Jason Cardiff – Founder, President & CEO, Redwood Scientific Technologies, Inc.

Jason Cardiff started his career in sales management at Mercedes Benz USA. After leaving the automotive business, he founded First Choice Media, a private consulting company that provided marketing services for national non-profit organizations, while simultaneously finding success with his own national, infomercial businesses and products. As the founder of Redwood Scientific Technologies, Inc., Jason provides the leadership and vision for the success of the company. He is not only responsible for product development, but also for negotiating with business partners, from merchant banks to retail business executives and prospective investors. More importantly, Jason is responsible for constituting and executing the strategies for Redwood to compete effectively in the marketplace and ensure long-term profitability and sustainability of its brand. With his background in sales and marketing, Jason oversees all advertising efforts of the company, from planning to directing infomercials. Jason has successfully launched several products nationwide. Under his leadership, Redwood has experienced 650% compounded growth during its first four years in business. Jason has three small children – ages three, eleven and thirteen – and enjoys spending his free time engaged in outdoor activities with his wife and children.

Tell me about your early career.
My early career started with my first company being on the servicing side of products for sale in the “As Seen on TV” space. I built the company into a worldwide presence with offices and staff spanning four countries. I quickly realized that if I am going to do all the work, then I should start launching and making my own products.

How did the concept for Redwood Scientific Technologies come about?
The idea was, “How do we make a better version of the pill?” I like experience-based products that can do something people have always done, but in a better way. It seemed like the timing was right to create a new and better delivery method for over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.

How was the first year in business?
Our first year in business was a very exciting time. We went from concept to market with our first OTC, thin film product and, like all things, we waited to see what the market reaction would be to the idea of a thin film mouth strip as a delivery mechanism. We then started to prove our model and numbers.

What was your marketing strategy?
My go-to-market strategy is very simple. First, we look for a product that can be used by more than 25% of the adult population. Then, we bring that product to market with national television and a very compelling story that we develop through solution marketing. And with a little luck, we have a go-to-market and national roll-out.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
As a company, our growth was very explosive over the first few years. However, growth is not always good, unless it’s healthy growth.

How do you define success?
Success is defined when you have a vision for what you want to achieve, and you execute your vision into reality. At Redwood, we back up our vision with our core values, and when that is achieved, then we’re successful.

What is the key to success?
Have a plan. Stick to the plan, and always, always, always finish what you start.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The greatest lesson I’ve ever learned, that most entrepreneurs never learn, is that things only happen if people want them to happen. For example, if someone is not calling you back, or if a buyer is not buying what you are selling, it is simply because they don’t want to. They would if they want to.

What are some of your favorite books?
For business, I love Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim Collins for running a company. I also love Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman, and for fun, I love to read Stuart Woods.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The toughest day I have had as an entrepreneur would be the day that I learned it was just me, standing alone, either making it or not.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
When times get tough, and we all have those days, I stay focused on the vision of what we are working towards, and press on.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Keep looking forward! The past is over. Yesterday is gone. Stay focused on the goal.

Shay Houser – Co-Founder & CEO, Green Cloud Technologies

Shay Houser is an experienced entrepreneur, having co-founded four companies: Seruus Ventures (1995; active venture fund), Nuvox Communications (1997; acquired by Windstream in 2010), UCI Communications (2003; acquired by Black Box in 2008), and Green Cloud Technologies (2011). His focus has always been on telecom and technology services organizations that focus on the SME space with a core expertise around channel program development. Mr. Houser has significant experience searching, negotiating, and closing acquisitions and he has led approximately thirty financing and M&A transactions, securing hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and equity, and filed for an IPO at Nuvox in 2000. Mr. Houser’s core strength revolves around building third-party distribution channels, capital formation, and mergers and acquisitions. He received his B.A. from The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.

Tell me about your background.
I grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, attended public high school, struggled academically, probably due to ADHD or mild dyslexia, but I didn’t deal with any of those issues. I was a trouble-maker/problem child so I needed structure for college, making The Citadel the only real choice for me. My parents were wonderful and my dad was the CEO of a high-growth telecommunications firm when I was in high school. I worked there on and off. I also worked at a local, country club golf course. I bought my first stock, Apple Computer, while I was in seventh grade (1982).

What did your parents do?
My mother was a homemaker and my father moved from building materials sales into telecommunications in 1982. It was a lucky break for the family. Both parents came from very humble beginnings. My mother, who passed in 2014 from ovarian cancer, grew up in Yazoo City, Mississippi and my dad grew up in Magnolia Springs, Alabama. My father was one of five children and grew up in a two-bedroom house. My mother had two sisters and was also raised in a small house, and her father worked in the oil fields of Mississippi.

Tell me about your early career?
I started my first company, Carolina Graphics and Print, during my junior year of college. It got me fired up about being an entrepreneur. When I graduated from The Citadel, I went to work for Corporate Telemanagement Group, which was an employee-owned company where I worked in various positions culminating a carrier sales and corporate development role. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to buy stock in the company at an early time (and age) and got extremely lucky when the company sold five years later for $160 million. I was in the right place at the right time.

