Jade Sheppard – President, Gideon USA

As president and owner of Gideon USA, Jade turned a small construction company that started from nothing but loans and a strong work ethic into an sizable outfit she is incredibly proud of, building for U.S. agencies such as the Air Force, Navy, Army Corps of Engineers, Homeland Security, and the Coast Guard.

Gideon USA is a badass federal construction company that does the logistically-challenging projects that other smaller guys can’t do and the bigger guys won’t do. We are a lean company on a lifelong lean journey. We are ninjas. We are family.

How did the concept for Gideon USA come about?
I don’t have a great story around this. I’m not a particularly creative person but I knew I wanted to be self-employed. I simply didn’t want to have to ask my boss if I can take my kids to the doctor. I had no idea it would become what it did. I just looked around and figured everyone needed construction and I loved the tangibility of it. I had been in IT before that and really didn’t want to deal with computers or software again.

How was the first year in business?
Super difficult and depressing. I felt like I was scraping the bottom of the barrel, cold calling and hustling. I had no confidence that what I was doing was the right thing.

What was your marketing strategy?
I didn’t have much of one. I literally tried everything and saw what stuck, which wasn’t a lot. It was really tough. We ended up getting relatively lucky and had a few decent, repeat customers.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Didn’t grow much. The recession wiped us out in 2008 and I had to choose whether to reinvent ourselves or to just go out of business. I was in a lot of debt to my immigrant parents, who took out a home equity line of credit on the house I grew up in just so I could make payroll. It was unbelievably stressful and sad, but I changed directions and started working for the federal government (harder than I just made that sound) and in 2009, we were a small business participant in the Recovery Act, which helped catapult us onto the journey that we have been on the last ten years. Since 2010, we have grown very quickly and finally decided not to grow anymore last year in order to increase our cash reserves and investments. It has been a long and tough journey but it has paid off.

How do you define success?
Nowadays, success is the health and happiness of my family, and from a business perspective, having everything in order so that I don’t have to work more than a few hours a day and the income still comes in and all the gears still turn. I have the most incredible executive team in place and we utilize the EOS Traction business system, which has the entire company rowing in the same direction. I personally just purchased a hotel in Central America, which is the pinnacle of a dream come true.

What is the key to success?
Having an incredible team. My employees are amazing.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Life is short. Live life to the fullest. Being an entrepreneur is the only way to truly be the master of your own destiny. I am a big risk taker and I believe that the opportunities I’ve had in my life are because I’ve put myself out there to receive.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Do small things with great love,” “Not all who wander are lost,” and “The best revenge is success.”

What are some of your favorite books?
The Culture Code and Good to Great.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I had a right hand person who I found out was sabotaging the company behind my back and doing everything they could to take us down. That was a really tough day. I was 5 months pregnant and my father passed away two months later. I fired half of the company that week and basically had to start over with the customers and the company. I hunkered down and made it through by sheer will. The loyalty I have for the employees who went through that time with me cannot be described. I thought I would never trust again after that, but I refused to let that person turn me into someone I don’t want to be. It’s in the past, it was all for the best, and we blossomed as a company after that tough time. It ended up being the best thing that could’ve happened to us. The best revenge is success.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
When life throws me a curve ball, I hunker down and allow myself to feel all of the emotions that I need to feel. I intensely practice self-care and make sure to nurture my body, mind, and spirit. When business throws me a curve ball, I know that it will correct itself, and when I experience betrayal and dishonesty in business, I trust in karma and that the universe will do what it needs to do and all will come back full circle in the end. As a business person, if you internalize everything that others do to you that isn’t right, you would die inside. You need to let go and trust the universe to make it right. It’s out of your control.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Don’t be afraid to be a capitalist. People make it into a bad word but I think of making profit as a game of chess. It’s a game and it’s what makes it fun and exciting. You can be in a business that you love and makes no money, like a lifestyle business, but I would recommend doing that after you’ve made enough money to be somewhat financially secure. Sometimes, the least glamorous businesses are the ones that make good cash. You don’t need to be a high tech startup or think of something no one else has thought of. You just need to be a business that follows sound business principles and works hard, which turns into a few lucky breaks. Luck favors those who work hard and who are in the right place at the right time.



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

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