Steve Cohen has been the founder, president & CEO of LMS, Inc. since 1994. Over the last four years, he has led the company through a time of exponential growth, resulting in LMS being recognized on the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing private companies. Steve’s success with LMS stems from embracing new opportunities and innovative technologies that have improved the way companies interact with their customers.
Steve has over 30 years of experience in the consumer and hospitality industries, including 10 years at The Walt Disney Company. This experience prepared him to lead a data-driven consulting firm focused on enhancing the customer journey. Steve enjoys traveling and lives in Orlando with his wife of 26 years and their two children.
How did the concept for LMS come about?
LMS came to mind during my marketing research class in college. The concept brought together much of what LMS was meant to be, with a focus on direct marketing in the sourcing and use of data. After speaking with friends, I realized this business model met many of my life goals in terms of a business-to-business model with a traditional schedule and the ability to navigate through revenue projections while being able to scale.
How was the first year in business?
As a self-funded business, without a single client, it was difficult to build relationships and identify opportunities to earn during the first year of LMS. Twenty-four years later, it’s hard to remember the exact details but I do recall when there was financial pain and it was significant. However, necessity is the mother of invention.
What was your marketing strategy?
Having been in outside sales for many years, our marketing strategy was a direct selling focus. As a sales-driven CEO, I knew my biggest asset was to build new relationships, which is what I do today. It’s still our best strategy.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
The first year was rough but as I built relationships, LMS steadily began to grow. It’s been our growth in the last three years that has really propelled the company. I like to describe this as when you go from $1 to $4, you have grown by 300%. When you go from $250,000 to $1 million, it’s the same thing. This type of growth tends to be exciting, challenging, and sounds amazing. It sounds more amazing than it is, because even at that rate of growth, you still need to earn a living, feed yourself, put a roof over your family’s head, reinvest in the right strategies, and plan for surviving in the upcoming months and years.
How do you define success?
Success is creating a legacy and changing the lives of our team, and those that demonstrate these core qualities of understanding have what it takes to survive and grow. Building a team that competes and achieves is my definition of success.
What is the key to success?
Sometimes, it’s said to the point of being trite, but people really are the key to success. Specifically, it is the people who are not clearly the standouts or who are not always the perfect choice, but those who are the underdogs – those who desire to be achievers but haven’t been given the chance or an opportunity. These are the people I’ve surrounded myself with. That’s where we find the right desire, passion, and curiosity…where more is on the line, where failure’s not an option. It’s these people who have been the key to success.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
A lot of great lessons come to mind. The strongest and greatest lessons were probably about risk tolerance, the inevitability of change, understanding global influences, and having to accept the decisions of others where we have no influence.
What are some quotes that you live by?
I believe in the words of Goethe, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has power and genius and magic in it.”
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
There have been a couple of tough days running LMS. Many people don’t understand the difference between risk tolerance versus risk aversion. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to learn that over and over. Running LMS means being able to put everything on the line where you are risking your comforts, the roof over your head, the meals on your table, and your future. Making hard decisions have been tough, but I’ve learned the most from them.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I have amazing support and true belief within my family. I remain positive in the face of adversity; with the positive forces beside me, I find the most strength during the most challenging times.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Remain cool and confident, with class and charisma. Be compassionate toward others. Always tell the truth. Put good energy into the universe to affect positive outcomes and follow it. Bring value daily to all your work as you interact with your team and your partners. Effort equals results.
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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