How did the concept for Green Cloud Technologies come about?
The other co-founders, Keith Coker, Eric Hester, and Charles Houser, as well as myself, worked together at our previous business, Nuvox Communications. It was simply a matter of time before we did something together again. Eventually, timing worked out for all of us and we decided to pull the trigger and start Green Cloud. We knew that we wanted to sell a recurring revenue-based service through third-party marketing channel partners, with a focus on small- to medium-sized businesses.

What were some of the challenges you initially faced?
Green Cloud, and entering the cloud computing industry, in general, is very capital-intensive, so raising capital was critical to ensure we could build out our data centers to provide services. Also, our business is based entirely around recurring revenue-based services, rather than equipment or projects revenues. Recurring revenues take a long, long time to achieve scale and inflection points so there is no fast way to get to scale. It must come through hard work and years of focus.

Did you have a lot of competition?
We are in a highly-competitive business and compete with the giants:  Amazon (AWS), Microsoft, and Google. However, like most industries, there are niche providers, which is where we fall. Fortunately, since cloud computing is a $100+ billion industry, many niche players can grow into billion-dollar businesses. The market is so massive that hundreds of providers can succeed.

What was your marketing strategy?
We sell our services exclusively through a channel network. We have no direct sales force. Our channel partners currently consist of 500 local or regional IT services organizations across 46 states.

How fast is the business growing?
Our growth rate from 2012 to 2016 was 6,600%.

How do you organize your day?
I start my day around 5:15am. I spend forty-five minutes reading industry, financial news, commit meditation and prayer, and then hit the gym for an hour around 6:00am. I like to see the kids before they leave for school and then we leave around 7:45am, them for school and me for the office.

What are some of your daily habits that have contributed to your success?
Getting up early and not getting behind are my keys to staying ahead. I also enjoy frequent breaks during the day, just for five to ten minutes, to step back and relax for a few moments to maintain the stress levels. Living within my routine, which includes being in bed by 9:15pm, is extremely important.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” “A good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week.” “One day at a time.” “Visualize your success.” “There is no better than adversity, every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.” “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

What are some of your favorite books?
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account by Miklos Nyiszli, The Noticer: Sometimes, all a person needs is a little perspective by Andy Andrews, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis, The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen, The Generals by W.E.B. Griffin, Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S. C. Gwynne, The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 by David McCullough, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power by Daniel Yergin, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard, Island of Saints: A Story of the One Principle That Frees the Human Spirit by Andy Andrews, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 by Nathaniel Philbrick, and Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book by Anonymous.

How do you define success?
Maintaining balance, peace, and happiness, one day at a time.

What is the key to success?
Following your gut while being practical, surrounding yourself with great people, doing what’s right, and rewarding those who do the hard work.

Did you always know you would be successful?
I’ve had many moments of great fear of failure but I’ve always known, deep down, that I was destined to create value, momentum, and success.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My family, faith, and a burning desire to never quit. I believe a core responsibility of every American is to honor the men and women before us (and who protect us every day) by doing our share to honor them. We do that by busting our ass to make America great.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
You reap what you sow.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Undoubtedly, at a board meeting during the spring of 2002, after going through the dot-com meltdown as the CEO of a high-flying Internet company, our board, which consisted of the largest investment banks on Wall Street, recapitalized our company and effectively wiped out all of my net worth. I lost tens of millions of dollars in the blink of an eye. It was both the best and worst professional event I’ve ever experienced.

How did you overcome the challenges at hand?
Honestly, I handled it terribly. I quit the company I had created and then lived in denial of what happened for over a year. It took a soul-searching inventory to bounce back, while taking years to recreate another technology company that I could successfully sell in 2008.

What is your vision for the future of Green Cloud?
Green Cloud is going to continue to rapidly transform the cloud infrastructure market, create value for our shareholders, and create a working environment in which all Green Cloud employees (who are also owners, as we are employee-owned) can use their God-given talents to prosper. We will make a generational impact for the families of our co-workers.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Go for it. Find your calling and go after it with both barrels blazing. The money will come and, eventually, you’ll find that the money doesn’t matter and, at that time, you will have discovered true success.

Michael Parnell – Founder & Principal, MP Consulting Services, LLC

Michael has over fifteen years of experience in the construction management industry, serving as Senior Project Manager for several of the nation’s largest builders, including Skanska and Hunter Roberts Construction Group. He has been responsible for the overall success of projects in excess of $162 million in contract value, most notably Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey ($162 million) and the Conrad Hotel in Battery Park, Manhattan ($120 million). Throughout his career, Michael has successfully completed over $564 million of residential and commercial projects to date.

Since founding MP Consulting Services, LLC in April 2012, Michael has led the company through tremendous growth and was honored to be ranked #57 on the 2016 “Inc. 5000” list of “America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies”. Michael is a graduate of East Carolina University with a B.S. in Construction Management and has served as an adjunct professor at NYU’s Schack Institute of Real Estate. He resides in Monmouth County, New Jersey with his wife Erin, son Nolan and daughter Ryan.

