President Hall Internet Marketing, Portland
30 Danforth St., Portland
President: Tom Hall
Contact: 956-0020 www.hallme.com
Tech hub contact: 321-2208 www.cascobaytechhub.com
It's probably no surprise that a former forward for the Freeport Falcons and avid hockey player looks askance at corporate trappings. Tom Hall, president of Hall Internet Marketing and one of the founders of the Casco Bay Technology Hub in Portland, chafes under neckties, has no patience for small talk and loathes the spotlight. In fact, the only evidence that Hall is at the helm of a growing technology company is on his desk where four monitors jockey for his attention throughout the work day.
"I'm not a super social guy," says Hall of his preference to operate behind the scenes. "But I feel better — if I want to complain about things in the business community — when I know I'm actually trying to change things."
Among the things he's changing is a dearth of connections among Portland's technology-oriented companies. Nearly a year-and-a-half ago, he and three other entrepreneurs launched the Casco Bay Technology Hub and, with it, the monthly gatherings for technology-enthused business people, called Pub Hubs. Hall then spearheaded an effort to create a business innovation center — an incubator space for technology startups, which opened in February.
The response to both initiatives was quick and strong. The Pub Hubs typically draw between 80 and 100 people who gather to hear a speaker — someone with experience to share — and talk with peers about the issues confronting their technology companies. The events are intended to form business relationships that offer tangible and relevant support for the participants.
"We have a no-solicitation policy at these," says Hall. "We want people to get past that superficial networking crap and really be able to exchange ideas — not worry that someone is going to come up to them and say, 'So, are you happy with your phone service?'"
The innovation center has also taken off. Situated on the first floor of 30 Danforth St., the center is a warren of small offices and cubicle space. Of the 22 co-working spaces available to rent, 18 are occupied with tenants as varied as an East African clean fuel supplier to a software developer researching a better way to read blogs. Rents vary, but are capped at $350 a month and include utilities, high-speed Wi-Fi and common-use spaces.
Hall is quick to share credit with others for both ventures. He, Tim Brooks of Integra Strategic Technologies, Peter Murray, a technology consultant, and Peter Van Alstine, CEO of Scentovation and former head of marketing at CashStar, were talking about how isolated many tech entrepreneurs are and the need for both a vibrant network of connections and a vehicle for touting their successes. From those conversations, a Casco Bay Technology Hub advisory board was put together and Hall volunteered his staff, which had already orchestrated successful social media breakfasts, to launch the Pub Hub (sponsor Baxter Brewing donates beer, hence the "pub" moniker).
The same group wondered whether the shared-space model used by organizations like Peloton Labs could be tailored for technology tenants. Hall, who had moved his corporate offices from Riverside Street into the recently renovated 30 Danforth St., approached landlord JB Brown about using vacant first-floor space for the innovation center. The landlord agreed. Now Hall supports the center by volunteering his staff time to screen innovation center applicants.
"I'm not much on talking about things; I like to do things," he says.
By design, the innovation center offers easy access to the resources of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, Maine Technology Institute and the Campus Ventures program at the University of Southern Maine, all of which have space in the center. Hall says Maine has some rich resources for budding entrepreneurs, but no one knows about them. He uses his own experience founding Hall Internet Marketing 14 years ago as an example.
"For the first nine years, I was probably doing a bad job," he says of his business skills. "Having access to a network of people who ran similar companies would have been enormous. It could have prevented me from spending eight years testing stuff until I found what worked."
Hall credits MCED's Top Gun program for his development as a better manager, and cites a grant from MTI with helping the company develop proprietary software that has been a cornerstone of its increasing revenues. Its 2013 revenues are already 20% over 2012, "and that's been pretty standard for us," Hall says.
The company provides search engine optimization, paid search, social media and mobile marketing services as well as Web design, development and hosting options. To meet those varied needs, Hall puts a premium on people and the innovation process. He notes that Hall Internet Marketing employees have no slashes in their job titles — no Web designer/graphic artist/programmer designations. "Things change in this industry too fast," he says.
Rather, he looks to hire smart, passionate people who want to learn about Hall Internet Marketing and lets them develop their own job descriptions.
"So their jobs are based on what they're passionate about; you're not trying to put a square peg in a round hole," says Hall. "Overall you get to do what you like to do."