Setema Gali, high-performance coach and Super Bowl champion, shares how the end of his football career and the mortgage crisis helped him strengthen his mindset.
1 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
NFL champion, entrepreneur and performance coach Setema Gali talks about the successes and difficulties he had when transitioning from professional athlete to the business world. Gali breaks down how his football career prepared him mentally to get back up each time he was knocked down. Then, he explains his path to redemption after being forced to declare bankruptcy, as well as how he was able to rebuild after honing his door-to-door sales skills.
Gali and The Playbook host David Meltzer discuss topics such as how professional sports can provide an individual tools to succeed in business, stopping your pride and ego from getting in your way and what it was like for Setema to sell his beloved Super Bowl ring.
Nomad’s stylish-yet-sturdy accessories will help you charge your battery, find your phone and more.
3 min read
Disclosure: Our goal is to feature products and services that we think you’ll find interesting and useful. If you purchase them, Entrepreneur may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners.
If you’re hunting for electronics accessories that won’t let you down, look no further than Nomad. They have a roster of rugged cables, chargers and tile trackers that pack resourceful tools into a can’t-miss minimalist design.
Nomad’s designs look like a million bucks, but they won’t charge you that much for their thoughtful accessories. Check out their latest deals and get yourself something nice.
This PowerPack can survive the toughest outdoor treks, or just a long day commuting and working. Its military-grade resistance can survive a four-foot drop, and it can charge an iPhone 7 (or any device with a USB C or USB A port) up to three times. Its standout feature is its Tile Bluetooth Tracking: it wirelessly connects to your phone or laptop, so you’ll never lose it.
Your phone’s ready to die, but you’ve got a tablet and a smartwatch that need juice, too. Charge all three at once with this three-port hub. The low-profile design is barely noticeable with your home’s decor, and high-powered ports take your gadgets from 0 to 100% in minutes.
Toss your frayed charging cords in the trash. The Nomad Lightning Cable’s durable, nylon-wrapped design is the last cable you’ll ever need. It also doubles as a portable charger thanks to the slim, inline battery.
If you just need a standard cable but you’re tired of buying a new one every few months, this ballistics-grade Lightning cable is the answer to your prayers. The braided nylon prevents tears, abrasion, and tangling. Toss it in any bag and head out the door — your cable will be ready to rock when you need it.
This cable combines the best of portable battery packs and the toughest elements of Nomad’s other cables. Their ballistic-grade nylon and kevlar core will outlast your other cables by leaps and bounds. A built-in, fast-charging battery makes this a practical on-the-go solution for your digital needs.
Show off your Apple Watch in style with Nomad’s military-grade aluminum stand. The minimalist looks belie this stand’s functionality. A hidden channel keeps your charging cable out of sight, while high-friction rubber footing keeps your watch safely in place.
Self-funding allows you to keep control of your business and improve your entrepreneurial skills.
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Starting a business is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. It takes time, energy, and a whole lot of money. More money than you have in your bank account. That means you’ve got to get funded, right?
Tempting as it may be to court investors before opening for business, there are some great reasons to skip funders and do it alone. Here are the top reasons to self-fund your money-making venture and stay debt-free.
Self-funding forces you to develop your core entrepreneurial skills.
There are a lot of skills you need as an entrepreneur. Yes, you should have the skill to hire and fire people, but before that, you’ve got to know your business and your customers inside and out. You’ve got to learn to create a winning offer, sell it and market it.
While you’ll eventually hire sales and marketing teams, you have to be that team for now. If you can’t craft a clear message to sell your business, the best sales and marketing force in the world won’t be able to fill that gap. Slack on your marketing and sales skills, and you and your company are dead in the water.
Marketing and sales aren’t the only skills to master. At first, you’ll also need to be your own accountant. Practice the financial discipline to ensure every dollar you spend has a positive ROI. Study and master the principles of direct-response marketing so you can keep every dollar accountable.
None of that happens easily if you’re getting cash from investors — especially since not all investors understand direct response marketing. They may even ask you to do things that are ROI negative, based on their own opinions or bias. And, as crazy as that sounds, you have no power to fight back as long as they control the purse strings.
Having an influx of cash that you don’t personally sweat for makes you soft. You don’t feel the pressure to make every dollar work overtime for you. There’s no need to tweak what you’ve got. You think you’ve got such a lead on the competition, there’s no chance they’ll catch you.
All that thinking is wrong. Dead wrong. But if your money grows on trees you didn’t plant, you can fall for all those self-defeating ideas.
Being self-funded, like being an entrepreneur, isn’t easy. It’s also not a burden. It’s a blessing, your training ground, how you’ll become a tough-as-nails entrepreneur who makes money hand over fist because you have no option, no fallback plan.
Taking out loans or partnering with a “money guy” means giving up control of your business.
Whether you head to the bank or a rich family friend, you give up control as soon as you hold out your hand for money. I know this personally and painfully.
Early on, I thought I needed partners to fund my new business. The first place I turned was a personal training client. He was my mentor, and he owned a successful software company. The money he had at his disposal made it very clear that he knew business.