Tell me about your background.
I primarily grew up in a single-parent household, with my mother and younger sister. I lived in New Jersey from birth through second grade, New Hampshire from second through eighth grade, then back to New Jersey for all of high school. I never knew my biological father, and my stepfather was never around much. My mother and stepfather separated when I was eleven and divorced by thirteen.

What did your parents do?
After they divorced, my mother went back to school to become a nurse. After eighth grade, we moved from New Hampshire to Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, to be closer to my mother’s side of the family. My mother was in school part-time and working part-time, from when I was in ninth grade through senior year of high school. We lived with my grandmother in Brick, New Jersey during the summertime, and lived in “winter rentals” in Point Pleasant Beach from September to June each year during high school so we could go to school in the Point Beach school district. There was a lot of moving in my life, twice a year throughout high school alone. I played soccer and wrestled during all four years of high school, and was captain of our soccer team in junior and senior years. Sports was my outlet, growing up. Whenever I was on a team, I was focused. During the off-seasons, I would slack off and get into trouble.

Tell me about your early career.
I graduated from East Carolina University in Spring 2002 with a Bachelor of Science in Construction Management, moved back to New Jersey, and started working for The Henderson Corp. within weeks of graduation. My larger projects with Henderson Corp. were for GlaxoSmithKline, which was a new office building and research labs, and then a seven-story building dormitory complex at Princeton University. While at Princeton, I was recruited by Skanska, where I helped build the Frank Gehry-designed Lewis Library, also at Princeton University. After two years with Skanska, my boss had moved on to Hunter Roberts Construction Group, and recruited me to join his team. While at Hunter Roberts, I had the privilege of being chosen by the founder, chairman and CEO, Bob Fee, to be his mentee, which was a career and life-changing opportunity for me. Bob is a legend in the New York/New Jersey building market, having formerly been the president and CEO of Turner Construction before retiring and founding Hunter Roberts. Bob and I had a two-year, formal mentorship, meeting for breakfast once a month for a couple of hours each time. In those mentorship meetings, he exposed me to the full breadth of how a large-scale construction company operates, every inch of the business. He also enrolled me in a tremendous amount of offsite training programs run by FMI, an industry-leading management consulting firm where Bob himself had received executive coaching. But the most important outcome of our mentorship meetings was the confidence that Bob instilled in me, and a belief he built in me that I could achieve far more than I had thought I may achieve up to that point in my life. We set goals for the next several years of my career, and Bob believed that by 34-35 years old, I should be aiming to be the General Manager (GM) for one of the Hunter Roberts’ business units (the lead in one of our regional offices). At the time of setting this goal with me, I was a 28-year-old project manager, so to say this was a “stretch goal” at the time is an understatement. But Bob believed in me, and eventually I believed in myself that it was an attainable goal, and we set a plan in place to achieve it. I then moved on to be Senior Project Manager on the $162 million Red Bull Arena (MLS soccer stadium), and the $120 million Conrad NY Hotel in Battery Park, Manhattan. Managing these large scale projects was a lot like being GM of a business unit, with the amount of volume we were putting in place each month, which was preparing me just as we had planned. By 2012, although I was no longer working for Hunter Roberts, and Bob had since retired, I founded MP Consulting Services three weeks before my 34th birthday. My old mentor was right, all along.

How did the concept for MP Consulting Services come about?
The majority of the projects I worked on throughout my career have been “GMP” contracts (guaranteed maximum price), where the GC and client have an open book contract arrangement. The clients see the full details of the project estimate, and the result is a team-like atmosphere, where everyone works together to build a successful project with each partner’s best interest in mind. In contrast, there is the “lump sum” contract arrangement, where a client has a set of plans and sends them out to bid to several general contractors. Each GC submits a bid to the client, and in most cases, the lowest bidder wins the contract to build the project. In this arrangement, the GC keeps his information close to his chest, and the client guards his internal budget from the GC, and the result is a more oppositional atmosphere where little trust has been built between the team members. The most successful and enjoyable projects I’ve built were in the “open book, GMP” manner, so I had the vision for MPC to operate on all projects in this open book manner. The initial goal was to build that level of trust between MPC and our client, and if we’re successful there, then the construction process would be successful and enjoyable for all parties involved.

How was the first year in business?
The first year in business was as challenging as it was rewarding. When I made the decision to start the company, my son was eleven months old, and without the support and confidence of my wife, Erin, I probably would not be speaking with you right now.

I landed my first project three weeks after I founded the company, as a pure construction manager: a “project manager” for hire, essentially. It was a consulting contract that would pay my bills for the next four months of the business, and gave me the opportunity to keep the lights on while I searched for more work. My first year in business, which I count as April to December 2012 (8 months), MPC generated a total of $100,000 of consulting revenue while putting in place around $1.5 million in construction.

Did you initially have to raise capital to fund the business?
I have never raised capital for the business. I started MPC with a $15,000 personal loan from the social lending site, Prosper.com.

