Eric Schweiger, M.D. – Founder & CEO, Schweiger Dermatology Group

Eric Schweiger, M.D., F.A.A.D., is the founder and CEO of Schweiger Dermatology Group (SDG), a leading cosmetic and medical dermatology practice in the tristate area.

Dr. Schweiger founded SDG in 2010 with one office and a single employee and has since grown to over 45 offices with over 700 employees and 140 healthcare providers. Over the past four years, Dr. Schweiger has raised over $100 million in private equity capital which has been deployed to help facilitate SDG’s growth via a combination of de novo offices and strategic acquisitions.

The mission of SDG is to deliver the Ultimate Patient Experience and make high-quality dermatology services easily accessible to people in the Northeast. Wait times to see a dermatologist are historically long, and Dr. Schweiger’s goal is to increase access to dermatologic care by opening new practices and revitalize existing practices throughout the area and by offering same-day appointments and extended hours. Today, SDG provides dermatology care to over 500,000 patients annually.

Dr. Schweiger received his B.A. from the University of Michigan and his medical degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He completed his post-doctoral training at New York University and the University of Kansas Medical Center. Dr. Schweiger also serves on the dermatology faculty at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York City.

Dr. Schweiger is honored to have been a 2018 EY Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist and Schweiger Dermatology Group was named to the in both 2017 and 2018 to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in America as well as the Crain’s New York Fast 50, which honors the fastest-growing companies in New York.

How did the concept for Schweiger Dermatology come about?
I wanted to make healthcare—a visit to the dermatologist in particular—an easy, hassle-free, and even enjoyable experience. There have been complete overhauls and advances in other industries like dining and transportation (think Seamless, Opentable, Uber) that are customer-ease focused. My mission was to create the Ultimate Patient Experience, giving patients a wide array of options and availability while making every interaction in the process, from the first appointment scheduling to settling the bill, a positive one.

How was the first year in business?
The first year of business was intense and exciting. Against lots of advice from friends and family, I moved forward with opening my practice in 2010 when the economy was far from ideal. It was only myself and one other employee when we started. At the beginning, there was so much anticipation thinking, “Are patients going to find us? Are they going to come?” Only four months in (at the time it felt longer), we started to see a dramatic increase in demand and new business.

What was your marketing strategy?
Digital marketing was my first key strategy when I launched SDG. At that point, healthcare still significantly lagged in online engagement, especially for outpatient practices. People were first finding (and actually seeking) doctors online, and the majority of doctors really didn’t know how to target potential patients. I read SEO for Dummies and wrote all of the web content by hand and started a blog. Fairly soon, we were number one on Google for all the top search keywords in dermatology, to which we accredit a lot of the early traction.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Early development was focused on organic growth, much from word-of-mouth and website traffic. In the first couple of years, we established three additional offices from the ground-up. In 2014, we shifted focus to acquisitions and quickly grew to 11 locations throughout the boroughs and into the New York Tri-State area. Our corporate and support staff grew immensely as a result. Now, only four years after the shift in expansion strategy, we have 50 locations and almost 800 employees.

How do you define success?
I define success as doing something you love every day. And for me that was fulfilling the needs of our customers, being a great place to work, and the ability to build something from scratch that has an impact.

What is the key to success?
Remaining focused even when there are millions of distractions. That meant staying dedicated to dermatology in our local market and making our patients and providers happy. We’ve just now branched into Philadelphia, which are our first locations outside of New York and New Jersey.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I’ve realized how important it is to be surrounded with the right team. When you are a start-up, you end up doing a lot of things on your own. When you scale, it is essential to have people around you who have experience and specialized skills to help you take it to the next level.

What are some of your favorite books?
I read a book a month, which has given me so much insight into running and growing the business. I highly recommend Scaling UpAwaken the Giant WithinGood to Great, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
It’s not news that one of the greatest challenges during growth is cash flow. Growth really does suck cash. One day in 2014, we were notified that a significant capital investment was delayed by a month and the realization crept in that we may not be able to cover our next payroll without it. Luckily, we were able to secure last minute financing and subverted that crisis.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Surrounding yourself with the right team is key. Our leadership team is strong and focused; it’s added motivation to continue leading and pursuing a larger goal. 

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Focus on your core strategies. Don’t be afraid to fail, and be ready to adapt at any moment. Also, every company goes through massive ups and downs, so don’t get too excited when things are going well and too down when they’re not.

