Special Episode_Best Of 2023_New Year, New Heights

New Year, New Heights: The Best of ‘Beyond 8 Figures’ 2023

December 27, 2023

‘New Year, new me.’ Why don’t we switch it up in terms of business and instead say, ‘New Year, new heights?’ With this as our main motto for the following year, we’re bringing you our special compilation episode. We’ve had so many incredible guests this year that it’s almost impossible to pick the best moments from 2023. So, we focused on highlighting the best business lessons that can help you set your goals and transform your business in 2024.

About the Guests:

  • Ray Titus is the CEO of United Franchise Group™ (UFG), who transformed Signarama® into a leading sign franchise, laying the groundwork for UFG’s success as a global leader for entrepreneurs.
  • Juho Makkonen is the CEO and Co-Founder of Sharetribe, an innovative software company helping entrepreneurs get their marketplace businesses off the ground.
  • Billie Simmons is the co-founder and COO of Daylight, a company on a mission to help LGBTQ+ people live their best lives.
  • Kirk Michie is the Founder and currently the Managing Partner of Candor Advisors, a company providing transaction advisory services to successful founder-led businesses. 
  • Curro Romero is the founder of Vimbu (also considered an Airbnb of ski lessons), an innovative app connecting skiers and snowboarders directly with instructors.
  • Matthijs Welle is the CEO of Mews, a hospitality software company. He’s passionate about reshaping the hotel industry with technology and an innovative approach.
  • Karen Eber is a thought leader, author, and an exceptional storyteller. She’s currently the CEO and Chief Storyteller at Eber Leadership Group.

Elevate your business in the New Year

December is an ideal month to reflect on your past business achievements, lessons, and future plans. Ask yourself, ‘What has this year brought to me?’ and ‘What do I want to accomplish next?’ These two simple questions can serve as a good base for your year-end reflections and bring clarity to your future objectives. Of course, you want 2024 to be better, but what does that mean to you specifically? Does it mean building a stronger brand or increasing your customer base? It could also mean venturing into new markets or creating more organizational structure. 

So, take the time to identify those goals. Then, use this understanding to shape your vision for 2024. Be prepared for the inevitable challenges ahead, and also remember to celebrate every win, no matter how small. We’ve got your back, and we can’t wait to support you with even more valuable lessons from our incredible guests. Here’s to a year of relentless growth, unparalleled success, and incredible business elevation!

Key Insights:

  • Gear your business towards your strengths. Instead of trying to do everything on your own, focus on your strengths and hire your weaknesses. This will allow you to channel your energies into areas where you excel and make the most impact. (00:30)
  • Open your eyes for opportunities. Sometimes, there are business opportunities staring you right in the face, but you don’t even see them. Try to be more present and keep your eyes open. An opportunity of your lifetime could be just around the corner! (09:19)
  • Seek help when you need it. Despite what some entrepreneurs believe, it’s okay to ask for help. It acknowledges the fact that you’re determined to overcome obstacles and succeed by leveraging all available resources. So, whether you need a growth advisor or a team coach, don’t hesitate to get support when needed. (12:33)
  • Embrace uncertainty. When you accept that life is unpredictable and that you can’t control everything in your business, that’s when you truly open yourself to opportunities. It’s true that uncertainty brings challenges, but it also spurs innovation and creativity, so embrace it to unlock your business potential. (16:06)
  • Focus on your customers. Your business is all about your customers. When you’re thinking of a new content strategy, sales pitch, or unique differentiator for your company, keep your customers at the forefront. This will create a loyal customer base but also grow your business through referrals. (23:09)

Connect with our guests:

Resources Mentioned:

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Ray Titus:
It’s just kind of gearing your business toward your strength and hiring your weaknesses. I’m not a detail guy, all right? So I have a great COO, I have a great CFO, I have a great executive assistant who’s looking at me through the window right now, waving, saying, we’ve gone over our time. These people that keep me on track or to help me from an organizational standpoint, which is so important in business to be organized. Right? And so it’s not a one man thing. Initially, yeah, I was running a store and it was me and three or four employees, and it was more on what I did in the beginning. It’s the work ethic. I remember I was still living at home and I came home one night, I thought at 07:00 at night, I came home. I put in a really good day, and I came home and my mom was at the kitchen table, and there was a guy with a book with pictures, and he was pitching her on in ground sprinklers.

