Sebastian Eldridge – Co-Founder & CEO, Anchor Worldwide

“I started my first company, Rooster, in 2010 after becoming apathetic to the way the advertising industry worked. There were always, and to a large degree still are, three main silos: Advertising Agency, Production Company, and Media Agency. Each comes with their own fee structure and layers of bureaucracy, not to mention that each agency in the structure has their own agenda. It made for a cumbersome process, and a lot of unnecessary output of funds from the client side.

My goal was to break the walls between these three silos and combine all into one, with one simple fee structure. I didn’t have funding, but I had the vision. It worked.

We were wildly successful without taking a dime from anyone and pumping profits back into the company, which was a novel idea that was disruptive to the status quo and that also made us an attractive acquisition target for the big holding companies.

After meeting with four out of the “Big Six,” I took the bait and sold the company with a five-year earnout model. By month six, it was evident that the deal wasn’t all it was chalked up to be. Lofty financial targets coupled with private equity-style tactics didn’t jibe with my mission of creating a culture that fostered talent and great work at any cost. I ended up getting out of the deal eighteen months in, and in turn, leaving a lot of money on the table.

But the thing was, and still is as an entrepreneur, if you’ve done it once, you know you can do it again. The challenge of creating something from scratch that is actually useful, and building a culture, is more intoxicating than money.

I’m sitting on a plane right now heading back to New York from SFO after being there for a total of 12 hours for a 1 1/2 hour meeting with a POTENTIAL client to talk ABOUT an upcoming pitch….not the actual pitch itself. That’ll be in another two weeks after many more thousands of dollars spent on hard and soft costs and not to mention time. This is all while being away from my two young children and wife who has just started a new job and needs the support.

This might sound like a complaint, but is anything but. This was an opportunity that was given to me, not a task or hindrance. Being an entrepreneur means being the master of your own destiny. It’s about choice and knowing that when an opportunity presents itself, you gotta jump.

Would you choose to stay back and sit behind a computer screen and opt for a video conference to learn more about that potential client or would you press flesh, notice the body language, and meet the receptionist of your potential new partner for the foreseeable future?

What would give you the edge? Being there. Spending the money, time, and the resources to make sure you have the edge.

One thing that I’ve learned over the course of my entrepreneurial days (Anchor is my second company) is to take the chance. Just fucking go. Go “do the thing” is what I say. Because if you don’t, you won’t ever know, and that would just be sad, wouldn’t it?

I don’t come from money. The exact opposite, actually. A single mother and starving artist with two kids. We grew up in ~10 different homes in three different cities from childhood through adolescence. So when I hear people say to go and try something just to try it and see what happens, I too am skeptical if they have a “net.”

While we didn’t have money, what my mother taught me was to “Do the thing.” Her thing was art. She couldn’t live without doing her art and eventually she carved out a means for herself and us. She was chasing her dream and she did it, eventually.

What she taught me was to manifest what you want. Come up with your goal, whether it be long-term or short, and just manifest that shit. Talk about it to people as if it’s already a reality. Chant about it to yourself when you’re driving to work. Go to bed with it. Wake up with it. Live it and it will become.

That was what it was for Anchor. Selling Rooster made me realize…fuck that. I had let someone else manifest my destiny.

That would be my singular advice: manifest what you want and don’t let anyone take that away. Just do the thing.”

Jeremy Morgan – CEO, WellBiz Brands, Inc.

Jeremy Morgan is the Chief Executive Officer for WellBiz Brands, Inc., the nation’s premiere franchiser of three beauty, wellness, and fitness franchise brands: Amazing Lash Studio®, Elements Massage®, and Fitness Together®. With more than 600 locations and 350,000 members across the portfolio, WellBiz Brands builds profitable businesses by franchising emerging, growth-oriented consumer brands that offer exceptional service-based experiences through recurring revenue models. The company is backed by a management team with nearly a century of combined leadership experience and claimed three spots on the 2018 Inc. 5000 fastest-growing private companies in America list. WellBiz Brands, Inc. is headquartered in Englewood, Colorado.

