The Story of Fat Atom

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 10.05.06 PMYou have to go back many years to get a background around my personal story, one that eventually becomes the story of Fat Atom. Born and raised in a small town in Northern Indiana, my life revolved around school and work…and Atari of course.

The list of jobs I had as a teenager was extensive, multiple fast food gigs, gas station attendant (I just dated myself) and factory worker. By the age of 15, I was working to pay for gas, my car and other necessities. School was never important to me, it was something that I thought you had to do. I was a slightly above average student, less the string of D’s in science.

Off to college, because that is what I was supposed to do. Shocker, I only lasted a year. Back to fast food, I needed money. Ah, KFC management program, something I could do, and liked, that is, until you burn a batch of chicken. What a bad day, and on my way home from said day, I stopped by the local Uncle Sam recruitment center and joined the Army…yea, just like that. I agreed to a 4 year deal that would allow me to drive a tank. Really, a tank, every man’s dream! Well, that changed to Morse Code Interceptor in basic training and off to Massachusetts I went. Hawaii was my next stop and although it was only for a couple of years, it was the most influential period in my life. Leadership, responsibility, respect – these words started to mean something to me. It’s never easy to grow up, but that’s exactly what happened. Fast forward to July of 1992, I left the Army with a wife, young son and a decent job opportunity in sales.

People often debate whether a person can become a salesman or if you naturally have it. The answer is both and I excelled in sales. Four years selling diesel fuel supplements and six months selling life insurance and should earn a degree in Sales….at least it felt that way for me! Then I went off to get my MBA, selling vinyl fence railing and decking for 5 years for a great company with a passionate leader.

Unfortunately, I didn’t stay at that company. The VP of Sales told me one day that he pays me to do the job they want done, not the one I can do for them. At that moment I knew I needed to be my own boss. Two months later, I left and opened a fence company with a great friend and after a year of that, sold my portion to him. I was off to join my wife’s company, Creative Indoor Advertising, putting ads in bathrooms…was I crazy?

Her business started in 1999 after she was downsized from her employer. You see, she was the smart one, having attended school for 4 years, then another 3 years to get her Masters. She was a mental health therapist (MSW) and she loved her work…but after the downsizing, the story goes that I convinced her to be her own boss and she started our “out-of-home” advertising agency.

In 2001, I didn’t really have a clue about business. Our little company grew to almost 500K in yearly sales and 12 employees, but we were rarely in the black. We brought on a 50/50 partner in early 2005, hoping they would help us grow the business to profitability, but by the fall, we had sold the balance of our ownership to her and decided to part ways. In the deal we received one employee and the small internet marketing/graphic design side of the business, Plan B Marketing was born.

I forgot how hard starting over was. In the fall of 2005, we landed a national client (Hardee’s) that helped propel our little company for the next 18 months, but when they left, we were left bleeding. I decided to leave the business and go to work for “the man” and refill the bank account. Our little business was on life support, but it was alive! In 2008 I jumped back into the business full time and never looked back. It was the dawn of the CMS website and social media was in it’s infancy. We were in the right place, at the right time, with the right team.

In 2008, Plan B had a salesperson that replied to an RFP of a large worldwide company headquartered in Chicago. They wanted a new website and we wanted to build one for them. Unfortunately, so did another company called Plan B The Agency, and after some buyer confusion and a letter from their attorney, we decided to rebrand Plan B. My heart sunk, but I moved forward. The process of rebranding begun and we jumped into throwing names around. Project X. Aces High. Exclamation Point Marketing. Fat Atom Internet Marketing. Invade Marketing. The last two names made the cut, and then once focused group, it became clear that Fat Atom Internet Marketing was going to be our new name. (focus group consisted of my wife and two female employees) My daughter even helped with the early branding concepts and I have kept the journal with the process to remind me of our past.

Fat Atom Internet Marketing evolved over the years. We dropped the “Internet” portion of our name as we thought that stereotyped our capabilities. Then we dropped “Marketing” to get to a more ubiquitous status. The joke goes, soon we will just be FAT.  In 2014 my wife and I sold a 10% equity portion in Fat Atom to two employees. In 2016, they purchased another 39% and we became partners. Now, almost  eleven years since the Jerry McGuire move, we have twenty two employees and almost two million dollars a year in revenue. My philosophy is that a million is just a bunch of zeros and I don’t work for zeros. What do I work for? I am sure if you asked the team, you would get several different answers, but my guess is the answer that would rise above the others is, “I love what I do.” And when you’re the owner, that is exactly what you want your team to notice. Not the money. Not the awards. You want each employee to get up each day, to come to work happy motivated and inspired. That is what I feel we have created at Fat Atom. We hire adults to do adult work and that is what I am most proud of. Proud that we have built an organization that hundreds of people count on, every day. I love my company, my baby….my Fat Atom.

