You 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.