Understand your financials — As technology accelerates businesses like never before, your numbers are also moving more rapidly in real-time. In the old days (before the pandemic) you could look at your financials a couple of times a month. Now developing a personal dashboard of key metrics is essential from becoming a crash-and-burn. Be able to review essential happenings at a moment’s notice. Make quick decisions to save costs, from employee termination to inventory control. I have seen multitudes of promising companies torpedoed because ownership was looking over the horizon and not what is happening day-to-day. This happened to me when I owned and sold my petfood company just in time. I was chasing sales and the banks were chasing me!
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Rod Robertson.
Rod is the Managing Partner of Briggs Capital, a mergers and acquisition firm that has represented hundreds of entrepreneurial buyers and sellers around the globe. Rod is a three-time business owner and has written two well-received books, WINNING AT ENTREPRENEURSHIP and THE HUMAN VECTOR, both guides to buying and selling a business and avoiding what Rod calls “the highway to business hell.” Rod is active on the podcast and radio circuit and is a frequently quoted authority on entrepreneurship.
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?
From the very beginning at work, I had trouble with groupthink and team drills. I battled constantly with my bosses until I was shown the door on more than one occasion. Rejected by the big firms, I was funneled to smaller, fast-moving companies, where our fortunes were made or busted by bold or sometimes ill-conceived decisions. But I was with like-minded people of action who lived and died by the sword.
What was the “Aha moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I had owned two companies before, one a pet supply company (I love dogs) and a tech company that went bust. I intuitively understood that I could guide others to entrepreneurial success and stop the hard chargers from driving their company off a cliff. As I have grown into becoming the managing partner of a mergers and acquisition company, I have had a ringside seat and been a coach/conductor for decades of great successes and spectacular crash and burns. Every day I see a dozen companies seeking their path and fortune in a business world fraught with failure. For every success, there are seven failures, but there is always a tidal surge of new players ready to enter the arena.
In your opinion, were you a natural-born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
I was always full of energy and was raised to ask questions and dispute authority. My energy was often misguided or overwhelming at times, but under the guidance of some excellent mentors, I harnessed my horsepower and surged ahead into the world of entrepreneurship. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. It is easy to gravitate to your core competencies, but we all must work on being well-rounded leader. As a business owner or partner, you should never stray from the financials and have an understanding of your critical cash flows. As we all pivot deeper into technology, the numbers are accelerating and we all should follow the key metrics almost daily. Gone are the days of month-end reviews.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
My years in the wilderness before I found my footing, I had no mentor. But as a number of wise leaders took an interest in my energy and capabilities, I learned from a series of mentors who brought me to the next level. In finance, technology and dealing with less-driven people (HR), I found exceptional individuals strong in their discipline who gave me deep domain experience. One mentor rarely can be a one-stop-shop.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The one prerequisite I have had with all the exceptional executives I have had the pleasure to work with is that they all had to be former business owners to join my firm. No suspender-snapping MBA’s making decisions off of entrepreneur’s spreadsheets have been at our firm. Business ownership is often a personality cult, developed under the pressure and stress of business warfare. Many owners run out of gas or have had enough. We all must set aside the numbers and understand the full dynamics of ownership and its employees. We must ascertain their endurance and the course they have set for their enterprise, for better or for worse, and guide them to their hoped-for promised land.
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?
- Having no fear — I came from modest beginnings and I had a burning desire to beat the bluebloods and admittedly enter their world where big decisions were being made. As a salesman, a sales VP and then president of a good-size firm, I simply “turned the office lights on in the morning and turned them off at night.” I did my best to have sustained bursts of high energy.
- Knowing the financials — You will never advance beyond a certain point if you do not have a command of the numbers. In today’s world there are a multitude of ways to school yourself up in and outside of your endeavor. I was great in sales but I was blocked from the overall performance of the firm and operated with horse blinders on. I only took my true seat as a decision-maker after I schooled myself up with outside advisors of my own.
- Learning what motivates each individual — My motivation was easy: a house someday, world travel, big adventures! But others are driven differently: time at home, vacations, less stress. Find the key to each person in your sphere of influence and respect their world and goals. On my way up the ladder I trampled my boss. He was philosophical about the “new uncouth breed,” but he really wanted to be a solo entrepreneur, and sure enough, he built a chain of international restaurants and was very successful. We get together now and jest about the grappling in the bullpen.