And I was getting a glass of water at the sink and listened, and this guy was there till 8:30. And what dawned on me was, I am getting beat in business by the in ground sprinkler salesman that’s at my house right now. So I went in the next day and I said, I’m open for business till 08:00 now if you guys have an appointment or anything else. So I worked longer hours and harder hours. So I didn’t want to get beat by the sprinkler salesman, right? And so in the beginning, it’s work ethic. That’s what it’s all about. I mean, you put the time in, you get the reps in, as you said earlier, right? You get really good at something, but you got to put the time in at it. And what do they say? You need 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything, right? You got to put the time and effort into it, but then how do you take advantage as you’re building and growing it? And it’s seeing those opportunities that are presented. We happen to live in a country and live in a place where these opportunities are in front of us every single day.

Some people don’t see them and some people do. I sit down next to somebody in an airplane and they have their headset on, right? And we don’t say one word. And I could be the solution for their biggest problem that they have right next to them. And they didn’t take advantage of that. And sometimes I sit down next to somebody and we start talking and they’re my solution. They help me with finding a different vendor or supplier or insurance or whatever it might be. So I think we complicate business.

Everybody complicates it so much. Simplify it. Always look to keep it simple and stay focused on what is the most important things that need to happen. Too many people have a to do list, 17 things and they get number 15, number eleven done. They get number 9 done. But they don’t get 1, 2 and 3 done. And 1, 2, and 3 add up to way more than all the others combined. So while I have a to do list, I have a goal list, and my goals are always three goals.

I don’t have more than three goals because if you have more than three, it’s a to do list. So it goes over to the to do list. But we’re very goal oriented at United Franchise group. We believe in setting high goals and really pushing and challenging our people to meet those high goals.

Juho Makkonen:
Naturally, there are people who want to build the next unicorn, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there are also plenty of people who just say that, okay, I want to serve this community. I want to solve this problem. I know this is not going to be a huge, huge business, but it’s going to be a really good, profitable business that solves an actual problem for an important group of people. And I’m passionate about that and I want to build a business like that. And those are the people who we are really excited about working with.

A.J. Lawrence:
Are there any types that you think are really cool right now that you think maybe the audience would flash some ideas off of?

Juho Makkonen:
Yeah. So naturally, if you think about the types of marketplaces, they’re also like, we made some conscious choices, so we kind of focused a bit less on the more traditional e commerce. So we don’t really have marketplaces that would be like Amazon, where there would be like big retailers just shipping lots of stuff from their inventory. We are really all about these peer to peer rental platforms, or then various service platforms, even in the style of Uber and so on, or then more etsy style platforms where they are kind of like makers of their goods and so on. And then actually the eBay, the resale and so on. And in all those categories, I’m actually coming back to a point that you mentioned earlier, which was that there was this boom of the sharing economy and all these companies, and they all said they’re going to be the next unicorn. And then what people ended up realizing is that actually there were only a handful of ideas that were big enough to become unicorns. And I think all of those pretty much have been done now.

But at the same time, many of those ideas, when you kind of remove the need to raise that 10 million round and then justify that, then you realize that there is still that opportunity exists to build a really good small to medium sized business out of that. And that’s kind of like the thing that we are seeing. It’s many of those ideas about those niche, whether it’s about surfboard rental or tool rental or kind of this type of get its name or like we have like Airbnb for hunting grounds or Airbnb for swimming pools or Airbnb for cars. And we have this type of ideas and we see them succeed in a level that might not be enough for Andreessen Horowitz, but is well enough to build a solid business.

A.J. Lawrence:
It’s so funny because the ones as you were talking about it, I remember Spinlister, and I don’t even know if they’re around anymore for the bike sharing. And a couple times I was like, because renting a bike, sometimes when you travel, it’s not a great bike and I’m a big person. And so it’s like not a great bike and super expensive. And I remember being able to go to a city and get a great bike for a few, and it was all easy and straightforward. And then the surfboard one, I wish I remember its name, but yeah, it’s like renting a surfboard is even worse than renting because it’s like, usually it’s the simplest, back when I could surf. Having a hard time now, I’m pretty much back on foam. Those are cool ideas that just, yes, that niche, they bring so much joy when you find them and you can use them, but yes, it’s not going to be a billion dollar business.

What type of communities do you think are going to grow that you would like to see now start happening? What type of things would you like to see or you think are going to be really interesting soon and it doesn’t have to be AI or something. I’m just saying I think we’re about to see some major disruption.

Juho Makkonen:
Yeah. At least already one big thing was Covid. It probably made people realize two things. One is that it’s still nice to interact with people in real life, too, and made many people miss that. But at the same time, it also taught people that there are still lots of things that you can do without the physical interaction. And I think that that also opened up a whole world of opportunities when it comes to, for instance, what type of online education or online services and these type of things. And that’s something that we have been just kind of like seeing a lot more.

