The following is a transcript of Episode 2 of Return on Podcast, the show where we help e-commerce sellers improve their ROI in business and in life. For more episodes, subscribe to our YouTube channel or listen on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.
Welcome to Return on Podcast, where we talk about the experiences, obsessions, and habits of the most successful e-commerce entrepreneurs. I’m your host, Tyler Jefcoat, and in this second episode of ROP, I wanna do something that I generally won’t do, I promise you. Normally, I use this podcast as a platform to tell the stories of the most successful people in the space that are not named Tyler Jefcoat, and our goal with every episode is to drop enough practical nuggets, enough actionable items that you can guarantee that if you invest a few minutes with us each week, you’re gonna get a return on that investment. However, today, I wanna tell you a little bit of my story. Not because I particularly like talking about myself, to be honest with you. Preparing for this episode has been much more awkward than normally preparing for episodes is, and it’s not even because I think my story is like unique or special or great or anything like that.
It’s just that I’ve started two seven figure businesses in the last decade. And I’ve learned some things, mostly because I’ve made a ton of mistakes. And I think in the same vein as when I interview my guests, I’m gonna try to grab lessons or hacks or habits from them that have made them successful, that have taken them where they are now. I wanna kind of give you that same perspective from my story, and I wanna do this for two reasons. One is I’m betting that there are some people out there who are considering starting a business. Maybe you’re still working your corporate job, and you’ve kind of dabbled in your e-commerce business or your services business, your agency, whatever it is you wanna start, and you need a nudge to get you over the hump. That’s the first reason. I really hope that you’ll tune in if that’s you because I think this episode might serve you. And then the second thing is, if you are starting, you’re in the middle of your startup phase and you’re discouraged, things, aren’t going well, things are slow, things are not panning out the way you hope they would. My sincere hope is that my story, and as you’ll realize here, there were some major ups and downs. My hope is that it would give you some encouragement, some additional stamina to not give up. Okay?
Now, at the end of this episode, what we’re gonna do is what we do in every episode, which is close with three or four hacks, tactics, guarantees that if you apply these things, if you actually do them in your life, you will get a return on this podcast, the one that you’re listening to right now. So let’s dive in.
This is not a memoir. I just wanna walk you through three meetings, the three meetings in my mind that ultimately resulted in millions of dollars in revenue, hiring hundreds of employees, and really starting the companies that I ended up starting. So, you know, I’ve had a lot of important meetings, so have you, but these three meetings in particular happened at pivotal moments, in moments when I was going down one track, and because of these meetings, I went down a new scarier track instead, right?
So, hey, listen guys, growing up, my two heroes were my dad and my grandfather. We called him Pop. He passed away a couple years ago, but these two men are amazing. My dad still is amazing. And they both taught me so much about leadership, about serving others, and about the power of hard work. But to be honest, they also modeled a very traditional corporate career path, right? Pop was a really successful career guy at Sears. My dad who actually has more recently started his own business, but when I was a kid, he had really been a faithful leader within some big corporations. And that’s what I had seen. And so there’s nothing wrong with that, by the way, that’s a great path. And a lot of people should take it. It just wasn’t, it just wasn’t the right one for me, but I didn’t naturally have an entrepreneurial mindset. And so I needed some nudges. I needed some things to happen to push me down the path of starting businesses. And that’s why these three meetings were really super pivotal.
So let’s dive right in. The first meeting was with my college mentor over a cup of coffee, 17 or 18 years ago. It was a long time ago. His name’s Mark. Now in this meeting, Mark asked me to consider not going to grad school, not taking a corporate job that I was looking at taking. And instead he challenged me to spend the next two years of my life serving college students and working in this non-profit. And so who cares, right? So why does this meeting have a huge impact on me? Well, the reason that Mark’s meeting changed my life, two reasons I thought of. There’s a whole bunch, but there’s two reasons in particular.
I met my incredible wife, Emily, while working with this non-profit group. Nothing that I’ve accomplished or I’ve had in terms of ups and downs in my career would be possible without Emily being highly engaged. And then the second reason – I didn’t realize this at the time. So when I decided to, by the way I took his advice, I dropped out of the recruiting race that I was in and ended up going on staff with the non-profit that he was working with. But what I realized really quickly, once I got to work, was that our local version of this non-profit was a hot mess. We were very much a start-up. There were – there was nothing established. Literally, our job was to build something, and we did. And so as this kind of young guy, I had the chance to really do some hard things, made some really great trips to Haiti and Kenya. I got to develop and mentor leaders. But most importantly, I got to fail a lot. I mean, I learned that my work habits were, were questionable. I was disorganized. I had a ton of people tell me no. And even if I did see results, by the way, they took way longer than I thought they would take to come together.
