Learn from financial expert David Nilssen, the co-founder and CEO of Guidant Financial. His journey to success can teach you how to overcome challenges and have the proper mindset while starting or growing a business.Sign Up to Watch
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-Now you discovered internet marketing, and that became sort of like your lifeline, I guess. That's when you starting selling some stuff or making some money, I guess.
-Did you ever feel like you weren't going to make it when you were trying to grow your business? I mean, during that six-month window, or that seven, when you hadn't brought in any money at all, where you hadn't paid yourself for a year and a half, did you ever go, dear journal, month 18, haven't paid myself. I mean, did you ever get to a point where you were just, you know, feeling like it wasn't going to work out?
-Like, I mean. Yeah. I think one of the greatest things at least about some of the entrepreneurs that I know is that our sense of insecurity is what drives us. Right? It's the fear of failure. It's the desire to get ahead. So every day you wake up and you go, gosh, can I make it today?
I remember doing an event one time where I'm speaking in front of like 50 real estate professionals, and I'm talking about how we can help them and their clients to find better properties, to make more money, so on, and so forth. And we walked out of there. I felt like we hit a home run. And the next day, phone didn't ring.
-And the next day, the phone didn't ring. And you do that. You take a lot of swings at the plate, and you hope that you're going to hit a single or a double, maybe a home run, but oftentimes you strike out. And it's just we talked about the important attributes of an entrepreneur. Resilience is the number one for me, because again, once you write your business plan it's wrong. And you just have to kind of continue to figure out how to modify your approach to finally hit that.
-There are a lot of people who could argue, well, we're still in a recession. No, we're not. But the point is, you went through the great crevasse. You have gone through the hell of economic turmoil.
-You went. Was there a moment there where you thought oh, Billy, we're in trouble. Was there a time where you thought?
-Yeah. Sure. I mean, we are in the credit access business. Right?
-So in 2008 the markets crumbled, real estate evaporated-- so the main source of collateral-- interest rates plummeted, which meant that lenders who are in the business of providing capital, not servicing capital-- so oftentimes, you get a loan and then two days or it should be two months later you get the notice from the bank that they've sold your loan.
-Well, that secondary market-- the people who are buying that paper evaporated when rates started plummeting and economy is going the wrong direction, market collapsed, and real estate's gone away. Yeah. There were certainly times there where we were concerned about what the forward-looking opportunity looked like, given the fact that the world froze.
-You mentioned this a moment ago, about insecurities. And I talked to Lee Cockerell. He ran Disney World for over a decade. And Lee says his insecurities are what drove him. You know, that's what drives him. I think if every entrepreneur watch this being honest, in some way we just want to prove everybody wrong, or we want to go, I just want to-- I know I can do it, but I hope I can do it, and you're kind of fighting these insecurities. Did you have a mentor or someone along the way who was kind of saying, you can do it? You can do it. Or were you tasering yourself? Or what was your tip to sort of keep yourself encouraged?
-So for me, personally, the greatest source of professional and even personal development has come through mentors. So my entire life I've tapped into that opportunity. And Guidant is just one of the catalysts by which I've done that. Yeah. I mean early on in 2000-- so we started the business in 2003, with concept in 2002, started in 2003. In 2004, I took on a mentor. His name was Dave. Dave had successfully exited a couple of different businesses, all technology-oriented-- so not a perfect match.
-But the thing that I found about entrepreneurship is that the same principles apply for most businesses.
-And so, one of the things that I love is this thing called gestalt adult learning. And that's learning through the experiences of others.
-So finding people who are in non-competitive industries who are willing to share their experience and how they've dealt with similar problems allows you to pull context from their own experiences. So I joined an organization called the on for an organization which allows me to connect with people under those same expectations. We have our own formal board at Guidant Financial. We've also got individual advisers. My business partner and I both have people that we tap into because we don't have all the answers.
You know, we've built a business around us and brought in experts people that are really good in areas where we're not strong but even still there is a level of experience context and consultancy that we want outside of that.
