I think a little background on my upbringing is in order so I can attempt to explain why I've always had a drive to run my own business. Entrepreneurs are a strange bunch, and we often don’t fit well into traditional molds. We’re like “hey, what else can we do with this thing?”
For as long as I can remember I always wanted to run my own business. I grew up with an ambitious dad who worked in outside sales, and then went on to start his own business. As a boy, I’d play with toy cars and build pretend factories, farms and businesses that I pretended to run. I’d park my toy Rolls-Royce out front of the cardboard office towers I’d built and have imaginary meetings with my team.
My dad had gone on a business trip to Canada during Expo ’86, and while there, fell in love with the country. I mean, Vancouver BC during expo, who could resist, right?
When he came back home, he showed us photos of Canada and raved about how beautiful it was there with snowcapped mountains and rainforests. My brother and I were mesmerized, and he’d explain how we could go fishing and hunting, and even see real bears! As a souvenir, he’d brought us back real raccoon tails he’d bought in a gift show. We thought that was so cool!
He then said that next year we’d all take a holiday and visit the place and see what we think.
The next year, as promised we hopped on a plane and visited Canada. That vacation was awesome and we had a great time.
Upon returning home, my dad called a family meeting and asked how we’d like to live there. We were both excited and nervous. What about our grandparents? Friends? The dog? He had us all make lists of the pros and cons and assess what would be best for us all long term. We all agreed that Canada was best for us.
So, he sold our house, gave away our furniture and stuff to family and a few months later we were in Canada!
It was a big move for me as a 10-year-old boy and I had mixed feelings. We left behind grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, friends and even our family dog! And we sold almost all our possessions too, bringing only a few items that we could pack into our suitcases.
It’s not like he was leaving behind a terrible life in the UK though. He was the top sales person for his company, with a company car and making more money in commissions some years than the owners themselves! We had a solid middle-class life, lived in a modest house in the countryside of South Yorkshire.
At just age 33 at the time, he was the sole breadwinner for our family of five and left a high paying career to start over in a country halfway across the world with no friends or family waiting, or failsafe’s in place! I can’t think of many people who’d take a big risk like that, especially supporting a family in your early thirties!
Dad worked (at a much lower rate of pay than he’d made in the UK) managing a local bakery (he was a baker by trade), and every weekend we’d go camping, fishing, playing on the beach, or exploring the mountains. This kept things exciting.
But my dad had ambition. He left the bakery to run his own sales rep business selling equipment to former customers in both Canada and England. Eventually though, my dad saw that one of his customers had a unique combination of skills, and they really hit it off. My dad proposed the three of them go into business and shared the potential of his idea. They agreed and formed a partnership for the new company.
That company grew to have over 100 employees and offices in several countries. My dad’s retired now, having recently sold the company for nearly 9-figures! But he's still active and loving it 65. He’s an extreme type “A” personality, always working on something, or doing yard work.They're building their dream home on the waterfront on Vancouver Island at the moment. So proud of my parents!
As a boy, I made my first money at age 12 with a paper route. And man, I had to work hard for that cash! Where we lived, there were steep hills on every street, and I had to haul that heavy cart up and down them to drop off the papers.
But every couple of weeks I’d receive an envelope stuffed with cash and it felt awesome!
It wasn’t my own business, but I was kind of an independent contractor.
I’d developed quite an interest in computers, and at age 15 I created my first online business. It was a BBS (Bulletin Board System) where people would call up my computer with a modem and connect to my site. This was the early nineties, and the internet wasn’t yet a “thing” people used at home.
I had a newsletter, forums where people could chat, and “software” *cough* *pirated computer games* *cough* people could “download”. The site was by donation, and people would mail me anywhere from $1 to $5 semi regularly.
Yeah, that’s right! I was making money online before the internet existed in the mainstream, man! Jeez, I’m old!
I’d also go out and fix peoples computers for them for money too.The little amount I earned often went straight back into computer accessories and games though, so I didn’t save much!
Upon graduation, I worked for my dad’s business for a while attending business school. I learned much more working for him than I did in school mind you.
At work, I learned about growing a company. Managing a factory. Ways to increase productivity and reduce bottle necks in a manufacturing environment. Marketing and sales, and even basic electronics assembling circuitry for some of the machinery.
I also did a LOT of grunt work. Cleaning out bakery equipment, grinding metal, drilling stainless steel, and working on a lathe.
It made me appreciate all aspects of what makes a company tick, including how the shop workers viewed management and vice versa.
It wasn’t easy being the bosses kid working in a factory environment with blue collar guys, but I managed to earn their respect and hold my own. I worked hard and never received special treatment.
Eventually, I quit college because I couldn’t stand the slow-paced learning of the classroom. I wanted to get out there and try the concepts they taught. I was far too impatient to just listen and not apply the knowledge. I landed a job in outside sales (following dad’s footsteps).
At age 21, I was the youngest sales guy by far. My training was riding around with their installers and touring the warehouse. Then I was given a cubicle and told to start prospecting for clients.
Because I’d been around business and due to the training, I’d received at school, I knew a little about where to start. It was the year 2000, and the dot com boom was in the middle of a burst at the time I’d started. Sales for the company were plummeting fast from all-time highs in the years prior.
I’d call up a company asking if they needed office furniture, and they’d say no – we’re downsizing…do you guys buy furniture?Not exactly what I wanted to hear!
I made a few sales though, and my ambition and early results impressed my boss enough to keep me on. A few months later, one of their long-term sales people quit to move back East. She had a few accounts with the Federal Government and local universities that were up for grabs, and my boss offered them to me.
I gladly accepted, and my colleagues told me I’d made a bad move. They said the margins were slim with those accounts, and I’d have to work my butt off for very little return. But I’d committed myself to taking this challenge head on, so I stuck it out.
My first order of business was to get in touch with the suppliers and manufacturers reps who had existing relationships with these accounts. I went out of my way to introduce myself, and build relationships with them.
As a (young looking) 23-year-old, the first thing many clients would say is “aren’t you a little young?” I’d usually laugh and say “That’s right! But I learn quickly and have the support of (whoever the rep was with me at the time) to show me the ropes!”
I began getting orders and seeing the sales role in. At the time, I was on a small training salary of $2,200 per month. They originally wanted me to go on full commission after 3 months, however I felt I could negotiate a better deal.
So, I sat down with my boss, and asked how he thought things were going. He told me how he was impressed with my progress and that clients were saying positive things about me. I told him I’m enjoying the job, and that I see a lot of potential with the accounts he’d handed me. But, it would take a bit more time to be able to make enough to go full commission if I was to put in the work required. So, I asked if I could remain on the training salary, and receive commission on everything except government accounts for the next few months until I could get the sales up to a higher amount.
He agreed. So for the next several months, I continued to grow the accounts out and then switched over to full commission. I never looked back! By age 29, I was making close to $200,000!
It was hard leaving that career, but after 11 years I was ready to go out on my own. I floundered for a while, then discovered Amazon FBA. I knew that this was EXACTLY the kind of business I wanted, and went all in. The rest, as they say, is history.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this post. I look forward to reading your comments below if you feel inclined to share.