Morgan leads the WellBiz Brand’s portfolio and also oversees the Support Center’s shared services departments which constitute the backbone for the WellBiz platform including technology, legal, finance, marketing, franchise sales, real estate, construction, and human resources. Under Morgan’s leadership, this robust platform of shared services and infrastructure helps to accelerate the portfolio’s scalable and predictable revenue growth.

Since April 2019, Morgan served as the President of WellBiz Brands and prior to that role he served as CEO for Elements Massage. During his tenure with Elements Massage, he worked diligently to support and build relationships with over 250 Elements Massage franchise owners, a community of 4,000 massage therapists, and over 120,000 members nationally. As a result, he led Elements Massage to achieve its most successful year in performance in 2018 as measured by studio revenue, client growth, and customer satisfaction. Due to his open leadership style, he was recognized with a 91% Glassdoor CEO approval rating from the Elements system.

Furthermore, this year, Newsweek ranked Elements Massage as No. 1 in its 2019 America’s Best Customer Service list in the ‘Spa, Wellness and Beauty’ category. In 2018, Morgan launched Elements Corporate Ventures, LLC allowing the company to purchase and build corporate owned studios. Morgan has also been instrumental in the rollout of Himalayan Salt Stone Massage offering, making Elements Massage the first national massage franchise brand to offer the service nation-wide, as well as the launch of AromaRitual®, the brand’s exclusive line of aromatherapy treatments.

Previously, Morgan was at the Senior Vice-President of Marketing and Consumer Insights for Smashburger, where he played a vital part in leading the company through unprecedented growth from 35 to 280 restaurants; obtaining various national accolades. From there, he served as the CEO of Tava Kitchen, which was named one of Nation’s Restaurant News’ “Breakout Brands” in 2016.

Applying his vast experience in building fast-casual restaurant franchises to the wellness, fitness, and beauty sectors, Morgan plays an instrumental role in supporting WellBiz Brands high-trajectory growth goals in its next phase of expansion.

In addition to his professional achievements, Morgan is an active member of the community and supports Colorado Succeeds Board of Advisors, The Denver Boys and Girls Club, and The Denver Chamber of Commerce and Duke alumni groups. Morgan serves as member of the Duke Alumni Admissions Committee Denver and as a member of the Kellogg Alumni Club of Colorado. Morgan was a member of the Denver Chamber of Commerce 2015 Leadership Denver Class and was recently recognized by the Denver Business Journal as a member of the 2018 40 Under 40 class of leaders.

How did the concept for Elements Massage come about?
Elements Massage® was started by Michelle Merhib, a massage therapist who had a goal of providing a personalized therapeutic and healing experience through the benefits of massage therapy to every client. We just opened our 250th studio, and even though the brand is growing, our mission hasn’t changed. We’re still focused on providing a healing and personalized experience to meet every client’s specific need on every visit.

How was the first year in business?
I started out my career at WellBiz Brands as the CEO of Elements Massage. My first priority was to rebuild the trust in the system, so I jumped in and worked on getting to know as many franchise owners as possible. I also used my first year to build a new leadership team, which really helped us accelerate the launch of new products and services. This new team and open communication really helped us demonstrate to the system that we had the competency to get the innovation agenda back in place.

With that momentum behind us, we were able to launch the Himalayan Salt Stones service making Elements Massage, the first national consumer massage franchise brand in the U.S., to offer this cutting-edge service. On the heels of that launch, we looked at our aromatherapy product line and launched AromaRitual®, a new proprietary blend of essences.

We also took the significant step of becoming, not only a franchiser, but also an owner by establishing Elements Corporate Ventures. We now own eight Elements studios in the Denver metro area, making us the largest franchisee in the Elements’ system. With over 200 employees and eight studios, we have a better understanding of training and operations and have leveraged these studios as a forum for innovation, products and services.