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?
I had earned my stripes as an entrepreneur but was lured back to be a senior exec at a high-flying, small but publicly traded tech company in New York. We dashed ahead and were raising funds and creating big noise in the sector, but then the roof caved in when a “dark knight” swooped in. I was the first to abandon ship and I never looked back. Sadly, some of my friends went down shackled to the wheel.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
We all must understand our limitations. In my unregulated go-go days, I ended up in the emergency room a couple of times thinking I was having a heart attack. The second time the doc showed me the defibrillator paddles and I beat a hasty retreat. Stress can ruin us all and we must all find our level. Have close friends from different parts of life watch you closely during the most stressful times — I wish I did.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and authority in their industry?
As we all move to the “new normal” we must seek out many employees, customers and advisors and take their business pulse. Are they good to go, or have they been damaged in the “reset”? It’s a whole new ballgame as the great tech pivots separate the haves from the have nots and the majority of legacy businesses’ founders — especially when the government PPP money flows through organizations this summer. I have been greatly encouraging “reverse mentorship,” which is letting the young or tech-driven employees coach and mentor older, less flexible managers and owners who cannot pivot correctly.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
Recent studies are showing the world business community has moved forward a decade in the space of one COVID year. The older generation and often senior management is just that senior! The young and tech-driven will own the future on an accelerated basis. Management should reach out to these underdeveloped individuals with their core strengths and have them teach and coach us. Besides developing a two-way street and tapping this reservoir of knowledge, they must share driving the ship forward with management. Traditional (older) management is being “reactive” and not “proactive” at this critical time when fortunes will be made and lost.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs and founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
First off — there has never been a better time to start or buy a business. The playing field has just been wiped clean and reset, government money is flowing, the pivot to technology means faster growth across the board, and new leadership is springing up on all fronts. All of those factors make this an incredibly exciting time. There are enormous amounts of money on the sidelines spooked by the stock market ready to be in play. Be as well-financed as possible, have great advisors, be bold and move quickly as the playing field is wide open. Don’t be the deer in the headlights; trust your instincts in your world and set the pace. If you aren’t setting the pace, someone else is.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
Once we scale the mountain, we are oftentimes emotionally spent and feel a sense of relief at our accomplishments, but not pulsating glory, not that excitement we have in the beginning. Yes, we all learn from the great successes trumpeted daily in the business world. But it is the setbacks, the momentary defeats, that we learn the most from. Successful entrepreneurs almost never forget their modest beginnings and big dreams. But we salute the men and women who have struggled mightily and did not reach their hoped-for goals. For these inspired individuals, they have done what others only talk about.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
I was emotionally maxed out and had creditors constricting around me like a bad movie when I sold my petfood company. I made multiple errors as I learned the ropes but had driven my firm from 1M dollars to 8M dollars in sales and was swooped up by a buyer. I decided on my first go at business ownership to take a great payday, but just as important I wanted the success of buying a defunct business, building it and selling it to establish my credentials in the arena.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
In leading up to the sale of my petfood company, I was totally stressed and not myself. I could have negotiated a better deal, I found out in the end, but we must all look forward and learn from our mistakes. I certainly did. I wanted all the monkeys off my back!
Based on your experience, can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
After the sale, besides the money at close, I had negotiated 2% of gross sales paid out to me for five years as part of my deal, so I took six months off and attacked my bucket list. I went international, took a victory lap and rested up. Once the dust cleared, I was a totally different person and ready to get back in the game as a veteran entrepreneur.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Pace for a marathon — Even a fast ramp-up and sale takes two years at best for a lucrative exit. Regulate your hours, always take one day off a week, or burnout will find you and fatigue will encroach upon correct decision-making. No one decision or short stretch of time will make or break your endeavor. We all hear the stories of entrepreneurs drinking their own Kool-Aid at a frenetic pace. There are legions of stories of new business owners driving away their employees and exhausting themselves. Shut it down and turn off the electronics after 8 p.m.! No good decisions are made after a long day.
