Jeff Katofsky – Owner, Orem Owlz

Jeff Katofsky is a husband of thirty years, father of two boys, and a trial lawyer with substantial civil litigation experience (over 150 trials) in real estate, business, construction, injury, corporate, finance, insurance, property and casualty, and intellectual property. Jeff is a graduate of UCLA and the Boalt Hall School of Law (UC Berkeley). As an entrepreneur and a hands-on operator, Jeff owns a professional baseball team (Orem Owlz), multiple hotels, and businesses in retail, entertainment, real estate, food, and hospitality. As a developer, Jeff has been the primary construction supervisor, designer, and entitlement processor for close to 100 projects. Jeff manages the finances of the projects and handles the acquisition, construction, and underwriting.

How do you define success?
Healthy, happy, family. Well-educated, loving, respectful children. Good friends. Money and things are secondary, and just a bonus (although it does pay for the education of the kids).

What is the key to success?
Hard work, dedication, earned loyalty from those who you work with, reputation (which is also earned), focus, as well as setting and reaching a series of reasonable goals.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
It’s okay to fail, if you learn from it. Don’t repeat it, and then modify your behavior for the next time.

What are some quotes that you live by?
My quotes almost always come from movies, not books. You will hear a quote from at least one of the following, daily, out of my mouth – My Cousin Vinny, The Princess Bride, Bull Durham, A Few Good Men, my son Jake’s first movie 108 Stitches, or anything Yogi Berra ever said.

What are some of your favorite books?
I read a lot of spy fiction, political, and action books, like Clancy, Lee Child, Baladacci, Koontz, and Cussler. It does help reduce the stress of reality.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I had a whole lot of them in the crash of 2008-2009. Arguably, I am a professional “borrower.” Every new deal we do relies on good banking relationships until long-term stabilization. When the banks began to fail, they turned to squeezing their good, current borrowers to repatriate cash (they could not collect against defaulted loans) and they began to come up with ways, through declaring non-monetary defaults on their performing loans, to try to force payoffs. Of course, no banks were loaning money to help those take outs, leaving me with a huge cash crunch. It almost put me under.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Providing for my family.

How did you come across the opportunity to purchase the Orem Owlz?
In 2004, my father was in Las Vegas at a real estate convention and met the former owners of the ball club, who were pitching him on a restaurant deal. During that meeting, they mentioned they owned a baseball team in Provo, Utah, and that they needed to sell for financial reasons. My dad said he had a buyer, called me and said, “What’s the one thing you always wanted but did not think you could afford to buy?” I said, “A baseball team.” He said, “Say hello,” and handed the phone across the table to the seller.

What is your vision for the future of the franchise?
I want to combine the Owlz with a youth complex so that children who play baseball can have the experience of interfacing with professional players and learn from them, as well as experience playing on a professional field. I have been working on this for years and am close…stay tuned.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Set a goal and don’t forget to reach and dream. Work hard, real hard, to get there. Hard work never killed anyone. Sleep is overrated. But, remember, most importantly, family is still first. Once you understand the balance between work and family, and focus on your dream and goals, go get it!

Mark Douglas – President & CEO, LCPtracker

Mark Douglas is the president and CEO of LCPtracker, Inc., a privately-held company providing cloud-based software services for construction compliance and workforce development. His vision for LCPtracker is to empower people to build better communities, and this begins with his company’s flagship product, which helps government agencies and contractors maintain and enforce prevailing wage provisions for state, local, and federal law.

Mark graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Central Michigan University. After college, he jumped right into the professional world and quickly grew a record of success building startup companies before founding LCPtracker.

Today, Mark is taking his company to new heights – transforming LCPtracker into one of the fastest-growing companies in Orange County, California. He prides himself in fostering a team of over 80 highly-motivated and dedicated employees and building a reputable organization in the construction industry with over 2,500 clients and 100,000 contractor users nationwide, including 20 of the top 50 cities in the US.