And the reasons that I really think this experience changed me, and it was better for me maybe than a traditional career track, is that having to fail like this taught me that failure does not kill me. And it also taught me that, hey, if you fight through adversity, if you’re willing to work hard through hard stuff, you can actually make a difference in the world. And so that meeting, that cup of coffee, 17, 18 years ago with Mark, really changed my life because it ended up ultimately planting these first seeds of an entrepreneur mindset. Mark, don’t know if you’ll ever hear this buddy, but I love you. Thank you so much.
The second meeting, let’s go ahead and pivot to the second one. Took place about seven years after the first one, and it took place in the Grand Canyon of all places. I was hiking in the Grand Canyon with my dad and with my father-in-law. Now at this point, I’d left the non-profit a few years back, and I was managing a sales team at a huge bank while I was also trying to earn my MBA. That huge bank that I worked for was also helping to fund this MBA, which means I was supposed to continue working there afterwards. But guys, I had a problem. I felt like a desk monkey. I didn’t feel like my role was making an impact on the world. I was frustrated, and I was bored.
And so of course I did what all great millennials do: I looked for a better opportunity, and I found one that scared the crap outta me. I had an investor ask me – me, a 29-year-old grad student, to build a new healthcare business. He would fund the effort, and he would make me a partner in the business. By the way, I just wanna side note here, Dave, thank you. If you ever hear this, I’ll be forever grateful that you would to take a risk on me and that you would partner with me to build a business. It’s amazing. So now lemme give you a little bit more context here. Emily, my wife, had just had our first daughter, Maggie, and Emily, again, my wife, had just quit her job to stay at home for a bit. And so contemplating leaving, for me, contemplating leaving the comfortable, relatively high-paying job to start a business in an industry that I had never worked in, and frankly, my co-founder had never worked in either, was an absolutely absurd idea. What were we thinking?
And to make matters worse, since the bank was funding my MBA, I couldn’t just quit my job. I would have to stroke a five-figure check to pay them back for the MBA tuition in order to leave. And so, you know, I did the thing that most dads in conflict, not knowing what their next career step with a six week old at home – I did what most of us would probably do. I left town with my dad and my father-in-law to hike in the Grand Canyon and go camping for a week. See, I told you, my wife was amazing, right? But seriously, we had planned this trip a year prior, and Emily was seriously amazing in letting us go. I can’t believe she did that. Thank you. Thank you, babe.
But so here I am. I’m in the Grand Canyon with my dad, who has carved out an incredible career doing corporate things for corporations. And then my father-in-law whose daughter, his only daughter, had just quit her job to stay home with his only grandchild, and they both needed providing for. So can you picture this? So at this moment, we’re hiking. I decide here’s the time, I’ve got ’em here. They’re captive. Let me pitch this business idea to them. Let’s just see what they say. And I fully expected, like you would probably expect,, for them to do the right thing and shoot it down. But they didn’t. Both of these guys told me the same two things and these two sentiments have absolutely changed my life. The first thing they told me was “Tyler, you will regret it if you don’t go for it and try to build something that you can actually own.”
The second thing that they both said to me was “Tyler, we believe in you. We think you have what it takes to build a company that matters.” And I just, I mean, it probably goes without saying, but I cannot tell you how much those two things meant to me, having those two men, having those two key figures in my life, believe in me and tell me to go for it. But I needed one more vote of confidence. So I went home after that trip, and I just pitched the same idea to Emily. “Hey babe. I know you just quit your job. I know we have a six-week-old at home, and I know you’ve met this guy once, Dave, but I’m thinking about quitting my job and starting a business in an industry we’ve never worked in. We’re gonna have to stroke the bank a five-figure check to not have to, you know, owe the money for the MBA. What do you say?” Right?