Unfortunately, he knew it a lot better than I did. As a result, I signed loan agreements on every dollar he loaned me, which forced me to pay back all of his money with 8 percent interest. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I took on another partner. This left me with a 35 percent stake in the business I bled and sweat to create.
I did all the work, but I didn’t control the cash. That meant I didn’t call the shots. That was one of my first big failures in business. Could it have survived without my partners’ money and input? I don’t know. But I do know that it was painful to part with it because I didn’t have the power to keep fighting for it.
The bank isn’t any better. In fact, by the time the bank is through putting you through the wringer, you’ll be dreaming of having your own investor. Remember: the bank takes nothing personal. This sounds nice until you realize the bank has little to gain by giving you that loan and a lot to lose.
Miss a payment or two on that loan, and you’ll experience stress beyond your comprehension. Skip enough payments to have your account turned over to collections, and you’ll never sleep again.
The reality is, whoever controls the cash will always control the business. Retain complete control of your business’s money and you’ll retain complete control of the business.
When it’s time to expand, leverage what you have.
Your business is growing by leaps and bounds. Customers are begging for more. You’re making a lot of cash, you’ve got plenty of extra coming in, but you don’t want to use the company’s excess cash all at once.
So what do you do?
You bet on yourself. You take the leap. You pull that money from your personal bank account and your kids’ college funds and put it into your business.
You don’t do this because you have something to prove to that jerk from high school who said you’ll never amount to anything. You do it because you’re an entrepreneur, and your one goal is to make more money and more impact. I call this going through “phases of broke.” It’s the moment where every entrepreneur has to set aside their personal comfort and ego so they can reach their next level of achievement.
How much return on investment can you expect if your money is sitting in the bank? What if you put it in the stock market or go with some other investment? If things go well, you’ll get a 10 percent return. If they go really well, you’ll get a little more.
What if you could take that same money and make it turn a 300 percent profit — would you do it? That’s big-picture thinking. That’s what a rapidly growing business can do and no “traditional” investment vehicle can.
Fit Body Boot Camp was at a critical point. I knew if I expanded into our current headquarters, the company would take off. After nonstop planning, I knew I had the entrepreneurial skills and plan to grow my money by 300 percent. Even better, I knew my own commitment to personal growth and development, so I could become the CEO ready to helm the version of the franchise I saw in the next five years.
If you’re in a similar position, leveraging your personal bank account could be the game changer your business needs. But before draining your savings, you need some high-performing income earners. Also, you’ve got to know how much cash you have coming in, exactly where it’s coming from, and what it costs in marketing and man power for you to make a dollar.
If the margins aren’t sufficient and you don’t have a gameplan to 10X your growth, keep your nose to the grindstone and stay away from the bank. Too many businesses take out loans on a dream. The brightest business people know that loans don’t make dreams. They kill them.
Once you have a strong business foundation and you can confidently predict the return on investment, consider expanding with your personal assets. That leap of informed faith is what can turn your business into an empire.
Time to admit there’s a better way to stay on top of your appointments.
8 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
If you’re like most entrepreneurs, your calendar is jam-packed. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s been managed effectively. In fact, it may merely be a cluttered mess that’s setting you up for failure. But how can you tell? As the founder of Calendar, an app that helps business owners manage their time better, I’ve studied over 200 million calendar meetings and formulated these 11 signs you’re not managing yours effectively.
1. You’re known for saying, “There just isn’t enough time.”
Has it been brought to your attention that you frequently complain there isn’t enough time to get everything done? Let’s not sugarcoat this — that’s a lie. As author H. Jackson Brown Jr. correctly said, “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.”
Instead of whining, do something about it by making time. How you go about this is different for everyone. The first place to start is by conducting a time audit. For example, you may notice that you over- or underestimate how long it takes you to complete a task, or that you’re spending too much time on unproductive activities like checking social media.
I have a friend who is always late. It’s almost his mantra. And while it’s something that we joke about, the fact of the matter is that being tardy is one of the worst habits you can possess both personally and professionally. Lateness is rude and disrespectful and will eventually harm your reputation and fracture relationships. Not to mention that scrambling and rushing from one thing to the next has to be stressful,
As with feeling short on available hours, a quick time audit can help you root out this unfortunate tendency and offer better insight into daily rituals like the commute to and from work. Also, get into the habit of leaving buffers between appointments and meetings and start taking into account travel time so that you can leave punctually.
3. You don’t know the last time you reviewed your calendar.
At minimum, you should at least glance through your calendar every evening and first thing in the morning. That may sound exacting, but preparation will always breed confidence. You’ll begin to be where you have to be on time. The reason I look over my calendar in the a.m. is to make sure everything is still in order. For instance, a conference call with a client could have been rescheduled while I was asleep.
Checking beforehand will save you time and keep you organized. You’ll use extra time slots for preparation for something else. Scheduling and rescheduling are only possible if you use the right tools. Consider scheduling software, such as intelligent calendars, that will keep you on top of your game. Carve out the time to review your calendar every week and month will keep you organized and on top of your intentions.
