Carl Borkholder – Founder, Gen-Y Hitch

Gen-Y Hitch was formed in 2011 by Carl Borkholder who remains the sole owner of this limited liability company located in Bremen, Indiana. The foundations of Gen-Y Hitch were based on Carl’s involvement in the recreational vehicle industry in Indiana, as well as his involvement in a business which provided commercial tree care services, where he identified the lack of a hitch system available for this line of work.

How did the concept for Gen-Y Hitch come about?
While working with a tree service company in 2008, we always had a problem with not having the correct hitch for the trailer we wanted to tow. So one day an idea popped into my head while hitching up a trailer, “What if we had one hitch that could attach to any trailer at any height?” Sounds very simple but there was a need for just that in our line of work. So I welded some up for all of the trucks in our fleet, installed a locking pin on each one and threw the key away, as there was no need for anyone to ever remove it because there was an attachment for all of the trailers in our fleet.

After some time, people saw it and started asking questions, so this was when the light bulb went off that maybe I could sell these! So I set out to do just that. I filed for my first patent and formed my own business. At the time, I did some welding so I did most of the R&D and manufacturing in my garage.

How was the first year in business?
The first two years after quitting my full-time job, it was very tough to say the least! We had next to nothing in sales and when we did sell, it went directly to paying for bills that were piling up. My wife ended up getting a good full-time job just so we could pay some bills. With two kids and a wife that had a lot of faith in me, it started out well but things changed after about a year. My wife started questioning my decisions. We didn’t have money to do anything at all, as every penny was going directly into the business!

I will admit times were hard to the point we thought we may lose our house, but after around year two, things started to turn around – sales were coming in, and we picked up some dealers, which was a home run at the time!

What was your marketing strategy?
It came to a point where I knew I needed to hire a salesperson (which we absolutely couldn’t afford), so I reached out to a good friend of mine, Joel, and showed him what I was doing, where I wanted to go with it…oh, and also how I couldn’t pay him much of anything!

After Joel gave it some thought, he got back to me and said he would be all in. He left a perfectly good job to come work for me for a few hundred dollars a week. Stupid? No, because that’s when sales really started coming in. Joel started calling on potential dealers and I really put focus into SM, third party sites, and also started building our own website. We really had no marketing strategy per-say but we would try something, and if it didn’t work, we’d move on to something different.

From there on, it was just a trial and error type of strategy. We broke through some barriers and started winning a little at a time. Today, we have arguably the best online presence of any manufacturer in our category!

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
After the first year (2012), we doubled our sales year-over-year for five straight years!

How do you define success?
The world teaches you that success is in the numbers, right? That may be part of it but true success is having a closer relationship with my Lord and Savior (Jesus Christ) today than I ever had before. That same wife who struggled through with me in the beginning is still with me today and we have a better marriage then we’ve ever had. I also have a better relationship with my parents today than ever before. Every employee we have hired is still with us today. For me, our success is within our people – are you a better person today than you were yesterday? If not, what can we do to help you?

What is the key to success?
The short answer is, PEOPLE! People can make or break you! Surround yourself with people who you want to be like and look up to! Hire people who are smarter than you. If they aren’t smarter than you, “even in the smallest of things,” you really don’t need them! Work hard because no one will ever do it for you. Don’t give up!

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Never surround yourself with “yes” people, because you will fail. It’s just a matter of time!

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Make leaders.
Lend a helpful hand.
Encourage.
Always listen.
Do the right thing.
Energize.
Respect others.
Serve.”

“People will throw stones at you. Don’t throw them back. Collect them all and build an empire.”

What are some of your favorite books?
The Bible, Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek, How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie, and The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
There are many tough days! Just to single out one thing that makes your day tough is rejection. As human beings, rejection is one of the worst things to accept and overcome. In business, rejection will come from every side of the coin – from potential customers, friends, banks, to family. It’s everywhere! (Hint: If you can figure out how to turn rejection into a complement, that will be the day everything changes for your business!)

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I would say one of my biggest motivators would be my kids. Every time I get to a point where I feel like everything’s going bad or I’m not gaining any traction at all, I catch myself sitting at home just observing my kids. As adults, there is so much to be learned from children, if we can just take the time to hang out with them. As a dad, there is no fear in my child if I tell them that it will be fine to go for it! Another example is how they are quick to get mad at each other and also quick to forgive and become best friends, five minutes later! I always find young kids to be very inspiring on how to just keep moving forward, never quit, and simply approach life in general without any fear at all!

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
I would say never stop learning and listening! Listen to what people have to say, as you can always learn something from anyone. It will either be a positive thing or you will learn what not to do, right?

People can be your greatest asset, but with the Internet, everyone has so much knowledge about anything and everything, and with the click of a button, you can know everything about anything. All that knowledge is accessible to you as well, so you don’t necessarily need knowledgeable people, but you do need wise people and doers.

I would not be very interested in a person’s education or what he knows, but my questions would always be something like this, “Where do you want to be in ten years? What are you doing, or what have you done? Where are you going? How will you get there?” If they can answer these questions well, these are wise people who you need to surround yourself with.



This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

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