What were some of the challenges you initially faced?
For the first eight months, the biggest challenge was finding new opportunities. I would take on anything, any contract size, just to keep the business going while I got my name out there and waited for some of my former clients to have new projects ready to build. Another challenge would be the lack of history that my new company had. Michael Parnell had a tremendous resume, but MP Consulting Services had nothing! Getting over that hurdle with some people was difficult, while others who had prior experience with me looked beyond that and saw what I brought to their project as a whole. And obviously, cash flow was the largest challenge. Keeping the income flowing to pay the bills, with a small number of projects going on at that time. There were plenty of times where I was on the clock, nearing the bottom of our bank account, wondering if this was it. But every time that happened, I figured out a way to keep things moving along. A new project would pop up and I’d be safe for another month or two.

Did you have a lot of competition?
There are countless construction companies out there, in both the residential and commercial building markets. We differentiate ourselves by the manner in which we operate, and run our business. And to that, I believe we have very few true competitors out there, if any at all.

What was your marketing strategy?
I reached out to former clients, and sold myself as being able to bring a high level of construction expertise to their projects in a low overhead package. This wasn’t too hard a sell, because at the time, it was just me!

Who was your first client?
My first client was Jon Liedersdorff, who was building Lakehouse Music Center, a music-themed complex in Asbury Park, New Jersey. It included two recording studios, designed by the world-renowned Walters Storyk Design Group (they designed Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland studios, among more recent artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Alicia Keys, Jay Z, and many others). The project also consisted of rehearsal and lesson rooms, office and retail, and a small cafe.

What was an average workweek like for you back then?
I would say I averaged around 50 hours a week that first year.

Is that around the same for you today?
On average, today, I’d say it’s about the same. But they’re different hours than they were back then. I spend more of my time on big picture forecasting and planning, business development and estimating work. It honestly feels like I work 20 hours a week, because I put in the hours when I need to, and spend time out of the office when my son has a practice or game to attend. I finally have the work/life integration that I always wished for.

Were you profitable by the end of year one?
The first year (8 months) I was working as a consultant/project manager, so I had no overhead except minimal operating expenses, and it’s hard to count that as profitable. It was pure income. But that first year, and every year since, we’ve been profitable.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
2012 = $100,000 in revenue
2013 = $1,546,165 (1,546% year-over-year growth)
2014 = $3,100,624 (200%)
2015 = $4,767,838 (153%)
2016 = $6,606,978 (138%)

So our four-year growth has been 6,606%, and rising. We’ve already put in place $2,000,000 in revenue as of 4/30/17, and we’ve got $4,000,000 under contract right now, so we’re nearly surpassing last years’ revenue and it’s only the beginning of May. I would conservatively project we put in place $8,000,000 in 2017.

What do you think caused that high spike in growth?
Referrals from our clients and repeat business. We’ve created, as Tony Robbins likes to call it, “raving fans.” And they’re the #1 reason why we’ve experienced the growth that we have. And that boils down to doing what we say we will do: being accountable, trustworthy, and living up to the expectations that we’ve now set for ourselves and our clients.

Did you ever feel like giving up?
There were certainly times when the bank account was low, and I thought to myself how easy it would be to put in a phone call or two and go work with one of my former co-workers who are now spread-out across every major construction firm and developer in the tri-state area. But I know that the freedom to do things my way, the way MPC operates, would be gone, and I’d be playing by another company’s set of rules. And that’s not acceptable to me anymore. I’d also lose the freedom to designate my time how I see fit, to be able to prioritize being involved with my family as much as I am, to bring my kids to all of their practices and games, coach their teams, and have dinner with them at a reasonable hour every night. Those things are non-negotiable now, so to make that happen, I have to succeed in this business, and that’s what drives me.

Did you ever feel you had to sacrifice a lot of personal time for the business?
I have never felt that I had to sacrifice personal time for this business, not once. The business and my personal time are one and the same. MPC is like a third child to me. I balance my time with MPC just like I do with my two children and my wife. Sometimes, one of the four needs to be the priority, and other times it changes. There is true balance, and if anything, my family gets more of my time than the business.

Why did you choose not to take on outside financing?
I knew that once I took outside financing, from investors, that I’d have to answer to them and could potentially lose control of the company, from an operational and cultural standpoint. I’d have to take on projects to hit revenue and profit goals, even if I didn’t think they’d be a good fit for our company. I don’t want to have those external drivers as a factor for how I make decisions for this company.

How do you organize your day?
At all times, I look at what I have to accomplish over the next several days, and several weeks, and organize my work accordingly. What will give me the most return for my time on that particular day, what makes the biggest impact, and that’s what I choose to work on. I’m neurotic about it. And I have to be, because I wear so many hats.

What has been your primary source for new clients?
Referrals from clients, and repeat business. In the residential business, I have great relationships with several realtors in our area of the Jersey Shore, and they’re a great source of referrals. I’ve also built their homes, so getting a referral from them carries a lot of weight with their clients. On the commercial side, repeat business from core clients (higher education clients, healthcare clients, private developers), and referrals to others from those clients, are the main source of our business development.

How did the recession affect your business?
I started the company in 2012, as the economy was on the upswing. So fortunately I missed the past recession. But we’re preparing for the next recession, by diversifying our business and focusing on market sectors that are the most insulated from downturns: healthcare and higher education markets. Those are markets that perform well in recessions, and they are now our strongest sectors of commercial work. Whenever the next residential market swing happens, we’ll be prepared.