4. It’s homogenous.
What do I mean by this? If your calendar isn’t color-coded, then every one of your entries is the same color. That may not sound like a big deal, but you want to know exactly where to look when you open it. Confusion is not going to catapult you toward higher productivity.
How you color code is totally up to you. However, you should be aware of some psychology, e.g. grey represents balance, which makes it an excellent choice for meetings, while blue triggers a relaxation response that’s ideal for less-taxing tasks.
Another option would be to use chakra color-coding. Thinking chakra is a method in which each color is associated with the body’s energy points. Though I don’t personally use this approach often, specific colors do mean things to me, and carrying that over to my calendar keeps me motivated.
5. You accept all time requests.
You have to be selective when it comes to requests for your time, and the most natural solution is to say “no” more often. I know this can be awkward for some people, and you don’t want to let others down, but your time is your most valuable resource. Accepting every invite or stopping what you’re doing every time to help someone else out will lessen time spent on your own priorities. Only say “yes” when you have the availability or it’s something that you’re genuinely excited for. If not, politely turn down the request.
You just got invited to a friend’s birthday dinner. Without consulting your calendar, you accepted the invite. Then, the day before the party, you received a reminder about a client meeting that night and have to make a last-minute decision that’s going to tick someone off.
Scheduling conflicts are unacceptable. They do nothing except add more stress and anxiety to your life and jeopardize your relationships. Before accepting an invite, make sure that you have nothing else in your calendar. If you have a blank space, then schedule it and block it, and remember those aforementioned buffers between appointments so that you leave plenty of time to get from Point A to B.
7. You’re full of excuses.
Florence Nightingale once said, “I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took an excuse.” I love that quote. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. If you aren’t getting work done or running late, you aren’t managing your calendar effectively. In short, stop with the excuses. No one wants to hear them. Instead, get your calendar in order and make the most of the time that you do have.
8. Indecisiveness, procrastination and perfectionism is the rule.
These three terms might seem unrelated at first glance, but each can reveal the roadblocks to your success. For example, do you spend an excessive amount of time choosing between options A and B? Maybe you put off working on a task until the last minute and you obsess over your work being perfect.
Ask yourself if you’re indecisive. Are you putting off what you have to do via procrastination or suffering from perfectionism? Each of these symptoms can throw you’re entire calendar out of whack. You may have set aside two hours to get something done, but it takes you four. As a result, those two extra hours carry over to your next item.
It takes some practice and self-discipline to break these bad habits. Sticking to the allotted time you’ve given to a specific task in your calendar is a start. And once you get started, your brain doesn’t want to leave the work unfinished thanks to the Zeigarnik Effect. Plus, you can always go back and revise your work when you have the availability.
9. Your relationships are in peril.
Do you feel that your personal and professional relationships are strained because of your tardiness or unreliability? That may be an indication that you’re not correctly managing your calendar. For example, you may overcommit, leading to scheduling conflicts, or be known for running late because you scheduled back-to-back meetings. When your calendar is in order, you will immediately see a reduction in these inconveniences and begin to demonstrate that you are reliable and respectful of other people’s time.
If you’re still using email as your primary tool to schedule appointments, then it’s time to find a better alternative. As opposed to responding to lengthy email threads, use automated scheduling software that only shows others when you’re available. If a specific time is already booked, then the software won’t allow anyone to schedule an appointment with you.
11. You’re burnt to a crisp.
Finally, a finely tuned calendar will save you from burning out. If you are not organized, it puts your health in jeopardy, making it more likely that you’ll forget your goals, diminishing your work performance. While managing your calendar won’t solve all of these problems, it’s an effective way to alleviate burn out. The main reason you’ll want to work on the goal of a balanced calendar is that by using this tool, all other goals can be realized. You’ll maintain a healthy work-life balance and take breaks when you need them.
Just because the leaves turn doesn’t mean profits have to fall.
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Fall is just around the corner. While some people will mourn the end of summer, others will rejoice, celebrating the cooler weather and everything that comes with it, including back-to-school week, Thanksgiving and Halloween. And your business should be piggybacking off that excitement to boost sales. In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, back-to-school shopping represents the second-biggest spending event of the year, with the average household planning to shell out nearly $700 on related clothes and supplies this year.
Ultimately, all seasonal changes can and should be exicting for growing businesses, and here’s how to boost sales at those junctures accordingly.
Since the fall retail season is only about three months long, shoppers have a limited time to get their fix of autumnal items. You can use this scenario to your advantage by leveraging the principle of scarcity, or the idea that people put more value on things that are not readily available or easy to obtain. In other words, when people think they can’t have a product, it makes it even more desirable.
A famous example of this is Starbucks’s Pumpkin Spice Latte, which is already available for this coming fall as we speak. People line up out the door for this limited-run annual beverage, which has reportedly reaped $1.4 billion in sales since 2003. Of course, you don’t have to create an entirely new innovation, so long as you offer up something special to your customers this season that they’ll rush to buy before it’s too late.
Seasonal-product marketing can be used to build hype around your company year-round. Again, going back to the principle of scarcity, people want what they can’t have. So, by promoting your seasonal products off-season, it will get shoppers excited about what’s to come. And in turn, while they wait for your exciting seasonal products to arrive in stock, they can check out what you currently have to offer.
