Shay Houser is an experienced entrepreneur, having co-founded four companies: Seruus Ventures (1995; active venture fund), Nuvox Communications (1997; acquired by Windstream in 2010), UCI Communications (2003; acquired by Black Box in 2008), and Green Cloud Technologies (2011). His focus has always been on telecom and technology services organizations that focus on the SME space with a core expertise around channel program development. Mr. Houser has significant experience searching, negotiating, and closing acquisitions and he has led approximately thirty financing and M&A transactions, securing hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and equity, and filed for an IPO at Nuvox in 2000. Mr. Houser’s core strength revolves around building third-party distribution channels, capital formation, and mergers and acquisitions. He received his B.A. from The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.
Tell me about your background.
I grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, attended public high school, struggled academically, probably due to ADHD or mild dyslexia, but I didn’t deal with any of those issues. I was a trouble-maker/problem child so I needed structure for college, making The Citadel the only real choice for me. My parents were wonderful and my dad was the CEO of a high-growth telecommunications firm when I was in high school. I worked there on and off. I also worked at a local, country club golf course. I bought my first stock, Apple Computer, while I was in seventh grade (1982).
What did your parents do?
My mother was a homemaker and my father moved from building materials sales into telecommunications in 1982. It was a lucky break for the family. Both parents came from very humble beginnings. My mother, who passed in 2014 from ovarian cancer, grew up in Yazoo City, Mississippi and my dad grew up in Magnolia Springs, Alabama. My father was one of five children and grew up in a two-bedroom house. My mother had two sisters and was also raised in a small house, and her father worked in the oil fields of Mississippi.
Tell me about your early career?
I started my first company, Carolina Graphics and Print, during my junior year of college. It got me fired up about being an entrepreneur. When I graduated from The Citadel, I went to work for Corporate Telemanagement Group, which was an employee-owned company where I worked in various positions culminating a carrier sales and corporate development role. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to buy stock in the company at an early time (and age) and got extremely lucky when the company sold five years later for $160 million. I was in the right place at the right time.
How did the concept for Green Cloud Technologies come about?
The other co-founders, Keith Coker, Eric Hester, and Charles Houser, as well as myself, worked together at our previous business, Nuvox Communications. It was simply a matter of time before we did something together again. Eventually, timing worked out for all of us and we decided to pull the trigger and start Green Cloud. We knew that we wanted to sell a recurring revenue-based service through third-party marketing channel partners, with a focus on small- to medium-sized businesses.
What were some of the challenges you initially faced?
Green Cloud, and entering the cloud computing industry, in general, is very capital-intensive, so raising capital was critical to ensure we could build out our data centers to provide services. Also, our business is based entirely around recurring revenue-based services, rather than equipment or projects revenues. Recurring revenues take a long, long time to achieve scale and inflection points so there is no fast way to get to scale. It must come through hard work and years of focus.
Did you have a lot of competition?
We are in a highly-competitive business and compete with the giants: Amazon (AWS), Microsoft, and Google. However, like most industries, there are niche providers, which is where we fall. Fortunately, since cloud computing is a $100+ billion industry, many niche players can grow into billion-dollar businesses. The market is so massive that hundreds of providers can succeed.
What was your marketing strategy?
We sell our services exclusively through a channel network. We have no direct sales force. Our channel partners currently consist of 500 local or regional IT services organizations across 46 states.
How fast is the business growing?
Our growth rate from 2012 to 2016 was 6,600%.
How do you organize your day?
I start my day around 5:15am. I spend forty-five minutes reading industry, financial news, commit meditation and prayer, and then hit the gym for an hour around 6:00am. I like to see the kids before they leave for school and then we leave around 7:45am, them for school and me for the office.
What are some of your daily habits that have contributed to your success?
Getting up early and not getting behind are my keys to staying ahead. I also enjoy frequent breaks during the day, just for five to ten minutes, to step back and relax for a few moments to maintain the stress levels. Living within my routine, which includes being in bed by 9:15pm, is extremely important.
What are some quotes that you live by?
“Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” “A good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week.” “One day at a time.” “Visualize your success.” “There is no better than adversity, every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.” “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
What are some of your favorite books?
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account by Miklos Nyiszli, The Noticer: Sometimes, all a person needs is a little perspective by Andy Andrews, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis, The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen, The Generals by W.E.B. Griffin, Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S. C. Gwynne, The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 by David McCullough, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power by Daniel Yergin, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard, Island of Saints: A Story of the One Principle That Frees the Human Spirit by Andy Andrews, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 by Nathaniel Philbrick, and Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book by Anonymous.
How do you define success?
Maintaining balance, peace, and happiness, one day at a time.
What is the key to success?
Following your gut while being practical, surrounding yourself with great people, doing what’s right, and rewarding those who do the hard work.
Did you always know you would be successful?
I’ve had many moments of great fear of failure but I’ve always known, deep down, that I was destined to create value, momentum, and success.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My family, faith, and a burning desire to never quit. I believe a core responsibility of every American is to honor the men and women before us (and who protect us every day) by doing our share to honor them. We do that by busting our ass to make America great.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
You reap what you sow.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Undoubtedly, at a board meeting during the spring of 2002, after going through the dot-com meltdown as the CEO of a high-flying Internet company, our board, which consisted of the largest investment banks on Wall Street, recapitalized our company and effectively wiped out all of my net worth. I lost tens of millions of dollars in the blink of an eye. It was both the best and worst professional event I’ve ever experienced.
How did you overcome the challenges at hand?
Honestly, I handled it terribly. I quit the company I had created and then lived in denial of what happened for over a year. It took a soul-searching inventory to bounce back, while taking years to recreate another technology company that I could successfully sell in 2008.
What is your vision for the future of Green Cloud?
Green Cloud is going to continue to rapidly transform the cloud infrastructure market, create value for our shareholders, and create a working environment in which all Green Cloud employees (who are also owners, as we are employee-owned) can use their God-given talents to prosper. We will make a generational impact for the families of our co-workers.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Go for it. Find your calling and go after it with both barrels blazing. The money will come and, eventually, you’ll find that the money doesn’t matter and, at that time, you will have discovered true success.
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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