Sunny Desai – Founder & Principal, Desai Hotel Group

Sunny Desai has over ten years of experience with developing and managing like-kind hotels and has successfully operated six hotels since 2009. Desai is the principal and founder of Desai Hotel Group, LLC. He is responsible for providing strategic leadership for the company by working with the executive management team to establish long-term goals, strategies, plans, and policies that will aid in the advancement of the company. He oversees company operations to ensure alignment with its mission and objectives and to promote revenue, profitability, and growth as an organization.

Mr. Desai is a Make-A-Wish Mississippi board member, Downtown Jackson Partners Advisory board member, and a Young Advisory Alumni Council member for Mississippi State University. Some of his accomplishments include having been recognized as a recipient of Hotel Management Magazine’s “Thirty Under 30”, and most recently, as one of the recipients of Mississippi Business Journal’s Top CEO Awards. He is also a Mississippi Licensed Real Estate Broker and a Mississippi Licensed Contractor.

Mr. Desai graduated Summa Cum Laude from Mississippi State University’s undergraduate double major program in 2008 with an emphasis in Real Estate and Banking & Finance. After finishing Mississippi State University’s MBA program in 2010, he founded Desai Hotel Group at the age of 24.

DHG is a fast-growing hotel development and investment company based in Jackson, Mississippi. Driven by the continuously changing environment of the hospitality industry, DHG specializes in developing and investing in high quality, select service hotel assets throughout the Southeastern United States. Our unique organization is structured around the core values of Knowledge, Appreciation, Revolutionary, Morale and Authenticity. DHG’s mission is to continue to strive for perfection and growth throughout the intellectual development of our team with an emphasis on accountability throughout our organization. DHG currently owns and operates six hotels in Mississippi, two hotels in Louisiana, and has three projects in the pipeline located in the states of Tennessee and Mississippi.

How did the concept for Desai Hotel Group come about?
It honestly came by accident. I had no idea what I wanted to do after college, but I knew I didn’t want to work for someone else. My father wanted to build a hotel, and I figured I would spearhead that for him while I found my own path. At the end of the project, I fell in love with real estate development. Every day was different with new challenges. After the first hotel, I found the next deal and started raising capital. Ten years later, here we are.

How was the first year in business?
I spent the first year of the business working on the new hotel and getting my MBA. It was more of an educational period than a growth period. I needed to learn the basics of the industry.

What was your marketing strategy?
Free press and a website. They both make you look credible. As a bootstrapped company, we had very little money to invest in marketing. Almost all of our money was spent on the website. Other than that, we used social media to try to gain exposure.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
I was the only employee for the first three years, and it was all a blur. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was learning a lot from my mistakes. I was like a sponge soaking up as much knowledge as I could about the industry. There was little growth in the first three years. In my third year, I finally opened my second hotel which happened to be my most successful venture to-date.

How do you define success?
I think success has different meanings for different people. For me, success is continuously pushing myself to get better every year. It’s also making the people around me better. I’ve had people tell me that I’ve accomplished a lot for my age, but I feel like I’m just getting started. My definition of success is the endless pursuit of perfection.

What is the key to success?
I think there are two keys: hard work and integrity. Nothing in life worth having comes easy. If it does come easy, then you won’t truly appreciate it. Failure from hard work turns into a learning experience. All you have to do is learn how to do it better next time. Integrity is the foundation of all great leaders. You have a lot of choices in life. Choosing to take the route with integrity is often harder. Hard work and integrity both pay dividends in the long run.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Trust should be earned, not given. Early in my career, I was quick to trust people thinking everyone had the best intentions in mind. It wasn’t until people starting turning their backs on me when times got tough when I realized I blindly put trust in people that didn’t deserve it.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mohandas Gandhi

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett

What are some of your favorite books?
The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Living Forward by Michael Hyatt

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
On a single day in 2014, I found out that two loans that I had been working on for months got denied and that one of my projects was going over budget. I think I had a mini-panic attack. It eventually all worked out, but it gets really tough when multiple problems hit you at one time.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I think the single biggest factor is the number of people that are depending on me. Everything changes when you start to realize that your decisions are going to impacts others’ lives. My company’s success will inevitably mean the team’s success.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Take chances, learn from failures, and find mentors.