How did the concept for LCPtracker come about?
Just before the light bulb lit up for LCPtracker (about 18 years ago), I was running another business as a re-seller for a facilities management software. The supplier went bankrupt, and it completely wiped out our sales pipeline. Coincidentally, right around the same time, I had come across an article in the newspaper about a new labor compliance law in California requiring all K-12 school districts to comply with prevailing wages on construction projects. This exposed a need in the market for a software to help these schools monitor compliance.

I had run into many obstacles as an entrepreneur in previous ventures – all of which demanded tough decisions. And although it was very hard to move on from this business as a re-seller, the bankruptcy of the supplier made it a simple decision: a swift change was necessary. I made a choice to jump on this new opportunity to create my own software – this time, for a labor compliance system. I got started with just a single developer and knew I had three years to phase out the previous business’ existing service contracts and replace the revenue with this new idea. This was when LCPtracker was born.

How was the first year in business?
It was extremely stressful. When the sales opportunities for the previous business dried up, it meant that our current operations were unsustainable and that we didn’t have secure jobs for our staff. Over a two-year period of fading out service contracts, I had to lay off 35 deserving employees. Meanwhile, LCPtracker was in development and wouldn’t be ready as a product for some time. I had to carefully manage the cash flow to allow for a stable transition.

What was your marketing strategy?
When LCPtracker was ready, it was one of the first web-based SaaS (Software as a Service) products to hit the market. I identified the 1,100 school districts in California that needed to comply with the new labor compliance laws. Over a span of two years, I called them every day until I closed enough deals to create enough monthly revenue that would sustain the new venture.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
From 2003 to 2005, we grew to $500,000 in SaaS revenue, and 2005 was the first year when we had to rely solely on the new revenue from LCPtracker.

From there, we grew to $1.2 million by 2008 – which is when the country was hit with the recession. The financial crisis put a halt to virtually all new construction, and we were in a complete meltdown. I cut 30% of my expenses, we strapped in, and held on for the next two years. Finally, in 2011, we began to grow again and now have revenue approaching $14 million with over 80 employees.

How do you define success?
For me, it’s when your life purpose that God designed for you becomes clear, and you consciously know it and are striving to “live it.” Once you do that, you gain the peace, fulfillment, and joy that makes life so wonderful.

What is the key to success?
I would attribute our success to behaviors and integrity. When you consistently do what you say you’re going to do, people trust you and are very motivated to work with you and be on your team. They know you will honor them in the same way you’ve demonstrated to others.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Taking responsibility for your emotions. In any given situation that stirs up your emotions, it only reveals things about yourself – not anyone else. Until you recognize this, you have a limited ability to grow and mature.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“A person may not remember what you say, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” – Carl W. Buehner

“Just Do it.”

What are some of your favorite books?
Daily devotional publications (I like to start every day with a life lesson).

Start with Why by Simon Sinek.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
In 1997, I was faced with losing the three most important parts of my life all at once: 1) my marriage, 2) my business (losing out on a $1.6 million proposal that the survival of the business was dependent on), and 3) my business partner (and friend), who was diagnosed with stage four cancer.

I was at my breaking point. As a Christian, I got down on my knees in my office and cried out to my Father. This was truly the first time in my life that I gave up and simply asked him to lead me.

Three days went by… and nothing. But at the end of the third day, my business partner called and told me we were awarded another proposal that I was unaware of – one that was worth twice as much as the previous proposal). A few days later, my wife and I agreed to reconcile. And a few months after that, my business partner was cured of cancer. My walk with God became clear to me; I must learn to live the way He wants me to. And so today, I strive to live in obedience to the biblical teachings every day. This was the beginning of learning my true purpose.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Adversity, to me, is the process by which I am being shaped into being more effective at what I do. I always look at adversity as a growing opportunity, because every challenge I have had has made me a more-refined person.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
1) I would tell them to work on finding and becoming aware of their life purpose – and to build it into something that you can do for a living. And don’t expect (nor plan) to accomplish it quickly. Focus on doing a little better every year. Before you know it, your blessings will be immense.

