Jon Hoffenberg is the founder and president of YellowTelescope, SEOversite
Jon is originally from Chicago and now resides in Miami Beach. He is a whisky connoisseur, world-traveler, poker player, paddle boarder, podcaster, avid reader, live music festival-goer, sports fan, father and husband.
How did the concept for YellowTelescope come about?
I used to run gyms/spas and a former colleague from that industry asked me to consult three hours a day for a prominent plastic surgeon in Miami and New York. I had no knowledge of the industry but realized operations, sales, marketing, etc. were largely fungible between industries. I love the medical industry and never left. After growing my role from a part-time consultant to a full-time manager, and investing around seven years, I realized the processes we developed to make our practice one of the largest in the world of its kind, was replicable, so we decided to open a consulting company to help other medical practices grow. We named it YellowTelescope and have now been in business since 2008.
How was the first year in business?
During our first year open, I was still also running the main medical practice. It was very hectic with long hours. We barely made any profit and had less than a handful of clients, but were able to stay open as we had, in essence, “day jobs” to supplement us as we built.
What was your marketing strategy?
We opened with very little budget and relied on getting speeches at various medical society meetings, investing in convention booths, and we had a fairly large list of emails and industry connections. Our business built organically from there, largely by word of mouth. As our consulting services are costly, and involve longer contracts, great people with great connections building superb relationships are key.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We knew our process worked and anybody smart enough to hire us was very likely to succeed, so we had confidence. The first year or two was a touch slow, but growth thereafter has been exponential as we have been named to Inc. Magazine‘s 2018 Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America, and two years in a row to “The Fast 50” in South Florida, currently ranking #7 in growth under $25 million.
How do you define success?
I was raised to be incredibly-driven. In school, a “B” was seen as an “F-“ by my family. I started working at 15, opened my first franchise of a company by 19, saved up for my first house by 22, and felt anybody less-driven than me to be tough to understand. As I approach 40, I am grateful my family pushed me and raised me well, excited to have gone to great schools like Wharton, and build relationships with amazing people, but also realize that success is not what the driven young man I was thought at those ages. For me, it starts with feeling well. If you and your family are healthy, then it is about building a legacy people can respect and admire once you are gone. While none of us will be here to see how the future judges us, the exercise of focusing on legacy leads to the right activities and protects you from poor choices. Money is great and I think we’d all like more. Being your own boss is worthwhile, but so is being an employee and serving others. Having respect is great, but only if earned. If after I am gone, my peers and loved ones can say my legacy is one of honesty, integrity, hard work, monetary success, family values, fun with a sense of humor, and growing others, then that would be success and I am sure I’ll find time to have fun along the way.
What is the key to success?
I don’t pretend to know the answer to a question this broad and there may be more than one. I can comment on my approach to life and what has served me well. For starters, you must be “honest and on it,” something our YellowTelescope team developed over time. It is shockingly hard for people to simply do what they say they will do in a straightforward fashion and very few people we encounter truly embody this very simple ideal. Similarly, those who actually are honest and on it invariably are wildly successful in their areas of work and life. My team and I are wildly responsive, do exactly what we say we will do, do so usually before expected, and hold firmly to our beliefs we know to be true and admit fault readily when rare mistakes occur. People know they can, if nothing more, trust us to get things done and that alone makes a multi-million dollar company. Anything beyond that is just cherries on the sundae. Certainly, there are other keys like being prudent in selecting a profession you can be good at and enjoy – I can’t draw a stick figure, so had I chosen to be an artist, it may have been imprudent, and I do know I have certain talents maybe others do not. With that said, the core to anything you do is being solid and for us that is “honest and on it” as it covers so much as a parent, businessperson, friend, and colleague.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Stay healthy or nothing matters. After being able to have you and your family not be in pain and stay alive, I also have gained much from the idea of “Do/spend/travel/etc. enough that you have no regrets if you die tomorrow, and save/learn/invest/plan/
What are some quotes that you live by?
I don’t know who wrote it, but I preach to my clients and people that “These are the good ol’ days” – soak them in and remember the fun of building a business, of failing, of being stuck in an airport with a bad cold overnight, of falling on your face, etc. Later in life, it’ll be the stuff you laugh about mixed in with the positivity. My vice president of our sister web company, SEOversite.com, John Berry, has worked with me through three companies, took huge pay cuts to start over with me, slept on a blowup in my apartment when we were broke, moved out of state, watched our office get soaked in a hurricane as I lost my first house that I saved for and purchased referenced above, and is here to tell about it. It was misery at times, but we know those were (and these, today, are) the good ol’ days. We have so many funny stories from those times and we don’t regret the $.25 ramen noodles or $.50 frozen burritos we ate to get to where we are today. As he sits overlooking his waterfront home with his wife, or as I take my son skiing, or as we as see our team members buy Ferraris, etc., we get as much of a kick out of those things as we do with the struggle on the way up the hill.