-So you've had mentors that have helped you. And so I want to ask you this here. I know there's a lot of people. I talked to one guy-- fabulous. He's actually a guy who's won, during one of our months. He's the Thriver of the Month, with the the most points.
-And he had said, hey, here I am at this age in my -- my wife and I-- we've never had a mentor. Never had one. I didn't really have one growing up. Never really saw success. Never saw anybody successful. Stumbled onto your website. There's just a ton of mentors up here. This is great.
I mean, for somebody who wants to get that real life mentor and maybe they came from that background where they didn't have a mom and dad that were involved in business, what would you recommend? Would you recommend joining something like that Entrepreneurs' Organization and begin to reach out? What would be sort of your step for someone watching this who feels like they need a mentor, but they don't know where to start?
-Yeah. I mean, the mentors that I've personally brought on have come through networking.
-All right. So I'm talking to people about our business, and I'm sharing some of the challenges we're dealing with. And that person I'm having coffee with says, you know, you should talk to this person.
-Right? And then just asking for them to be generous in making that recommendation. The thing that I found about Seattle in general, and I believe this to be true with just entrepreneurs, in general, is we love to share. There's just like this supportive entrepreneurial undercurrent. Right? You and I are business owners. We love to get together and talk about the things that are going well. But probably even more importantly, talk about the things that aren't going well.
-Because that's the thing that drives us nuts.
-It's the success that we expect. It's the things that aren't going well that we want to solve.
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-Now do you have a move that you do to kind of reinvigorate yourself when you feel like things aren't working out well? I watch "Rocky IV" I watch "Rocky IV" and I've got kind of my music I listen to. I listen to epic music in the morning.
-"Hearts on Fire" I got it.
-That kind of just gets-- when he beats the Russian, I'm just like yes. Any Russians watching, we love you guys, too. But I just love that he was being the Soviets, I guess. But is there something you do that the kind of helps you stay motivated? Is it working out? Is it reading every day? Is there sort of a mantra or a mojo that you do to keep yourself going?
-Yeah, for sure. I made the comment earlier. I get up every morning and try to get a workout in. Sometimes it's just taking a walk in the morning. Sometimes is actually hitting the gym. The reading. I've always got two or three books that are on my bookshelf next to my bed. I think it's important to keep the brain fresh. But there are often times during the day where I can feel that my productivity is sliding, my attitude is going in the wrong place, I walk around our block here.
We've got a pretty good block so a walk takes still 20 minutes to get around this thing. But just getting outside and getting some fresh air and getting the heart pumping, that's what I do.
Now let me ask you this. What was the turning point where you realize the Guidant Financial was not only going to make it, but that it was going to thrive. I mean, it was going to be awesome. It was going to succeed, it was going to be-- and I know it's not even begun to be what you want it to be. I mean, it's already great, but I know in your mind, you want to make it better. But when did you realize this thing is working and it's going to continue to work?
-You know it's funny. I'm not sure I could tell you the moment, right? It happened over a period of time. I think we saw some very exciting success after the first year, which was a total slog. After that, we started to see some really great success and really accelerated the growth of the business. I think there was a couple things where we had set this goal. We wanted to be an Inc. 500 company. If we can be an Inc. 500 company, we've made it.
And in 2008, we became an Inc. 500 company. So it took us five years, but we became one of the 500 fastest growing companies in the entire country. And at that point we hit our goal, which probably means we didn't set a big enough goal. But I think that was a moment where we said, we're making an impact. We're seeing success.
-I know that you're a guy, from what I know, the people I know who know you, and then what I've read about you and what I've been able to ascertain by being around you, I know you're a guy who doesn't sit around and go well, we'll start this meeting by talking about this award and then this award. But is there any milestones or achievements that you've hit-- you mention Inc.-- are there other ones you've hit where you're like, I cannot believe-- I guess the ones you've most proud of or the ones you're most excited for for your team?
-Well so, yeah I'll answer that directly. So I think the one that I'm most excited about is that we continue to make CEO Magazine's best places to work. And I think that we've always kind of had this attitude that if you take good care of your employees, then the employees will take good care of your clients. And ultimately it's the client's level of happiness the determines and our eventual success. So, I think from an award standpoint that's probably the one that is most exciting.
