Last week, my long-time business partner, Erik Mueller, celebrated 25 years as an entrepreneur. I have been fortunate to have partnered with him for over 15 of those years. During that time, I have seen him grow tremendously into a great leader and CEO. I think we have learned a lot from each other along our journey and Erik shared some of his best thoughts from his 25 year entrepreneur career last week. Here is what he shared.
25 Years later, and I am working from HOME again… WTF?
As you all know, I have a strange sense of humor.
My letter of resignation to WorldTravel Partners (Now BCD Travel), had my final day of work as March 31st and my first day of being an Entrepreneur was April Fool’s Day, 1996.
It was a few weeks before they were really sure I had quit.
It feels like yesterday, but I definitely have some scars to prove it’s been a long, hard and rewarding journey.
I lived in fear for many years as I grew as a leader. I wanted to make sure everyone was happy all of the time, I sacrificed everything for the customers and staff. My relationships with my wife and child were tested continuously through the first 10 years as I poured everything into growing a business from scratch.
Knowing what I know now, would I go back and do things differently? NO.
Everything I did, right or wrong, put me where I am today, and I couldn’t be happier.
Did I learn some valuable lessons? Heck YES!
There are 5 critical things I learned and got right as I evolved over the past 25 years and I would like to share these things.
#1) Ask For Help
So many people have lifted me up along the way. I would not be where I am today without the help of others.
#2) Put others first
I worked for clients for free, I asked a lot of questions, I sacrificed my salary, I dropped everything when someone needed my help, I worked for days on end to meet a deadline, I paid others before I paid myself (breaking the cardinal rule) and made sure the customers and employees always knew I heard them and would do whatever it took to meet their expectations.
#3) Happy Employees = Happy Customers (Everyone Wins)
“The customer is always right” is a myth and a dangerous attitude to have.
Having happy employees means being a leader and saying NO to customers and opportunities some times. The customer wants what is best for the customer, but that is not always the same as what is best for the company as a whole. Good employees sense what is right and wrong and when their input and advice is ignored, it creates a toxic environment and this reflects in their work and interactions with the clients.
#4) Hire well
Continuing the theme of Happy Employees, a few years ago, we were struggling as a business with very high growth and we were hiring anyone we could find to fill a seat for a number of years.
Eventually, we decided to make Trish our full-time HR person and invested in consultants to teach us world-class interviewing, hiring and onboarding skills. This changed our business overnight for the better. Most companies our size don’t have dedicated HR, but I think it’s probably the most important role for any company of any size.
We found that bad players brought everyone down, and killed culture and respect in the organization. We now take our time to find the perfect fit of skills, personality and desire.
#5) Don’t Freak Out
Bad things are going to happen. Things are going to get worse. Someone’s going to get pissed off.
Nothing makes a situation worse than losing your cool. You can’t think when you are freaked out.
We’ve always joked that our #1 RULE is don’t freak out and our #2 rule is don’t freak out… and these two rules have served us well though the Dot Com bubble burst, 911 tragedy, the financial crisis/recession and Covid-19.
The next 25?
I don’t think I could be any more pleased than I am right now.
Are we growing as fast as I would like? NO, are we doing everything I want to do? NO.
I am proud of what “I” built? What makes really proud is that “I” didn’t build it, I just started it. This team, my friends, my family built this company and continue to make it great.
That’s probably the most important lesson I have learned.
Thank you ALL for your time and commitment to each other and the customers we serve. You make me a better, happier person.
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