Montana, often called ‘big sky country,’ is known for its breathtaking landscapes and a sense of tranquility that allows people to disconnect from the chaos of modern life. It’s where Brad Pelo, a true Montanan at heart, finds solace.
Though he spent his college years in Utah, at Brigham Young University, Brad’s entrepreneurial spirit was ignited long before he set foot on campus.
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A Defective Gene and a Reading Habit: The Genesis of an Entrepreneur
Brad often muses about what makes an entrepreneur. He believes that true entrepreneurs are born with a “defective gene” – an innate drive and vision that sets them apart. For him, this inclination was instilled at an early age, thanks to his mother.
She introduced him not to Dr. Seuss but to biographies of builders, business creators, and nation builders. These stories kindled a deep admiration for those who created things from scratch.
Necessity also played a pivotal role in Brad’s journey. Raised in a large family with eight sisters, he learned the value of self-sufficiency early on. When he was just nine years old, his father told him he had to buy his own school clothes, pay for his school lunches, and even earn money for a bicycle.
This mandate set young Brad on a path of early entrepreneurship. By the age of fifteen, he had already established a fully incorporated company, a feat that even garnered attention from The New York Times.
From CD-Roms to Disrupting the Norm: The Folio Story
In the nascent days of the PC revolution, Brad and his associates were fixated on a problem – how to search vast amounts of information using limited storage capabilities.
Floppy disks were the norm, and hard drives were measured in mere megabytes. This challenge spurred the creation of a full-text search engine that eventually birthed the company, ‘Folio.’
Folio’s vision was simple yet revolutionary: transform CD-ROMs into digital libraries, effectively putting immense data at the user’s fingertips. They collaborated with reference publishers, catering to sectors like law, regulation, and government.
This innovation disrupted the industry, posing a significant threat to established players like Lexis-Nexis. Eventually, they acquired Folio, and at 29, Brad joined forces with them, steering a legacy business towards a future-oriented approach.
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Cultural Mismatches and Pranks: Navigating Post-Acquisition Challenges
Transitioning into a new corporate environment isn’t always seamless. For Brad, the acquisition brought more than just cultural differences; it revealed a stark contrast in perspectives.
The new company sought to preserve its existing business, while Brad envisioned catapulting them into the open standard search and retrieval space.
A memorable incident involved a fictional press release penned by Brad, announcing groundbreaking collaborations between industry giants. This move, though initially met with disbelief, ultimately sparked a necessary shift in mindset.
The unconventional approach not only saved Brad’s position but catalyzed a new trajectory for the company.
From Public Domain Data to Ancestry: Unearthing Hidden Connections
Brad’s entrepreneurial journey continued through ventures like Ancestry, inspired by his brother-in-law’s vision of digitizing genealogical records. The acquisition of the Social Security Death Index and Ancestry Publishing marked significant milestones.
Although Brad later transitioned out of the venture, he played a pivotal role in its early success.
The Dot-Com Bubble and the Importance of Adaptability
The dot-com bubble was both a boon and a challenge. Brad foresaw the need for cloud-based services to manage internal information. Armed with substantial funding of around $60M, the company forged ahead, only to face the bubble’s eventual burst.
Adapting to the changing landscape, Brad and his team sought out natural customers and secured key partnerships, ultimately steering the company toward success. McKinsey, the consultancy giant, was the first customer to enter into a multimillion-dollar annual license deal with them.
The company served as their reference customer, fuelling immense growth until the point when the company was acquired by Proofpoint. Together, the two companies went public with an IPO.
Interestingly, Brad was also the visionary who foresaw a time when the world would have digital flat-screen devices like iPads and iPhones that are available today. His mental images were so potent that he saved them on his desktop screen as wallpaper.
Brad’s vision eventually led to coming up with the idea to develop the services customers using digital devices might need. The culmination of his idea was i.TV, a social television and a second-screen company that he co-founded.
Pivoting to the Chosen: A Lesson in Flexibility and Grace
In a serendipitous turn of events, Brad found himself involved in ‘The Chosen’, an ambitious TV series about the life of Jesus. The series, funded entirely by its audience, has become a cultural phenomenon, reaching millions worldwide.
The series’ maker, Dallas Jenkins, raised crowdfunding worth $10M within six to nine months, the largest crowdfunding project in history around any media property. Today, it is the number 1 television show on Amazon Prime.
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Lessons for Aspiring Entrepreneurs: Humility, Collaboration, and Adaptability
Brad Pelo’s entrepreneurial journey is a testament to the power of vision, adaptability, and humility. From his roots in Montana to the global impact of ‘The Chosen’, Brad’s story offers valuable lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs.
As he continues to forge new paths, his experiences serve as a beacon of inspiration for those navigating their own entrepreneurial endeavors.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Surround yourself with knowledgeable individuals who can enrich your perspective and skillset.
- Your team is more than just employees; they are invaluable partners in building something remarkable.
- Be willing to pivot and adjust your approach in response to changing circumstances and market dynamics.
- Challenges are inevitable, but how you respond to them defines your journey.
- True entrepreneurs possess an innate drive and vision that fuels their journey.
- Your entrepreneurial legacy may take unexpected turns, but each step contributes to the broader narrative.
- Pursue ventures that align with your passions, as they have the potential to ignite groundbreaking ideas and transformative outcomes.