Publisher's note: This article originally appeared in the 2018 Economic Outlook magazine. Sponsored by Clarke Capital.
James Clarke likes to think of himself as, "just a farm boy from Idaho. I grew up working on potato farms, studied at Ricks College and then went on to study geography at BYU. It's not the typical path of an entrepreneur, " he says with a laugh.
Clarke might be a farm boy at heart, but today he is widely considered to be one of Utah's leading entrepreneurs. Clarke is the founder of Clearlink, an online retailer. Clarke launched the company just after 9/11 and the dotcom crash.
"No one believed in the internet anymore, and I decided to dive head first into an online business," he says. "People thought I was crazy."
Crazy he was not. Under Clarke's vision and leadership, Clearlink developed relationships with Dish Network, AT&T and CenturyLink, among others, and grew to more than 1,500 employees. Within a few years,
Clearlink had become one of Utah's fastest-growing companies.
By 2008, Clarke was preparing to sell Clearlink. Like many serial entrepreneurs, he wanted to start building something new. He had even appointed his own replacement, Phil Hansen, to run the company. "Then, the world fell apart in 2008. Every offer went away. It put me in a spot that I had worked myself out of a job, but it gave me an opportunity to spend two years learning and preparing."
What was he preparing for? His next venture: Clarke Capital Partners, a growth equity investment firm. On January 3, 2011, Pamlico Capital acquired Clearlink and Clarke immediately launched Clarke Capital Partners. While it was a bittersweet day for Clarke, he was eagerly anticipating his next entrepreneurial adventure.
When James Clarke decided to start an investment firm, he knew he wanted to create something that would go far beyond providing financial support--he wanted to use his years of entrepreneurial experience to help others grow something big.
"I've been on the other side of the table running a company. It's easy for an investor sitting on that side of the table with a large checkbook to say, 'I'll give you this money and demand returns.' That's reasonable, but it doesn't help a whole lot, beyond just dollars" says Clarke. "A lot of investors haven't ever had to make their own payroll or make tough decisions about laying people off at Christmastime, or gone through the growing pains of developing their own business. But that's the criteria of people who work inside of our office--everyone has to have built a business. Our DNA is that of entrepreneurs."
Clarke likes to say that the firm is made of "operators first, investors second." It's a saying that goes beyond lip service--the firm walks the walk. Because every Clarke Capital partner is an entrepreneur, they understand the unique challenges and hardships it takes to build a business from the ground up. Moreover, Clarke Capital partners aren't just willing to get in and help, they're anxious to help. When they invest in a company, they're in it for the long term.
"A lot of people, when they're investing, they say they'll be alongside the guys, sitting...