What was your marketing strategy?
From a WellBiz Brands perspective, I’m focused on evolving our brand positioning from a holding company to a true franchising platform. I want WellBiz Brands to be recognized as a franchise platform driven by founder-driven businesses in the wellness, beauty, and fitness space. Amazing Lash Studio®, our most recent acquisition, is an example of this strategy coming to life. We built a great relationship with the CEO and the founders of the business and purchased the company last fall. It’s the first of many acquisitions we plan to undertake.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
As a privately-held company, we don’t discuss financial information. However, we are very proud and grateful for the accolades we have received both as a portfolio company and as individual brands. Last year, we claimed three spots on the 2018 Inc. 5000 fastest-growing companies list including Amazing Lash Studio (#260), Elements Massage (#4005), and WellBiz Brands, Inc. (#4546).

How do you define success?
At WellBiz Brands, we pride ourselves by focusing on creating profitable and scalable franchise businesses. When our owners are profitable and happy with their performance, then we’re successful. We anchor our success to their ability to reach their goals, which then leads us to reach our potential too.

What is the key to success?
I think there are three keys to success: integrity, building trust through transparent communication, and actually doing the work. It starts first with integrity and doing the right thing. Then, building trust through transparent communication with all your stakeholders is paramount. In our world, this means building trust with franchise owners and support center employees. When I think about effective transparent communication, this also means being willing to listen; it’s about doing more than just talking. And finally, no matter how small the task, you must be able to roll-up your sleeves and do the work.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The ability to move forward after failure. Once you realize you can do that, it changes your perspective around the fear of failing.

What are some of your favorite books?
One of my favorite books is David McCullough’s book on Truman. I enjoyed this book because Truman grew up in a small town in the Midwest like me and really didn’t achieve much success until later in life, which really demonstrates how you can lead a relatively common life, and still accomplish great things and have a long-lasting impact.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I immediately go to a day where I had to make a pivotal and immediate decision about a key hire I had made. There was a lot at stake and my decision to terminate a relationship with this key employee impacted lots of people and the business. Despite the negative consequences in the short run, I knew it was the right thing to do. Making this tough decision also informed the rest of the team about our sincere commitment to the level of integrity we expected in our business.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
What keeps me moving forward is knowing that there is more than just my success riding on what we do every day. In our business, I think about the success of our support center employees, franchisees, ownership group, massage therapists, lash stylists, and personal trainers. Once you have that perspective, giving up isn’t really an option.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Don’t plan too far out career wise, take risks, and jump on opportunities that present themselves to you.

I use my own career path as an example. I started as a banker, made a transition to a consultant, with another turn as a burger executive, and now I focus on health, wellness, and beauty. Looking at all those individual stages, it would have been unpredictable to predict where I would be right now. But because I’m open to opportunities, I’m working in a fulfilling industry with great people and doing great things. I also always stress the importance and value of relationships and investing in your network. You never know when someone you’ve helped along the way will be able to help you.

Aaron Rosenthal – Co-Founder, E-File.com

Aaron Rosenthal is director of marketing and founder of E-file.com. In 2016, E-file.com along with another of Aaron’s businesses, were ranked by the Jacksonville Business Journal as two of the top fifty fastest-growing companies in North Florida. In 2017, E-file.com was ranked as the 79th fastest-growing company in the country by Inc. Magazine.

How did the concept for E-file.com come about?
Another business of mine focused on lead generation in a few B-to-C verticals. One of them was tax preparation. The companies buying my leads were only interested in them from January 15-April 15. I had customers looking for tax preparation outside of these dates. Rather than look for someone else to sell those leads to, I started E-file.com.

How was the first year in business?
Even though I had some experience in the space from my lead generation background, I treated year one like a big beta test. Since the company was self-funded, we made lots of small “test” ad buys – when something worked then, I would push additional budget to that source. When something didn’t work, I would cut it, learn from it, and move on.

