In a recent presentation to a Knoxville Chamber “Premier Partners” breakfast, local businessman Parker Frost said simply, “I’m an entrepreneur,” a description that is clearly appropriate for the energetic champion of his adopted city and those who are trying to make a difference.
The Michigan native has been in Knoxville since 1997 and just celebrated his 40th birthday. Along the way, he’s founded a number of businesses, most of them successful. Today, Frost runs several companies with the centerpiece of his efforts being Gigmark Interactive Media, a custom software solutions firm. Other companies tied to him include:
- CMOCo, which provides a part-time Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for companies that cannot afford a full-time CMO;
- TPS3, a manufacturer and distributor to three separate but related markets – plastics, promotions and printing – by providing high-quality products at the lowest possible prices; and
- Digital Media Graphix, a web design and applications development company.
“I moved to Knoxville to be a manufacturing rep for my dad,” Frost says in describing how a Michigan guy ended-up in the South. Within a year, he formed a company called the Plastic Source with his father. He sold it eight years later and soon thereafter launched Gigmark.
The elder Frost clearly had a strong impact on his son. During the Chamber presentation and a follow-up interview with teknovation.biz, Frost cited advice that his father has given him over the years. One of the most entrepreneurial-like of those inputs was this one – “Don’t be afraid to take the big order. Get the order, then figure-out how to do it and finance it.”
The advice clearly aligns with how Frost operated Gigmark. With only a small investment to start the company, Frost had to watch finances and cash flow. His strategy was to secure any order that made sense, but finance the work in thirds – one-third down at the time the customer places the order, one-third when the wireframe is delivered, and the final third on delivery of the product.
“Sales solve all problems,” Frost laughingly said in again quoting his father.
Another trait that Frost sees as critical for entrepreneurs is the ability to be nimble. He told the Chamber breakfast about a time when he was seeking investment capital for a start-up that was focused on selling flash drives loaded with music, but exploring making the drives programmable.
Frost was in Nashville at a coffee shop pitching the idea to a prospective client. Sitting at a nearby table was a businessman from Houston who overheard the conversation and subsequently engaged Frost in a discussion. Two and one-half hours later, Frost was focused on a modified use for the product, thanks to the advice that the Houston resident offered.
“We’re brothers from other mothers,” he says of the two.
Frost earned the Knoxville Chamber’s “2012 Entrepreneur of the Year Award,” so it was only natural that we asked him for sage advice to share with other entrepreneurs.
In addition to his father’s thoughts, Frost offered his own.
- “You have to work harder than the guy who is there (your competition) to knock him off the mountain.”
- “We tell our people if you make a mistake, own it immediately and be proactive with the client” to resolve the error.
- “Know when to bring in a Chief Operating Officer. Know when to exit, don’t wait too long. Read the signs.”
- “People like to help people. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
- “Don’t be afraid to take a chance. Bust your —-; do your best. Let people see you. If they see you’ve done your best and still failed, it will open a lot of doors.”
- “It doesn’t happen as fast as you expect. It takes twice as long and takes twice as much money.”
As far as the Knoxville community and its support for start-ups, Frost says “it’s definitely getting better.” He’s upbeat about the new Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, but also says “the biggest problem is capital.”
Frost adds that “the city and county need to get more behind what the Knoxville Chamber is doing.”
In addition to saying he’s an entrepreneur, Frost also admits that he is a “work hard, play hard guy.” He clearly made a good decision to relocate to Knoxville 16 years ago, and the local entrepreneurial community is benefitting from his willingness to be a role model who also gives back.