by Toya Ogallo, IR Talent Task Force
Sean Patrick Tario is a native Chicagoan turned Silicon Valley Entrepreneur who relocated to Raleigh with his wife and three kids (ages 11, 8 and 4) in 2016. He is currently the founder of Open Spectrum: a local data center marketplace consulting firm working with buyers, sellers and investors in mission critical infrastructure around the world. His team has negotiated hundreds of contracts and toured hundreds of facilities across the country. In addition he has developed educational materials that have become the de facto training standard in the industry.
We sat down for a conversation about what makes Raleigh attractive to talent from other cities, developing a support system, and the biggest challenge facing Raleigh in the coming years.
Have you always been an entrepreneur?
I left Chicago to go to college in Santa Clara, CA in 1998. Sophomore year of college some friends and I decided that we wanted to create a start-up because we saw so many people around us doing the same thing: raising money with hair-brained ideas. We looked at the biggest thing in tech at the time (Amazon) and decided to frame a business around something we understood very well: college students. We ended up building drop-ship relationships with vendors across the country who were selling things that students needed for their dorm rooms. That evolved into building white-labeled e-commerce sites and catalogs for universities that had university-approved products for students to purchase. That eventually grew into a media marketing business on college campuses.
I was with this startup for about 5 years. When the writing was on the wall that the company was making major changes for the worse, I began developing a business plan for another similar business concept. I raised the money, but just as I was about to move my family to San Diego for that project, my primary partner backed out. Right around that time my wife and I found out we were pregnant with our first child, and it became clear I needed a formal health insurance plan to cover the medical bills that would be piling up, so I started rethinking the entrepreneurial lifestyle and went into the “real world” of Corporate America.
I began working for a large software development firm and after a few years eventually became the VP of Sales for a Data Center Company. After spending time working in, and falling in love with, the Data Center industry my wife and I agreedthat we were financially stable enough to risk striking off on our own, so once again I developed a new business plan that addressed a glaring need I saw in the industry and started my own company.
Along the way I’ve also been very involved in another passion of mine, which is building authentic entrepreneurial communities. I worked hard in Santa Cruz to start a number of networking groups to get technology folks and business folks in the community together. We would hold “jellies” which basically involved tech folks swarming a business that would allow them to co-work from their office for the day. That started a huge movement in Santa Cruz which I am very proud to have been a part of.
The initiative I’m probably the most proud of, however, was helping found the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University. Most people are completely unaware of my work as a catalyst for this organization on campus, but I’ve found it’s simply the nature of what I do best. Getting things started and running is far more exciting for me than managing the project or company once it has legs and starts to build a life of its own.
How did you end up in Raleigh?
I travel quite a bit for work meeting with clients and conducting training within the high tech commercial real estate space. I wrote the book on buying and selling colocation services within the data center infrastructure industry: the book is thus used as the core of the training we provide the industry. As I traveled more and more across the country, at one point hitting nearly 25 different cities in one year, it really struck me that the cost of living in the Bay Area was very crazy high and traffic was atrocious relative to nearly every other city I was visiting. At one point my wife and I realized the money we could make selling our home would provide more than enough cash that we could really relocate almost anywhere we wanted. The nature of my work is also that I can live anywhere so long as I’m near an airport. We started the search and had our pick of cities but Raleigh kept moving to the top of the list. The big draws for us were not only the cost of living but also the beautiful climate, quality of life, and comparably light traffic! When we moved my commute went from an hour each way to about 20 minutes.
I’ve actually convinced several friends to move out here, one from Honolulu and one from the Bay Area. Another from Denver will be moving within a few months. Another friend has visited and jokes that he refuses to bring his wife out from California because she would want to move here too. At this point I believe that once you visit, Raleigh sells itself. It really does. It’s the quality of life. From a value perspective, there is no comparison between the quality of neighborhood and home you have here compared to what is found in the Bay Area. And if you have kids, there are so many great activities, the wonderful museums (you have to go to the Museum of Life and Science if you haven’t been, it’s fantastic), the beach and mountains are only a few hours away, and we have found the schools to be great. Unfortunately I’ve learned teachers are not paid nearly enough here, but that’s one thing I would love to work on.
One of our Team member, Emily Diaz recently said that it’s natural for an entrepreneur to become interested in politics because you have a core belief that you can effect things and make a difference. Would you agree with that statement?
Yes, I actually view politicians as being no different than entrepreneurs. At the end of the day, as an entrepreneur, what you are selling more than anything else is yourself. You are getting people to trust your vision. And politicians need to do the same thing. In many cases both spend most of their time raising money! I’ve always been involved and interested in effecting change and I currently lobby on behalf of my industry in DC. I would say that a key reason entrepreneurs get involved in politics is because they have the bravado and the belief that they can effect change. If you’re going to be able to effect change and you have a compass that steers you towards a political issue, you say “If I can do it on a professional level then I can do it on a public level too”. And it’s the truth: one thing I learned early on is the people who get their opinions heard are the ones that show up. If your voice isn’t at the table then it simply isn’t being heard.
Have you been able to find a good support system here?
Actually, yes. I naturally love networking and seek out people to understand their perspectives. When I moved to Raleigh I wanted to understand who were the people making things happen and what are their motivations. I quickly found people of like heart and mind.
I have gotten involved with the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic and its mentorship program where I serve as a mentor for students. I have met other entrepreneurs through that forum and became good friends with former students. I also work with the NC District Export Council which is focused on helping NC business export internationally.
Also, as a parent I find that you often meet close friends in your neighborhood through your kids. Out of the 50 or so homes in my neighborhood I’d estimate that less than 10% of folks in his neighborhood are from Raleigh. That’s great from the standpoint that fellow transplants tend to be very social and open to making new friendships.
What’s your vision for Raleigh?
Raleigh is poised to do some amazing things. But one of the lessons that I learned in the bay area is that once cities start to do extremely well, you attract the attention of outside interests. And what is in the best interest of those entities is not necessarily in alignment with what is in the best interest of the local community. One timely example is Amazon’s HQ2 Request For Proposals, which is going on right now. Amazon is looking for a second Headquarters which would hire up to 50,000 full-time employees andis forecast to spend more than $5 Billion in capital expenditures. That is potentially a very attractive opportunity.
However, even given the advantages, you still need to ask the hard questions. What are the long-term implications of having a corporation of that magnitude headquartered here? Is there infrastructure to support it? How will having a campus of that size affect the quality of life for residents in the vicinity? I’m not saying I would be against it! The point is that these are complicated issues that need to be intelligently weighed and approached strategically. And you have to go much deeper than the surface level of the story to think through what the real issues are. I am seeing countless examples like this play out here.
In the past I’ve been a part of communities who have dealt with many of these same issues. So, I’m very aware of the paradigm and the importance of engaging the right people in the right conversations who have the right intentions and motivations. That’s the conversation that I’m most interested in, for Raleigh, at this moment in time. And that’s why I feel blessed to be here in Raleigh at this juncture, so that I can leverage my experiences to help avoid pitfalls that could be a long term detriment to the community, the city and the state.
I have only lived in Raleigh since 2016, but my wife and I are committed to being here long term and watching our kids grow and mature. We have moved 5 times over the course of our 12 year marriage and we are here now to lay down some deep roots. We truly believe we are in the house of our dreams, in the neighborhood of our dreams, in an amazing city with limitless potential and opportunity, close to cultural, social and natural things we love to do and we’re not going anywhere. I want to leave a legacy here and make the most of the time we have here.