Entrepreneurs are great at telling incomplete stories, lets change that.
Last year was GREAT for me. Last year punched me in the face too.
Life is always great when I am in this position w/ my life and family
I’ve hit my point of enough
My house is enough, my cars are enough, my kids private school is enough, my vacation fund is enough. I’ve seen enough of the world. My rainy day fund is enough, my take my parents on vacation fund is enough, my buy a small house for my in laws to move near their grandkids fund is enough. There is no more “Life changing money” for me. I’ve lived a life well within my means, so what do I do when I’m content?
— Wil (yes, I quoted myself) Read more
Punch in the face because…
I had my first down revenue year for the first time in 20 years I had a year I was down in revenue over the previous year.
People said …
“Wil, you’ve had a 19 year run of growth, 18 of which were double digits, it happens.”
“I bet Tom Brady ain’t like I won 7 rings so it’s ok if I don’t win one this year.”
That is me, an unapologetic hustler, just like my dad.
I had the honor recently of speaking to a group of veteran entrepreneurs as part of the Veteran’s Shark Tank here in Philly. My dad is a vet and I work with veteran entrepreneurs to honor the role the military played in his life, and thus mine. If you wanna get involved with veteran entreprenurs Bunker Labs is a GREAT way to get started.
Problem: I get 0 joy from speaking to entrepreneurs on some inspirational business BS
But when it comes time to speak to immigrant, veteran, or formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs I’m in.
So what should I talk about … winning — that’s what we do right? Get an entrepreneur on the stage to talk about winning, and how these other entrepreneurs can do it too and be just like me.
Proof point 1 — company revenue stats / rankings:
Seer’s got a few:
I could show that Seer has grown by double digits every year for 18 years in a row. I could stop the story there…18 years in a row, razzle dazzle, you can do it too.
Proof point 2 — “how did this happen to lil ol me?”
Not bad for a teacher with humble upbringings, oh and I’m black, lets throw that in too cause you know it’s hard out here for a black entrepreneurs to grow a business, people love that part of the story. Throw that in and boom, inspiring keynote.
There is just one problem. That isn’t the whole story and it sure AF isn’t the most recent events. The real story is that I’m up on stage supposed to inspire them, when the reality is…
For the first time in 20 years, my business is down.
I reminded those veterans of a quote my dad would say — My dad was an aircraft mechanic on KC131 in flight refuel planes.
“Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining”
One thing I’ve always loved about the veterans I’ve met, is that broadly (I know I am generalizing here), they face facts and appreciate brutal honesty. For veteran entrepreneurs that is a strength. Most of us non-veteran entrepreneurs tell so many incomplete success stories to each other about our businesses, that why so many entrepreneurs never feel like they are doing good enough because everyone around them are telling incomplete stories.
This is how most of us portray our successes to the world, incompletely.
Instead I told them the whole story, yes all those things above are true, but I told them what I also true… year 20 I’m down.
This is the reality of entreprenurship, the past is over. That old glory is fine and all but it’s not indicative of how I feel about my job as a CEO today. I gotta get to work and I’m excited to get back at it.
So often the headline is only one part of the story, these are the realities for so many of us.
We grew 450% in 5 years, let me inspire you
- but we aren’t profitable and will run out of money in 7 months
- but I’m going through a divorce and my kids don’t see me
- but we just lost our biggest customer and are preparing for layoffs
- but I bought a social media company w/ the profits and overpaid by 5x :)
- but I just lost 200k in a day because of a mistake
- but I don’t actually run it, because I would have crashed & burned
- but I’m not happy (Love how open Rand Fishkin was in this post)
I exited at 7x EBITDA, I’m rich, let me inspire you
- but I didn’t get 40% of my earn out
- but my competitors sold for 2x that much
- but I miss working with my team, I’ve lost my purpose
This is the reality behind so many of our stories, and veterans should lean on one another to be honest, face facts — it takes strength to show others your business is struggling, it takes strength to tell complete stories.
Entrepreneurship is lonely, especially when ya phony
Here’s the funny thing about being honest first. Others will let down their “crushing it” façade and tell you “me too” sometimes. Which in turn makes you say…oh dang…I’m not the only one.
I’ve always told myself if I struggled I would write about it, but when it came time to put pen to paper, it was hard if I’m being honest.
So I’ll give you the advice that I gave them, you gain strength when you accept without excuses your weaknesses and failures. If you can find other entrepreneurs who are wiling to do the same, the journey won’t be as lonely.
What also inspired me to write this is another founder who said in a post recently growth has been slow/flat for 2–3 years, he mentioned that on LinkedIn (Jason, it’s you, but I can’t find the post, you kind of mentioned it in passing)! How refreshing. Another friend hit me up to say say WTF happened in Q3/Q4 of 2022? The other friend who grew 20% but hasn’t made a profit in 2 years. In private we have these chats, and I can’t share their stories but I can share mine and ask you to share yours with someone too. This is how we get stronger and show the world what entrepreneurship really is about
Entrepreneurship is not this:
Entrepreneurship is my 2021 & 2022. When we blew up in 2021 and had record everything — that level of growth showed all the cracks that made that unsustainable in 2022. We had to pause biz, re-tool, re-hire, and rethink how we get back to growth.
Here’s a few things about Seer as I see it…
Growing this business has been easy. I wish I had some crazy sacrifices I’ve made story. I don’t. I never went in debt, we’ve been profitable almost every month for 20 years. I’ve found great leaders / execs — and I cared about them and their families enough that they decided to stay around with me. I then got out of their way and let them take this business to levels I couldn’t.
This story ain’t so inspirational, I got lucky, built something that outstripped my skills and let others run it. So why am I on stage talking about “my” success :)?
On to 2023.