What are some of your favorite books?
As far as books, we love them. We give attendees of our annual YellowTelescope Training Seminar we conduct in Miami for 200 or so people a year an entire reading list. Some of my favorites include Leadership and Self-Deception, Start with Why, First, Break All The Rules, Good to Great, Hug Your Customers, Blue Ocean Strategy, Organized for Success, and many more. I tend not to read self-help, but rather spend a lot of time on management, leadership, sales, and marketing as our three companies fit that: YellowTelescope (management and sales consulting), SEOversite (a free service to connect businesses with great online marketing solutions like website design and SEO), and iScreamSocialMedia (a social media company).
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
As noted, I was a pretty-motivated young person and I saved every dollar for years after graduating from college. I saved six figures and put it into a new condo on the water in Palm Beach, Florida. It doubled in value within a year during the real estate boom of the mid-2000s. A hurricane hit. My place survived. Then, a second one came and the entire building was destroyed. The insurance company refused to pay us despite having hurricane and flood insurance, as they didn’t want to pay out in hopes that less well-to-do tenants would not be able to afford to sue them and would simply walk away or pass away; this was good for them to do monetarily, though morally reprehensible. Over the course of two years or more, I had to keep paying my mortgage while paying a second rent to avoid being homeless. Eventually, insurance paid me the money that covered the price I paid but not the value of the home. I lost two years of rent and over $250,000 of potential wealth. My office flooded at my franchise as well and we nearly went out of business and I almost had to file bankruptcy, all despite not doing anything I could define as wrong. I only wanted to build the American dream, being the product of public school and the son of a professor and secretary. So that was a bad day (and year or two). Despite that, by 27, I had more money saved than ever and had changed jobs while earning my best living. By 30, I’d become a millionaire, exceeding what as a child I thought I could achieve. As I turn 40 in a few months, I still know that money comes and goes, but relationships, friendships, family, and your legacy can last.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I teach my team to be “warm blooded,” which means to generate your own proverbial heat. We all have adversity – some more than others, and we all should be grateful that so much more hasn’t gone so much worse when you look around at the atrocities happening daily around the world. When you have a bad day, week, month or year, you have to self-manage, you must positively “self-medicate” to bring your fever down and stay positive. I’ve always been able to recharge as I know myself. For me, I enjoy time with my amazing son, drinking a rare whisky, playing basketball, traveling, grabbing dinner with my wife or friends, hitting the gym, jogging or golfing, or just getting a good night of sleep. I’ve learned that the next day, things just feel better. Other people might talk to a parent or best friend, or cook a meal, or prefer a bath and a glass of wine to a fine whisky, but the point is to learn how to press reset in a healthy way (1 wine, not 12) to start anew the next day. At the end of the day, it isn’t all that serious. It’s just work and the worst case is you’ll find another job and be okay.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Go way bigger, way earlier, and way younger. I was so stressed about money all the time. I was so worried about five bucks and five thousand bucks, and I still lost everything before I got it all back. I got it all back because I was young and had plenty of time. Once you are married with kids, have a large mortgage and responsibilities, you can’t take risk the same way or you affect other people, not just yourself. When you are young, what’s the worst-case scenario? You lose all your money? You don’t have much anyway! You have to get a real job? Well, if you don’t succeed, you might anyway. You are afraid of failure? Look at the people in this book – did anybody leave the “toughest day” question blank or say “I’ve never had one”? So, it’s going to happen. My advice is to go really big – if you make it, great. If you don’t, start over while you are still young. I did a version of that and ultimately have built a nice company with a great team. I do wonder if I could have built something ten times bigger if I dove in sooner and deeper. I have no regrets, but I’d encourage my son to leave it all on the field in his teens and early 20’s and then make more modest goals later in life. It isn’t about being imprudent or making bad decisions, but rather making equally-smart decisions that have higher risk and reward early. I still open a new company every 3-4 years and haven’t lost the bug, but am very smart about it and never take on debt as I do have responsibilities, but unlike a young person, I also have some success banked.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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