Stage a Sale
No matter the season, there’s nothing more exciting to shoppers than a good deal, and you can drive drive them to your store by promoting seasonal product sales. For example, a recent blast from gifts-and-accessories vendor Mark and Graham offered email subscribers 15 percent off Halloween- and fall-themed products. Customers might not have planned on purchasing a multitude of seasonal decor items, but because they’re at a discount, they’ll be likelier to take advantage.
Now, what do you do if your business doesn’t sell seasonal products? Don’t worry, you can still get your customers excited with a seasonal-themed giveaway. Most people would love to win an awesome prize during this or any other busy shopping period. For instance, Chipotle ran this back-to-school giveaway for college students with the dual grand prize of a catering party and a $1,000 Target gift card.
Choose a prize for your giveaway that will not only excite your audience, but prove practically useful. A great giveaway will, at minimum, drive tons of traffic to your website, ensuring that while visitors are entering your contest, they’ll check out what else you have to offer.
Over to You
A new season means change, but not only in the weather. With these tips on how to boost sales, both you and your customers can celebrate this and every season.
Nicholas Reichenbach discusses finding the right product and building the right team to achieve your goals.
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Nicholas Reichenbach is the founder and CEO of Flow, a sustainably packaged spring water company.
In the hands of an inauthentic entrepreneur, you can imagine the Shark Tank pitch: “Sure, the bottled water market is saturated, but everyone needs water. If you can just capture .0001% of the market you’ll be a billionaire!” That kind of thinking will get you booed off before the first commercial break. Fortunately, Nicholas and his team have an entirely different approach.
Sourced from Nicholas’ family’s artesian spring, Flow is naturally alkaline water with a high pH level that is both sustainably sourced and packaged. Described as “a mindful water company that considers sustainable kindness and healthy hydration first,” their commitment to the environment is evident in their packaging. The caps are made from sugarcane as opposed to petroleum and the carton is made out of responsibly harvested trees. Dedicated to transparency, they even post their Annual Water Quality Report on their website.
Nicholas also put a great deal of consideration into building out his team and determining strategic partnerships. In our interview, he discusses the incredible advantage of aligning the right team with the right product.
An entrepreneur from the start
“I’ve always had a strong entrepreneurial spirit. We lived in a small Ontario town called Mildmay, and between the ages of 6 and 8, I would go around to our neighbors with a wheelbarrow trying to sell things that I found around my house – like my father’s tools. At 17, I decided to start my first serious business: a clothing store on the beach in Southampton, Ontario, where we used to spend summers. I got a $1,500 small business loan and a credit card with an $800 limit, ran it for a couple of seasons and made some good money. I also started organizing bus tours to Toronto to see concerts, and that’s how I started getting into promotion and the music industry. In those early days, I learned to make mistakes, learn and keep going — it always pays off in the end!”
“At Burning Man, I had an inspirational, life-changing experience. There’s a zero-trace policy there — you have to recycle and take home everything you came with. People brought in tons of plastic water bottles and at the end, threw them all into recycling. And that’s where I had an epiphany about Flow. I thought there’s a huge white space here. There’s an opportunity to completely disrupt the bottled-water industry by offering consumers the highest quality spring water in more innovative, sustainable packaging. Flow’s source is my family’s artesian spring, it releases over a million liters of mineral-rich, alkaline water into the environment naturally every day. It was very serendipitous.”
Flow’s ancient and unique differentiator
“Flow is sourced in South Bruce County, Ontario and now, I’m proud to say we have a second, unique source in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. What makes Flow so unique is that the water is filtered through limestone-encased aquifers at both our springs, where it collects essential minerals magnesium, calcium, bicarbonate and potassium that give it that smooth delicious taste and an alkaline pH of 8.1. It’s all-natural, not a scientific process to filter tap water and alter it at a molecular level to achieve alkalinity. This is water like our ancestors drank and our bodies recognize it.”
The benefits of a mission-driven team
“We invest in the best people and partner with the highest caliber of brand partners. You only need two things to be successful: a product that people want and believe in and an amazing team to bring it to market. That’s when the magic happens! We have an incredible product development team that developed our six delicious certified organic flavored waters at a time when consumers are looking for more ways to achieve their hydration goals. We’re lucky in that our product has naturally brought some amazing people our way that wanted to work with Flow.”
Partnering with Gwyneth Paltrow and Shawn Mendes
“To be quite honest, it was a pinch-me moment working with Gwyneth Paltrow! I have always been a huge fan of hers and I’m so impressed by the movement she’s built with goop. At Flow, our biggest customer segment is the wellness enthusiast and Gwyneth Paltrow is at the forefront of this movement. She made wanting to take better care of yourself cool and fun. First, we worked with goop by partnering on branded digital content and experiential at In goop health summits. Gwyneth loves Flow and we love her so we asked her team if she would like to attend one of our biggest trade shows, and she did. The interest and awareness she generated were meaningful. The natural next step was the summer campaign. Working with her and her amazing team was such a pleasure because we share the same values about the importance of the choices we make as individuals, families and companies.”