For instance, all this kind of like a peer to peer teaching or that suddenly many of the things that you want you can actually get virtually. Maybe after Covid, that trend is no longer as strong. But that was at least one really big thing. So when you meet people in the physical world, it probably kind of should be because you want to connect with those specific people and then kind of like, for all the rest, doing things virtually opens so many different worlds in what kind of communities you can engage with and what kind of things you can do with them.

Billie Simmons:
I’ve increasingly become of the opinion when I genuinely didn’t know what I wanted to kind of do with my life, I attracted all of these wonderful opportunities and was able to say yes to them because I had no sort of rubric through which to say yes or no. It was just like, as I said, does this seem cool and interesting? And then for the first sort of two years of this journey with Dan, for me, it was all about exerting control. And I think that was a direct reaction to where I was when I started, which was a place that felt very out of control. We were in the pandemic. There was all this ambiguity. My startup wasn’t, didn’t have a lot of money. I was really freaking out. And so then I’ve had these two years of kind of really specific control being exerted over my life.

Like, I have my own apartment. Everything is in its place. I have this very strict routine. You can go back, there’s like, frankly ridiculous articles on the Internet about my morning routine where it’s like 06:00 a.m. I get on my bike and I answer emails. But I was living like that. I really had this and I had this. I had all of this.

I had a partner. We were like, we’re going to buy a house upstate, and we’re having kids by this date. And I’m going to run this kind of business and do this and do this and do this. I’ve just realized recently that doesn’t serve me ultimately, and that I don’t get anything positive out of exerting control over my life. And it’s a fallacy, ultimately, I don’t have control over my life. And again, this weekend was frankly a reminder. For 48 hours, I was like, I don’t know if I have a company to come back to. And I was hearing all sorts of things.

I was hearing positivity. We banked 100% with SVB, so maybe we’ll get helped, and maybe we’ll have our 250K FDIC insurance, and that’s enough to meet payroll for a month. Then we shut down. That was a stark reminder that any control you think you have over your life, you don’t. And that might be scary to some people, but I think that you can make it a liberating experience, because what it means that anything can happen. And I think if you told me five years ago that this is where I would be in my life, running a startup that is so closely tied to my personal experience, and every day I have, even when days are really tough, like I’m still doing the best and most exciting and fun work that I’ve ever done, it would truly be unfathomable to me five years ago that this is where I would have ended up. I wouldn’t even have dared to dream that I could have had my own. And so, in five years time, whatever I’m doing in five years time is unfathomable to me. As long as I don’t try and exert too much control over it, who knows? Maybe I’ll be running a bakery upstate in a tiny village.

Maybe I’ll be in politics. Maybe I’ll be still running daylight. Who knows? I think it’s really important as much as possible for me now, to kind of hold myself in that space, because it just means that you’re more open to beautiful and exciting experiences.

Kirk Michie:
So I was on a Zoom call yesterday with a close friend of mine who’s the CEO of a biotech firm. And she and I went through something called the modern elder academy down in Baja, California in a program called Radical Transitions. And we were talking about the way men process their feelings. Before she was in biotech, she was a federal prosecutor, and she said that she once toured Sing Sing and the warden told her that 3% of the men that were in Sing Sing were so sociopathic and career criminal that they probably needed to be there because society wasn’t safe with them out roaming the streets. And 97% of those men just didn’t know how to process their feelings. And I think the reason that we’re differentiated, that guy, I would say I know that the reason we’re differentiated is that I talk to entrepreneurs, founders, people that are thinking about selling, not just about the mechanics of how you sell and what structure and different terms and legacy control might mean to you, but also about the feelings you’re going to go through. And I’m not just talking about the fact that you might go through an identity crisis after you’ve sold your business. Like who am I? Because if you get 8, 9, 10 figures for your business, you can buy therapy and figure out who you are.

I’m talking about the idea that it is hard for us men and especially successful entrepreneurs, who’ve in many cases learned how to politely ignore well meaning bad advice about the business to then turn around and ask for help when they’re at this key inflection point where it’s for all the marbles, pretty much literally, to now all of a sudden be vulnerable and ask for help. That’s a really hard thing for a man to do. But I would say it’s also a really hard thing for an entrepreneur to do because we’ve worked with male and female entrepreneurs and the convergence point is not knowing which help to ask for and not knowing which help to take. That’s really, really hard. And look, if you’re the entrepreneur and you’re selling, you’re still Don Quixote, we’re Sancho Panza. It is your hero’s journey. But the critical thing is kind of pick your guru, guide, gladiator and lean on them.

