Entrepreneur, Explorer, Angel.
Sometimes all at Once.
25TH October 2017
Good Story - Timely - Uncategorized
Founder Profiles: Alicia Aloe of Open Angler
(Charleston, SC) Here’s another profile of one of the talented CEO’s I get to work with regularly, Alicia Aloe from Open Angler. Open Angler is the fastest growing platform for fisherman, captains, and marinas to easily book boat time. Think Open table for fishing trips… or as I like to say, it makes better fish tales easier to tell.
Anyways, I love Alicia’s tenacity and ability to focus, which really comes through in this interview.
Question One: An Entrepreneurs DNA
Miles: Alicia, tell me about your entrepreneurial DNA. How did you, growing up, become influenced to someday want to start running a business?
Alicia: I think that it’s the only experience that I could ever imagine for myself. I don’t know if this was born or bred into, but I definitely came from two hard-working parents that believed in out-of-the-box thinking. My dad owned his own company. My mom owned her own company, and I watched them work really hard with some success. I think both of them, looking back, would have done things a lot differently, but everyday I had the opportunity to watch them grow through those failures and successes, and at a minimum always having the desire to try and believing they can
As far as DNA, I don’t know that there’s anything special about me in comparison to anyone else, but I guess it’s really just… how I think about things. I didn’t last very long as an employee because there would be a lot of things wrong and I’d want to fix them. Some managers love that and enable you to grow; some managers just want you to do the job you are told to do. I’ve always been a proponent of coming up with solutions to fix the things that are broken- that’s probably the DNA that’s made me an entrepreneur. It’s just the desire to make things better.
Question Two: How did your entrepreneur’s journey start?
Miles: Cool. Question number two, when did the opportunity to be an entrepreneur first land in your lap? Let’s talk about the business you started and ultimately sold to OpenTable.
Alicia: Okay. With that business, I was 26 years old, just out of college, and had a couple jobs that were okay but ultimately, I knew wasn’t going to be a long-term fit for me. My college background and all my part-time jobs had been in the restaurant industry, and when you’re young, that’s a really exciting place to be. Ultimately, I knew I wanted to build a company but I didn’t know what kind of company. One of my uncles said, “Alicia if you save people time and money, you’ll always have a good business.” Time is ultimately money, so I came up with Table Maestro, which was a central reservation service for restaurants.
I mulled over it for a while and crafted a solution that I knew would answer a problem that restaurants were having. I knew that as a hostess, I was paid 12 bucks an hour to sit there and answer the phone for a restaurant and that … ultimately, the phone rang maybe once or twice an hour. I also knew that if I could do that for five restaurants, I could make $50 an hour. I decided then to hire on some friends and started building the business from there. The solution was so obvious, that I just wrote it down on a napkin and it became my first company business plan.
Miles: That’s actually great. Did you actually go with a napkin with this and went into restaurants?
Alicia: No, I didn’t go with a napkin. At the time, Microsoft Office had a good publishing software that you could use. I created a sales deck that I took to 20 restaurants. Basically, two said yes and I told them, “Great. I’ll start in six weeks.” Six weeks later, I opened an office, hired a call center team and started serving those two restaurants.
Question Three: The Pit of Despair
Miles: What was the biggest scary moment when you were building that business?
Alicia: The time every one of my employees quit on the same day. I was inexperienced as a leader and I probably did some really good things right… and did some other things really wrong. I had recently hired a new manager and she had some ideas about how the staff should be run and she thought some of my expectations were unrealistic. Ultimately, the whole team decided that my expectations were unrealistic. They all walked out in one day. That was a really humbling moment because I thought these people were my friends. They had worked with me for two years at that point. We had built this company together.
That was when I realized that, a) I was still the leader of the company, and that I was stuck with it, with or without them, and that b) I either had to sink or swim in that moment. It was really scary because we had a ton of clients, and I still had to show up for work the next day. We still had to do the business for them, and I didn’t have a single employee to do it. That night, I called all my past employees. I called friends and family, brought them all in, and trained them all up again. They started work for me the next day until I could refill all of the positions. That was probably the scariest moment or the moment I thought I was going to quit. I’m glad I didn’t. We made it work, but it was brutal. It was brutal for three weeks until we could fill the positions and train the people up and get them back in.
Question Four: On Leadership
Miles: I understand you had some military in your family, although you don’t have the military experience yourself. What things did you keep with you as a result of that walk-out, that leadership challenge? What things did you let go of as a result of that leadership challenge?
Alicia: That’s a hard question. I think the thing I learned- is that great systems are necessary. If you have great systems, then, you really can’t fail. You have to have great people, but great people also need great systems. If the systems are broken, it’s really tough to run a business because ultimately, your star players will become disenchanted by low performers. It’s really important to have strong systems and that support those star players, attract other star players and keep them on the team. Before, I was a really big proponent of giving people a lot of chances. I got a little tougher there, but I think the other takeaway for me was the idea that you have to be friends with all the people you work with. You don’t necessarily need to be friends with them, but you do need great working, great trusting relationships.
Miles: Are you more rigid or less rigid as a result?
Alicia: I manage a very different type of team now, so that’s a really hard question. In general- I would say I’m less rigid because of the business I’m in. Currently, we require more creativity and more autonomy in our roles. However, I believe that in any kind of business where you have any systematic things that need to be done, strict processes are necessary.
Question Five: Open Angler is eating the Fishing World
Miles: Andreessen says software is eating the world. I like to say technology will eat the world, and you have a technology that’s “Bigger Fish Tales, made easy”, which is very similar to the value proposition you offered to restaurants. It makes things faster, cheaper, better, more efficient. You can spend time doing what you love, whether that’s eating the dinner or catching the fish. That’s because of the software that you have, but your customer or at least the supply side of the network are fishermen, fishing captains, and marina owners. You’re selling a technology solution that is clearly going to make things better for the demand side, the anglers, but you need to convince a person that has been in the business for a long time, maybe his family’s been in the business. There’s no real pressing need to adopt technology unless they’re forced into it, and yet, this is a gigantic industry. It clearly can improve. How do you broker the culture of technology, enabling efficiency and go and fishing with someone that’s been in the business for generations? [my long winded question]
Alicia: Yes, sure, so I think the one take away recently with our industry is that we have a group of emerging guides and business owners- these under 35-ers that have already grown up in a generation where they have technology at their fingertips. They’re used to using it for everything in their lives. That particular group is hot. They are starting to look for the solution that we provide, and I think we really have to tailor to the up and coming generation. They’re the generation that’s going to ultimately take over this business and be running it for the next 20 years. Ultimately, we’re building the product to serve them.
And you’re right in that there’s a huge market that has traditionally been anti-technology or has traditionally not looked for technology solutions to support their business, but with them, we’re not approaching it so much as a, “Hey, this will make you more efficient,” because that’s not good enough for them, but they understand that dollars make sense. For them, if we can drive the business and bring them business, then, they see the value. Younger generations know the tools are available. They just want to find the best ones for their business. Ultimately, both parties are still pretty happy customers.
To book your next fishing trip on Open Angler, click here.
~~Wow, you made it all the way down here! ~~~
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