Things they don’t tell you about running a business: from biomimetics to becoming a serial entrepreneur

How did it all start for you?

I earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering and Human Biology from Brown University in 2010 and the first job I had outside of college was working as a sustainability intern for the university doing a water usage study.

This is also where I first learned the principles and processes of Lean Six Sigma and Kaizen theory. After that, I was a research lab manager at Texas A&M University where my wife was doing her master’s degree. At the time, the economy was just beginning to bounce back from the recession and government funding is always the last to catch up so funding for my position was limited and resulted in a part-time position…

This led me to start my first business as a side-gig. I got into a network marketing financial services business doing stuff like insurances and investments. Eventually the grant funding my position got to its term and didn’t get renewed, so my position was cut. That is when I went “full time” into my business.,,

What’s your current business and why did you start it?

My current and main business is C&M Integrity Holdings aka C&M Integrity Consulting.

“I was submitting eight to ten job applications a day for about 30 days straight and got zero interviews or callbacks”

After losing my research job and having my business crash for the first time, I was starting to hurt financially. I was at a point where I was submitting eight to ten job applications a day for about 30 days straight and got zero interviews or callbacks. Zero.

Having two degrees from an Ivy League university and not able to find work was tough. Every engineering company I did talk to basically told me I was more of a biologist than an engineer and not a good fit for them, and every research company told me I was more of an engineer than a biologist. I had to take on small part-time gigs of whatever I could get. My thought process was that “if no one will hire me, I will hire myself”. And that’s what I did.

It took a major shift in my mindset and a few years to get myself running on the right way. The idea was that I wanted to diversify my businesses and treat my businesses like managed assets with partners, so that I don’t have to consume all my time with one or the other and at the same time, use my experiences to help other businesses be more efficient and sustainable in their own operations.

At this time my main focus is in consulting and in real estate investing, but I also have my media production business, a self publishing comic book business, a programming app development business, an entrepreneurship brand, a small ecommerce operation, and I’m working on getting my private investigators license to be able to provide more robust services to clients especially in the real estate investing space. 

What other businesses have you had/run up to this point?

As I mentioned before, I got into financial services first. The main reason was because I grew up with my dad doing that as a side business (his main thing was being in education in the public and private school sector). I had a solid understanding of a lot of the jargon and how the industry worked so it was easy to jump right in. I built up some decent momentum and decided it would be fun to start another business…

This is when I suffered a back injury and was unable to walk for a few weeks. I play guitar as one (of my many) hobbies and I thought to myself: “If I’m going to put this much effort into doing something well, I need to get paid for it. What can I do from home while I physically can’t leave my apartment to get paid?”

That’s how I got into music/audio production and eventually video production as well. I taught myself Logic Pro and Photoshop from online books and YouTube videos to the point where I was confident enough to try selling my services. Since then, I have had businesses ranging from graphic design and audio production to truck washing and real estate. In total, I think I have about six or seven businesses under my belt. Currently I am only active in about three of those.

Any major failures/successes with the above businesses that stand out for you?

Failure

I’ll start with “failures”. First, I don’t believe in failures. A failure is only a failure if you don’t learn from the situation. You either win or learn, but you should never “fail”. I only use the term because the mass majority of people understand it in concept.

My first such lesson was from my financial services business. As a network marketing business, part of the structure is to recruit, and I got great at it. At one point I recruited 30 people in a single month and my organization was growing quickly. Then I had my back injury, started my media business and that’s when it fell apart.

The learning lesson here was that just because you can do something, doesn’t always mean you should. I recruited a lot of people, but I wasn’t adding the right kind of people to my business. After letting a bunch of them go (and many quitting), the second learning lesson was to realise that I didn’t know how to replicate myself. I had no process or system in place that I could teach my team.

After my wife finished her masters, we moved to a different city and pretty much my entire business sank because my team didn’t know how to generate leads or close sales on their own. I was doing it all for them. This was a huge blow. I had to pick up part-time jobs to pay the bills until I could get my business stable and running again.

Another big learning lesson for me was a little more recent, almost 3 years ago. I had started my consulting business and picked up a client in the real estate investing space, which is something I had been wanting to do. Because of my background in sales, investing and understanding business systems I was offered a job with the company in their investor relations department to sell investment properties.

In the two and a half years that I was there, the CEO was a friend and a mentor who was teaching me about real estate investing. I learned a lot and I now use that knowledge to great effect.

However, at the time, this mentor convinced me that my focus and my attention needed to be on one thing at a time. I sold two of my businesses and wound down my consulting business. Before I knew it, the company went under and everyone was let go.

I learned two years later that the cause of that company’s downfall was because of certain decisions that were made that were 100% against the professional advice I gave them when I was still a consultant. I felt a little validated knowing that I was right and had correctly predicted the outcomes. It was just unfortunate that they chose a different option, but that was not my responsibility nor was I in a position to “need to know”. 

I ended up without a job and no back up since my only remaining business was not function. I had to tap into some of my investments to cover some bills until I could find part-time work and start the process of rebuilding my consulting business. At this point, I have had two businesses fail, and two succeed. My lesson learned here is to stick to my gut and do what works for me.

Success

As for success, the first one that comes to mind was my truck washing business. This came to me from an associate who had a friend at church that pitched him the idea of starting a business to wash 18-wheelers. Long story short, it was a great idea from the get-go and I offered to run all the logistics and marketing on the back end in exchange for 20% ownership.