That doesn’t mean stop listening to other good advice that you’ve used to build your business, but lean on that person for their experience, their scar tissue, their perspective. Because if you found the right advisor, you’re going to get to the right outcome for you.. Whether that’s the most money, the best terms, the best legacy control, you’re going to get to the right outcome if you collaborate the right way on your sale.

Curro Romero:
I mean, the more time you spent as a founder of a company or just in the space, you realize how much you’ve learned. I think something for me that’s very important and is like to the question of where do I see myself in the future, I would like to look at myself when I’m in the future, I’d like to look at myself today and feel like I was clueless, just like I feel two years ago. I was maybe quite smart, but I still think there was a lot of stuff that I’m really thankful to have learned. And it’s always hard.

The thing that I like the most is that you don’t know what you don’t know in business until you reach, let’s say, that stage, or let’s say, even if you reached really high level stages of any company. But then if you start in a new market, in a new industry, you get humbled as well by how much there is to learn and I think that’s what brings me the most joy. So where do I see myself? I would say hopefully a bit more successful than I am today, but that’s not the main thing. But I would like to feel like I’m more interesting. If I’d have been able to speak myself now with myself in the future, I would like to see a progression of that.

It’s not just doing day to day operations and seeing that, but also understanding like, if I could go back in the past, I could make Vimbu probably go in a faster way or I’d probably maybe have done it in a completely different way, whichever it is that I learn. And I think this is actually quite similar to how it is in snowboarding, right?

In snowboarding, when you do, like especially what I did, which was slope style. So that means I used to do jumps, rails, and all of that. Something that was really important for me is to keep progressing and keep catching up before I was getting closer to the pro level. And then when I was a pro level, it was, okay, well, what in the world ranking am I? What tricks needs to be done? And I think something that is very important to me is, well, back then, as a snowboarder, I would get a lot of adrenaline from trying something new, right? A new trick, let’s say, adding a new flip. So if I, instead of a double flip to go to a triple or to add more spins to whatever, right? So instead of a 1080, do a 1260. So that’s like three and a half rotations.

But now I think this same excitement, I’m really reliving it right now on the business level when I just see how the company is growing, how something like a go-to-market, strategies that we’ve applied it’s working out. Or the coolest thing is, especially when you discover a new way and it starts working. So you think, oh, this is the way that we have to go into this market. And once you go in, you’re like, oh, wow, what about this idea? And I think that’s what brings me actually a lot more joy than even learning a new trick. So I might be a bit more boring nowadays. I’m not traveling the world. I’m not upside down most of the time, but I still think that the amount of fun that I’m getting is, I would say it’s quite a lot higher, even though it’s a lot just inside my mind.

So just to reiterate on the question itself is I want a lot of the stuff of the progression to happen in my mind itself, and hopefully as well, just inside the company around everything like that. But I know the question was more about a personal one. So, yeah, for me, it would be just the same progression I had in snowboarding from day one ’til pro. To have that also on a business level where my mind can do 1260s, but in a business level.

A.J. Lawrence:
Okay, that is probably the coolest description and metaphor usage of an example there I’ve had so far in the show. 1260 is pretty impressive since I barely get air. I used to try when I was a teenager to get air. Nowadays, it’s like I try to make sure I don’t get air when I’m skiing. But that is such a cool as the progression because there’s the adrenaline to try it. There’s the accomplishment in getting it done and doing it, and then that sort of skill set of being able to do it under tension and competition. Those are all kinds of different experiences and different things, but that’s similar to sort of running a business. I love that.

Matthijs Welle:
So what we do is we’ve got a coach for the individuals in the leadership team, and then she coaches us as a group as well at the same time. And she will go to that meeting often thinking, I don’t know what I have to talk about. I think I’m good. And I walk away 2 hours later thinking, whoa, we just talked about these topics because she asks really punchy questions about how we’re managing situations. And through that, I myself discover that we have challenges. And then I end up walking away with much more. So in the day to day, I continue to think that I’m doing a fabulous job until she comes in and asks me questions about how we’ve structured certain decisions and what we’re doing and it leads to a much better leadership team.

One of the things we did last year was we said, well, we’ve got this constantly revolving leadership team. That’s natural because you’re growing at a pace where not everyone is able to scale up to the next level. So every time a new leader comes in, you go back to forming as a team. So what we do is every three months we have this coach come bring us together into a room where we actually spent two days in the room getting to know each other again over and over. And the level of trust that we’ve now built into our leadership team is at a level where I think everyone gives each other feedback. So when someone feels that I’m showing the wrong behavior, like I’m micromanaging the situation, people can tell me now because they understand that there’s a level of trust there. But the trust building is a really big thing that we’ve embarked on in the last year that has really put us at a very different level leadership than we were a year before.