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To Him He’s Always Doing Both

james_michenerEver hear something and it just resonates with you? The way a song sounds? The voice of a loved one? Today in a meeting I had a prospect recite a James Michener quote to me. I have never heard it before and to be honest, I haven’t heard of Michener. Well stupid me…the guy was a great American writer. He wrote 40+ books over his career, with his most popular being Tales of the South Pacific, which was later made into a movie. Michener is attributed with many quotes, but the one I love goes like this:

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both. ”

Do you make distinction between your work or play? Is your labor your leisure? Is love and your religion synonymous? Lastly, do you leave others to decide whether you are working or playing? As for me, I am, always, doing both.

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Take a Risk…500 Style

If you live in a cave and haven’t heard, Alexander Rossi, a rookie, won the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. Not only is that a good story in and of itself, but it’s how he won that got me thinking.

With only 3 laps to go, the leaders of the race, Munoz and Newgarden, who had been battling back and forth for 10 laps or so, decided they needed fuel to complete the race. Rossi’s team decided he didn’t. Now, he did go into turn four at under 180mph and seemingly coasted across the victory bricks…but he did it before Munoz could catch him.

Rossi, who at one time in the race was in position 33, had to have this type of conversation with his crew chief.

Rossi – “I’m getting low on fuel, I don’t think I can finish without pitting”

Crew Chief – “The leaders just pitted, if you come in, you have NO chance at all of winning. If you stay out, you have a chance…what do you want to do?”

Rossi – “Screw it, let’s win this thing”

The rest they say is history. Just after crossing the finish line, Rossi’s car died in the back stretch and the first time winner had to be towed to victory lane. Anything can happen in professional sports!

If he would have pitted, he had NO chance to win. None. If he stays out on the track, it can go one of three ways.

  1. He could run out of fuel. No matter, he wasn’t going to win anyway.
  2. He could come in a place other than first.
  3. He could win the race.

With that being said, why not stay out? You have to wonder, why did Munoz and Newgarden pit? If either one of them stays on the track, they might have been drinking milk and cashing a huge in glory as the winner of the greatest spectacle in sports racing. But they did pit, and they did lose.

Here was my epiphany watching those events unfold on Sunday. Playing it safe isn’t always the best choice. If your situation is bleak, like Rossi’s was, the only way to win was to take a chance. Sure, it might backfire and you flame out, but what happens if it works? What happens if by some improbable chance you succeed…well, this happens.

Taking Risk


Want to read what Munoz was thinking after the race, click here:

Want to see a video recap of the race? Fellow SAE brother, Curt Cavin gives you the scoop here:

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3 Ways Pinball Is Like Business

Pinball and BusinessI may or may not own a pinball machine…well ok, I do. I played this particular machine a lot in the year 1988 at the local pizza shop in Franklin Indiana. A favorite past time of mine was to spend lots of quarters on this machine and try to get the high score or in other words, have my name immortalized in the thrones of electronic data. I went to great lengths (and quarters) on getting the high score, only to leave college and move on. What ever happened to that machine? To my score?

Today I was blowing off some steam, trying to get the jackpot back up to over 4M before I attempt another run at the board…and then it hit me. Pinball is a lot like business….three examples.

You have to know the field/rules. 
So often I have people want to play me on my machine. They think they can win. While I am not the greatest (I do hold 3 of the 4 top scores, damn you SKO), I understand how to score. Just like so many entrepreneurs today, they get into the game and think it’s easy. Watch some Shark Tank, or a little of the TV show The Profit, help a friend “run” their business…easy! Wrong. If you don’t know exactly what to expect when you get into the game, either game, you will get crushed by your competition that has experience on their side.

You have to practice. 
I didn’t get the high score on my first try. I didn’t call my shots on the machine until I knew I could make them, or at least look like I knew what I was doing. I often just play to hit the Comet 6 times in a row on a double score clock. In business it is much the same, you have to read. You have to network. You have to try harder and work more if you want to be the best…it doesn’t come “natural”.

There is a score…keep it. This doesn’t necessarily mean profit, but that’s nice. As a matter of fact, profit let’s you do a lot in business. Help others, expand, employ more people, do greater work etc. Can you imagine playing pinball without keeping score? What would be the point? Understand what score is important in your business, and keep it. Not only that, but month after month, year after year, understanding more, practicing often, I believe you will beat your old score and become a Pinball Wizard.

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