Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your advice. First things first, though, what is something about you that would surprise people?
Nathan: I am naturally an introvert. That might be surprising to hear from someone that has been on over 150 podcasts and regularly has full days booked off just for phone calls and networking meetings, but it’s quite true. When I was running my first business helping brands and manufacturer sell their products on Amazon, I was in a much more behind-the-scenes role and I really enjoyed it. My business partner, Connor Gillivan, who I continue to work with today, was the face of the company for that first business. When we started FreeeUp together in 2015, the roles flipped. I took on the CEO role handling all operations, interactions with clients, and being the face of the company while Connor assumed the CMO role setting up everything on the back-end for the company’s success. Here I am today speaking on stages and regularly talking about my story and the business on podcasts. It’s not my natural comfort zone, but I’ve learned to love it. It’s amazing to be able to share your story and inspire others in the process.
Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Nathan: I started my entrepreneurial journey as a broke college student. I saw an opportunity to buy and sell textbooks on Amazon because of the exorbitant prices the campus bookstore was charging. It quickly grew into a side hustle that became a real business over the course of the next 5 years. We expanded from textbooks to selling all sorts of products…really anything we could get our hands on and I became addicted to Amazon. One of my toughest challenges early on was having trust to leave the business for even a day. One week as I decided to head out for a vacation, it all came crashing down…the main supplier we were working with decided to stop supplying us with products and I went through an identity theft. I learned early on the importance of diversifying your business so that you’re not solely dependent upon one supplier. Over the course of my first business, our sales doubled every year for 3-4 years and I thought we were never going to turn back. The business slowed down, Amazon changed, and more sellers flooded the market. It was then that we founded FreeeUp as a bit of a side hustle to see what it could become. About a year into running both companies, we decided to go full force with FreeeUp and I’ve never looked back.
Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?
Nathan: In my first job, I had a boss that was the “leader” who gave me a skewed understanding of what a true leader is. He spent most of his time managing and bossing people around rather than actually leading the team towards a common goal. As my first job, I came to understand those actions as what a leader was. Over the years, I’ve realized that being a true leader is much less about controlling the team and much more about being someone that can motivate, inspire, listen, make smart choices, and be a strong representation for the entire organization. Leaders can take their skills to the next level by listening to others, being open to making mistakes, viewing roadblocks as learning opportunities, and always showing respect to anyone that they work with.
Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?
Nathan: 1) Learning from experts and studying best practices for your industry is great, but don’t be afraid to try your own ideas. Brainstorm new ideas every day with your team, put them through a rigorous test, measure the results, and move forward with the ones that work best. Learn from the ones that don’t work. When you’re constantly trying out new ideas, winners emerge that can propel your business and your team forward.
2) Wake up early. A few years ago, I committed to waking up earlier than most other people. It has become a major part of my life and has led me to become even more productive than I was before. Nothing beats the productiveness of early mornings when most other people aren’t online yet.
3) Customer service is king. It’s increasingly difficult to compete with the largest players in your industry on marketing, advertising, and development, but you can always compete when it comes to customer service. The more you focus on giving priority to your customers and making sure that they are happy with your experience, the stronger your brand will grow and the more respect your company will receive.
Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?
Nathan: I was once told something along the following lines, “When problem solving, don’t start trying to solve the problem until you have all of the information.” That advice has stuck with me for the 9+ years I’ve been an entrepreneur and it’s a piece of advice that I share with my internal team at FreeeUp on a regular basis as well. It’s so important to collect the facts before working towards a solution. You never know how one small piece of information could impact the entire outcome of the solution.
Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?
Nathan: Always, always, always graciously network with other people, seek to add real value to them, and make introductions where you can. Even if it doesn’t help you in any way, you should seek to meet great people and connect them with other great people. The more you seek to add value to relationships before asking for anything back, the greater your chance of building strong relationships with others in your industry.
Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Nathan: I consider myself to be super lucky and I’m grateful for everything in my life. My parents were super tough on me when I was young about managing my finances properly. Maybe even too young. Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, my parents made me pay for everything growing up and it gave me a strong sense of financial responsibility as I grew into who I am today. I had chores and an allowance and that allowance money was what I had to use to pay for things I wanted. Once I was old enough I had to get a job to pay for the things I wanted. Over the years, I’ve learned to earn my own money, manage my financials tightly, and make smart investments as it made sense. Among many other things, I learned to avoid credit card debt, invest in stocks and CDs, save instead of spend, avoid debt, and make responsible decisions when it comes to the finances of my businesses. For me, being a great entrepreneur and leader comes down to your ability to be GREAT with finances. I was lucky enough to learn a lot about it early on.