Damon Decrescenzo – Co-Founder & CEO, The Credit Pros

A lifelong entrepreneur, Damon graduated from St. John’s University in New York with a B.S. in marketing and has founded a number of successful companies, including a mortgage lender, a real estate development company, an online pharmacy, a successful affiliate marketing network, and a pioneering e-commerce brand. As co-founder and CEO of The Credit Pros, he leads one of the nation’s largest and most successful credit repair companies, serving tens of thousands of clients across the United States. The Credit Pros has been named to the Inc. 5000 list five consecutive times, Inc.’s first ever 50 Best Places to Work list, SmartCEO Magazine’s Future 50 list and SmartCEO’s New Jersey Corporate Culture awards, the Entrepreneur Magazine’s 2016 Entrepreneur 360™ list, and named one of the Best Places to Work in NJ for 2017. He is a progressive leader in credit technology and a vocal advocate of the credit repair industry.

How did the concept for The Credit Pros come about?
They say that “necessity is the mother of invention.” That was definitely true for The Credit Pros. Ten years ago, in the throes of the Great Recession, my partner Jason and I were developing affordable housing in Miami, and a core buyer requirement was good credit. Needless to say, our buyers did NOT have good credit, and so The Credit Pros was born to assist our buyers to improve their credit scores (and to assist us in selling our housing product). We saw an opportunity in the market to build an amazing credit repair and education experience, delivered by cutting edge technology at scale, so we chose to focus on building The Credit Pros into a household consumer finance brand.

How was the first year in business?
Our first year in business was difficult, as most are. On top of being in the middle of one of the worst economic environments in 100 years, we were operating in a new town (relocated to Newark, NJ), in an unfamiliar market, bootstrapped and underfunded, and without a clear vision for growth. It was not easy.

What was your marketing strategy?
We market to the consumer both directly (B2C) and via small and large strategic partnerships (B2B2C). We work with fintech companies, personal finance services, lenders, lead aggregators, call centers, and performance marketers to give them a reliable channel in which to monetize their poor credit leads and clients (through CPA, PayPerCall, CPL, etc). We also build technology to deliver consumer credit information to end-users to allow them to access our ecosystem very affordably.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We’ve been blessed to grow ~30-40% every year since we started our company and that pace continues through today. While maintaining consistent growth brings its own unique set of challenges, it’s afforded us the opportunity to tackle new and interesting challenges every year.

How do you define success?
I believe success is found in our “small wins.” Hitting a goal. Rallying the team. Getting noticed with some great PR. Our small wins, as small as they seem, are a lot more frequent and tangible than the BHAG-type mountain-size goals. They allow us to take a second, pat ourselves on the back or give each other a high-five, and get back to the grind. Success is that great little dopamine hit we collectively get when we tackle one of our “small wins.”

What is the key to success?
I believe the key to success lies in organizational alignment. As our team grows, it is too easy for silos to form, preventing one part of the organization from properly gelling with another. In our company, delivering a killer product is dependent on dozens of people across multiple teams collaborating seamlessly. When we are able to knock down walls, and keep everyone rowing in the same direction, The Credit Pros wins.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
As CEO, it is my job to ask questions more than give answers. I find that most of the time, our team has the answer they need inside them or right in front of them. It just takes the right question to bring it to light. Additionally, I find it much more effective if the team member feels they found the answer and it was their idea instead of a mandate given to them from “on high.”

What are some quotes that you live by? 
“Success leaves clues” – Tony Robbins

What are some of your favorite books?
Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Sometimes, we all get stuck with our “head in the sand.” Our team has built our organization to a best-in-class credit repair company, but the fact is as CEO I am also responsible for standing on the mountaintop and shouting our praises for all to hear, and in the past, I haven’t executed as well as I could have there.

One of my toughest days was hearing a potential investor’s opinion about our company. It was not entirely positive, and certainly very different than who I believed we truly were, what we built, or where we were going. It resulted in a missed opportunity, but was really tough because I know that I failed to clearly over-communicate our vision, mission, culture and values – not to our team, but to the rest of the world.

I learned that as CEO, my role is to paint a vision of The Credit Pros – both who we are and what we can be – to team members, partners, investors, and clients. And to do it as early and as often as possible.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The Credit Pros has nearly 100 people in our organization that count on our continued success. Not to mention, the hundreds of family members that depend on those TCP team members. When I feel that I am swimming against the tide, I think of the TCP family, as well as my own family, and push through for them. I know they would expect me to push through and not let them down.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
It’s been said, “ad nauseum,” to embrace failure as a learning experience, but what isn’t said enough is to be leery of success, especially early and easy wins. First, success is fleeting. If you haven’t found this out yet, you will, as nothing good lasts forever. Additionally, there is absolutely no guarantee that what worked yesterday will work today, let alone tomorrow. Every day is a new fight and a new struggle. Last, early success has the unfortunate side effect of giving one a false sense of mastery. There is always more to learn and always a million more ways it can go wrong. Attacking each day high on past success, and with anything other than a “beginner’s mind,” is a great way to let the old-timers like me sneak up behind you and “eat your lunch.”