What are some of your daily habits that have contributed to your success?
For the past nine months, I’ve been working out four days a week, at 6:30am before everyone in my house wakes up. That’s been great, as I’ve lost weight and feel great, and am very awake for the work day. It also allows me to get my workout in without impacting my work hours or time with the family after work, and I don’t feel stressed about trying to find the time to fit it in. I feel great, and I’m the lightest I’ve been since high school.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“If you’re afraid to fail, you’ll never succeed.” – Dan Gable
“Once you’ve wrestled, everything in life is easy.” – Dan Gable

What are some of your favorite books?
Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman. My entire business philosophy is based around this book. Also, MONEY Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom by Tony Robbins. This was a real eye-opener for me, and I’ve reorganized my entire financial life around the information I learned in this book.

How do you define success?
Success to me is having a stable, happy family life. Excelling with my business provides the financial means to make that family life stable and happy, so it’s an integral part of being a success to me, but it is not the defining factor in being successful.

What is the key to success?
The key to success, for me, is maintaining that work/life integration balance. Making the time to be a part of my kid’s lives, and never allowing the success of the business to pull my time away from what’s most important to me.

Did you always know you would be successful?
When I was younger, I had no clear direction. I got into trouble at times, and didn’t know what I really wanted to do with my life. Even when I first started working after college, I wasn’t performing to my potential. But one day, I was figuring out a design question one of my subcontractors came to me with, and after figuring out the answer, my project manager said to me, “Mike, you just figured out the answer to a question that a man who’s worked in his industry for 50 years came to you with. You’re smart, and if you apply yourself, you can really go somewhere in this business.” And from that day forward, I took that advice and focused my life on excelling in my industry. Good things have come my way ever since. That focus has put me in the right place at the right time, and when opportunities have presented themselves, I jumped on them to take those next steps in my career.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Stick to what you’re good at, focus your efforts on areas you’re an expert in, and don’t try to be too many things for too many people.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
A few years ago, we took on a project for a large developer, where we were basically hired to perform one trade, and to bid and subcontract one company to perform the work for us. We were essentially a GC with one sub beneath us, or a broker would be another way to describe it. Just before we were about to start the project, it became apparent to us that this subcontractor was not capable of performing the contract. They weren’t large enough and didn’t have enough capital to be successful. We had to find a replacement sub within weeks, which fortunately we did, but within a month of the project, that company was asking for increased rates for the work being performed or they would decline to continue on the project. With the increased cost to this subcontract, we ended up completing the project but losing money on it. It was a large contract, with a lot of financial risk, and took nine months to complete. We learned from that experience two things:

  1. If an opportunity seems too good to be true, easy money, look long and hard at the potential risks involved and take them seriously.
  2. Remember who we are and what we are good at, and stick to that.

How did you overcome the challenges at hand?
We put our heads down, and muscled our way to completion on the project. There was no way we were going to allow the project or our company to fail, despite knowing early on that it wasn’t going to be a winner for the company. We were able to secure some additional work from that developer, which helped us come close to breaking even on the project instead of losing a lot of money on that initial contract.

What is your vision for the future of MP Consulting Services?
I want MPC to grow in a steady, organic way. We do not set arbitrary revenue goals for each year, because I believe it would cloud our judgement about what type of projects we go after and what kind of clients we work for. I want our growth to happen by our core clients referring larger volume contracts to us, not by trying to win every project we hear about. Fewer contracts, but larger contract values, and we are currently on that path.

As for the company culture, I want MPC to be a place that attracts top talent. Young, energetic, driven individuals who want to advance their careers quickly and take on more responsibility at a young age. Their growth and development should be in lock-step with the growth of our company, so we can stay lean and mean, and perform at a high level.

Finally, long term, I would love for one or both of my children to one day take over the company. They can go into any field they wish when they grow up, and it’s most important to me that they’re successful and happy in the field they choose. But I sure would love it if they took over the family business one day.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Do not rush into starting your own company. Gain experience by working for other top companies within that industry, build your network and knowledge, and then take your shot. The contacts you make as an employee will be invaluable to you when you’re on your own, for potential clients as well as resources to reach out to when operating the company. When you’re working for those other firms, don’t just focus on the role which you’re hired to perform. Absorb knowledge from all operational sectors within the business, ask questions and gain an understanding of how the business works as a whole. And when you do take the leap, make sure it’s an industry that you’re an expert in. Your clients are going to be hiring you based on your expertise, don’t try to be something you’re not. And go all in, give it everything you’ve got.

John Hall – Co-Founder & CEO, Influence & Co.

John Hall is the co-founder and CEO of Influence & Co., a company focused on helping brands and individuals extract and leverage their expertise to create, publish, and distribute content to gain influence, visibility, and credibility with their key audiences. In less than three years, John has grown Influence & Co. into one of the largest providers of high-quality expert content to the world’s top publications, ranking No. 72 on Forbes’ “Most Promising Companies in America” list and named Empact’s “Best Marketing and Advertising Company of 2014” at the United Nations.

