Jeffrey Pruitt is founder, chairman & CEO of Tallwave, a business design and innovation company that helps organizations build, bring to market, and scale great products. He also serves as general manager of Tallwave Capital, Arizona’s most active venture capital firm in Arizona that is focused on B2B technology companies. Jeffrey is an Arizona native and brings nearly 20 years of technology-focused leadership to his post.
Jeffrey earned his bachelor’s in accounting from Arizona State University and started his professional career as an accountant for Arthur Andersen. Channeling business acumen to bolster his entrepreneurial intuition, he pursued a passion for leveraging technology to solve real business challenges.
Jeffrey notably served as president of digital marketing agency iCrossing, where he drove revenues from $2 million to $23 million within six years, and then as head of corporate development, he supported the acquisition of seven companies as iCrossing grew to $120 million in the following three years. He then founded Tallwave in 2009, with a mission to help clients transform ideas and businesses in the digital age. Over the past eight years, he has led the company to exponential growth, orchestrating several acquisitions, and has earned Tallwave a spot on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies, three years in a row. Under Tallwave Capital, Jeffrey successfully raised $13.2 million in seed funding in 2014, earmarked for the technology sector. It has since funded 28 companies in the Western region, who have raised over $56 million in total capital.
Jeffrey is a sought-after speaker and contributing author on leadership and innovation subjects for outlets such as Inc. and Entrepreneur. He has also served on the advisory councils of Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.
Tell me about your early career.
I started my professional career as an accountant for Arthur Andersen, but had a long-standing passion for leveraging technology to solve real business challenges. Deciding to pursue it, I went on to serve as president of digital marketing agency iCrossing. It was an exciting time. We were in a rapid-growth phase and I got to be part of the team that drove revenues from $2 million to $23 million within six years. I then became head of corporate development, supporting the acquisition of seven companies as iCrossing grew to $120 million in the following three years. In 2009, I left to start Tallwave and Tallwave Capital.
How did the concept for Tallwave come about?
While I was at iCrossing, I oversaw corporate development and had the opportunity to serve on the technology councils of Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. Much of the conversation revolved around what kind of technologies they were going to develop and how they were going to bring them to market. Business innovation resonated with me; it was a goal of mine to work in that area since college. Incidentally, around that same time when I was helping to develop iCrossing, a lot of smaller companies began asking me to serve as an advisor. I began to see there was a need for helping companies – small and big – grow their businesses, particularly in product and service innovation. That was the impetus for Tallwave and our end-to-end service model that helped businesses bring innovation to market, from design to build to growth.
We also wanted to spin out our own companies, technologies, and brands with partners like we did with Shelvspace and Dave Albertson, as well as start a capital fund to provide investment to innovative startup companies, which we did with Tallwave Capital.
In the beginning, the structure was all three of those areas – the service line, spinning out companies, and the fund. The goal was to create an end-to-end ecosystem. Today, as the need has evolved, we’re primarily focused on Tallwave as a business design and innovation company. And Tallwave Capital, which operates as a separate entity, is still focused on providing investment to rapid-growth, technology companies. Today, it’s the most active VC firm in the Southwest.
How was the first year in business?
It was an exciting time. As any entrepreneur who’s left the comforts of a corporate job can attest, you’re suddenly thrust into doing everything yourself from setting up your office to building the business. But there was a lot of excitement, energy, and euphoria. A lot of people from the technology and local community were interested in what we were doing and wanted to support us in some capacity, and that really helped us grow.
We really had a high-caliber team right out of the gates, and as a result, started generating revenue quickly. Though we were a startup, we didn’t carry ourselves as one. Our culture was very professional, but with a “get stuff done” attitude. We were all in it together.
What was your marketing strategy?
In the early days, we relied heavily on our network. When we launched Tallwave in 2010, product and service innovation design wasn’t as known as it is now. So, we focused on storytelling and sharing our vision, values, and purpose with those who already knew, liked, and trusted us. That’s partly why building our core team was so imperative to our early success.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We grew pretty rapidly from two perspectives. In the early days of Tallwave, spinning off new companies and technologies was a directive of ours and we were able to do that with four brands that saw great success. On the service side of things, we were growing in leaps and bounds, and within a few years, had earned a spot on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies.
How do you define success?
I believe when you’re doing what you love every day and can approach everything you do with energy and excitement, you’ve achieved success. I often talk about the fact that I do not think in this world, with the ability to always be connected, that it is possible to find Balance. I think it is much more important to strive for Harmony on how you enter each part of your life. My formula for that is 1) be obsessed with what you do during the day, 2) take Time (for you and your family), 3) be Present and 4) continuously learn and evolve. When all of those pieces come together, for me, that means success.
What is the key to success?
There are numerous factors to success. From a practical, tactical perspective, for any business to be successful, it has to be repeatable, sustainable, and profitable. But you also have to have the right leadership, culture, and processes in place, and that starts from a foundation of purpose, vision, values, and norms.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I’ve learned a lot of lessons over the years, but one that stands out is the importance of getting the right people in the right seats on the bus. It sounds so simple, but it’s not. It takes time, but when you get the right person, it feels like adding two or three. You can feel it and you just know they’re a great fit. When you make a wrong hire, it’s a drain on the system. And it has nothing to do with the people not being good people. They’re just not right for the role that you need.
What are some quotes that you live by?
I don’t live by quotes per say, but I have a formula for what I think is harmony and happiness – and that’s what I live by. You have to be obsessed with what you do every day (after all this takes up a majority of your time), take time (for yourself, family and friends), be present, and continuously learn.
As for a quote, there is one from one of my favorite movies, 13 Hours, that has always stuck with me, “All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells are within you.”
What are some of your favorite books?
Most recently, I read The 12 Week Year, which provides a great structure for getting more out of your days, as well as Essentialism and The Untethered Soul, which are also both really interesting reads.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Losing an employee. We were headed up to out of town for our leadership retreat and we found out we lost one of our employees in a motorcycle accident. The gravity of losing someone on your team, then having to bring the news to others on the team was devastating. Amidst the heartbreak, it was amazing to see our team pull together to support one another as well as the family of the individual we lost.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I think it’s human nature to want to persevere, but it also has a lot to do with how our fight or flight mechanisms have developed over the years. I was always raised to face challenges head on and I was put to the test at an early age. I was dyslexic as a child and I was determined not to let that hold me back. So, I learned to lean in and work extra hard to achieve my goals. Today, there is so much more awareness about it and the truth is there are advantages around creativity and seeing things from different perspectives.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Out of college, go get a real job where you are held accountable to a business that is not yours. But take it as serious as if it was your own. Push yourself beyond your limits and really build the skillset to do that. You’ll need that when you venture out on your own. And when you do get out and start your own thing, surround yourself with good advisors who are willing to be transparent with you.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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