TBHF Alum, Class of 1999
This month TBHF is spotlighting Daniel Peavy, a 1999 Alumni from Baylor University. We asked Daniel, a multi-business entrepreneur based out of San Antonio, to share some of his best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I started college with the plan to become a doctor, realized that was not my passion while participating in a hospital internship program, and halfway through college changed my major to liberal arts and political science with a minor in Spanish. But then what to do? I had an aptitude for engineering, so I came to The University of Texas at Austin to pursue my Master’s in mechanical engineering—not an easy transition, but it was a great experience.
Creating things had always been in the back of my mind and mechanical engineering made inventing things a real possibility. I worked at Southwest Research Institute and discovered that I wanted to use my creativity to be an entrepreneur. It’s really where my heart had been all along, the idea of owning and operating my own businesses. I was inspired by an article that had come out about my great-grandfather. He was part of many different businesses at the same time and that idea really resonated with me.
I followed a professor at UT who I liked to Baylor for my MBA program, and that’s where I was introduced to TBHF in 1999 when I selected for the scholar award.
What was the first entrepreneurial business venture you embarked on?
I worked for Accenture before eventually starting a DirectTV dealership. A buddy of mine was in Florida at the time, working with the number one Spanish-program selling dealer. We had the idea of bringing this business to the Texas marketplace. We grew very quickly to became one of the top 25 dealers nationwide.
There was a high learning curve in that first businesses. One of the biggest lessons we learned was that the Spanish-speaking markets in Florida and Texas were unique; we had to modify the strategy used in Florida because we had different customer-base experiences.
How did that initial business influence your future entrepreneurial pursuits?
DirectTV was owned by Hughes, so we began beta-testing its new high-speed satellite. We launched Skyview Solutions, a company that focusses solely on fulfillment. I still run Skyview after 16 years. One of my original installers now handles the day to day. And we currently service Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Louisiana.
That experience led me to start my next venture with Clearwire, a line-of-sight high-speed internet business. I continued to leverage the relationships I had built during my DirectTV days, ran that business for several years, and started a safe distributorship business in 2006 .
One of your biggest entrepreneurial endeavors is Signarama and Billboard Connection. Can you tell us how that came to be?
A friend from grad school believed there was an opportunity to adapt an old business plan I had developed during my MBA program. While working on that, we stumbled across Signarama, the global sign franchise. It had no master franchisee in India, so we pivoted and secured the master license. We launched our flagship in Chennai on the Southeast coast of India and within a year, after tweaking the model for the Indian market, we began selling franchises.
Around the same time, I also decided to start a Signarama franchise in San Antonio. I worked with a friend who was getting his MBA and interested in entrepreneurship to start the San Antonio office. I still run that franchise. It’s given me a lot of great insight into supporting and helping my franchisees in India. First-hand corporate support here in the US allows me to replicate that support for my franchisees in India.
Billboard Connection, a sister company of Signarama, is an ad agency franchise that focusses on outdoor advertising. I purchased the San Antonio franchise and launched it at the same time I launched the Signarama franchise. In hindsight, I don’t know if I would recommend launching three businesses at the same time!
Do you feel especially passionate about one of your businesses or surprised by the direction it’s taken?
A gentleman I met through Signarama and Billboard Connection joined a group called AArrow Advertising, which specializes in sign-spinning. They are based in California and have 26 markets in the US. I oversee San Antonio, Austin, and Nashville markets. This business is extremely special to me – it’s my heart.
A crucial aspect to the business is that we help create a sense of community for the sign spinners, a lot of whom have no community or family. About 30% to 40% of our employee base is homeless and my goal is to get them stability, give them confidence, get them life skills and some cash flow so that they can actually hold a job down. There are some folks that that decide they want to make it a career and so we’ve organized the business to where you can progress and build a career for yourself. We’ve got several people who go through our program and have the opportunity to become a general manager as we open up new markets, or they become sales reps. We’ve got people who are trainers, instructors, auditors. It’s more than just sticking someone on a corner.
As a multi-business entrepreneur, how do you identify a good opportunity and what are the factors that you take into consideration?
My approach is centered around: how can I scale this business, and what is required to have that scale? For many years I was in multiple businesses at the same time that were smaller in scale. That was very difficult because you don’t have the bandwidth or resources. If you can scale up, lots of other opportunities present themselves.
How do you define “excellence” in business?
Excellence takes effort.
What is the relationship between business leadership and community? How do the two go hand-in-hand?
I have been working with Rotary International for about ten years now. I was really drawn to its Global Grant Program. Money from one local chapter is routed through the international group and it levers up, so you get a multiplier effect.
San Antonio has a number of sister cities. One of those happens to be Chennai, where my business is based in India. My business partner is also part of Rotary in Chennai and through that connection we have been able to fund a lot of great global grants impacting women’s health, infant care, training, and education. It’s been a very unique opportunity for me to tie what I do internationally with where I live.
There are several skills or qualities that can be attributed to effective leaders. As a founder and community leader, what skill do you feel has helped you the most?
When I was attending Texas Boys State, we heard a gentleman give a talk on leadership and he said the one thing that you could be great at, that makes you a great leader, is empathy. Having that empathy for my team, my customer, and my vendor plays a huge role in everything we do for all of my companies. I don’t ever make an HR decision without thinking about how it’s going to impact all the employees or how a business decision will impact the customers.
How do you approach challenges and what strategies do you use to overcome obstacles in your professional career?
My grandfather had a picture of a stork standing in the marsh, trying to eat a frog. The frog’s body is inside the stork’s mouth, but the frog has reached around and grasped the stork’s neck so he can’t be swallowed. At the bottom of the picture it says, “never quit.” There are times where I find I’m the frog, about to be eaten. I keep fighting.
I also try to cultivate as many mentors and advisors as I can. When I’m having tough days, when I’m having good days, when I just want to bounce an idea off someone, those mentors have always come through for me. Whether it’s a sentence of encouragement or an insight they can provide – that has been extremely valuable for every crisis, challenge, and good time that I’ve come through.
Finally, I never had the chance to meet my great grandfather, but I was told every time he had to give a speech at an event, he would finish with a poem, “Keep A Goin’” by Frank Lebby Stanton. I now have a copy of this poem hanging in my office. The poem is a helpful reminder to not give up.