Gary Hoover

Austin entrepreneur, founder of Bookstop and Hoovers

Gary Hoover is an entrepreneur, lecturer and owner of a personal library of more than 50,000 books. At age 30, he founded book superstore Bookstop, which was sold to Barnes & Noble for $41.5 million, and he later founded the Internet-based business information publisher Reference Press, now known as Hoovers. In 2010, he served as the entrepreneur in residence at the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. Hoover speaks to Fortune 500 executives, trade associations, entrepreneurs and students throughout the world.

You obviously have a passion for books. Is that what made you decide to open a big book superstore?

No, really it was a passion for retail. I've been into books since about [age] 7, been into retail since about [age] 12, so that led to the creation of what became Hoovers. I'm much better known for that when I travel and make speeches than I am for Bookstop. To me, there are few things more exciting than businesses. They affect more people or they are more real, they are more interesting and they are tightly bounded by their rules like any good game.

Why is Austin such a great town for entrepreneurs?

First of all, Austin is in the Sun Belt. And then you have the state capital here, and let's face it, there are about zero odds that long-term government is going to shrink. And then I really believe Austin's greatest strength is that it's in Texas, which obviously is a mix of a bunch of different things. This is a fundamentally an entrepreneurial state, and it is fundamentally a pro-business state. Also, and possibly the most important, this is a pro-immigrant state. Austin is, for a city of its size, pretty cosmopolitan.

What do you see in terms of trends, not only in industries, but also in innovation?

The big thing that not everybody sees, and one of the most important trends in our society is first, the rise of the service industry in the U.S. economy. We spend far less on food than we did 20 years ago, and less on clothing, too. What we spend on now is education, entertainment, recreation and travel. That's a huge thing people aren't really focused on. The other big trend is globalization. In the world of our present and future, it's got to be global. Those are [trends] and what everyone is talking about.

How do you help people see if their idea is a good idea?

I believe I can show you how to figure out whether your idea is a good one or not. I find this over and over, they are looking at me, asking if it's a good idea, and there's no way [for me] to tell. How big is the market? Is it a growing market? How many people have you talked to? In many cases, the bolder the idea, the more you kind of have to extrapolate.

Is there any advice you can give our readers?

With mom and pop [businesses], you've got to love it, and you have to take it seriously. You have to want to be an expert. Do you believe in what you're doing, and do you obsess about your customer? Think entrepreneurially. Be curious, and join the right groups. Take classes, read and learn, and then don't be afraid to cross borders.