2) Always remember to live with the utmost integrity.

3) Enjoy life, laugh a lot, and be nice to everyone.

4) Read books and listen to educational podcasts; don’t waste your time on silly television shows and other unprofitable distractions. Own your day.

Chad Brodsky – Founder & CEO, City Brew Tours

Chad Brodsky is the founder and CEO of City Brew Tours. City Brew Tours currently operates in nine cities and was recently named one of Inc. Magazine’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies in America. Chad created City Brew Tours in order to marry two of his passions: entrepreneurship and craft beer. Chad studied business administration at the University of Vermont. After a brief finance career in New York City and Vermont, Chad left the world of finance and moved to Boston to focus on growing City Brew Tours, a fledgling startup at the time. It was in Boston where Chad met his wife, Liana. When Chad’s not doing something entrepreneurial, you can find him drinking a Duchess de Bourgogne, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, or any hazy NE IPA.

How did the concept for City Brew Tours come about?
I had just come off a semester abroad in Austria and I was heading into my senior year at the University of Vermont in 2008. My ideal summer job back then was a finance internship. However, we were in the heart of the great recession and opportunities were sparse. Given the fact that beer is recession-proof, that summer I decided to create a business instead. Dressed in German lederhosen, which I acquired on my recent travels, I hit the busy streets of Burlington, VT convincing strangers to hop into my van, which I had just purchased from a minister in NH, to take tours of local breweries.

Since then, we’ve honed experience and purchased eight more vehicles and now have operations in Boston, MA, Washington, D.C., Vermont, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York City, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Montreal. We currently showcase 100+ breweries to 25,000 people per year across 9 different cities.

How was the first year in business?
It was a busy and difficult time! In the beginning, it was difficult to convince established breweries to give me, a college student at the time, access to tour their facility. Given the nature of the business, navigating local regulations, liquor, and the insurance landscape proved to be challenging. From a marketing perspective, I would try to find any way I could to expose people to my business. This translated into me flyering and canvassing the city of Burlington about my value proposition. In the first year, I was balancing a full-time job in finance with running all aspects of the business. I was a one-man show.

What was your marketing strategy?
Get someone to build me a website, make a flyer, get local businesses/hotels to put up said flyer, and link their website to mine. Reach out to local news outlets and offer them free tours.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
The growth was very modest in the beginning. We did $36,000 in the first year. Now, we can do $36,000 on an average weekend.

How do you define success?
I define success as the financial freedom to do something you love that makes a difference in the world while also providing for the ones you care about. I think there is a big difference with personal success vs business success. I strive for both!

What is the key to success?
Not being complacent with how things are and always trying to innovate, persevere, and overcome obstacles and challenges.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
It never hurts to ask a question, and chances stop coming to those who stop taking them.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
“Chances stop coming, to those who stop taking them.”

What are some of your favorite books?
How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie, Quiet Leadership by David Rock, and any Dan Brown book.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I can’t think of any particular hard day. Every day comes with its own set of challenges. If I had to pick one particular day, it would have to be the day when my van was stolen from a repair shop. At first, I wasn’t even aware that the vehicle was stolen until my employee informed me that the repair shop never received the vehicle. It turns out that two individuals had stolen the van the evening prior and proceeded to joyride it into a bunch of parked cars. I then had to do damage control, due to the fact that some of the locals who witnessed the accident thought the assailants worked for me and were drunk. This was a PR nightmare. In order to render tours that weekend, I had to then drive to multiple cities and shuffle vehicles around. A lot of time was spent on the phone with the police, insurance companies, community forums, and driving.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I lost both my parents at a young age, but before they passed, they instilled in me a drive to succeed, overcome obstacles, and to be inquisitive.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Empower your staff, find out what matters to your customer by actively listening, create measurable goals, and track productivity through lists.

