Keep on clicking: Ten Haken finds success in digital marketing
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — For Paul Ten Haken, realizing he wasn’t cut out for a career in graphic design was the first step to bigger and better things.
Paul was recently named South Dakota’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the South Dakota office of the Small Business Administration and will accept the honor sometime in June. He is the founder of Click Rain Inc., a digital marketing company located in Sioux Falls that boasts 25 employees.
The son of Lyle and Beth Ten Haken of Worthington, Paul is a 1996 graduate of the now defunct Faith Christian High School in Bigelow. He attended Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, earning a degree in graphic design.
“I’m color blind, so that didn’t work out real well,” he said with a chuckle.”I always tell people that I think I was the first color blind graphic designer at Dordt, and probably the last. I learned pretty quickly that it’s difficult to be a really good graphic designer, and that pushed me into getting my MBA. And it’s not my thing — I’m too Type A — to sit behind a computer all day.”
The emphasis of Paul’s master of business administration degree was marketing.
“When I worked at Sanford (Health) from 2005-2008 was when I got bit by the digital bug,” he said. “I became infatuated with what MySpace was doing, and Google was really taking off as a search engine. I saw this digital tsunami coming and took advantage of that.”
Click Rain was launched in January 2008.
“There are two different stories” about how the company got its name, Paul explained. “My wife says she thought of the name, and that’s not true. Really, a good brand always has something catchy and memorable. Click Rain is very memorable. The literal meaning of it is: Click — you think computer and the web; and Rain, lots of clicks. We’re a digital marketing company. That’s the literal explanation behind the name.”
Click Rain was started at the right time, just when companies were beginning to realize the importance of a strong digital presence.
“We have a team of 25 employees, split between our web design and development disciplines and our online marketing and strategy,” detailed Paul. “We build websites, do content strategy — do quite a bit of that. After a site is up, we have a team that does the analytics. It’s a lot of just consulting for organizations, to know what direction to take their digital efforts. Maybe they have an in-house team, but need our strategic team to get that rolling.”
Click Rain has clients in about 20 states, although the bulk of its business comes from the Midwest region.
“That’s where our brand is strong,” said Paul. “We found that Midwest people like to work with firms that are within choking distance. They like to know we can meet, even though we’re working in a virtual world. That’s value to a lot of organizations, and that’s how we like to work as well.”
The business has far exceeded Paul’s expectations when he launched it.
“I remember sitting down and putting together the business plan six years ago,” he recalled. “It called for us to be seven people, with X amount of revenue, and we blew past that. We are riding the wave that is digital marketing right now. It’s a very hot industry. Almost every organization, from a small business to a Fortune 500 company, has some sort of digital need.
“Most of the time, it is gratifying. But you build the monster, then you have to feed the monster. That’s the challenge of small business. We are definitely not an organization that wants to staff up when the work is there and then lay off when it isn’t there. We want to make sure there is enough and we’ve diversified enough.”
As the company grew, Paul took on two partners, focusing priorities on "faith, family, work."
“I do a lot of the sales and business development for the larger accounts,” he explained. “Honestly, I like to think I do a lot of the maintenance of the culture we’ve built around a core sense of culture and values. It’s the reason for our growth, our low turnover. It’s not just a job to a lot of people. It really is their calling, and they’re good at it. So I’m Chief Culture Officer — making sure that remains.”
Last year, Paul branched out into a new venture, writing a children’s book focused on how the Internet is used is almost all career fields.
“The point of that is to get young kids to realize the Internet is all around us,” he said. “Sometimes it gets a negative connotation, but it’s not all bad.”
“I Can Work on the Internet” was self-published, using the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter to get the funds. Paul is now in talks with a couple of book agents to expand the first book into a series that would explore topics such as building a website and how to be safe on the Internet.
“I have a hard time saying no to anything,” Paul said. “I guess it’s my entrepreneurial nature. I have a reputation that if you get it in front of me and ask me something, I”ll probably say yes. It drives my wife crazy, but that’s also why some success has happened.”
This summer, Paul and wife Jill will mark their 15th wedding anniversary. They have three children: Jade, 8, Max 5, and Nora, 15 months.
“Up until six or eight months about, Jill was also in marketing. She resigned in order to spend more time at home. But she also works part-time for me at Click Rain.”
In addition to all his Click Rain endeavors, Paul started a non-profit organization, the Dispatch Project, about two years ago.
“It organizes international service trips for business owners to send employees on,” he explained. “The employee is going to come back with a different perspective on their life, job, salary, marriage. We organize two or three trips of the year to the Dominican, Haiti, Nicaragua, Jamaica. We’ve had a lot of success with that so far.
“In November, I’m going to Haiti on a Dispatch trip, and we have another one in November going to Jamaica,” he continued. “It’s snowballing a little bit. I think there are a lot of business owners looking for unique opportunities for key people to recharge their batteries in a way that will give them perspective, give them an opportunity that they wouldn’t have otherwise had. It’s a way different type of experience, but just as valuable as going to a conference.”
As a personal challenge, Paul is currently training for a 27-mile ultra-obstacle race scheduled for September in Vermont.
“Last year, I did a similar race— a tough mudder, about 12 miles — with my little brother, Mark. I really loved it,” said Paul. “I got to the end of it and felt like I could’ve kept going. So I thought, ‘what’s the next challenge I could take on,’ and Googled obstacle races.”
An ultra-obstacle race is not just a marathon, Paul noted.
“I’m not a marathon runner. It’s so different from marathoning, which is 26 miles of solid running. This is a quarter mile up a hill followed by an army crawl — a mix of aerobic and anaerobic — more in my wheelhouse,” Paul described. “It takes 14 hours to finish this race. It’s 27 miles of climbing ropes and monkey bars and running uphill, crawling through mud.”
To get himself in shape for the challenge, Paul gets up at 4:45 a.m. each day.
“It’s honestly that time when I can train and run and work out,” he said. “That’s my time. I can think, use that time to pray, think about my day, think about my kids. It’s kind of a spiritual thing to train for something like this, get centered a little bit.”
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.