Rick Skidmore – Founder & CEO, Timberlane, Inc.

Rick Skidmore started Timberlane based on a personal need and recognizing a discernible gap in the building products industry. With an initial focus on designing and building high quality exterior window shutters that fit with the traditional and historic preservation requirements, he began combining the detailed artisan craftsmanship with modern day technology, enabling custom shutters to be manufactured according to exacting specifications without sacrificing craftsmanship and quality. In an industry sector that had largely vanished over 50 years ago with the decline in exterior shutters as functional window alternatives, Timberlane has been instrumental in giving a new life to an all but forgotten product.

Today, Rick continues to lead Timberlane as the founder and CEO to industry success and recognition. As the leading exterior window shutter manufacturer in the United States and abroad, the Timberlane Brand has tremendous equity in the market and has attracted the attention of hundreds of high profile projects such as the White House, set designers for major Hollywood motion pictures, television, and even under the lights on the Broadway stage. Rick and Timberlane have also been featured in numerous on-air programs including PBS, ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Curb Appeal, P. Allen Smith, Katie Brown Workshop, This Old House, as well as cited by CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous other industry and mainstream media outlets.

Prior to starting Timberlane, Rick was successful in the insurance and investment industry, building teams, brands and portfolios. Rick is an active member of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), has been recognized for three consecutive years by Inc. Magazine’s top 500 list and the Philadelphia 100, recognizing the fastest-growing companies in the US. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and Criminal Justice from Temple University.

Tell me about your early career.
I originally wanted to be a lawyer. I have a BS in Psychology and Criminal justice, but by my junior year of college, I realized I didn’t want to be a lawyer anymore and felt a bit lost. I started my career in the financial services industry and realized almost instantly I hated working for a large company, almost as much as I hated financial services. However, I was good at it and began achieving a fair amount of success, so it was hard to leave, but I knew my calling was to eventually be an entrepreneur.

How did the concept for Timberlane come about?
I was restoring an old home in Bucks County, PA and I needed replacement window shutters. I was a hobbyist woodworker and had a small wood shop in my house. I would routinely make my own millwork and furniture and fully intended to make my own reproduction shutters. Like most hobbyist woodworkers, I set out looking for a company that sold the type of shutters I needed so I could receive some design inspiration and reverse engineer how they were constructed. This was 1994 and Google didn’t exist yet, so my research consisted of physically visiting lumberyards and home centers. When I would visit these businesses and inquired about custom window shutters, I was met with either a dazed look, or I was told they could special order them, but they were expensive and it would take a while. That’s when the light bulb went off. I thought to myself, I own an old home in a historic town and there had to be hundreds of similar towns across the US and there were likely tens of thousands of old homes that had shutters (or needed shutters). Although I was going to make them myself, most people would buy them. In that moment, I made the decision to start a shutter company and three months later, I officially opened my doors.

How was the first year in business?
It was crazy and like lightning in a bottle. I wouldn’t trade all the hard work and sacrifice for anything. I knew nothing about industrial woodworking, much less how to run a business, but I learned quickly. I drained my 401K and launched my business. I rented an industrial warehouse, purchased equipment, designed marketing collateral, placed advertising, and went at it hard. I worked virtually 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and loved every minute of it. I officially opened the doors on 12/1/1995 and I remember clearly that at about 7:00 PM on 2/18/1996, my fax machine went off and a few seconds later, I saw my first signed order start to slowly appear. Although I had no intention of running a small business and being the one doing the manufacturing, I actually did all of that in the beginning to make sure I truly understood every aspect of the business.

