HeadRoom co-founder talks startups, strategy, and getting away from it all


John Tooher, Co-founder of HeadRoom

Five years since their founding, HeadRoom has shown they know a thing or two about startups and business strategy. As one of the first and most impactful locally-owned business accelerators in the area, with co-working locations in Media and Wayne, HeadRoom has worked with more than 200 startups and helped companies of all sizes grow, scale, and thrive through a unique focus on strategic planning.

i2n caught up with HeadRoom co-founder John Tooher to talk startups, strategy, and scaling the slopes of Mt. Shasta.

i2n: We snooped your LinkedIn—you have more than 20 years’ experience at some of the world’s biggest companies (GE, 3M). What makes someone with a resume like that start a place like HeadRoom?

JT: After GE and 3M, I took a role with a fledgling company in King of Prussia in 2004. We grew that business from 150 employees to almost 3000 and from one center to 8 worldwide. I can honestly say that the secret of our success was that we always had a plan, always knew were we were going. Our business was bought by one of our main customers, and I eventually left. Through a friend I started to get interested in the world of small to medium-sized companies, and how they very often lacked a long-term plan. I saw that was a thing I could help with and decided to make it my new mission in life.

i2n: But HeadRoom doesn’t just advise businesses. You started by creating new physical space for people to work. Why go that route?

JT: We felt it was important to demonstrate that we knew our customers, that we weren’t just a bunch of consultants in suits and ties. We wanted to hang out with small businesses and solopreneurs and see them navigate the path to success. If we could help them along the way, we would. We wanted them to collaborate with each other. We wanted to learn from them and with them.

We knew eventually we would build up an amazing pool of subject matter experts that we could dip into when our strategy clients needed expertise. It has allowed us to become a one-stop shop. Companies using our space have gone on to create several hundred jobs in our area. We are incredibly proud of playing some part in their journey.

i2n: Ok, I have to ask—there are a lot of consultants out there, but not a lot who talk so much about strategy. Why is that the driving force for HeadRoom?

JT: This has always been the long-term focus for us. We work with two to three companies a month, large and small, from every industry and type of business. They could be a 1000-employee resort or a solopreneur running a SAT/ACT prep business. These companies all have something in common: they need to define where they are going and how they will get there.

In almost every case, they are overwhelmed with choices, and they lack the methodology to find the best way forward. That’s where we come in. We take them through a brutally honest and holistic review of where they stand, then define where they want to be in 12 to 36 months. Then it’s about identifying the few key issues or opportunities—and separating them the many others—that must be addressed to get them to that future vision. It doesn’t sound so difficult, but it’s all about the facilitation and keeping the focus on building on ideas. That’s what we are good at.

i2n: Ever get nostalgic for the corporate life? I’m going to guess not—we tried to reach you by cell for this interview and you were well out of cell range on the slopes of Mt. Shasta…

Everyone needs to get away now and again and would be hard to beat beautiful Mt. Shasta as a place to totally relax and appreciate being alive. We don’t do that enough. The corporate world gave me a lot and allowed me to see the world and get to know many great people from multiple cultures and backgrounds. I’m very grateful for that but I can’t imagine going back.

i2n: As an entrepreneur yourself, any advice for the startups out there, or folks thinking about starting a company?

The best advice I can give anyone wanting to run their own business is to find something you like doing and stick at it. It is the sticking at it that counts in the end. Success rarely comes overnight, you have to have staying power and patience, it is as much an emotional investment as it is a mental or financial one.

For more on HeadRoom and regional startup activity check out headroom.net.

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  1. Tom Kearney

    Aug 02, 2019 @ 3:51:15

    John, excellent vision. Nose to the grindstone doesn’t get you very far, and leaves you with no nose!

  2. Morris Kaufman

    Sep 18, 2019 @ 8:48:03

    Hey John, Enjoyed reading your article. Holly and I just got back from a cabin facing due west on Drummond Island in Lake Huron. Agree with your travel destination criteria!

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