Let your employees know how much you appreciate them. As CEOs, we are nothing without our staff, and we must never forget that. You should be a cheerleader for your team and always acknowledge the great work that they do.
As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jesse Willms, a dedicated and experienced business professional with a wide range of expertise across a number of industries and areas of interest. Willms is a well-known business owner, entrepreneur, internet marketer, and car history aficionado. He has built a name for himself not only in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he currently resides, but throughout the United States and Canada as well.
Willms’ journey began at just 15 years old when he founded his very first company, eDirect. Selling computer software online, Willms grew eDirect into a multimillion dollar business, earning more than 40 million dollars in sales after the first year. From there, he continued to explore his passion for business.
By 2007, Willms was poised to build on the tremendous success that he had experienced with eDirect, and in a four-year period, he founded more than 22 multi-million-dollar supplement brands, reaching more than 500 million dollars in sales.
WuYi Tea was just one of the brands that Willms founded — and it was also one of the most successful and popular of its time. As a tea brand, WuYi Tea built up a massive following and a tremendous reputation as a provider of delicious, high-quality teas that people were willing to go out of their way to purchase. For instance, the brand sold more than 100 million dollars worth of tea between 2007 and 2009. The company became known as the #1 oolong tea retailer in the U.S.
Willms also founded Dazzle White. This venture was short lived, but the amount of revenue generated was quite staggering. Dazzle White became one of the most famous teeth-whitening pen products available on the market, with more than 50 million dollars in sales.
By 2010, Willms began to move away from selling commodities on the internet and, instead, focused on the distribution of information. He founded two unique companies: Penguin Leads and Car History Group. In 2012, he founded Car History Group to make it easier for interested buyers and car owners to learn the history of their vehicles either before or after purchases. More than three million monthly visitors continue to use Car History Group and its affiliate websites, like vehiclehistory.com, to research the history of their vehicles.
Most recently, Willms has begun to dedicate some of his free time to providing entrepreneurs with the support, resources, and strategies that they need to get their businesses off of the ground.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I initially got interested in business when I was 15 and started reading business books. Once I was done with each book, I sold them online. I quickly learned that this business wouldn’t be a success, as shipping prices were far too costly. These were difficult lessons that greatly helped me when I started my next business selling computer software. I bought software on eBay and then sold it on Craigslist and Amazon marketplace. This was my first successful venture, and it turned into a million-dollar company by the time I was 18.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
My current business, VehicleHistory.com, was inspired by my frustration each time I checked whether a used car had been in an accident and had to pay 40 dollars for a report. By making VehicleHistory.com free and supporting our site with ads, it quickly became a success. We were the first company to offer completely free vehicle history reports.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Soon after starting my software company, we got sued by Microsoft. We were buying software using Microsoft’s business volume discount programs to provide individuals with discounts. Often, software was priced cheaper in different regions around the world, so we could get better volume discounted pricing and then pass those savings to consumers in the United States. Although it was a successful business, this was cutting into the software company’s profit margins, and we quickly became a target. Ultimately, my legal costs became too much for our small company, and we decided to settle the case for over a million dollars. This was my first big challenge in business, but I knew that I still loved internet marketing. After taking a month off, I decided to open a new business focused on health supplements. Again, the lessons I learned early on became key to my future success.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Today, three million people use Vehicle History every month, and we have established a business that is really helping used car buyers. I’m grateful that so many people have stuck with me and we’ve been fortunate enough to create a successful company.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
VehicleHistory.com stands out because we started with the consumer in mind. Our first goal wasn’t to create profit but, rather, to build a company that saved car buyers money when researching their vehicles.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When I started out, I was too concerned about impressing others. I felt that once my business was successful, I needed to buy expensive cars and get tables at clubs to show how well I was doing. Looking back, I’ve learned that material possessions alone don’t bring happiness.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
The biggest thing I’ve learned is not to over diversify. Every time someone came to me with a good business idea, I pursued it. Eventually, this led to me taking on too many projects and no longer taking care of my existing customers.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Persistence is the most important trait I have because I’ve lost everything due to lawsuits and poor business decisions twice in my career. By staying focused and never giving up, I overcame those tough times.
Another important trait is being financially responsible and always putting away money and creating a nest egg for a rainy day. Business challenges come out of nowhere and can’t always be predicted, so you have to be ready in case something goes wrong.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
My recommendation to people is that there is more to life than success in your business. Make sure that you’re always making time for family and taking care of your health. I’ve seen many business owners focus too much on their businesses and forget to exercise and eat healthy foods. Achieving balance in life is so important; a life where we get too focused on making money isn’t worth it.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
A big mistake I see is not being open to constructive feedback and ignoring all of the reasons that their ideas could be flawed. By openly sharing our thoughts and ideas with others, we can get so much valuable feedback. This is a good thing and will help us evolve our businesses much faster.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
For me, the most underestimated area is hiring. As managers, we often hire the first person that meets our criteria without working to find the best person for the job. Early on in my career, I hired my friends, which was typically a mistake. As business owners, we should spend a lot of our time searching for the best and most qualified people to help our businesses.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
1) You will often have poor judgment, even when you think you are 100 percent correct. As a business leader, it’s important to look and listen for where your assumptions could be wrong. There are typically warning signs, but you will only notice them if you keep an open mind.
2) Manage costs closely in the good times, so you have a nest egg to protect you in the tough times. Often, we only cut costs when it’s too late, but managing your budget should always be a priority.
3) As a business owner, spend a lot of your time recruiting. Too often, we have a role to fill quickly, and then, we move on. By taking our time and anticipating our hiring requirements, we can make much better hiring decisions. In the long term, this will make our jobs as business leaders so much easier.
4) Only take on the most important projects. As entrepreneurs, we often want to try out many ideas. Over diversification can lead to less success. Determine what you’re best, most profitable ventures are, and ignore everything else. This discipline is so important to maximize your success.
5) Let your employees know how much you appreciate them. As CEOs, we are nothing without our staff, and we must never forget that. You should be a cheerleader for your team and always acknowledge the great work that they do.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
An important concern for me living in the United States is how unhealthy our typical diet is. I think it’s so important to realize that our health is directly related to the foods that we put in our bodies. Later in my career, I hope to spend my time building health websites to educate people on the dangers of processed foods and the immense health benefits of fruits and vegetables in our diets.
How can our readers further follow you online?
You can follow me on Instagram @mrjessewillms and Twitter @jessewillms
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!