“We also recently announced that Shawn Mendes is an investor. He started drinking Flow and ordering it to his home as an early subscriber to our home delivery service. I knew there was something there since he was already a Flow fan and come on, he’s one of the biggest musical artists in the world! I reached out and met with his manager, Andrew Gertler. Shawn and Andrew are both very smart businessmen, I’m lucky to have them as investors and advisors to the brand.”
Nicholas’ advice to other entrepreneurs
“Never underestimate the power of positivity! The most important thing about leadership is complete, mindful positivity. There are two ways to think in the world — negative or positive — and I fall on the positive side. That’s the greatest gift I can give – an injection of positive energy that makes people feel motivated, to feel like they want to be the most passionate and successful person that they can be.”
The rental market is hot, so now’s the time to wade in.
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
As of this article’s writing, there are more than 23 million landlords in the U.S., according to Rental Protection Agency’s real-time Rental Clock. But that number means very little on its own. How much opportunity is there for those landlords? Well, according to the same Rental Clock, there are currently a whopping 113 million-plus renters in this country as well. Equally surprising is that — per the same source — 2,654 new renters enter the market every single day, while only 544 new landlords do the same. That’s a big, exploitable gap for real estate-investing entrepreneurs.
But not everyone has hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy real estate and rent it out. The good news is, you don’t have to. There’s another way to take advantage of that massive supply-and-demand chasm: property management. Most real estate investors who own more than a few properties will hire a management company to help them with the dirty work. And as more landlords and vacation rental owners (like Airbnb and VRBO) crowd themselves into the market, opportunity for real estate-management companies will only increase.
Here are four good reasons why property management businesses are thriving in today’s market, will continue to do so in the future and why you might want to jump on the bandwagon before it’s too late.
According to data collected by the United States Census Bureau, rent prices have been steadily increasing since the 1990s without any significant fluctuations. Even during the recession at the end of 2007, rental asking prices continued to increase steadily.
For-sale prices, on the other hand, fluctuate dramatically depending upon the health of local- and nation-wide housing markets. During the recession, for-sale asking prices saw a drop of almost $50,000.
For real estate investors, rentals are far less risky than fixed-and-flipped properties, and they provide the passive income that many real estate investors crave. As new and old real estate investors scramble to leverage the statistical safety of a buy-and-hold strategy, property management companies will benefit.
2. Nearly a third of occupied houses are rentals.
The Census Bureau also reports that 31.5 percent of occupied houses are rentals. And while owner-occupied houses account for 56 percent, that gap is getting smaller and smaller. In fact, rental vacancy rates have been decreasing steadily since 2009, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis. Conversely, homeownership rates were at a 50-year low in 2017 and have made a relatively insignificant recovery from 2004’s peak, as Advisor Perspectives reports.
What does this mean for real estate investors and property management companies? Well, as people continue to opt for rentals over homeownership, the demand for rental properties will increase and, as investors fill that gap, so too will the demand for property management companies.
3. Technology makes property management easier than ever before.
As property management businesses flood the market with lucrative success, savvy tech entrepreneurs have followed suit. Because the truth is, there’s a glaring problem with building a property management company. Namely, that it’s a highly demanding, boots-on-the-ground, 24-7 sort of business model. If the A/C stops running in the middle of summer, if there’s a sudden water leak in the kitchen, if the pipes freeze and burst, if anything sudden and unexpected happens, it almost always falls to the property management company to do something about it (that’s why the real estate investor hired you in the first place, isn’t it?). This means the property management company needs to have dependable people near each managed location, a quick way to communicate with tenants, employees and local handy-men, and a system for organizing everything behind the scenes.
Tools like Guesty (a property management platform for short-term rentals) and Buildium (for long-term rentals) are attempting to solve this conundrum by enabling property managers to automate tasks, streamline communications with guests and homeowners, schedule cleanings and organize portfolios, all from the comfort of their living-room couch.
4. Vacation rentals are outpacing the hotel industry.
Three years ago, VRMB predicted that vacation rentals would topple the hotel industry by 2020. Now, it’s 2019 and there are plenty of hotels in every city around the nation. Though while VRMB was probably overly zealous with their estimation, they weren’t entirely misguided. In fact, Airbnb is now the second-largest lodging company in the world, only 100,000 units behind Marriott International, according to Str. It’s also acquired 150 million users, with two million people staying in an Airbnb every single night. And more and more people who stay in an Airbnb don’t ever want to go back to hotels. Needless to say, business is booming.
It’s hard to say whether vacation rentals will completely obliterate the hotel industry (even most taxi companies have survived ride-sharing apps), but one thing’s for sure: Vacation rentals are a force to be reckoned with. And while hotels don’t need property managers to do their dirty work, vacation rental investors often do, opening up another page of opportunity for entrepreneurs brave enough to build a property management business of their own.
The moment he decided he would never work for someone else again.
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
In this series called Member Showcase, we publish interviews with members of The Oracles. This interview is with Ambro Di Pilato, founder and CEO of The Stratton Sales Agency, which helps entrepreneurs and influencers outsource sales. It was condensed by The Oracles.
