Building a Successful Company: The Story Behind AWH
Taylor Miller | June 5th, 2020
For over two decades, AWH has grown and evolved to become an elite team of digital product creators, and now the firm is celebrating its 25th anniversary. In celebration of this milestone in our company, we wanted to highlight the AWH founder story.
Companies Are Built to Solve Problems
In order to fully understand the founding of AWH, one must first recognize the history of a company called AlphaLink.
In 1990, the internet was still a relatively new resource, meaning, it was almost exclusively located in big cities and used by the U.S. Military. One of our Founders, Don Slee, returning from his military service, was finally relocating back to rural Newark, OH. When he reunited with his brother Chris Slee, Don stated that he had been unable to find Chris on the internet. Unsurprisingly, Chris's reaction was, "What's the internet?" It was in this exchange, that it became apparent to the two brothers, the absence of internet access and the anticipated need was a huge opportunity. With this information in mind, they started planning and only a short time later founded AlphaLink, the first internet subscription company in Newark, OH.
The Challenges of Starting a Company
From the beginning, they saw immediate success. There was a high demand for their services, and it did not take them long to gain over 1,000 monthly subscribers. Despite their success, Chris was still maintaining a second job working full time for the CIO of Borden Chemicals. Chris was willing to continue with this job until the CIO made what Chris described as two big lapses in vision: He stated that PCs were a fad and that the internet would never catch on. His boss's poor vision was all Chris needed to take that final leap; he quit his job and committed to AlphaLink full time. Despite his joy at becoming his own boss, Chris recognized the risk he was taking. He had a wife and two young children at home who needed his support, so choosing to leave his stable, corporate job was a risk, but, as he now recognizes, it is a risk that all founders must take.
From Borden as an Employer to Borden as a Client
It was in the midst of this, that Borden Foods, the sister company of Borden Chemical, heard about Chris leaving the company. Recognizing his value as an employee, they immediately hired him back on as a consultant. AlphaLink was evolving to encompass consulting in addition to their internet subscription services. Although this was before AWH was officially founded, in some ways, Borden could be considered the first AWH client.
AlphaLink was still thriving when Time Warner came up with the concept of Road Runner High-Speed Internet. This was a high-speed internet that was much faster than the dial-up that AlphaLink offered. Recognizing their limitations, Don and Chris Slee took advantage of the market and realized it was an opportune time to sell AlphaLink.
Prior to selling AlphaLink, Don and Chris decided to expand into Marysville, OH, but they knew they would need working capital to fund the expansion. That is when their relationship with Greg Huddle, the third AWH founder began. Greg was already an experienced entrepreneur and company founder, as the owner of a successful staffing agency. In fact, prior to his career at Borden, Greg hired Chris as his seventh employee. With Greg's support, they successfully expanded AlphaLink into Marysville and then sold the internet side of the business. What was left was a small technology consulting firm of about 3–4 people with no name: This was the foundation of AWH.
The Story Behind the Name
In 1995, Allen, Williams, and Hughes, otherwise known as AWH, was officially founded. The name itself seems simple, the three middle names of the three founders; however, there was an intentional strategy behind this choice. At the time, AWH was consulting with the Ohio Supreme Court, so choosing an official-sounding name such as Allen, Williams, and Hughes provided them with credibility. People tend to associate any name using initials with a law firm, and typically, correspondence from a law firm gets attention. Finally, they made sure the name of their company began with an A so they would remain at the top of sorted business lists. It is due to strategic thinking like this that now, 25 years later, AWH continues to celebrate innovation, technology, and social impact.
How Has AWH Evolved Since 1995
AWH was consulting 12–13 years before there was even a mobile market, so the company's initial focus was on the web. In 1997 the team built its first software product, an e-commerce platform for Microsoft called GeoMerchant. This product was hugely successful, in fact, they took GeoMerchant to Bank One, The Columbus Zoo, First Merit, and Honey Baked Ham. There was even a time when AWH pursued venture capital and learned how to navigate the same challenges of gaining private equity financing and exiting a business that many of their start-up clients are navigating today. With innovation at the forefront of everything they do, AWH has evolved rapidly into an elite product development team.
The AWH Difference
Over the last 25 years, AWH has gained deep technical experience and business acumen, and they have continued to lean on this experience and knowledge to help provide their clients with the resources they need. There is a reason that AWH is considered an expert in product development. Every employee has passionately pursued this with excellence and integrity since 1995.
The AWH founding story illustrates that the firm has evolved to offer more than just software development. The company has lived through market changes like the .com boom, recessions, and now a pandemic, and they have learned how to ebb and flow with the markets. AWH will continue to share their expertise with their clients to help them survive these difficult times. It takes a lot more than a few good developers to build a successful product or business; it takes individuals who have faced dark times and have looked through to the other side. With their expertise and experience, it is clear why AWH is the foremost digital product creator in Columbus, OH.