Patrick Callahan: Finding business opportunities in the face of a global pandemic
When I was 18, my sister gave me the poem “You Can Be Whatever You Want to Be” by Donna Levine. The first stanza states: “There is inside you all of the potential to be whatever you want to be — all of the energy to do whatever you want to do.”
I carry that poem in my wallet. I read it when I lost a job and when I started The Archer Group with Lee Mikles. I reread it when my family drove to San Francisco to live. And I pulled it out when I returned to Wilmington with a new company, CompassRed. I am now reading it daily.
Here is what I’ve learned: Disruptions allow us to reinvent ourselves and to be who — and what — we want to be. The disrupter might be a job loss, a bankruptcy or a pandemic that temporarily brings global businesses to a halt.
As Delaware goes through the phases of changing to a new normal, we have the chance to re-imagine what we want to do with our lives and make changes. We shouldn’t fear this period of uncertainty; we should fear wasting it before the “new normal” takes hold.
Face the Wind
You have no control over some disruptions, such as a pandemic. But you can also create them, Take, for instance, quitting a job or relocating a company. I’ve seen both sides.
In 1997, I was the first person hired at a Philadelphia IT startup. I was let go just as the dot-com bubble burst. I told my wife: “This could be the best day of my life or it could be the worst.”
It was 2002, and we’d just had our second child. We had a new Volvo in the driveway. Less than a year later, Lee Mikles and I started The Archer Group to focus on internet marketing. Lee and I had met at a Fast Company meetup. Coincidentally, Fast Company became a client.
People often told us that we didn’t operate like other ad agencies. Internet marketing was new and so far beyond the Mad Men era. Breaking the mold was part of our mission. (Lee, by the way, is now the co-owner of Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen, which has four locations — quite a pivot!)
When Lee and I handed the reins to our partners, it was time to explore new options. I started a predictive analytics and insights company in San Francisco, an IT hub. The costs of running a California company and household were exorbitant. We returned to Delaware, where we still had a home and brought CompassRed with us. In Delaware, we were spearheading a growing sector.
You can reap rewards when you don’t do what’s expected. When the pandemic hit, many small companies nixed summer internship programs. By continuing to accept applications, we secured some of the most promising talent in the nation. We hired twice as many with the knowledge they could become future employees.
Libraries, known for print books, have put programming online and watched audio and e-reader rentals soar. Restaurants have become markets by selling top-quality frozen and fresh meats and even toilet paper to stay afloat.
Today we are in a zone in which society and governments are establishing procedures and policies. Some call it the “gray zone.” Before the light turns green — and the community settles into a new groove — see what you can do differently to reach your goals.
As poet Donna Levine wrote: “One morning you will awake to find you are the person you dreamed of — doing what you want to do — simply because you had the courage to believe in your potential and to hold on to your dream.”
With more than 30 years of experience in how data can change decisions, directions and lives, Patrick Callahan is the founding partner of CompassRed Inc., a data and analytics agency based in Wilmington. He serves on the boards of Delaware Prosperity Partnership and the Pete DuPont Freedom Foundation, both of which support innovation and entrepreneurship.
Patrick’s ability to stay relevant is an important lesson for other businesses and start-ups in DE. The ability to look beyond today’s needs and yesterday’s successes to what is the next need or the next problem waiting to be solved. Not only is Patrick a strategic and forward-looking visionary, he understands the importance of giving back to the community.