Who are you? Ambro Di Pilato: I went to school to become an architect, but when I was 18 years old, I realized I was never going to work for someone else. I was working part-time at a pub in Montreal, Canada, while I was studying, and that was where I heard the words that I’ll never forget: “I own you.” When my manager said that to me at the end of my shift, it entirely changed my view of the workplace.
I quit the next day and dropped out of school to begin my journey as an entrepreneur. I started several failed businesses before my art gallery franchise, AMBRO|GALLERIES. When I realized how hard it is to sell art, I began honing my sales skills further and opened The Stratton Sales Agency as a result. Now I help entrepreneurs and influencers outsource their high-ticket sales. I do what I do because I love the rush you get when you help someone solve a problem.
Share an interesting fact about yourself that not many people would know. Ambro Di Pilato: I struggled in school, and my elementary school teachers recommended that I be checked by a doctor because they thought I was “slow.” The results found quite the opposite. I was dyslexic, but I scored in the highest percentile for everything but reading and writing. It wasn’t that I couldn’t perform — I just wasn’t interested in learning what the school system had to offer.
Now I educate myself extensively on all my investments, my business, and my health. The degrading comments I received as a child only propelled me forward.
What are the core values that guide your business, and why did you pick them? Ambro Di Pilato: Morality, discipline, and consistency. I worked for a sales agency for a few years and encountered several unsavory transactions there, so my vision was to create an agency that values authenticity. After learning about what not to do, following through on promises to my team is also important to me.
Now before taking on a new contract or student, I always ask whether their intentions are good and if they have others’ best interests in mind. I demand nothing less than 100% discipline and consistency from myself, my team, and my students. As the saying goes, “Without commitment, you’ll never get started. Without consistency, you’ll never finish.” With these principles, we’ve grown our sales team 10x and have more than 80 students.
What’s your favorite quote? Ambro Di Pilato: My favorite quote is from Neil deGrasse Tyson: “It is the knowledge that I’m going to die that creates the focus that I bring to being alive; the urgency of accomplishment; the need to express love; now, not later. If we live forever, why ever even get out of bed in the morning? ‘Cause you always have tomorrow. That’s not the kind of life I want to lead.”
Whenever I’m struggling to act, I ask myself: “If I were to die today, would I be happy with what I left on the table?” This question has driven me to never stop reaching toward my goals. I don’t want to lead a life of “what ifs.” I want to become the absolute best version of myself possible in the time I have.
What was your biggest, most painful failure? Ambro Di Pilato: My most painful failure was starting a mobile app with one of my best friends when I was 18. The idea was to provide outdoor services like lawn care and window cleaning at the touch of a button. We invested $20,000 of our hard-earned money developing the app and failed miserably.
However, you can’t put a price on what I learned. I realized that nothing comes easy; there are no shortcuts, and there is no such thing as getting rich quick. I also learned about taxes, business expenses, managing a team, and outsourcing, which serve me today.
How do you define great leadership? Ambro Di Pilato: Great leadership is about getting in the trenches with your team and leading by example. Rather than telling others what to do, show them how. If you want your team to get behind your vision, you must demonstrate that if you can do it, so can they.
No one is better than anyone else at our agency. We are just at different stages of development. Create a compassionate, helpful environment that values discipline and hard, intelligent work. All these principles start with you. If you aren’t the person you want your team members to be, then you’re a boss, not a leader.
How do you hire top talent? Ambro Di Pilato: Everyone in my agency has been a student of my sales training program. Before I’ll admit them into the program, they have to close me on a sale by convincing me to sign up for my coaching.
Then when they graduate, I match them with my clients. This way, I get to watch them grow and hone their skills so I can be confident before putting them on $500,000 contracts.
What’s your daily routine for success? Ambro Di Pilato: I start my day at 5 a.m. with a 10-kilometer jog or 45-minute boxing session. Then I read before hitting the gym for about an hour. At the end of my day, around 8 p.m., I take a 45-minute walk to think about how I can improve my business or I listen to an audiobook or podcast.
What are three things you would like to be doing in three years? Ambro Di Pilato: In three years, I’d like to bring The Stratton Sales Agency to nine figures and continue to work with bigger companies. I aim to create something long term and lasting.
I’d also like to help over 100 of my students exceed six figures in their businesses. Finally, I want to take AMBRO|GALLERIES global.
What do you want to be known for, or what do you want your legacy to be? Ambro Di Pilato: I want to be remembered for offering tremendous value to everyone I came in contact with. I want to be known as the kid with the learning disability who taught high-income skills and generated over nine figures along the way. As my wealth grows, so will the size of the problems I’ll tackle. This is only the beginning!
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“What do you mean we can’t pay dividends this year?” Elisa was incredulous. The board of the watch company she and her husband Mark had founded had just reviewed projected end-of-year performance. Usually this meeting was a celebration of another incremental step forward, with moderate growth, no debt, and significant dividends, which Elisa and Mark used to support their comfortable lifestyle and charitable donations. This year, however, revenue growth was way up, but profits were down, and the covenants on the debt taken out by the company to achieve that growth did not allow for any dividends. It was the first time that Elisa had felt out of control of the company she had co-founded. (Throughout this article, names and identifying details have been changed to protect confidentiality.)
