Always challenge everyone’s thinking and look for new avenues to explore, whether through my own company’s services or through partnerships.”
Steve Pizzolato founded the marketing group AVALA a little more than 20 years ago. With 35 years of marketing experience — specifically with a focus on helping improve marketing integration among manufacturers and distributors — Steve has built AVALA to be a leader in marketing tech implementation as well as strategy that uses distribution channels to reach consumers.
Where did the idea for AVALA come from?
Starting a company came from the notion while driving around office parks and wondering, “Why can these people start businesses, and I can’t (or haven’t) yet?”
The particular foundation of AVALA, though — focusing on our niche and types of services — was seeing the large amount of money that brands would spend on getting consumers to show interest in them, only to see those same brands stop or abdicate the process when the consumer went into a dealership to buy a product. The concept was to not let the dealer, who in many cases was not brand loyal, steer the customer to another brand, thus wasting all the positive brand awareness that got the customer to consider the brand and the dealership in the first place.
The concept for the business was very simple: Ensure the brand maintains a relationship with the consumer throughout the purchase cycle and then in the postpurchase cycle.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
I let the day come to me and try not to have a lot of set meetings. Mostly, I reach out to clients socially for some general catch-up. I also like to walk around to see what’s new with employees, personally and professionally.
On set meetings, I prefer to focus on subjects that center around strategic direction of the business or client opportunities versus the day-to-day tactical issues.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I visualize how the idea might be seen or used by the end user or the person it affects. I actually imagine myself as the target consumers seeing the concept — I am thinking about whether they are reacting to a messaging campaign or how they would react to a visit at a dealership. I also like to stir up many, many ideas at the same time and allow the good ones to rise to the top and the bad ones to disappear naturally, either because they are bad ideas or through lack of interest.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
In business, the rapid way technology is changing everything, every day — while it doesn’t necessarily excite me, I’m amazed how many businesses don’t survive because technology has overtaken them. I think the pace of change is exciting and scary at the same time. For instance, seeing a new business idea (i.e., Uber or Lyft) change the way we transport ourselves is exciting. Who takes a taxi anymore? I was recently on a trip to Minneapolis in the coldest of winter days, and instead of renting a car, I just used Uber to every appointment I had. A warm car picked me up and drove me through the snow, and the cost was still less than renting a car for those two days.
What’s one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Always be curious, and never stand pat. Always challenge everyone’s thinking and look for new avenues to explore, whether through my own company’s services or through partnerships.
As an entrepreneur, what’s one thing you do over and over and recommend others do, too?
Read, read, read: Read everything from every media source, from every political base, from every discipline — business, arts, science, sports, etc. I think you can draw insight in business from many subjects outside of business.
What’s one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Personal relationships. I have clients today that I had 20 years ago because of personal relationships, and those relationships helped us move through downturns and client management changes, as most times a relationship carries on from client to client.
What’s one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Entrepreneurs have many failures, every day, every year. My biggest failure is being comfortable in my life, and as such, not pushing enough for growth in my business. I’m not sure this is a failure as much as it is a conscious decision of how I want to run my life and not let my business run it. I could probably pick 10 things people told me to do that I did not, but I have no regrets, as not doing them as part of growth is failure.
What’s one business idea you’re willing to give away to readers?
Start rural tech training centers to increase the amount of tech-ready people. Among other benefits, this would improve economies in small towns.
What’s the best $100 you spent? Why?
I recently spent $140 for my daughter, who’s in medical school, to stay in a hotel for the night because her pipes froze and her heat was off — and she had a big test at 8 a.m. I know how much a hot shower and a warm room meant to her and helped her get mentally and physically prepared for her test.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I don’t think I “love” any software, and I think if you do, you have your priorities messed up. Technology is a means to an end; loving it is the end, and letting it run our lives is the end of the world as we know it. I guess I like my phone because of all the videos and photos I take of my family and grandkids and how we pass them around between us. It instantly connects us all.
What’s one book you recommend our community read and why?
Our world should read “One Second After,” a novel by William R. Forstchen about how an electromagnetic pulse is blown off and our electrical grid is fried, thus forcing the United States’ population to become agrarian. People who are important now become useless; those who have skills and trades become valuable. The population eventually declines to 30 million, as that is all the land can sustain. It’s scary stuff because it can happen and unfortunately probably will.
What’s something that’s true that virtually no one agrees with you on?
An independent and free press, while perhaps slanted, is true, factual, and very important to our democracy; maybe only 40 percent of people don’t agree with me on this.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Go bold earlier. Take more chances.
What’s your favorite quote?
I think I made this one up by combining a few different quotes: “My footsteps are heavy because I walk with the weight of the world on my shoulders.” If no one owns that one, I want to be credited for it.
· Be entrepreneurial early in life.
· Be well-rounded and open-minded to different thoughts or views.
· Read, read, read: I suggest reading “One Second After” by William R. Forstchen as well as reading right-slanted and left-slanted media — somewhere in the middle is the truth.
· Have a good partner in life who gets you, but does not try to change you.
· Always be curious and ask “what if.”
· Surround yourself with good, honest, and trusting people.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.