What was your marketing strategy?
E-file.com competes against tax software providers that spend hundreds of millions of dollars on branding and advertising. Going head-to-head is nearly impossible. We decided the best way for us to complete was by focusing on the simplicity of our product and also making sure we were priced extremely competitively. We utilized lots of coupons and discounts to help achieve this.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
In 2017, according to Inc. Magazine, we were the 79th fastest-growing private company in the US. By their calculation, we had a growth rate of 4,641%.

How do you define success?
Setting a goal and meeting it without compromising.

What is the key to success?
I like setting milestones that serve as checkpoints on the way to my goal. I expect to modify and revise the milestones periodically along the way to reach my goal. While I don’t mind changing milestones, I don’t like changing my goals. Once I set a goal, I know that it is where I am going and I just have to find the best way for me to get there.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I sold (technically, it was a merger) my first business for stock in the acquiring company. The purchasing company made loads of verbal promises, but at the end of the day, most of them fell flat. These promises were the reason the deal looked so attractive, and the reason I was willing to walk away with stock rather than cash. I learned two things from this: 1) never rely on “verbal promises,” get everything in writing, and 2) when accepting stock in a private company, always understand the plan for getting your money back out.

What are some quotes that you live by?
I like to think that I treat those working for me, partners, customers, etc. fairly. I don’t ever want to be a business that mistreats someone for the sake of making a profit. So I guess the quote I try to live by is somewhere between the Golden Rule and Dr. Seuss’ quote, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

What are some of your favorite books?
I own two businesses and have three children, so I don’t get a lot of leisure time for reading, but I will say the The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss sits on my shelf and is one of my favorites. Now, this is less about the content of the book and more about my story in conjunction to it. If you’re not familiar with the premise, Tim talks about working just four hours a week and the lifestyle behind it. Prior to the book, Tim was doing this with his own business where he sold a dietary supplement online. In order to help facilitate the business and work minimal hours, Tim out-sourced different components of the business to various companies. He had turned over the marketing and a lot of web development to the agency I was working for at the time. For years, I handled most of the online marketing/advertising for this business. When Tim talked about the book he was writing, I remember feeling like “Why am I growing someone else’s business? I should be out focused on my own.” This helped propel me into being a full-time entrepreneur and thus remains one of my favorite books.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Last year, I made a decision to move away from a company who I partnered with to help provide E-file.com’s tax software. This company had been a very good partner over the years, and this relationship had been in place since E-file.com was first launched. With that said, I felt if E-file.com was going to keep growing, I needed to move on. The unnerving part of the decision was, I had just 60 days before the upcoming tax season. This left an extremely little margin for error, and if things did not go right, E-file.com could be left down for the entire tax season and it could jeopardize the business. The days working up to this decision were some of the most difficult I have faced, but once the decision was made, I did not allow myself to look back.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Today, my wife and kids provide me with all the motivation I need to work through any adversity. Before I had a family of my own, I liked to use everyone/everything that made me feel like I couldn’t do something. Memories of being told “You can’t do that” tend to stay with me, so I’d use them. I would ball up those feelings from anyone who ever told me this and then use that to help drive me whenever I needed an extra push.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Two pieces of advice I would extend to young entrepreneurs are: 1) don’t wait for the perfect time, because you’ll be waiting forever. With that said, it is okay to hedge your bet. I built my first business while I was still working full-time. 2) Also, you’ll never work harder to make something succeed than when it’s your money on the line. Every one of my businesses started out self-funded. I rolled profits back into the businesses to help them grow and did not even consider outside investment before I had already built a viable business.

Rodney Marshall – President & CEO, Aldevra

Rodney Marshall served in the US Marine Corps from 1989 to 1993 when he was honorably discharged. He served as an infantryman and squad leader in the Persian Gulf War under Task Force Ripper and was awarded the Rifle Expert Badge, National Defense Service Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Southwest Asia Service Medal with 2 stars, Kuwait Liberation Medal, and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon. Mr. Marshall suffers from disabilities related to his service, which qualifies him as a service-connected disabled veteran.