How could the founders and sole owners of a company find themselves surprised by its inability to pay them annual dividends? Elisa and Mark had done many things right in building their business, including eventually appointing an independent board and an outside CEO to help the company reach the next level. But they made one crucial mistake. They failed to clearly and concretely articulate their “owner strategy,” meaning the tangible outcomes that they wanted to achieve – and avoid – as owners.
For widely-held public companies, the owner strategy is simple. They are owned primarily by institutions (like index funds) or investors who have no personal tie to the business. These owners expect the company to maximize the growth in value of their shares, usually measured by hitting quarterly earnings targets. Indeed, most of what is taught in business schools and described in management literature is based on the assumption that companies exist to maximize shareholder value. But “that assumption ignores an equally obvious truth,” Bo Burlingham points out in Small Giants: “What’s in the interest of the shareholders depends on who the shareholders are.”
For the vast majority of businesses in the world, controlling ownership is in the hands of people with a tie to the company, rather than outside investors. That includes companies owned by founders, families, foundations, partnerships, and employees. Family businesses alone account for approximately 70% of companies in the US, 79% in Germany, 85% in France, and over 90% in Asia, India, Latin America, and the Middle East. When these businesses are privately held, they provide owners the most freedom to define how they will measure success. They can choose to pursue certain outcomes and avoid others, even if they do not maximize the economic value of their business.
We have found that very few of these owners would describe their sole objective as maximizing shareholder value–and for many, it is not their primary objective. Yet, they are often not clear about what they do want, which can create missed opportunities for growth, a loss of talent due to frustration over the direction of the business, or a loss of control by the owners as management fills the void in with their own priorities. A clear owner strategy is critical to keeping a business on course.
Passion Project or Growth Machine?
In the case of Elisa and Mark’s watch business, their mistake was in not articulating their owner strategy to themselves and then sharing it with the rest of the company. They had started their watch business several decades ago as a passion project. Elisa had been trained as an engineer and was fascinated by how to improve the functionality of the product. Mark helped come up with sleek, new designs and had eventually left his job to help her launch the company. Together, they created one of the industry’s most distinctive brands, with revenue approaching a billion dollars. But growing the business had never been a priority for them. As long as it maintained the culture of innovation and allowed them to enjoy the fruits of their labors, Elisa and Mark were happy.
As the company grew to a size that exceeded their ability to manage it, they decided to hire an outside CEO with a strong track record in their industry to take over day-to-day operations. The CEO saw an opportunity to aggressively grow the business, and invested heavily in international expansion and the IT systems required to support it. He also came up with less expensive, and lower quality, versions of the core products in order to broaden the company’s appeal. Although there were promising signs from these investments, the lack of profit growth–and the missed dividend–led the founders to realize that the CEO’s vision was out of sync with their own priorities.
So the founders opted to fire the outsider CEO and elevate an insider to the role instead. While the new CEO lacked the outsider’s credentials, they knew that he would ensure a return to a prioritization of culture and creativity over hockey-stick growth. They created a clear owner strategy to guide all of the company’s major decisions – and achieve their own definition of success. To avoid a repeat experience, they spelled out their owner strategy to the company and worked with the board to align the new CEO’s compensation incentives with it.
Define Your Owner Strategy
An owner strategy generates alignment among owners, board members, executives, and employees, which, in turn, improves both performance and satisfaction. Think of it this way: if owners are clear about how they want to keep score, board members and management teams will know how to win. That clarity also allows companies to define success on their own terms, rather than someone else’s. And isn’t that the point of owning a business, or working for one?
Defining an owner strategy requires asking two basic questions:
What are your goals: growth, liquidity, or control?
There are three broad goals that owners can seek. They can aim for growth, meaning to maximize the financial value of the business. They may pursue growth to build long-term wealth, broaden their impact on society, or for the psychic rewards that accompany getting bigger. They can also seek liquidity, which is to generate cash flow for the owners to use outside of the business. Liquidity can be useful to pay for lifestyles, fund philanthropic efforts, or allow owners to have more independence by diversifying their assets. Lastly, they can want control by keeping decision-making authority within the ownership group. Some owners want control over their own destiny and don’t want to give up their autonomy to anyone else. Others value control as a way to run the business in a way that preserves what they value, such as a distinctive corporate culture, or having a company that lasts for generations.
Most successful businesses face a trade-off between the pace of growth, how much liquidity the owners take out of the company, and how much control the business retains over its decisions. A company could pursue only one of these goals, or some mix of the three. But for most companies this is a “pick two problem,” meaning they can focus on two at the expense of the third.
