John Grayson: Blank Center Advisory Board Member Profile
John Grayson, MBA ’97, is the Founder and President of Genuine, one of the nation’s top digital advertising agencies. Genuine was recently acquired by the Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG), a publicly traded advertising company. We are thrilled that John has returned to Babson as a member of the Blank Center’s Advisory Board! While he was on campus for Back to Babson 2017, I met with John to learn more about his entrepreneurial journey.
When did you graduate from Babson? What was the entrepreneurship scene like at the time?
I graduated with an MBA from Babson in 1997. This was the beginning of the dot-com bubble. It was also a time of shift from sound business fundamentals to inflated and unfounded forward-looking forecasts. It made me and others silently question what we were all caught up in but at the same time, we all went along with it. A lot of lessons were learned by anyone who experienced it.
What did you do after graduating?
I was an intrapreneur. At the time, I was working for a subsidiary of a utility company where we were charged with creating new revenue streams outside of the regulated utility business. While in the MBA program, I wrote a business plan to launch a new business. The plan received $30 million in funding from my company and another investment partner and we launched a new company.
I went from that business into the dot-com world. I was with a startup in the energy trading space. Energy deregulation had just begun and we were trying to create a marketplace to connect the wholesale energy market with retail buyers. That business winded down as a result of the dot-com bubble bursting and the energy deregulation collapse.
From there, I went to another startup software company out of California and worked in enterprise sales.
One of the best things I ever did was to be laid off at 35. Up until then, I had only worked within existing companies, so I had to step out of my comfort zone and truly begin an entrepreneurial life.
A friend of mine started a company in the pharmaceutical and first-responder space. We grew that company for a few years, then sold it. This successful exit proved to me that we had made the right decisions and gave me the confidence to continue down the entrepreneurial path.
I had been advising someone who worked at a web design company. He and his partner split up, and the two of us started the company I am with now, called Genuine. Genuine is a digital ad agency headquartered in Boston, with offices in New York City, San Francisco, and Chicago. We have been growing Genuine for 12 years and sold the company three years ago to IPG. I am currently serving as Genuine’s president.
What is your greatest entrepreneurial achievement?
Succeeding when people said I wouldn’t. When people say you can’t do something, and you know you can, it’s the most satisfying achievement in the world.
What motivates you?
Two things. First, achieving financial independence has always been important to me. Second, I want to positively impact the people I work with and constantly provide opportunities for them.
What do you do for fun?
I like to work and spend time with my family.
Describe yourself in two words.
Driven and fun.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
People who see opportunities that others don’t and have the drive to pursue them. Whether they are successful is a side note. Entrepreneurs are motivated and take risks.
What does the world need from entrepreneurs today?
The world needs entrepreneurs that can balance the needs of their financial stakeholders, employees, and customers. Employees should never become less of a priority for the sake of returns.
Do you have any tips for entrepreneurs?
Find good mentors. Expand your market due diligence beyond friends & family. Fail fast. Don’t be afraid to say no and cut losses sooner rather than later.
What excites you about being on the Blank Center’s Advisory Board?
I am at the point in my personal journey where it’s time to give back. Joining the Blank Center’s Advisory Board is an effective way to give back to Babson and entrepreneurs, which is what I’m really passionate about.