Question: What’s the one thing you wish you knew before you started your business and why?

Answer: Never start a price war with someone who has deeper pockets.

What a conundrum; from thousands of lessons, pick one. Challenging and daunting, at the least.When Hiawatha Broadband Communications ( was born in 1997, the brainchild of

Bob Kierlin, founder of Fastenal Company, and Bud Baechler of Mediawerks, there were no roadmaps for alternative entrant mass communications companies, no highways to follow, no mentors. But it wasn’t a lonely landscape like the one that greeted the pioneers as the move to settle the west began. Oh, no, it was filled with mass com giants anxious to knock the socks off the tiny upstarts and make certain they were dead before they could sign a single customer.

HBC was designed to take on the gigantic incumbent, TCI, and offer Winonans a choice. The decision came at a board meeting in 1997 and suddenly the two volunteers (Bachler and I) had the ominous task of constructing a cable system across the width and breadth of...

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When it comes to business development, there is no substitute for great customer service, which is based on employees’ communication skills and can-do attitudes.

Many people have business acumen, financial expertise and marketing capability – business development building blocks – but the qualities that will win the day are strong communication capabilities and a winning attitude.

I led Hiawatha Broadband Communications (HBC), Winona, Minnesota, through its startup and early maturity metamorphosis. HBC was one of the very first alternative entrants in the land of mass communications giants. As we sought to survive, we realized early on that the two qualities that most predicted to success were the two listed above.

HBC was one of a handful of companies that sprang up in the wake of communications deregulation, and its birth was anything but typical.

In 1992 when Fastenal Company founder Bob Kierlin and Winona’s Mediawerks CEO Bud Baechler thought about a new...