What was your marketing strategy?
We sell a “nice to have,” not a “have to have,” so our challenge was (is) to make our product highly evocative. We are selling a look and our shutters are simply a vehicle to improve the aesthetic of our customer’s homes. It was a passionate conversation and one we knew we wanted to have ourselves. I was very clear from the beginning that I wanted to build a direct business model. Having previously managed teams of outside sales reps, I knew first-hand how hard and inefficient that was. It was like herding cats and I knew it would be hard to control my own destiny if I went to market using independent sales agents. I quickly learned that selling special order products through retailers was equally as hard and would result in lower margins. I was intrigued by companies like Gateway Computer and Dell computer who sold direct. If they were able to sell a highly-configured product through a catalog and call center, why couldn’t I sell shutters that way? So that is the model I set out to build. We took out advertising in dozens of different trade journals and magazines that specialized in home design and décor. We started exhibiting at home shows. We purchased lists of people who owned old homes or managed historic structures and sent them mailers. I set up a small inside sales team and we would follow up on every single lead. To this day, twenty-three years later, not much has changed about our route to market and we still operate in a direct sales model.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We doubled revenue every year for the first five years, and then for the next six years, we averaged annual revenue growth of 20%. We qualified for various growth lists like the Inc. 500 (three years in a row), The Philadelphia 100, and countless others.

How do you define success?
It’s not about money. It’s about loving what you do and approaching everything you do with passion. If you focus on that, you’ll never work a day in your life and the money will come.

What is the key to success?
Build a high-performance team, get them aligned around your vision, and then tirelessly support them.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
To keep learning and to surround yourself with like-minded people that will push you, both personally and professionally. I devote about 25% of my time to education, peer learning, and various other personal and professional development programs.

What are some quotes that you live by?
I love quotes and tend to use them regularly. Some of my favorites are, “Perception is reality”, “Revenue is vanity. Profit is Sanity. Cash is Reality”, “When the horse is dead, dismount”, and “Passion + Perseverance = Possibility”.

What are some of your favorite books?
As for books, I am an avid reader and some of my top picks are The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, Man’s Search of Meaning by Victor Frankel, Good to Great by Jim Collins, and Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
It was more than one day; it was really over the course of a year. By late summer of 2008, the financial crisis was starting to pick up steam and the impending impact to my business was becoming obvious. None of our previously successful tactics were working and it was like someone turned off the sales faucet. I had over a hundred employees and barely had enough work to keep half of them busy. We laid off fifty people that fall and I felt like a failure. Then, if that weren’t enough, the situation worsened, and we had to lay off another twenty employees, nine months later. As an entrepreneur, this was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. We went from 110 employees to thirty-five, inside of nine months. Once we hit bottom, we only looked forward and began to re-tool and rebuild.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I can usually deal with any reality, if I know what that reality is, so the first thing I do when faced with adversity is to take a deep breath and assess the situation before doing anything. Then I develop a thoughtful plan, I stay mentally and physically healthy, and try to keep things in perspective. Lastly, I’m a fighter and hate to lose, so I trench in and work the plan until I’m on the other side of the problem.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Don’t wait. If you have a solid idea, jump on it. Line up as many mentors as you can. Hire a coach. Read and learn constantly. Build a tribe of other like-minded individuals that you can lean on, learn from, and be called out from. Adopt a strategic planning and management system from day one. Be deliberate and design your culture from the beginning, because if you don’t, one will be designed for you that you might not like very much. Passion – if you don’t have it, don’t do it.

Dave Cava – Co-Founder & COO, Proactive Technologies

Dave Cava co-founded Proactive Technologies in 2007 and currently serves as their COO. Proactive is located in midtown Manhattan and specializes in managed technology support services for alternative investment firms. They currently have around 50 employees, 160 clients, and $10 million in revenue.

How did the concept for Proactive Technologies come about?
My partner and I were working at another firm, and aside from our group, the company was very dysfunctional. We finally had enough and decided to leave. As I pondered what to do next, it occurred to me that I really liked what I was doing and thought I was good at it…I just didn’t like where I was working. We tried to negotiate a graceful exit that would involve us buying out the portion of the business we ran, but those talks fell apart and we wound up striking out on our own with no clients, no employees, no office, no business cards, etc. We announced to our business contacts that we’d left and were starting a new venture. The only capital we had was money we put in, and we didn’t have much to spare. My half came from a credit line on my house and a small settlement from a car accident my wife was in. We were totally bootstrapped and terrified, and we really didn’t have a Plan B.

How was the first year in business?
Wild! We got started in May 2007. My partner severely injured his knee in August of that year, putting him out of work for almost three months. By the end of 2007, we had $1.4 million in sales and twelve employees. To say it was crazy would be a serious understatement. We had all of these ideas about laying good foundations in terms of using software tools optimally and developing standardized processes and procedures, and everything just flew out the window because we were trying to keep up with a massive crush of work. By the end of the year, we had recouped our entire initial investment and we were so busy we were turning away new sales leads. We had lots of problems, but they were GOOD problems.