A.J. Lawrence:
So this trust building, is this from the outcome of working with the coach or is this something specific that the management team that you and the rest of the leadership have decided to start pushing? How did that come about and sort of at what point did you realize that was necessary? Like what was going on that kind of pushed that? I mean, you were talking about everyone growing and so many people.

Matthijs Welle:
The challenge that we had is that you never have a perfect leadership team. There’s always one person or two people that you’re like, I’m not sure if this is this journey, and we tend to address that as fast as we see it not working out, which is the hard thing because every time we have to address that, that means in the interim it falls on me as a CEO to lead that sub-department. But we made some really hard decisions in the past few years, and it’s led to us bringing in real talent that have scaled through some of the challenges that we’re about to face.

So we really look for these leaders that have scaled up companies several times over because I don’t know what I don’t know, because this is my first CEO gig. So I surround myself with really smart people that have lived through that, but who also have the emotional intelligence to go back to square one with us and go through that and do that in a really structured way. So one is us just making better hiring decisions on the leadership team. But the other part is really consciously saying to the coach, saying, we need to talk about the relationships inside the team. And I feel like whenever I ask our coach, saying, how do we manage that?

I know that there’s friction between these two people, and then it comes down to trust. And that’s where she drives the discussion to, really understanding each other’s motivations personally. So last time we had an off site, we did an exercise where she said, talk about an experience in your earlier stage life that has made you who you are today. And it led to people sharing really personal fragments of their life, and it really underlined why they do things the way they do them today. And it brought us all so much together, and it was such a simple exercise in hindsight. And I’m like, why didn’t we do this way sooner? But that’s what you bring a coach in for.

Karen Eber:
And so there’s this almost pressure that you have to have this amazing story about some tragedy in your life or some obstacle you’ve overcome to have this profound story of who you are as an entrepreneur and why it’s so meaningful, and it’s just not true. So the origin story, the reason I say it’s not important is that from wherever you started, your business changes, no matter what your strategy is, no matter what you’re doing. I find every quarter I am, like, tightening the aperture of the lens on my business, because you get smarter. You are moving further down the path towards your ideal clients and work, and you shed some of the things that are no longer serving you.

If you keep telling the origin story, like if I keep telling you the origin story from four years ago, that wouldn’t be as focused on the work that I’m doing now. And it’s not as meaningful. I mean, a really simplistic example is if Amazon was telling their origin story, they would be talking to you about shipping books all around the world. And they still have the greatest hold on books and that is a big part of their business, but there’s so much more than that.

So don’t hold on to this idea that there’s one story or there’s a perfect origin story or there’s this “why” that’s going to sum up everything you do. Because what’s more important are the really specific moments and this is where you start. When you think of your customers and clients, what are their pain points? What are those things that they know they should be resolving but they aren’t? One of my friends calls this the punch them in the bruise. Because you think about when you knock a bruise and you’re like, oh, yes, that bruise there. You want to do that because we all have these. So you want to talk about those, or you want to talk about things that would make their life easier.

Or maybe there’s aspirations of, we’re not buying a car, we’re buying a lifestyle. And so you start to think about what are those different moments that you’re interacting with your customers, your clients? What are those things that you’re addressing? And you have specific stories in there because that’s where someone is going to see themselves in that message and that story, and be drawn to you and the work that you do and be willing to expand with it. If you focus on this overarching origin story, the odds of it hitting those specific people and moments, it’s too much chance.

A.J. Lawrence:
It’s sort of playing on that whole value. A lot of times you see it too and it becomes so easy because you’re living it. But too often people are selling the what not the who, or the value around it.

Karen Eber:
Yeah. Right. The pain point, the specific problem, right? We’re too busy. Like, let me tell you about my 12 step program for whatever. That’s great, but you haven’t made me see myself in that. And that’s what storytelling is so key for as an entrepreneur. You have these opportunities to just connect to all of these thoughts, fears, hopes, aspirations, and that’s where you are grabbing people. And you know you’re doing it well when people say, I feel like you wrote that just for me.

Because you dialed in on if I was going to create a Persona for my audience, what does that look like? What are the demographics? What are the things they like to do? What is their profession, their education? Where are they at in their life in terms of their family or surroundings or relationships? You start to zero in on those and you write these or you tell these as though you’re sitting across the table for someone. And that is what’s always going to resonate. And that could be whether you’re doing a sales pitch or you’re putting a post on social media.

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