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August 28, 2013 | Tom Ballard

Gavin Baker did not come to Knoxville to pursue his current profession

Baker Labs(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a two-part interview with Knoxville entrepreneur Gavin Baker.)

By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates. P.C.

Gavin Baker is a firm believer that companies need to be more involved in digital marketing, specifically email newsletters.

Yet, he says email newsletters “are technical and hard for most people. Many (individuals) don’t know what to say. They might do one, realize it is hard, say they’ll do it again, but don’t.”

Recognizing these challenges, the St. Louis native, who moved to East Tennessee is 2006, launched a company earlier this year called Greenlight. The name draws on Baker’s “love for the visual of a stoplight” and the symbolism that a green light gives in “helping business go forward.”

It is also his second company, joining Baker Labs which is his digital media consulting and training company.  The two-word name combines his last name and a word that signifies “innovative, forward thinking.”

When Baker arrived in the region seven years ago, it is doubtful that he had a digital media company in his headlights. In fact, the former lacrosse player at Messiah College in Pennsylvania says he came here to “flip houses with a buddy from grade school who took a job at Y-12.”

“I really enjoyed being here,” he said, so the idea of remaining in the community began to take hold. Baker looked for a job and “met a great bunch of people.” Unfortunately, the many interviews produced no offers, so he considered leaving.

However, as luck would have it, Baker met longtime entrepreneur Lee Martin in early 2008. At the time, Martin was pursuing a start-up called Abunga, an initiative that the founder described in a previous article as “a family friendly online bookstore.”

Baker says the discussions “reignited a passion” he first experienced in high school when he founded a company to dye and string lacrosse heads. A year later, when Martin asked him to become the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Baker asked for time but quickly accepted the offer.

“It changed my life,” he says of his time with Abunga. While the company ultimately failed, Baker says he was at the table seeing things at such a young age that peers rarely experienced.

“We had some success and sold some books,” Baker said of Abunga. The period was also a time when major changes were occurring in technology, including the arrival of the iPhone and the Kindle reader.

“I learned a lot about shipping, customer expectations and working with developers,” Baker explained, adding that he “became very versed in the start-up culture.”

Abunga shutdown about two years after Baker joined, so he was again faced with the question of what came next. We’ll cover the answers in the second part of this series.

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