be a leader if you’re not a reader.”
    Ted read 24 books last year, and will read 36 this year. 
    The one he gifts the most to others is a short one called The Strangest Secret by Ernest Nightingale. 
    He also really likes Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh.
  10. Ted says, “We are so blessed to be living in the podcast generation. So much wisdom and advice is available now. If you aren’t listening to the Tim Ferriss podcast, then you are missing out.”
  11. Ted is a huge fan of the following productivity tools:
    Venmo (for making payments)
    Wunderlist (for to-do lists)
  12. Advice to startups: don’t burn your cash. Wait until you are profitable before you hire a bunch of people or buy a bunch of things. Startups should stay lean, build an MVP and demo, demo, demo.
  13. Our biggest challenge in the early days of Access America: We burned a lot of cash when we shouldn’t have. For example, we built a warehouse before we had customers. That was dumb.
  14. You need a good team to get funding. We prefer three founders with different, but complimentary skill sets (not unlike Barry, Ted and Alan). Why three? Well, if two are upset with each other, the other is generally the voice of reason.
  15. Each entrepreneur should be willing to make a 7 year commitment to the business where the first two to three years are grueling, stressful, and waking up scared.
  16. “These days,” Ted says, “my biggest weakness is not pulling the plug as soon as I should if I see a leader who is not performing.”
  17. How to make a place a great place to work:
    • Flextime. We expect people to work hard from 8 to 5, but then go home and be with their families.
    • Work with people that we would like to hang out with.
  18. The best item that Ted has purchased in the last year for under $100:
    Southern Sqweeze juice, made here in Chattanooga. Ted’s really big into juicing and has transitioned to a plant-based diet.
  19. Ted has traveled to many places and nothing compares to the cooperative spirit that he finds in Chattanooga, including his hometown of Birmingham, where his parents and youngest brother still live. He’s delighted to see older wealth in Chattanooga being invested in younger ideas and investment staying here in this community.
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