Growth-control (GC) companies are focused on getting bigger while maintaining control over decisions. They grow primarily through their retained earnings, paying low (or no) dividends to the owners. They also have low (or no) external equity or debt, since answering either to outside investors or borrowers requires surrendering a level of autonomy. When outside equity is taken on, it is often done on a limited basis or through dual-class shares that ensure the core owners maintain control (as in Google/Alphabet and Facebook). The avoidance of debt is often a surprise to those used to looking at widely-held public companies or private equity firms, who seek to maximize returns through leverage. For private companies, debt can be useful, but is usually recognized to come at the cost of control. Closely-held public companies will often take a similar view. In its Owner’s Manual, Warren Buffett says that Berkshire Hathaway will “use debt sparingly,” and will “reject interesting opportunities rather than over-leverage our balance sheet.”
Growth-liquidity (GL) companies are also growing rapidly, but are paying out money to the owners and using other people’s money (equity and/or debt) to keep the engine going, giving up some control as a result. When companies go public, they are adopting this strategy. Private companies can use it too. We worked with one business that had a lot of growth potential, but the owners were concerned about the long-term threat for disruption in their industry. So they sold a stake in their business to a strategic investor and used part of the proceeds to diversify into other areas.
Liquidity-control (LC) companies are not concerned with how rapidly they grow, but instead want to produce significant liquidity for the owners while allowing them to maintain control over decision-making. Elisa and Mark fit this profile as owners of their watch business.
These are broad types, and companies can find a space in between. But, as they move from one part of the triangle to another, they are making trade-offs among the three main goals.
Each of these core types brings its own advantages and risks to be managed. And we know of highly successful companies that follow each path. The key is for the owners of a company to be aligned on what goals they want to pursue, recognizing that there are trade-offs among them. It is also important to revisit these trade-offs as things change, either external factors like the economy and industry consolidation, or internal factors like a shift in ownership or senior management. What worked brilliantly in one environment can be a disaster in another.
We have found that aligning on the priorities of the company is extremely helpful. But to make it real, these broad goals have to be translated into specific ways of measuring performance. And that leads to the second question:
What are your “guardrails” for the business?
Guardrails are boundary conditions that the owners want to put on the company’s actions based on their goals. They define what is in and out of bounds.
Guardrails can be financial or non-financial. On the financial side, they should align with the mix of growth, liquidity, and control that the owners want to prioritize:
Growth in value metrics (e.g., return on invested capital or total shareholder return) show owners how financial performance compares to peer companies and/or to other investment opportunities
Liquidity generation metrics (e.g., dividend payout ratio) inform owners if the enterprise is producing the expected amount of cash to meet the owners objectives outside of the business
Resilience of control metrics (e.g., debt-to- EBITDA) help owners understand and manage significant risks to the enterprise that could threaten their control of it
In our experience, owners should hone in on a small number of financial metrics (usually four to six) that can define whether or not the company is successful based on what matters to them. Doing so balances providing clear guidance to the company’s leadership with leaving them ample opportunity to figure out the best business strategy.
Many owners are willing to sacrifice some level of financial performance to achieve other objectives. Oftentimes these objectives are not stated explicitly, but it is essential to define their non-financial guardrails. In our experience, they typically fall into four main categories:
Leadership. Is it important for the company to be led by its owners, even if they are not objectively the most qualified? We worked with one family business that believed strongly that only a family member should run the company, even if it meant that it would grow less quickly.
Sectors/geographies. Are there particular areas that the owners wish to avoid investing in, or that they want to preserve, even though they are unprofitable? Some companies will hold onto an under-performing asset because it has non-financial value to the owners, as a source of historical pride or importance to the community.
Harmony. Are there any decisions that will be made or avoided to preserve relationships among the owners? Some companies will keep a division or office open despite its poor financial performance because it is led by an owner and closing it will have a negative impact on the broader harmony of the group.
Business practices. To what extent are the owners willing to reduce financial performance in order to align business practices with their values (social, religious, environmental etc.)? We know one company that decided they would not supply the cigarette industry because it did not align with the owners’ values, even though it would have highly lucrative. Others pay higher than market wages or commit themselves to environmental sustainability standards that exceed industry expectations.
There are no right or wrong answers in defining guardrails. The key is to create alignment among the owners on specific metrics and targets that measure success and inform major decisions.
Create Your Owner Strategy Statement
In order to codify their alignment, the owners of a company should draft an Owner Strategy Statement, which not only articulates their goals and guardrails, but the rationale behind them.
The statement should be as specific as possible. The acid test is: does it help the company make decisions that require tradeoffs? For example, one business we know set a 15% return on invested capital (ROIC) target for its retained earnings. During the time that the market was expanding, they reinvested almost all of the profits back into the business. As the market matured, they began to reduce investment and increase distributions to shareholders.
A good Owner Strategy Statement should be the basis of a dialogue between the owners and board/management, as there are times when an owner strategy may require adjustment to fit with business realities. It also should be a living document, revisited whenever there are meaningful changes to the internal or external environment. Lastly, it should be translated into a dashboard that identifies the metrics and targets the owners can use to measure success, which they should review on a regular basis.
Owning a company creates an opportunity to, within reason, choose your ownership adventure. Elisa and Mark figured this out while there was still time to make a change. Clearly defining success puts you in the position to create a company that accomplishes what matters most to you.