What Marketers Can Learn from a Serial Entrepreneur

On September 27, I have just 20 minutes to interview Russ Capper, the Executive Director of Houston Exponential, on stage at the American Marketing Association’s Marketing Edge 2018. I wish we had hours and hours with this audience, because Russ is someone who knows how to make things happen. Marketers will be inspired by his insights about Houston, about technology, and about leading big change. 

One of the lessons we can learn from Russ is that where you start out doesn’t dictate where you’ll end up. Russ has successfully led a number of technology companies. I first met him when he was at eRealty.com, a company he launched in 1998. His use of web-based technology was innovative for its time. It changed the way people find and buy real estate. Serial entrepreneur that he is, Russ went on to found HighDrive.TV, a digital video network. 

Russ and I have had a great relationship over the years. We worked on programs together when I was advancing my career at PKF Texas. We put together an Entrepreneurs’ Playbook that positioned PKF as a thought leader, not just an accounting firm. Russ opened doors for me in a strategic way, and I reciprocated. His loyalty to the Business Makers program we did together always impressed me. 

Now, as executive director for the trio of groups that make up Houston Exponential (HX), Russ is in his element. He gets to use his entrepreneurial mind, his technology expertise, and his passion for connecting people with opportunities. HX works to grow the innovation ecosystem for the whole Houston region.  

Another lesson we get from a mover-and-shaker like Russ is that you can grow your own business, or you can grow the entire platform upon which your business and others will thrive. This big-picture thinking means bringing a variety of players to the table. In the case of HX, the players include economic development leaders, city government, tech business incubators, higher education, start-ups, corporations and investors. Russ has an unselfish approach, and really, that’s the Houston way. I’ve seen this personally, and I know he’s already hard at work to bring a brighter spotlight on our high-tech community.

Russ knows – and so do longtime Houstonians – that our willingness to work together is one of our strongest attributes. We have proved it in the face of hurricanes and we prove it every day in business.

I’m grateful for the opportunity bring Russ Capper’s insights to audiences. And I can’t wait to see what’s next as our innovation ecosystem expands.

Life Lesson Unpacked: Understand the big picture for your industry and be a passionate connector of people to turn big ideas into reality. 

The Impact of Bringing Key Influencers Together

I believe we’re given talents so that we can benefit others as well as ourselves.
I think it’s important for us to recognize when our unique abilities match a need
in our community, however large or small that community may be.


One of my heroes in this area is John Reale, cofounder and CEO of Station Houston. I’ve seen him in action on the board of Houston Exponential. This group is working to transform Houston into a hub for tech innovation and entrepreneurship.


John calls himself an Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builder. He’s passionate about helping others, learning and entrepreneurship. What impresses me most about John is his ability
to bring key influencers to the table, and his giving spirit.


An example of that is the launch of the Houston Innovation District in April 2018.
It’s a collaboration that involves our city’s Mayor Sylvester Turner, Rice University
and the broader Houston technology, innovation and entrepreneurship community.


Entrepreneurs are constantly overcoming barriers and winning over disbelievers,
John says. “I think that entrepreneurs get used to hearing ‘no’ more than ‘yes.’ It’s rewarding
to watch how folks have worked together to activate a startup community. We realized
we are solving a problem as much as we are creating tomorrow. We knew we would need
the involvement of corporations, entrepreneurs, investors, academic institutions, and local government. It’s awesome to be a part of that and do our bit.”


John is humble about his significant role in the business community. He says he has a natural inclination to serve. “It’s part of my faith. I had great role models. The late Father T.J. Martinez was a great inspiration to me. He was a Jesuit priest and founder of Cristo Rey Jesuit College Prep in Houston. He showed me what it means to build a community and to serve. I worked alongside him to co-found a mentoring program at the school.”


I’m on the same page as John when he talks about the rewards of volunteering our talents for a greater cause. “When you give, when you’re building and when you’re helping other people, it’s an amazing thing,” he says. “When you help other people become successful, you want to keep giving back. I see it every day.”


It just takes one person like John who works sacrificially to create the NEXT wave of needed change. Ultimately, his life work provides the leadership that benefits the whole Houston community.


Life Lesson Unpacked: One dedicated person who sees a need and works to fill it sets an inspiring example for others. This is true servant leadership.