John has a weekly column for Forbes and Inc. and has contributed to more than 50 publications, including Business Insider, The Washington Post, and Harvard Business Review. He is the author of the best-selling book, Top of Mind: Use Content to Unleash Your Influence and Engage Those Who Matter To You.

Tell me about your background.
From a very early age, I started showing signs of entrepreneurialism. In third grade, I sold my lunch for money, then I moved on to being a door-to-door popcorn salesman when I was a teenager. When college rolled around, I found a way to make money throwing parties and charging entry. When I graduated, I got into real estate, particularly student housing, and then we started Influence & Co. It was about five years ago and there was a lack of trust in different industries, which we knew would create a need for a company to help key leadership get past trust barriers and create high-quality content. In just three years, we’ve become one of the largest providers of high-quality content and I just published my first book, Top of Mind. But, above all, I am a father and husband, which are roles I value the most.

How did the concept for Influence & Co. come about?
Kelsey, Brent, and I all saw opportunity in helping key employees at companies create and distribute content to influence their audience. We wanted to come at it from a thought leadership side of things so there would be more of a focus on education instead of promotion and selling. The idea of thought leadership was really just forming, so we saw a need to fill.

What were some of the challenges you initially faced?
In the beginning, we hadn’t yet built our own brand, so there were credibility and trust barriers, which was funny because those were the types of barriers we were trying to help our clients with. But, as we practiced what we preached, it became easier to attract the right clients and talent, improving our credibility and trustability, proving that our service works 🙂.

Did you have a lot of competition?
No, and honestly, we still really don’t have exact, direct competition. There’s certainly other companies out there that do things similar to us, but they don’t fit exactly what we do. It’s very hard to build the publication relationships that we have built, the proprietary technology we’ve built that compliments our services, and train a staff on this industry to become at the level of expertise desired.

What was your marketing strategy?
Content is at the hub of our marketing strategy. We believe that content is vital to any marketing strategy and we’ve created our entire marketing strategy around it. We strive to create valuable, engaging content because when doing so, people will naturally be attracted to you and your brand. Even if you do outbound sales like conferences, etc., content is key to nurturing those leads and providing them with the type of education they need to really understand what your company does and why it can help them.

How fast is the business growing today?
Pretty fast 🙂. Last year, we grew almost 50% to our bottom line, along with some massive growth in terms of new employees.

How do you organize your day?
I plan each day out the night before, then memorize it so it’s top of mind the next morning and I stay on track with everything.

What has been your primary source for new clients?
Conferences, partnerships, and our own content marketing efforts.

What are some of your daily habits that have contributed to your success?
This sounds a bit vague but I’ve made it a daily habit to make sure I’m interacting with people who have contagious worth ethics. I believe that you are the average of the five people you spend most of your time with, so it’s important that I’m deliberate about who is around me most and that I value their work ethic and style.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“You control your own success and happiness.”

What are some of your favorite books?
Top of Mind, because I wrote it, but also because I believe it’s a wonderful book 🙂. I also like Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant and Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.

How do you define success?
It depends on each individual person, but I answered it below.

What is the key to success?
Establishing your own expectation of success and happiness, then working hard every single day to get closer and closer to that expectation.

Did you always know you would be successful?
Yes. As I mentioned, I think we control our own definition of success and my vision was to create value for people and surround myself with good people. That has happened and the money has followed, so I deem that as successful.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Whenever I’m going through something tough, I tell myself that there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, and there usually is.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The greatest lesson I’ve learned is to always, always help others around you. And, to invest in yourself.

What makes a great leader?
For me, a great leader is someone who leads by example, creates opportunities for his or her company, and empowers other companies to grow within those opportunities.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The toughest day as an entrepreneur was probably when we first started Influence & Co. We were three months in and I thought we were going to fail. We weren’t seeing the kind of results we wanted and were experiencing a lot of roadblocks. I finally just broke down and cried to my wife, telling her my fear that we were failing.

How did you overcome the challenges at hand?
It always helps to have a good support structure. I’ve been fortunate enough to always have that, especially with my wonderful co-founder, Kelsey. I’ve also always tried to have confidence in myself and my company, and that despite the hardships, we would prevail. A positive outlook does wonders.

What is your vision for the future of Influence & Co?
My vision has always been that we be THE COMPANY that helps people and brands influence specific audiences through creating and distributing content that highlights their expertise and insights.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
I’d tell them that there are going to be a lot of moments of uncertainty and where they think they’re going to fail. You have to keep at it and make sure you are taking on this challenge with people you really trust and value. Don’t give up because the reward is totally worth it.

Curt Hensley – Chairman, IMPACT Recruiting Group

Curt Hensley founded IMPACT Payments Recruiting in 2000 and now serves as the Chairman of IMPACT Recruiting Group. Curt’s background includes leading the expansion efforts of Natural Data, a technical recruitment firm. While there, Curt began relationships with TSYS Acquiring Solutions, American Express, Hypercom and several other transaction processing leaders. TSYS Acquiring Solutions later rewarded IMPACT with a multi-year agreement to administer their entire recruitment effort.

Curt is a graduate of Indiana University and attended Indiana University Medical School in Indianapolis. He and his wife moved to Arizona in 1997 and currently reside in San Diego with their three children.