Some of things of that have been the most impactful for me, have been the client visits that I've done. So oftentimes, I'll go out into the market and I'll actually go meet some of our clients. So one of my favorite stories is this company Dry Fly Distillery. These are two guys who came from food services, they love fly fishing, they also wanted to learn how to distill vodka. And so they created the first vodka distillery in Washington state since prohibition. They used their retirement assets and an SBA loan to capitalize this business.
Well, when I went and visited them, they had gone from two partners, basically, to this huge warehouse. They were shipping thousands of cases per year. They had been named the they won the international spirit awards for the best tasting vodka I think it was 2007. And they had one employee. And I thought, well, how the heck did they do this? And it turns out they've created this experience around teaching other people to build their own distilling business. So they allow people to come in on the weekends for free, learn how to distill vodka. Learn how a bottle vodka. And they get a free T-shirt at the end of this experience, so they've created an experience around really training their competition, but creating a labor model that scales very, very fast.
-That is genius. If there is somebody out there who says OK, I'm inspired; I really do want to become the next success story; I want to be like the vodka guys, or I want to build my business-- but they've been in that ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim mode, where they're like I've got to aim; maybe they went to college, they went back for the MBA, they're still aiming, aiming, they've been working in corporate America for a while and they're like I really want to do it-- what advice would you have for someone who's stuck in that perpetual aiming mode?
-I'd certainly want to understand why I'm still aiming? I wrote a book in 2010 called Making the Jump. And the reason I wrote it is I felt like a lot of people were coming to me saying hey-- I want to start a business. Where do I start? What book do I read? There was a lot of great books on how to be a good manager. There was a lot of great books on how to build a culture, how to conduct meetings-- but there was nothing that says do I have what it takes? Do I understand what I need to invest in order to become an entrepreneur?
I actually don't believe everyone should be a business owner. It is a massive, massive investment of time and energy and resources and so on and so forth. So if they're still sitting there in aim mode, I would question-- why am I in aim mode? Do I feel like I know the right business? Do I have the right information? Do I believe I can be successful? So that's what I would start with-- trying to understand why I'm still aiming.
-There was a Colin Powell quote that he had years ago. He's obviously a decorated military hero. I read it, and he said, "Sometimes great leadership requires pissing people off." And I remember that was during the time where I'd started the business, but I was afraid to piss people off-- ever. I was afraid to ever put the goals of the company, or the goals of the customer, ahead. If an employee was chronically late and the customer was inconvenienced, I would hate to tell the employee how disappointed I was. and I had to get to that point where I had to realize if I'm going to grow this business--
For me, it wasn't taking the jump, because I guess I had already taken the jump. But it was like taking the full jump. In your book, do you talk a lot about like the mindset you need to be an entrepreneur?
-Absolutely. One of the things that we see often happening is people that are in that aim mode. Some of it is I don't believe I can be successful in this. I don't think I have what it takes. That's one issue.
But oftentimes what you'll also see is that they're suffering from that crab-in-the-crab-pot syndrome. They want to make that jump, but everyone around them-- their spouse, their brother or sister, their parents, their friends-- are saying you're crazy. You could lose everything. Why would you do that? You know you may have to put your house up as collateral. What if you fail? What will you do with your kids if you can't pay the bills? They have all these people that are helping to contrive more fear.
Sometimes, if you want to upgrade your life, you have to upgrade your friends. And that's one of the things that I think is really important for people to understand-- why am I holding myself back?
-That is a lesson nugget right there. Sometimes, if you want to upgrade your life, you have to upgrade your friends.
-That's a quote from Tony Robbins.
-That's beautiful. That's beautiful. My friend, I appreciate you let me harass you about your history and ask you that. Because I think it's just fascinating. And I know a lot of people who are wanting to take the jump, maybe, got some inspiration from this. But thank you for your time. It means more than you know to me, and I know that the people you're mentoring really appreciate it, too. So thank you for being here. Thanks for having me.
-I appreciate it.
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