Glen Wakeman – Co-Founder & CEO, LaunchPad Holdings, LLC

Glen Wakeman is the co-founder and CEO of LaunchPad Holdings, LLC, a SaaS firm that enables early-stage entrepreneurs to increase their success rates by providing online business planning services.

Passionate about growth, innovation, and executive development, Glen mentors several C-level executives and holds advisory positions in numerous startup companies. He blogs frequently about business transformations, global affairs, emerging markets, and leadership skills.

Educated at The University of Chicago, Glen Wakeman has lived in six countries and worked in 32 during his 20-year career with GE. He has led and transformed businesses with close to 20,000 employees and $15 billion in assets. His endeavors have included startups, divestitures, mergers and acquisitions, integrations, downsizing, new market entries, and exponential growth.

How did the concept for LaunchPad Holdings come about?
It started from a conversation with a cab driver. He wanted to start a t-shirt company and didn’t know how. I figured we could fix that. After much experience in business, I learned that ideas and plans are not the same things. The idea behind LaunchPad is to turn rising entrepreneurs’ ideas into plans and thereby lower their risk of failure. The process of raising capital from family, friends, or an existing network is much easier for entrepreneurs if they have a solid plan in place. That’s why LaunchPad provides a structured way of creating a plan that is both fast and easy to implement. We focus on both early-stage entrepreneurs as well as businesses that need help to get started.

How was the first year in business?
It was a roller coaster. The lowest days were presentations that fell flat and watching customers on our screens not convert. The best days were hearing the bell ring whenever we made a sale. The most satisfying days were the days we teamed up, had ferocious debates, and figured out new ways to keep moving forward. We almost threw in the towel, twice. I’m glad we didn’t.

What was your marketing strategy?
Basically, it was a combination of actively selling to networks and groups, as well as testing and learning. It is complex, but one facet of our strategy is the utilization of an entrepreneurial association. It has assisted me in growing my business. They are abundant and easy to join and penetrate. Entrepreneurial associations offer a treasure trove of thoughts, contacts, and capital. Another marketing opportunity that works for me is networking with colleges, management, and capital providers. They all offer me forums to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Triple digits. The company grew incredibly fast on all fronts including customers, demands, capabilities, and complexity. It was overwhelming. We had to add additional partners to cope.

How do you define success?
Success is finding a way to make a living in service to others. It isn’t measured in dollar terms or acquisition of shiny things. Rather, it is in contributions we make to others. Playing a small part in advancing other people’s interests, skills, abilities, and dreams is very satisfying.

What is the key to success?
A strange combination of perseverance and high expectations is the key to success. My motto is “Demand excellence and you can get it.” Before I start anything, I repeat this. In my experience, it is one of the key principles that facilitate high performance. It’s also a good idea to keep your sense of humor.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Like many rising entrepreneurs, we originally made plans that were overly-ambitious, and as such, tried to “boil the ocean.” I found that simplifying and defining processes is stronger and much more effective. By trimming things down, we were able to deliver better benefits and tools to our customers. I also learned that an effective way to grow a business is by continuously-listening to your customers and adapting to their needs.

What are some quotes that you live by?
My favorite quote is a lyric from a song by Big Country: ” I never took a smile away from anybody’s face.” My second favorite has been attributed to Muhammad Ali: “Ain’t no shame in getting knocked down. The only shame is in not getting back up.” I’d also add Thomas Jefferson’s “Poor education is the greatest threat to freedom.”

What are some of your favorite books?
One in particular that I always recommend is the timeless classic, The Art of War by Sun Tzu. It is still the best book on strategy that was ever written. There are dozens of lessons to be learned about teamwork, preparation, and discipline that can be culled from this book. If you give it a chance, you will understand. It is so full of wisdom, and such a page-turner – “Prepare for your enemies’ capabilities…not their intentions.”