Mr. Marshall has chosen to make the best of his situation and is determined to succeed. He has owned his own business since 1998 as a registered basketball official and trainer. He graduated with his bachelor’s degree in Interpersonal Communications from Western Michigan University in May 2010.

Mr. Marshall is using leadership skills honed in the military, communication techniques acquired in college, and his gregarious personality to continue to serve his comrades and Aldevra’s clients by providing commercial food service and medical equipment to those in the battlefield and the homeland.

How did the concept for Aldevra come about?
A fellow coach encouraged me to start a business to sell to the government since I was a disabled veteran and the government had a goal to do a certain amount of business with companies owned by disabled veterans.

How was the first year in business?
The first year in business was a struggle. There was so much I didn’t know or understand. I’ve thought about writing a book on how not to start a business.

What was your marketing strategy?
At first, the marketing strategy was to lead with my certifications. Then, I learned that most customers want a good product or service first. The certifications are a bonus, not the lead.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
The company grew really fast in the first few years. Then, I almost closed the doors when our mentor became our competitor.

How do you define success?
I define success as having a healthy, happy family for whom I can provide.

What is the key to success?
The key to success is having a great support system (my wife especially), paying bills on time, and communicating regularly with customers and suppliers. Basically, I try to treat people how I would want to be treated.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The greatest lesson is to listen to my gut.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Integrity is doing that which is right when no one is looking.” – It’s a Marine Corps quote.

“Send the elevator back down.”

What are some of your favorite books?
Forty Million Dollar Slaves and The Art of War.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Finding my wife and VP crying on the bathroom floor because she was so overwhelmed and tired,

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I’m a Marine. We always push forward in the face of adversity. There is no option.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Don’t ever quit, pay your bills, and never burn a bridge.

Mark Steiner – Co-Founder & CEO, GigSalad

Mark Steiner is the co-founder and CEO of GigSalad. As chief visionary, he leads the company’s business and marketing strategy, focusing on building a strong customer-centric team and connecting with strategic partners. His career in the entertainment industry has spanned more than thirty years, including a decades-long stint booking high-level talent for performing arts centers, festivals, concerts, and corporate events through the agency he founded.

How did the concept for Gigsalad come about?
It was the early 2000. After forming my talent booking agency, and having a website created for that business, I immediately began being inundated with inquiries by way of phone calls and emails from the two separate sides/”parties” of the event market space.

How was the first year in business?
Awesome, thrilling, new. Me and my business partner/co-founder were nothing but excited about exploring and discovering a world in which we didn’t know a whole lot about.

What was your marketing strategy?
Path of least resistance. I started contacting those in my personal and professional “rolodex” that were supply-side and everyone that was buy-side, which is potentially anyone and everyone. I informed them we had this beta stage online directory we were building, and invited them to get on it.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Fast enough for us to pay the bills. As a bootstrapped company, we put in a few thousand dollars of seed money. After that, it  was self-sufficient. The real growth came after our official launch in January 2007. Just a couple years in.

How do you define success?
A profitable company, living within our means. On top of that, a culture that most everyone loves and no one wants to leave.

What is the key to success?
A bright idea, hard work, laser focus, be flexible, be present, have fun, and enjoy the ride.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
You can’t pay attention enough. Take nothing for granted. Trust your gut.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

“The cream rises to the top.”

“Slow and steady wins the race.”

What are some of your favorite books?
Be Here Now, A New Earth, Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life, and Falling Upward.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
There are lonely days, especially when I have to make any tough decision that I know will alter another person’s life. Firing people. Even though it is the right thing to do, it’s tough.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I believe in myself.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Believe in yourself, but be humble, find a mentor or two, and get lots of help.