Over the course of a little over a year, I had very little capital contribution, we had very little debt and I had used my sales and cold calling experience from being in financial services to secure monthly recurring contracts with several businesses that guaranteed an operating profit every month. We had never been in the negative at any time during the business beginning day one. It became time intensive training new employees as the turnover rate was high, so we sold it and I made something like a 2000% profit on the money I did put into it.

he biggest lesson I learned from this experience was knowing the value of picking the right partners in a business and the critical importance of setting proper expectations, combined with with quality and consistent communication.

“PICK THE RIGHT PARTNERS IN A BUSINESS AND SET PROPER EXPECTATIONS, COMBINED WITH QUALITY AND CONSISTENT COMMUNICATION”

I also like to think of my initial run in the music production business as a success too. It was more of an experiment for me. I wanted to see if I could jump into an industry I knew nothing about, had no real experience in it, and see if I could make more than what I put into it over the span of one year. Even though I made about $200 more than what I spent in gear/equipment and travel, I was happy knowing that I didn’t lose anything. It was a huge success as far as business goes, but it was a critical proof of concept for me that helped me get into other businesses in completely different industries. That’s why I said yes to the truck washing business and why I said yes to getting into real estate etc. 

*I also have to mention how critical it is to choose the right life/romantic partner in business. Without the support of my amazing wife, without her resolve, trust, and kicking my ass in some of the hard times, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. My successes are as much hers as they are mine. Choosing the right partner, in business and in life, is critical

What’s your favourite story about getting your first client?

This is an easy one. I have a friend who is great at connecting people. My wife and I would go to his house about once a month for dinner and every time we would meet someone new. At one of those dinners I met someone, who would become a great friend and is now one of my biggest clients and a mentor in real estate investing.

At the time he had just started working for the same real estate company that I worked at for two and a half years. We were having a mastermind session about how we could help each other reach our goals in business and in life and after I spoke about having my first big, real client as a consultant (which was an IT company) my friend Marco asked me “Do you know anything about CRMs?”

I smirked at him, and knowing exactly where he was going with this, I said: “Nope, but I’ll learn! How can I help?” With that he set up a meeting with the CEO, and with 2 days of prep time, learning as much as I could about CRMs, I had the meeting and landed the contract.

Ultimately, it was just a problem-solving job around dynamic systems (which is what I studied as an engineer and happened to be pretty good at). That’s when I knew that this is what I wanted to do. From that experience it was not only clear that I loved the problem-solving process, but that I was also great at it. 

What are your plans going forward?

Short-term plans are to secure some more mid and high level long-term clients on a retainer basis for my consulting business. I can then afford to start hiring a team of consultants and business managers and gradually start to scale up operations. For real estate, I want to wholesale a minimum of 6 apartment complexes (100+ units each) and use that capital to get into multifamily investment properties. I have goals and deadlines for my smaller businesses as well, but the above is my primary focus.

Long-term, I want to have passive cash flows from each of my businesses as well as my real estate portfolio so I have the “option to retire” by the age of 35 (or 40).

Five do’s and don’ts for startups

Do’s:

i. Have a plan in place. You should always know what your exit is and what your options are and how you want to get there. Have a clear vision that can be broken down into action steps. There’s a difference between deviation and adjusting. You need to stick to your plan as much as possible, but also, don’t be blinded by tunnel vision to the point that it hurts your business because you aren’t adapting to changing market conditions etc.

ii. Expect things to go wrong. No matter how much you plan, many new entrepreneurs only focus on the idealized expectations of what should happen and not on what could realistically happen. It might be the engineer in me, but I believe in contingencies and redundancies as a way to mitigate and/or reduce potential liabilities. Life happens, so what? How will you be prepared?

iii. Ask questions. No one knows everything, but there are people out there that probably know what you want to know. Don’t pretend to know something, ask. Be educated. This doesn’t mean you need to be an expert, just know enough so you can make the best possible decisions. 

iv. Do what works for you. Being authentic is the biggest competitive advantage anyone has these days. Don’t copy someone else. You can learn from them, but at some point you need to differentiate yourself from the competition and you will need to figure out what works for you the most naturally, leverage your strengths and then build a team that compliments you.

v. Trust but verify. Do everything with a mindset and attitude of service. Aim to be the best at customer service even before the person becomes a customer. The same is true for employees and business partners. Not everyone has the best of intentions for you, but that doesn’t mean everyone is out to get you either. You need to make those decisions on your own. Again, ask questions. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be receptive, open, and kind. 

Don’ts:

i. Don’t overspend. The number one cause of grief in new businesses is struggling financially simply because there was not enough research done into the true costs of operations. 

ii. Don’t say yes to everything. “No” is extremely powerful. Use it in the right places and it will lead to many more yes’s to you.

iii. Don’t rush if you don’t have to. Being first to market with a product or service is probably the only time when time is of the essence with competitors. But even then, rushing through something could compromise quality. Stick to your guns and be patient. Consistency is what wins, not speed. (at least not in a wide majority of things that matter)

iv. Don’t talk a big talk if you can’t walk a big walk. Don’t oversell yourself, your product, or your service if you can’t deliver on it. Your reputation is something that is incredibly difficult to get back.

v. Don’t underestimate the power of social media. Use it. Most of it is free

You can find Mike on LinkedIn or Facebook, or get in touch via his company ‘s – C&M Integrity Holidngs – page

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