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Friday, Feb 23, 2024

Change in Thinking Guides Entrepreneur in New Venture

In his business career, Jim Gibson has worked at and headed companies providing long distance phone service, pre-paid calling cards, wireless connections and an online business directory. Gibson is, in short, a serial entrepreneur getting in at companies at their start up stage, helping them grow and then moving on. Rather than pursue multiple ideas simultaneously and hoping one succeeds enough to bring in millions, Gibson prefers to take one project at a time and find ones that can build on or cascade, as he likes to put it the foundation created by a previous project. The Glendale resident thinks he’s found such an idea in his current venture, QuakeDog, an online platform for a distribution network selling emergency preparedness kits. But more, QuakeDog gives Gibson a greater sense of personal satisfaction than he found in other jobs. It is not just about making money but helping people get ready in the event they ever face an emergency or natural disaster. “When I wake up, it’s ‘Let’s go save some lives,'” Gibson said. “It’s a lot more than ‘Let’s go sell a widget.'” The 47-year-old Gibson said that growing older has something to do with pursuing what he calls a socially responsible venture. QuakeDog also reflects an evolution of his thinking in what an entrepreneur should do. The business side of him, however, saw a great market potential and an under-served one at that. Fellow entrepreneur Jay Everingham founded QuakeDog and brought Gibson on as president and to be the public face of the company. It’s a role Gibson has performed going back to the first telecom company he worked for after a brief acting career on soap operas and a few sitcoms. His polished presentation and communication skills had him going before vendors, customers and potential investors. Gibson is an excellent communicator because he can take complex ideas and boil them down to simple pieces, said Jason McDowall, who has known Gibson for about four years. That and the ability to listen carefully have served Gibson well in his career. “He really loves being the entrepreneur and creating something of value for the market,” McDowall said. Those markets have been in telecom and online. QuakeDog, for instance, is merely the virtual platform for independent salespeople to sell the survival kits and products. Service Omni, which Gibson started in 2007 and remains as chief executive, is an online directory to promote small businesses and create interaction between them. Earlier in his career, Gibson helped build up Telis Communications Group to where it was sold for $12 million. While at Atlas Telecom Services, Gibson promoted pre-paid calling cards for the Hispanic market with images of Galaxy soccer players. Just a few years ago he helped turn privately-owned Continan Communications into a publicly-traded company. (The Securities and Exchange Commission in April ordered Continan to stop trading shares. The company has since changed its name.) Contacts Gibson made as he transitioned from acting to the boardroom served him well. He and Everingham have known each other for 20 years, having worked at a telecom companies together. “I never had to interview for a job,” Gibson said. “Everything I’ve done is a direct result of riding the coat tails of projects I’ve used as my learning.” A quarterback in high school in Florida, Gibson has to be out in front and taking the lead. A lesson taken from his playing days is that a quarterback can field a successful team by surrounding himself with better players. When assembling the executive core for Service Omni, Gibson went after the best people he knew in technology, finance and legal matters, said Ross Nordin, who did financial modeling and forecasting at the start up. “His management style galvanizes people working together,” Nordin said. A certain tenacity is also part of Gibson’s personality; not being easily frightened away when faced with a challenge. “He does not give up easily,” McDowall said. “If one thing doesn’t work he’ll try another. He just keeps at it.” Similarly, Gibson keeps looking for new business opportunities to pursue. One involves creating video resumes and online tools for job seekers to advertise themselves more effectively. Another is expanding on the QuakeDog network and customer base with a fee-based monthly service as the value add to the physical survival kits. Creating the online distribution network may have been Everingham’s idea but even he admits the successful execution of that idea rests on Gibson’s shoulders. Everingham brings the back office expertise and Gibson brings the marketing expertise, especially when it comes to using search engine optimization and social networking sites. A fan club on Facebook and feeds through Twitter and Digg are the spokes bringing traffic to the main company website to achieve the goal of making QuakeDog the go-to brand for disaster survival gear. Within three years, Gibson and Everingham want to have 1 million of their kits in the hands of individuals and families. “Ambitious? Yes,” Gibson said. “Is it reasonable? We think so.” Hitting the goal hinges on having the money available to do the necessary marketing, Everingham said. After that, it is all up to Gibson. The future of Service Omni, the online business directory, also hinges on money. The exit strategy for the company is to sell it but that cannot happen without more traction in the market, more revenue and more users. There is a list of 12 requirements needed to sell and Gibson admits not many have been reached. The exit strategy for QuakeDog centers on building up its network of freelance distributor to make it valuable for any potential buyer. As a serial entrepreneur there will always be another project waiting but for now Gibson is having too much fun and satisfaction and not quite ready to sell out yet. Staff Reporter Mark Madler can be reached at (818) 316-3126 or by e-mail at mmadler@sfvbj.com . He could do better with preparing for a natural disaster.

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