- Have reliable advisors — Surround yourself with a good group of advisors, each with their own discipline. They all should stay in their own lane, be it finance, sales, or onboarding new technology. They should intersect through you. New entrepreneurs are enamored with the thought of having a board of directors. Not so fast! They can quickly relegate you to yesterday’s news before you know it with any misstep that you, the new owner, could make. Keep control and develop a board of advisors. These accomplished people are great draws for other key employees, banks, etc., and cannot make power moves against your position. I have served on multiple boards where other “advisors,” now board members, are looking to quickly enrich themselves at the expense of the founder. With great advisors, you will sleep better and understand what is happening around you with much less ugly surprises.
- Understand your financials — As technology accelerates businesses like never before, your numbers are also moving more rapidly in real-time. In the old days (before the pandemic) you could look at your financials a couple of times a month. Now developing a personal dashboard of key metrics is essential from becoming a crash-and-burn. Be able to review essential happenings at a moment’s notice. Make quick decisions to save costs, from employee termination to inventory control. I have seen multitudes of promising companies torpedoed because ownership was looking over the horizon and not what is happening day-to-day. This happened to me when I owned and sold my petfood company just in time. I was chasing sales and the banks were chasing me!
- Always have an exit strategy — When you buy or start a company, know who you are going to sell to. Better yet, be prepared to sell at any time! Of course, you are not starting this company to flip the company, but when the big competitor wants you, why not take chips off the table and be part of the management team, with a new equity stake going forward if possible? I had a good friend see an opportunity his company scoffed at but he believed in. He jumped ship, started the enterprise, made a lot of tech progress and noise in the marketplace and flipped the company for 7M dollars in less then a year. He now competes with delight against his former peers who said he was reckless. He sent a hundred lobsters to them at their summer barbecue!
- Realize money rules — At all junctures, an entrepreneur must have cash ready to deploy. It does not have to be in the company bank account, but rather from investors, funds, or friends and family who are ready to jump in for possible rewards but also to save the company from unforeseen financial mishaps or problems. Rule of thumb: whatever you used to buy the company or start-up, you should have at least 25% ready to put in once again on a day’s notice. The catastrophe facing so many solid businesses that failed recently can be traced back to ownership not being ready for the catastrophe that unfolded. There is a wonderful family-owned pasta business, which two years ago was worth 125M dollars and now is being sold for 30M dollars. Ownership had no emergency funds to tide them over through the rough times as they pivoted the business away from restaurants to bulk buyers. The new bidders, however, are happy as they found many willing investors.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is being able to absorb unexpected blows and bad news and react quickly with a redefined strategy. People with resilience have an ass of rubber and the heart of a lion. Resilient leaders never panic because they are ready for the unexpected and are prepared to move quickly to cut costs or make other critical decisions. Hopefully, they have working capital at their disposal and sound advisors to steer them through the perils on their journey.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
My family moved around the country six times and we pulled into new cities and were plunged into new worlds, for better or worse. I was constantly thrust into new situations and developed an assertive personality to hold my ground. Change is good! I have visited over 50 countries now and am always looking for new places to explore.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
True leaders exude confidence even when they are rattled to their core. I realize that no one event or one day’s catastrophe will sink the ship. If you have an action plan you will be more confident, and others will gladly follow your lead. The more battles you have been in, the more clear is your decision-making. I struggled without mentors for years and was in a wilderness that finally eased when I won the confidence of my betters. Making decisions in a vacuum is a recipe for disaster.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Respect is earned from making hard decisions. Meeting with the angry customer, stone-faced banker or distraught employee all go with the territory of ownership. Putting the well-being of key employees ahead of your own is a given. The glory and paydays come at the end in a sale. But the growing pains and years of toil are where we all earn our spurs to those surrounding us. I was recently with an owner of a once high-flying company and we sat in his empty building. Banks were calling, employees bailing, but he has soldiered on. He now seems to be on a new path that has the employees working from home and has him selling his building. He has kept the best and the brightest and earned their admiration.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
No one quote encompasses my mantra but recently I found this apropos:
“These are the days that call forth the preparation of your past life experiences. While others lament, you go forward.”
These economic seismic shifts of recent times are testing so many of us to our core. We are in a leadership position by force of will and determination others do not have. We shall learn and flourish!
How can our readers further follow you online?
You can learn more about Briggs Capital (www.briggscapital.com), where we assist entrepreneurs to make their dreams come true. Also, my books WINNING AT ENTREPRENEURSHIP and THE HUMAN VECTOR are on sale at virtually any venue.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!