Charles Morgan to Entrepreneurs: Surround Yourself with Good People

Charles Morgan to Entrepreneurs: Surround Yourself with Good People
Former Acxiom CEO Charles Morgan (left) shares his insights as part of the Arkansas Venture Center's Build IT series. ABPG publisher Mitch Bettis (right) served as moderator. (Steve Rice)

Former Acxiom Corp. CEO Charles Morgan has some advice for entrepreneurs: surround yourself with good people, secure adequate funding, learn from your mistakes and believe in yourself.

All easier said than done — the first two especially — but essential in building a successful startup venture, he said.

Morgan shared his insight, as well as anecdotes from his career and a recently published memoir, on Tuesday night as part of the Arkansas Venture Center's Build IT series from the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The monthly "fireside chat" series brings in prominent Arkansas tech startup founders to share their stories. The Build IT series is sponsored by Arkansas Business, and Morgan's chat was moderated by Arkansas Business Publishing Group's President and Publisher Mitch Bettis.

Morgan wasn't an Acxiom founder, but he guided it as CEO from 1972 to 2007 as it grew into one of the world's largest data-gathering firms with revenue of more than $1.4 billion when he retired. He now leads Conway startup and Innovate Arkansas client firm PrivacyStar, which he founded.

PrivacyStar is a smartphone app that enables users to block spam calls and files complaints with the Federal Trade Commission.

Morgan told a standing-room-only crowd in the chamber's AT&T Auditorium that entrepreneurs launching startup ventures must surround themselves with smart people.

"There are very few one-man bands in the world," he said.

Plus, successful startups are able to secure the funding necessary to guide them through the tough early stages of growth. To that end, he believes the startup ecosystem in Arkansas is making progress.

"One of Arkansas' most successful areas lately has been entrepreneurship," he said. "I applaud the Venture Center and the other resources that have popped up. They're all very important to what we're doing in Little Rock."

Emerging startup ecosystems in northwest Arkansas and metro Little Rock have been bolstered in recent years by resources such as Innovate Arkansas, the ARK Challenge startup accelerator, the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub and the Venture Center.

Those resources are making it easier for entrepreneurs to succeed, but failure will always remain a part of the process, Morgan said.

"If you're worried about failure, you're never gonna get anywhere because failure's around every corner," he said.

Morgan said entrepreneurs should adopt an old-school mentality of not letting anything stand in the way of their objectives.

"As an entrepreneur, you have to believe you're gonna succeed and never give up," he said.

Morgan's memoir, "Matters of Life and Data: The Remarkable Journey of a Data Visionary Whose Work Impacted Millions," details the author's journey — "warts and all," as Bettis put it — from humble Fort Smith roots to "gadget geek" and "big data" pioneer, and from professional race car driver to startup founder.

An excerpt from the book was published by Arkansas Business here.

Morgan shared two anecdotes about his days with Acxiom that stand out. One of the company's first major "list" projects was for the Committee on Political Education (COPE), a national group that organizes for the AFL-CIO and labor unions. COPE matched AFL-CIO member rolls with those of Democrats and and Democratic-leaning voters and came up with a formidable "get out the vote" organization.

"That's why Democrats kicked Republicans' ass all those years," he quipped.

Also, Acxiom provided the FBI and the U.S. Attorney General's Office with information on possible terrorists who were eventually linked to the 9-11 attacks.

Morgan said he realized after 9-11 that Acxiom's data had many other applications.

Other "Morganisms" from Tuesday night:

  • "Today, there's a little less inclination to see an objective through to the end at all costs and never give up on a dream." 
  • "Racing helped me gain perspective. It was a distraction. Something completely different. There's a lot to be learned from the personalities found in racing and the extreme competition."
  • In answer to a question about how to attract top talent when you can't pay top dollar: "Give 'em an interesting and challenging environment. Smart people like to be around other smart people. Smart guys will find other smart guys. And if you can, give those smart guys an opportunity to share in your success."
  • "You gotta sell the dream."
  • On leadership: "Leadership isn't a lost art but it's fallen on hard times. We don't have a lot of leaders in Washington right now. Leadership is getting people to believe and trust in you even when you're wrong."
  • On entrepreneurship as part of an educational modcel: "People need to be fundamentally prepared to be entrepreneurs. Clearly, people need to be better equipped for the process. Right now, we don't have the infrastructure in the state to help other than things like the Venture Center."
  • "Create value and the money will take care of itself."

The latter is proving true for PrivacyStar, he said. Founded in 2008, Morgan said it took 17 months to make money. The firm brought in revenue of $4.2 million last year, up from $1.3 million the previous year, and is working with a $13 million business plan this year, he said.

"I've always been able to see a project that has economic potential," he said. 

More On This Story