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The hardest days included the day I looked at my bank account and it had $22 in it. Thankfully, sales started rolling in the next week. The day the demo failed in front of an angel finance group was a close second, but almost losing my partner as a friend was probably the lowest point.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I view everything as a learning lesson, and that has proved helpful for me. You always learn something from your mistakes. Every problem has a solution. We’ve all experienced failure. One memorable failure I had was launching “Snappy Answers”, where were pre-recorded messages for your answering machine. While they were funny, it was ultimately a failure. The reason was because I had no marketing plan and no money, but I learned how to improve for the next time I launched a new business. Ultimately, what I learned was worth way more than the cost. You have to find that silver lining and understand the lessons learned.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Get the basics right: satisfying a customer need. Businesses are destined to fail unless customers value your products and services. As entrepreneurs, we need to fully understand what consumers appreciate and bridge the gap between our own creative developments and the expectations of consumers. I usually caution entrepreneurs to use common sense when looking at their data, because without a steady stream of customers, there is no cash flow and no business.

Tom Kramig – Owner, President & CEO, Lake Erie Crushers

Tom Kramig grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio in the 1970’s as a fan of the Big Red Machine. After starting his career as a TV News Producer, he migrated to video production, and eventually, corporate America. In 2016, he purchased the Lake Erie Crushers outside of Cleveland, Ohio, a member of the Frontier Independent Baseball League. In 2018, the Crushers were named Frontier League Organization of the Year.

How do you define success?
The short answer is setting a goal or vision for what you want to achieve and achieving it. This can be either personal such as “I want to be a good spouse or good parent,” or professional such as “We improved our sales or reduced our annual budget.”

What is the key to success?
I would say enjoying the process. Yes, you’re obviously trying to achieve “something,” but it’s also about enjoying the process along the way. Achieving a goal where you make yourself, and quite possibly everyone around you miserable, to me does not represent success. Yes, the goal is important, but so is the journey.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I would like to think I am not done learning, so it’s tough to say. Always being open to new ideas is important. I am a big believer in lifelong learning and trying to continuously improve yourself. At the end of the day, it all comes down to people and how you interact with others. If you can’t figure that out, it’s going to be tough to succeed.

What are some quotes that you live by?
Don’t really have any “quotes” that I live by, but three basic principles I try to continuously stress are communication, collaboration, and customer service. I think if you focus on those three ideas, you’re a long way towards becoming successful.

What are some of your favorite books?
Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals is an excellent book and has tremendous parallels to the business world. Making It in the Minors by Allyn Freeman has been instrumental in my later-life career change of taking over a Minor League Baseball team. Also, big on presidential biographies.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
It’s never fun when you have to let someone go. Sometimes, an individual just isn’t a fit for an organization, or your budget doesn’t allow for that position to continue. As much as you may try to coach someone up, or adapt a job role to fit a person’s personality or skill sets, sometimes it just doesn’t work and you need to let them go. That’s never a good day.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Moving forward is what life is all about. Sitting around bemoaning how something didn’t work or the adversity you’re facing doesn’t do any good. Everyone faces adversity. It’s how you respond that defines who you are.

How did you come across the opportunity to purchase the Lake Erie Crushers?
Owning and operating a minor-league baseball team was always an idea in the back of my mind. It started as just digging around the industry to see what was possible, and the more I researched, the more I realized I could make this a reality. And at some point, it came down to a simple concept of “Don’t die wondering” and you take a leap of faith and believe in your own abilities.

What is your vision for the future of the franchise?
I believe this organization can have a tremendously-positive impact on the community, and at the same time, be very successful. I am a big believer in “win-win” scenarios and I think there’s a great opportunity for that with the Crushers and the City of Cleveland’s West Side suburbs.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Keep an open mind, a positive attitude, and match those with a tremendous work ethic and good things can happen. Be passionate about “what” you’re doing and don’t just look at the end game. Treat your employees and customers with tremendous respect. If you can achieve all of those, you’re on the right path towards success.