Gary Fish does what he loves: unlocking potential
Gary Fish never used to be a morning person. Now, he can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning and start another day.
Fish also used to be a B-C student – closer to C, he admits. Then he went to college and earned straight As. What changed? Something simple but fundamental: he took charge of his own life and became his own boss.
“Life is too short to do things you don’t want to do,” he likes to say. That is the motivation that has made him a “serial entrepreneur,” a multi-millionaire, a computer security pioneer and the 2016 Regional Entrepreneur of the Year recognized by the Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management, University of Missouri-Kansas City.
UMKC’s Bloch School will honor the recipients of its 31st Annual Entrepreneur of the Year Awardscelebration, “Fearless City: Celebrating Those Who Fearlessly Create” on Thursday, Nov. 10, at the Kansas City Convention Center, Great Hall, 301 W. 13th St., Suite 100, Kansas City, Mo. A Student Venture Showcase and Reception begins at 6 p.m. with the dinner immediately following at 7 p.m.
Days before the big event, however, Fish spent time on the morning of Nov. 8 chatting and answering questions with Bloch students. He met with two classes – Entrepreneurial Finance and Creating the Enterprise, but the session was open to other students as well.
He told them how he joined the National Guard to get money to pay for college; and how he combined his electronics degree with his military experience to launch a career as a flight test engineer in the 1990s. Immersed in technology, he observed two trends: “This Internet thing is really taking off” and “computer security is going to be a really big deal.”
The rest is history. He taught himself basic coding and founded his first company, Fishnet Consulting. He changed the company name to Fishnet Security to reflect its focus, and brought on board key staff members who remain associates in his current businesses today.
“My goal was to create a million dollar business. It became an $800 million business before I sold it.”
Fish currently serves as CEO of Fishtech Labs, which he founded in 2015. Since 1996, he has founded, acquired and sold more than a dozen technology companies.
He told the students that lining up early-stage investment is the biggest challenge. His insight: investors put their money into people, not products.
“As much as they love your product, what they are really investing in is you and your team,” he said. “So you really need to have your team buttoned up early on.”
Fish was asked about mentors, a key element of Bloch School education. He admitted to not always making wise choices in that area.
“I was pretty stubborn early on. I thought I could do everything myself,” he admitted. “Looking back, if I had found mentors they really could have helped me. They push you beyond your comfort zone.”
For his new company, Fishtech Labs, he put together an advisory board of seasoned executives. “I’m a lot more open than I used to be to taking advice.”
He continues to relish the work of building a venture from the ground up.
“Once you start to do something you love, it doesn’t feel like work anymore,” he explained. He learned that after selling Fishnet Security. At the time, he took his fortune and went off to Colorado to ski, fly-fish and play golf. His new life of leisure lasted all of eight months.
“I thought success was finite,” he said. “I wanted to be successful and I thought when I got there, I’d be done. But it doesn’t work that way. You always have more potential to unlock. I don’t know if true entrepreneurs are ever able to be done.
“I love doing IT, but the thing I love more than IT right now is owning the company that does IT. Entrepreneurship is fascinating to me. You’re never really done.”