Chuck Sacco Finds Goodness in the Gray
Renaissance Man Chuck Sacco never saw the world in black and white. It’s the colors in between that matter most.
September 11, 2014
"Be valuable by being versatile."
This is Chuck Sacco’s personal mantra.
Sacco has practiced what he’s preached from an early age. He even won the “Most Versatile” award — his first professional honor — while working at the local Wendy’s franchise in high school. Now, he shares this philosophy with young entrepreneurs at the Close School — a far cry from flipping burgers in South Jersey.
As Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Director of External Relations at the Close School — not to mention a post as Interim Director of the Baiada Institute — Sacco has certainly proved his versatility since joining Drexel full-time in 2013.
A serial entrepreneur at heart, Sacco has founded multiple companies — most notably PhindMe, which helps businesses reach customers on their mobile devices. But Sacco isn’t the type of guy who defines himself by his successes. He’s also a family man who enjoys traveling, gardening and the occasional Renaissance Fair. He speaks about his wife and children with pride. He does the same about his students and mentees. Sacco is quiet, too. Some might say he plays his cards close to the vest. That he’s cool and calculated.
They’d be right.
Luckily, we got him to talk. We sat down with Sacco to discuss entrepreneurship, his teaching philosophy and his legen-wait for it-dary encounter with none other than Doogie Howser, M.D.
Where did you first develop your entrepreneurial skills?
In high school and college, I worked for the Hershey's Ice Cream Company in Hammonton, NJ. It was a great job because I got to learn a lot of business skills from the ground up. I was managing the books, which at that point was all paper. I had an adding machine. That was about the best I could do in terms of technology. I was checking in the drivers when they got back and counting their cash, reconciling their daily runs. I was washing trucks. When it was really hot and there was so much demand I was working the freezers.
I really got to see all elements of the business. I even got the opportunity to sit with the drivers and drink beers with them. So, it was pretty cool.
What drives you? Are you a competitive guy?
Being competitive is very important. Winning is good. But I think it’s ultimately about doing a good job. Getting something built. At the end of the day, if you’re focusing on winning and not focusing on adding value, I think maybe you’re not doing the right thing. You can win sometimes and be a real jerk and not doing the right things. I’d rather be slightly less successful and have done good. Have really made a difference. Created something that people use, that they like, that they want. And sometimes that’s not necessarily the winner.
I try not to look at business as a win/lose/competition type of thing. I think if you’re doing good, there’s going to be enough market share for everybody to go around. Winning and losing implies a black and white type of thing and I’m much more a “shades of gray” type of guy.
Grayness is a good thing to me.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
You just have to go and do it. You just have to jump in and try something. When I got my MBA, it was actually the third time I had applied to Drexel. It worked out fine, but sometimes I wonder what could have been if I had started it sooner. What other outcomes could have been there? So, it’s really about getting started and taking those first initial steps. As soon as you get something tangible, something that you can touch and feel and point to, you can say "I started that."
Chuck Sacco loves:
Halloween. Like, a lot. He dresses up and decorates his home to the nines every year.
To use his power washer. He says it can be very therapeutic.
His Crossbow. Chuck’s parents were champion crossbow shooters. He has his mother’s crossbow hanging on the wall in his home office.
The immersive theater scene in New York City, especially shows like Sleep No More and Queen of the Night. He loves the dark vibes and audience participation.
The Philadelphia Phillies. A few times a year, he can be seen on televised Phillies games in seats just behind home plate. He knows a guy. Actually, it’s his wife. She works for the organization.
1970s progressive rock. He’s an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to Genesis and Yes.
How important has your family been to you as you transitioned from an entrepreneur as a profession to entrepreneur-in-residence in academia?
My family – a blended one — includes five children. My wife, Sheila, and the kids have all been extremely supportive. We actually have four of them getting either Master's or Bachelor's degrees right now from four different colleges in three different states, so we’re very immersed in academia on a number of levels.
We hear you are an animal lover. How many animals are members of your family?
We currently have two dogs, one fish and a hyperactive horse named Rodney. The best way to sum up how I feel about animals is based on a quote from Henry Beston in The Outermost House: “'We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals.” Check it out.
Tell us something most people would never know about you …
I was an extra in a 2010 movie called The Best and the Brightest with Neil Patrick Harris. I’m pretty visible for a bit in a major scene toward the end of the movie. I got to meet Neil…very gracious guy.
Do you like to “suit up,” as Neil Patrick Harris has been known to say on How I Met Your Mother?
You know it. But I’ll always love my Buffalo jeans.
How would you describe your teaching style?
I try to make class as experiential as possible. I really try to be there for the students. I think more than anything, being present, making yourself accessible, relaying the things that are going on in your life and your business is very important. I try to make a personal connection.
Be a mentor, not just a teacher.
What makes Drexel students unique?
Because they’re also working, they have practical business experience. They’re seeing stuff, they’re doing stuff. They’re starting companies. It’s not just a theoretical exercise for them. Entrepreneurship is a discipline best applied. You can’t just do it by the book. You have to practice and get out there. I think that ties in really well with the fact that the Drexel student is on the ground and doing things on a very regular basis.
Tell us why Philadelphia is a great place to be an entrepreneur?
It’s amazing what’s happened here over the past six or seven years. It’s a very strong yet accessible community. What really sets Philly apart from Silicon Valley or New York, or even Boston to some degree, is that it is accessible. It doesn’t actually take you that long to build your network. So if you’re a student or someone new to the community and you’re afraid of getting started and it seems overwhelming, it’s really not.
Within a few months, you can attend a couple of tech meet ups. Maybe go to a few college-oriented events. Visit a co-working space and hang out for the day. And you can meet probably a good chunk of the people that you need to meet, who are then going to know a lot of other people. So it’s not that hard.
Hopefully as a teacher here, the value I can have is helping students make a connection to that community.
What’s your favorite TV show?
Certainly shows like Breaking Bad. Game of Thrones. Walking Dead. I like these multi-part series that have very interesting characters where it’s not a linear path. I like shows that are complicated and have many different moving parts.
It’s Sunday afternoon. What are you up to?
I’m a very binary person. I’m either awake and doing something, or asleep. You will find me a lot of times working on a Sunday afternoon, doing things for the Close School. Whether it’s class preparation, preparing programming for the Baiada Institute, developing grant proposals, writing an article. So a lot of times I’m using Sunday as a workday. So, I might do that on a Sunday afternoon, but I might take an hour on a Wednesday morning to go pick vegetables in my garden. The times that work for me are very different from a lot of other people. I’m much more of a night person. I’m a terrible, terrible morning person. I don’t like getting up early. I’ve always looked for opportunities, and this is why startups are so great, where I don’t have to get up before 8 o’clock. I’m not that time of person, but I’ll stay up until two in the morning to work on stuff.