Tell me about your background.
I’m from Indiana. I went to medical school, like my dad and uncles, but I didn’t care for it. So I moved to Phoenix, Arizona for my wife’s career as an interior designer and ended up working for an IT recruiting company called Natural Data. I was motivated to succeed by a drive to prove myself and also to prove that quitting medical school was the right move.

What did your parents do?
My dad was a doctor and my mom was a teacher who ultimately quit to raise me and my two siblings.

Tell me about your early career.
I moved to Phoenix, Arizona after quitting medical school and getting married in 1997. When I started at Natural Data, I was promoted from recruiter to account manager within five months and was running our Portland, Phoenix, and Los Angeles operations less than a year later, at the age of twenty-five. I ultimately left to start my own company, IMPACT Technology Recruiting, in 2000.

How did the concept for IMPACT come about?
In August 2000, my first client for my company (now IMPACT Payments Recruiting) was the second-largest credit card processing company in the United States, called Vital Processing (now TSYS Acquiring). I landed a contract to handle all of their recruiting for one year, so my income was secure right from the start. I conducted their COO search and noticed that all of the top industry executives attended one trade show each year in Las Vegas called the Electronic Transaction Association. Having full access to around 900 senior executives in a fast-growing industry seemed to be a great place to leverage my recruiting background. The credit card industry was underserved from a recruiting perspective at the time, so we had several clients in no time.

How many businesses do you own?
Since 2000, I’ve started four companies. IMPACT Recruiting Group is the parent company of IMPACT Payments Recruiting, IMPACT Technology Recruiting, and IMPACT Advisors.

“IMPACT Payments Recruiting is proud to have placed more than 3,000 of the payments industry’s very best bankcard professionals with processors, ISO’s, financial institutions, payment gateways, POS manufacturers, Gift Card, Loyalty, Prepaid, ATM, Issuers and other payments organizations.

IMPACT Technology Recruiting has built a team of information technology recruiters that is unmatched in ability to find talented technology professionals with backgrounds ranging from network engineering to application development. We hire technology professionals on a contract, contract-to-hire, permanent, and project basis.

IMPACT Advisors offers consulting and analysis on M&A transactions and valuations for businesses to recapitalize and obtain loans. We provide our clients with a greater understanding of their business, customers, costs and margins by developing metrics and analytics to improve the profitability of the organizations and portfolios.”

How was the first year in business?
Great! Vital Processing needed fifty-two jobs filled immediately, so there was a lot of work to do.

Did you initially have to raise capital to fund the business?
No.

What were some of the challenges you initially faced?
Filling fifty-two jobs is a 200-hour a week job, so that was a challenge at first.

How did you fill those fifty-two jobs?
I worked very hard, quickly, and efficiently. I spent the first four days interviewing each hiring manager for the positions. I advised them they would no longer receive a funnel of resumes that would waste their time, but instead they would only receive the best two to three candidates that I had personally interviewed. In return, I asked for immediate feedback on the candidates’ resumes, an interview within 48 hours, quick and precise interview feedback, and a quick decision on candidates who were a good fit. I got most of the managers to open their calendar to me so I could automatically schedule an interview at the end of my own phone interview with candidates I knew would be a great fit. I had the human resources department’s full backing to speed up the process in any way they could, including putting pressure on any hiring managers that were problematic. Their SVP of HR was an ex-NFL lineman who could be very persuasive, if needed.

Monster.com was a good resource in 2000 after their famous Super Bowl ads in 1998. The site wasn’t overrun yet and had no real competition. I had graduated from college with a sales executive from Monster, and he offered to post several of the jobs on Monster.com for free (as long as they met very specific criteria). I also reviewed applicants and searched their resume database at night. I called candidates at companies with similar employees and got referrals of people to headhunt each morning. All of this took me around 100 hours a week for the first four weeks. Another two months of 80-hour weeks, and I had knocked out all but a few of the original fifty-two jobs. They then had only twenty- to twenty-five openings at a given time, so my workweek was cut down to 60 hours a week. Within six months, I could do the job in 40 hours a week and start working on other clients in the payments industry.

Is your workweek around the same today?
No. I oversee four companies that all have their own president. I work anywhere from 10 to 30 hours a week and concentrate on ministries that give back the rest of the time.

Did you have a lot of competition?
No, I had an exclusive contract. So I had no competition with my largest client. Throughout the payments industry, there wasn’t much competition, initially. We did begin to have some competition over the years, but we were blessed to be early in that niche.

What was your marketing strategy?
The business grew very fast, so there wasn’t much of a strategy. The strategy we did employ was to only have three very senior recruiters (myself being one of them) to handle all of our clients. Most of our business came from referrals of satisfied clients, so we never needed to market our services.

Were you profitable by the end of year one?
Yes.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We grew quickly all the way through 2007, before the economic crash of 2008.

What do you think caused that high spike in growth?
Hard work and serving the fast-growing payments industry were key.

Did you ever feel like giving up?
No. I enjoyed the work and the success we were blessed with.

Did you ever feel you had to sacrifice a lot of personal time for the business?
Yes. I worked extremely hard in the early years and then again, from 2008 to 2010, when we were navigating the disastrous economy.