What was your marketing strategy?
It’s more of an anti-marketing strategy, truth be told. We quickly focused on a narrow vertical market (boutique hedge funds and private equity firms), built our company to deliver services well to that market, and jealously-guarded the reputation of our firm within that market. Sometimes that meant bending over backwards to please a client, sometimes it meant turning away new clients if we were maxed out and feeling like we couldn’t onboard them well. We gradually got the attention of some of the influencers and kingmakers in the space and got real traction. Someone once asked us, “So you just sit around and wait for the phone to ring?” and we replied “That’s right, but we put a lot of effort into making sure it keeps ringing.”

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
The growth in the first year was amazing and challenging. We basically did in a year what most successful bootstrapped companies in our industry do in four or five years. Then the recession hit in 2008-2009 and all of a sudden we found ourselves just trying to hold the ground we’d gained. At one point, we lost money six months in a row and were just trying to hang in there and not lay off any employees. Our larger competitors laid off approximately 40% of their staff during this time frame. We started doing quarterly company meetings around this time in order to keep employees in the loop as far as the state of the company and the industry overall. We shared financial information. We wanted people to understand the full context as we made tough decisions about compensation in a brutal market.

How do you define success?
Success is doing what God put you on Earth to do and doing it well. For me, right now that means empowering other people and helping them to have good careers, and speaking and teaching as time allows. I want to see my employees buying homes and starting families with confidence they will have a solid, stable income for years to come, and ultimately, I’d also like to help some people who have had hard lives to be self-sufficient when they previously were not.

What is the key to success?
Humility, hard work, relationships, and overcoming fear.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I’m not invincible. I need to pace myself and appreciate the value of rest and a balanced life.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Land the plane.” – LL Cool J. Basically, this quote means finishing well is everything. You can have a great business and if success goes to your head and your family is a mess, what did you accomplish? Win at life, not just business.

“I was dead, and right content.” – George McDonald, Phantastes. Death is just a door – get right with God and live without fear of it.

“Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again. But the wicked are brought down by their calamity.” – King Solomon, Proverbs 24:16. No matter how bad you blow it, get up and try again.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, and he will make your path straight.” – King Solomon, Proverbs 3:5-6. Ultimately, we’re not in control. Control is an illusion. Surrender to God and let Him lead the way.

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” – Apostle James, James 4:6. People are the same way. If you are humble, everyone will want you to succeed and help you do it.

What are some of your favorite books?
The Bible, The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis, The Breakthrough Company by Keith McFarland, and The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I had good friend I’ll call Bob who I had worked with at two previous jobs. At one point, my family was living in a pretty dangerous part of Brooklyn and we decided to move out very suddenly due to the escalating violence. One guy dropped everything he was doing, commuted to where I lived from far away, and spent the weekend helping me move. That was Bob. We really should be friends for life. Well, I hired Bob to work at my company not long after we got going. He did well for a while but after a year or so he grew increasingly frustrated with his role. At one point, it boiled over and he threw a chair across the office. I sent him home and fired him the next day. I thought our friendship would recover, but it never did, and to this day I am still sad about it. This experience changed the way I look at hiring friends and family. These days, I usually put those hiring decisions in the hands of other people, and I have a discussion upfront that goes something like this: “The day may come when letting you go is the right thing for the company. If that happens, that is exactly what I’ll do. If you don’t think our relationship is strong enough to withstand that kind of experience, please don’t take this job.”

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
There are a lot of people counting on me. I take a lot of inspiration from my grandfather. He fought for Italy in World War II and was a Prisoner of War in North Africa. When the war ended, he got married and moved his family to America. He didn’t know English and had an 8th grade Italian education. That man worked his ass off and put five kids through college. He learned English by taking classes after working double shifts at a gas station. Eventually, he owned a service station with a partner, and then owned his own liquor store for over twenty years. He put an entire family on his shoulders after experiencing the horrific traumas of hand-to-hand combat and a POW camp. All that to say when I need to get through something really hard I pray to God and I remind myself that my grandfather’s blood is running through my veins, and I want to make him proud. You steel your will and go do whatever you gotta do.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Find people who have accomplished what you are hoping to accomplish, find a way to get some time with them, and ask them questions and listen, listen, listen. Treat them with respect, show them gratitude, and take the time to process what they’ve said. Everyone needs to learn some things the hard way, but you should learn as many things the easy way as humanly possible. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”