Even though it has been more than 30 years, Mark Hasebroock still remembers being told “no” as he entered First National Bank looking for employment in 1982. The unemployed Hasebroock, fresh out of college, plopped down in a chair at the bank and refused to leave until he was hired.
The business administration graduate from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln left with a job in commercial banking, he said. That stubborn banker is now arguably the most successful startup entrepreneur in Omaha. And while he might be part owner of a bank now, he is still stubborn.
These days, Hasebroock is founder of Dundee Venture Capital (DVC), a local venture capital firm investing in Midwest-based growth companies with an e-commerce and web services focus. This year, the Omaha native went a step further when he introduced Straight Shot, a 90-day accelerator that supports startups with money and mentors.
DVC and Straight Shot were not originally part of Hasebroock’s plan. But after years of searching for local investors and turning up none, the startup business owner, said he owed it local entrepreneurs.
“There has been a huge demand for startup capital in Omaha, but it’s always been a lot of talk and no action,” Hasebroock said. “I wanted to change that.”
Hasebroock’s passion to help startups stems back to the 1980s, just three years into his banking career. In his own words, he caught the “entrepreneur bug” and left the banking industry to start his own business – selling gourmet popcorn to grocery stores. As the business and the headaches that came with it grew, Hasebroock sold his popcorn business. The decision paved the way for Hasebroock and two of his buddies to start an e-commerce business selling gift cards, now known as giftcertificates.com. Laying out the blueprint for the online business was easy; finding local investors was not.
“It was frustrating because I couldn’t get anybody in Omaha to write a check,” he said.
While local investors were not willing, investors in cities like Chicago, Cincinnati and Boulder, Colo. wrote checks. After successfully kick-starting giftcertificates.com, the trio founded hayneedle.com, an e-commerce business venture that grew from a phone call between Hasebroock and an unhappy hammock salesman.
“I was on the phone with a guy who sold hammocks over the Internet, but he wasn’t making a lot of money,” Hasebroock said. “He kept saying he wish he could find someone to buy it and I said I would.”
Within 24 hours of purchasing hammocks.com, Hasebroock said sales increased by 300 percent. Hasebroock saw an opportunity to offer more than just hammocks. He wanted to sell porch swings, bird feeders and other items for outdoor living and leisure. That idea gave birth to hayneedle.com – a home furniture e-commerce business offering everything from hammocks to garden greenhouses.
Today, Hasebroock’s businesses have racked up a host of accolades and have turned over quite the financial gain, but he is not satisfied. After attending TechStars, an accelerator for startups offered in cities like New York City and Boston, the guy who refused to leave until he got a job resurfaced. Hasebroock said he will not rest until he is able to bring something like that to Omaha.
“I want to create an ecosystem where anyone in Omaha knows where to go to start a company.”
Through his new offering – Straight Shot – he may just be able to do that. Straight Shot puts entrepreneurs, mentors and investors in the same room. Mentors include names like Tracy Britt, assistant to the chairman at Berkshire Hathaway and Jonathan LeBlanc, head of North America PayPal Developer. Investors include First National Bank, Scott Technology Center and PayPal Developer. In just its first year, Straight Shot is working with seven startup companies – three in Omaha and four others from around the country. Hasebroock’s goal is to have helped kick-start 100 companies in 10 years.
And if that’s not enough, the full-time businessman is a full-time dad. Hasebroock and his wife of 29 years have eight children ranging from the ages of 12 to 27. His wife Jan, whom he calls the general of their household, has stayed by his side even when friends questioned her husband’s sanity.
“Friends have asked her if everything was okay with me after some of the business decisions I’ve made,” he said. “We’re used to it.”
Though work is very busy and keeps him at a desk more often than not, Hasebroock still makes time for his family and for the sport he loves – hockey. Two nights a week, Hasebroock suits up at the forward position for Team Gold, a three-time championship team in Omaha’s Beer and Pretzel Hockey League.
Hasebroock’s life is demanding and very busy and includes way more Jimmy John’s sandwiches than one should consume, but he said he would not have it any other way.
“I don’t view it as busy,” he said. “It’s energizing.”