REPEAT is a special interview series underwritten by CliftonLarsonAllen where we take a deep dive inside the minds of Minnesota’s rare repeat technology entrepreneurs. Repeat means to start a tech company, exit said company, and return start another one.
Clay Collins started Leadpages in 2013 with Tracy Simmons and Simon Payne as a lead generation platform for SMBs. Under his leadership, the saas company went on to raise $38m before he would step down, turning over the reigns to veteran software executive John Tedesco. After a brief break, Collins came back with Nomics towards the end of 2017.
Collins is among our guests of honor at the upcoming Founders Respect and Recognition event on April 5th.
When and where were you born?
In Southern California, 1980
What did your parents do?
Both my parents and my grandparents were farmers, they had their own separate farms.
What is your oldest memory of business, money, or entrepreneurship?
I remember being at a garden store when I was around five years old…they were selling dirt there, and we lived on a farm, so I thought, I can do that! So the first thing I ever remember selling was…dirt.
How did that go over?
I think there were a lot of sympathy purchases. But then I got into your typical lemonade and citrus stand, which worked out pretty well because I would pick the fruit off our trees fresh that morning, squeeze it, and sell it with my mother’s assistance. It was probably the best orange juice you could get in the world. I think I was selling for 50 cents then what Whole Food would charge ten bucks for today. I would sell it to the laborers and neighbors in our community.
What was your motivation at seven?
Because I wanted money! I don’t even know what I wanted the money for, it was fun and I wanted to collect money.
How long did you pursue that for?
Probably about four years, from age seven to eleven, I remember making upwards of $50 or $50/day during peak season and it was practically a 100% profit margin.
What did you learn?
I learned how to be resourceful. I learned what people valued. I learned social selling skills, marketing, and confidence.
It sounds like you could have become a juice mogul…but you didn’t…why?
I had to stop when we moved into the city, that all changed.
Did you have a computer at home?
Apple…we had that in the mid 80’s in our house, it was my parents, they used it for accounting in the farming business.
Did you parents talk about business, money or farming often?
Yes, between them, my aunt, and my grandparents, it was definitely a family thing. One way or the other, they were always talking about something to do with farming, or selling commodities or trees, or equipment, etc. I would go with my grandfather sometimes on his trips to sell or deliver goods.
What was your grandfather like?
He was always joking or telling stories or both. I remember him sharing stories with me about his childhood…and then about his early farming experiences….business folklore.
Did you learn anything from him about business?
Focus on the things that you know something about and are passionate about…he himself had been in the citrus farming business since the age of about eight so he had developed that. He had never defined any lines between work and personal life, because when you’re successful in farming, it’s all one in the same, you’re pretty much always working.
Sounds a lot like you were born into a blue collar business world?
Were there other people, non family, working on the farm? And if so, what do you remember about any of them?
Yes…I remember those that lasted were really hard workers. I also remember that they were always borrowing money from my grandfather for this or that…between my grandfather and my father, they were always wheeling, dealing, and scheming.
How do you think that rubbed off on you?
It was just normal commerce and it was fun. I think as humans, we’re kind of wired to enjoy trading, bartering, negotiating, etc. Opportunistic speculation is entertaining.
What came next with any business pursuits?
I had taught myself HTML and I started selling websites around the age of 13 in 1993. I knew that people were charging a lot for them and so I printed out some flyers and handed them out at a computer trade show, it was actually similar to selling juice on the roadside.
By age 15 the local newspaper had published an article about me…I partnered with an ISP as a reseller who was selling services to his clients and things were going along.
I also had my first business partner who was also my age, and he was more advanced, we became nerd friends throughout high school.
Did you play any sports in high school?
Yeah, I played tennis throughout high school and football…for a year.
What kind of student were you?
I was ok…I think I did well in what I wanted to do well in…math and english mostly.
Did you have any business classes in high school?
Did you take any computer or technology classes in high school?
No, but outside of school I became a certified Novell Network Administrator in high school.
What inspired you to do that?
It was a fun challenge! I also wrote some management software in our high school computer lab.
Did you ever think about getting into the farming industry yourself at any point?
No, I had really gotten into technology and was obsessed with computers by then. So after a few years of my first website services business, I actually ended up dropping out of high school in the 10th grade.
I moved from my parents place to the Los Angeles area at age 15 with a new business partner who had just raised $250,000 for a new business.
I took a risk on that one, it was for the creation of interactive survey software…very exciting at the time but honestly it fizzled out after only two years.
So you dropped out of high school to start a business?
Yeah, I ended up getting my GED though.
What did you parents think about all that?
Well, I would go to visit them on the weekends…it was par for the course for me to be different especially around those awkward teenage years you know. I think they were concerned about me, naturally, but they trusted me at the same time.