Fast-forward to today. How fast is the business growing?
Our IT recruiting company, IMPACT Technology Recruiting, was #85 on the Inc. 500 with 3,500% growth over a three-year period. My other three companies are growing, but at a slower pace.

Why did you choose not to take on outside financing?
It wasn’t needed.

How do you organize your day?
I’ve never been a big organizer, but I’ve always had a strong sense of what activities are both urgent and important for the growth of the company.

What has been your primary source for new clients?
Originally, I emailed all 900 executives from the Electronic Transaction Association show asking if they could use our services. This was back when people freely gave their email address and phone number. Around thirty executives initially responded asking us to perform recruiting searches for them. As we completed searches, our reputation spread by word-of-mouth, and we had more business than we could handle.

What are some of your daily habits that have contributed to your success?
Working hard on whatever is both urgent and important has been a staple. Conducting business with full honesty and integrity has been key to our success. As I started the second, third, and fourth companies, hiring the right leaders became the most important aspect of my job. Now I fully empower the four presidents who work for me and try to make their jobs easier in whatever way I can.

What are some quotes that you live by?
Three of my favorite quotes are, “The appetite of the lazy craves and gets nothing, while the appetite of the diligent is richly supplied” (Proverbs 13:4), “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1), and “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And he shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5). These quotes are all from the Bible. I personally believe the Bible is God’s Word and the greatest book of wisdom ever written.

What are some of your favorite books?
Besides the Bible, I really loved David Platt’s Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. I also loved Charles Colson’s Born Again, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and Jim Collin’s Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Other’s Don’t.

How do you define success?
It’s changed over the years. It used to be about making money and growing companies. For the last decade, it’s been about seeing how much our financial success can serve others. Those of us who have been blessed are called to help those in need. We’ve had the privilege of building orphanages, helping refugees, and feeding children who are starving through no fault of their own. Basically, we’ve shifted from serving ourselves through our hard work to serving God and those in need.

What is the key to success?
Remembering that all good things come from our Creator has helped to create a more humble servant attitude that has affected the lives of thousands who are less fortunate.

Did you always know you would be successful?
We are blessed to live in a country that has unlimited opportunity. I was personally blessed to be born into a family with incredible intelligence where I’ve never had to wonder where my next meal was coming from. Both of my parents and all four of my grandparents were humble servants of God, and those role models contributed a great deal towards my success today (or at least success as I now define it).

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I love God and realize that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. This gives me peace, patience, and calmness during adversity to easily get through the challenges. Helping the poorest people on earth has shown me that my adversity isn’t really adversity at all.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
It’s from one of my quotes, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And he shall direct your paths.”

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I serve on the boards of two incredible ministries (The Jesus Film Project and Partners in Action). I also serve on the missions board of our church, where I’ve had the opportunity to serve in Cuba.

What makes a great leader?
Humility is the greatest trait that I can think of. Jim Collin’s Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t really showed me how the difference between good and great is the attitude of serving others versus serving yourself.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
We had an unscrupulous company make a seven-figure offer to buy away the president and vice president of our fastest-growing company. Our top two executives said “no,” and that this company would have to buy the entire organization. We felt forced into a situation where we were negotiating a sale with our hands tied behind our backs. We worked out a deal, and unsurprisingly, this company reneged on a major deal point. We eventually turned down the offer and allowed our top executives to walk. There were a few sleepless nights making these decisions.

How did you overcome the challenges at hand?
Honestly, I used the counsel of other wise men. I had seven people advising me on whether to sell or not to sell. All seven advised to sell after we negotiated the final terms. All seven advised to back away from the sale when seeing how unscrupulous the buyer was in reneging on an important deal point.

What is your vision for the future of IMPACT?
It will be a company that will make an even bigger impact on the lives of those who weren’t blessed to grow up in the United States. If we look back at the history of the United States, I believe slavery and racism are the biggest black eyes in our history. I believe 200 years from now, we will look back at world history and see that allowing over 20,000 people to die needlessly from hunger or preventable diseases was the biggest black eye on humanity. We want to love others and be a part of the solution.

What do you think is the most common mistake entrepreneurs make?
The biggest mistake I’ve seen is running a business with pride and arrogance. Those who run their business this way and achieve great financial success end up divorced and empty as people. They defined success in terms of money instead of love for people, and in the end, they lost. Most of these entrepreneurs have burned a lot of employees along the way. The small IT staffing company that I started working for twenty years ago was like this. It had grown from sixteen employees to 105 employees in my three years there, but never truly valued or cared about any of those people. A few years later, they were down to the owner working by himself and hiring his wife, part-time.

One other mistake is not hiring excellent leadership. Many bootstrapping entrepreneurs run companies and only promote the people that they have trained. While this may work, a large part of my success has been from hiring the best leaders of other companies to take my position. Each of these leaders have been able to bring on key people who I never would’ve known. I wouldn’t have four successful companies today without hiring great people.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Be an outward-focused servant leader who provides your clients the very best products and services. People want to work for those who care about others. Long-term success requires that good employees see a future for themselves, feel loved, and therefore stay working for your company.