I mean, again, think about an absurd pitch. And just to her credit, my wife, this unbelievable woman, I’m so blessed to have her, just said, “Babe, I believe in you. Let’s do it.” And so we did. I quit my job a few weeks later, I stroked the big check, burned the boats, and we decided to start the company that would become Care to Continue. Now, let me tell you a couple of cool things I learned during that start-up phase, ’cause that was a pretty crazy time, and then I’ll pivot to the third meeting that really changed my life. So one of our biggest strengths when we were starting this healthcare company was – by the way, for those of you who might be watching this on YouTube, got a quick picture of my family here. You see Emily, my two daughters, my dog. For those of you listening to audio, you’re not missing a ton. Bald guy in the middle here. And so one of the things that was really great about not knowing what we were doing is that we were ignorant. We knew we were ignorant. And you know, think about this, Dave, all he knew was that he interacted with senior citizens in his other business and that they were scared and frustrated with the current care models. All I knew was that I had two grandparents that had had terrible experiences with Alzheimer’s disease. And frankly, I was just pissed off with how bad the nursing homes were.
And so being ignorant actually helped us because it forced us to stop and actually ask our customers, and that’s what we did. We did this thing at the beginning of 2013, called the Senior Summit. We got about 30 of our target customers together, thousands of sticky notes, lots of questions, took lots of notes, had a few of them come back a few weeks later. And literally guys out of this experience, the Senior Summit experience, Care to Continue was born. We literally launched our brand. The seniors actually picked the name. The essence of the brand, “your home, your life, keep living it,” this, the character by which we treated our team and we treated them and our care staff and everything else, all was built by the actual customers. And I cannot even begin to tell you how much of a differentiator that was against our competitors in our market. Right?
What an amazing start. Can you imagine getting to start a business and you know, like, and have this kind of a start, right? Where we’re not – we literally have a brand that was built by our constituent customers. So what would you expect if that was your great start? You would expect to be doing millions of revenue right off the bat. Oh my gosh, that did not happen. Our entire first year of business, we generated less than $30,000 in revenue. We came so close to quitting, and it was a grind, and it sucked, and it was hard, and it was lonely. But man, am I so thankful we didn’t quit. You know, at the end of 2013, which was kind of our launch year, we had me plus four part-time employees. By the end of 2014, so fast forward one year, we were at 50 employees.
We had this just explosive year. After a year of it being hard and sowing seeds and not getting any results, we had a year where everything seemed to go right for us, and we exploded as a company. And you know, one of the lessons I learned there was that when things get hard, you don’t quit. You keep pushing, you keep grinding. And as long as you have a clear plan, a clear vision, you can succeed. By the way, I did learn some other lessons. It really sucks to be broke and to not have any cash coming in and to feel like your business is going to fail at any moment. But I wanna also just note here that it also really sucks to hire 50 people in a year. That’s unbelievably stressful. And I’m trying to figure out which one’s worse, to be honest with you, ’cause both were bad in their own way.
So anyway, we made every mistake you could possibly make, literally every mistake. But the most embarrassing mistakes, these are the ones – kind of confession moment here for Tyler – my most embarrassing mistakes were the financial mistakes. I mean, guys, come on. My degree is accounting. I have an MBA with finance courses from a great business school. I worked as a banker for five years. If anyone should be able to manage the cash in a rapidly scaling business, should have been me right? Wrong. What I learned, and I learned it with cold sweats and tremors at two o’clock in the morning several times – you own a business, you can relate. What I learned is that there is a huge difference, a gigantic difference between having a financial education and being financially savvy. I had an education. I was not savvy. I’d read about cash flow, but I did not know how to manage cash until we had over $120,000 in accounts receivable, $30,000 a week in payroll going out, and zero money.
Right? Those were the moments where I learned. And sure, the money snafus that we dealt with, you know, we eventually figured those out. They were bit embarrassing, but we did sort those out. And then after that, what I learned is that my most expensive mistakes, the ones that I’m like, oh, that cost me lots of money, millions of dollars, I believe, with a few of these, all of those were leadership and people mistakes. So, you know, while mismanaging my balance sheet was a challenge, and I almost crashed the ship several times, hiring the wrong people, failing to set great expectations, failing to hold people accountable, failing to take action when I knew we had problems a couple times, those were the immature errors that I made as a leader that I think actually cost us way more money than my financial snafus.
In fact, my mentor, Chris Hanks, put a finer point on it when he says “The most expensive time in any business owner’s life is the time between when he loses faith in someone and when he does something about it.” Let me say that again: the most expensive time in any business owner’s life is the time between when he loses faith in someone and he does something about it. Crucial. Please take that. That’s a nugget that would serve you. It’s served me so many times since I learned it the hard way. Hard knocks, right? But to end the story about Care to Continue so that I can pivot to my final crucial conversation, we eventually, you know, had over a hundred employees, and we were a dominant force in our market. I had the privilege to sell my stake of that company about five years after we started. It was extremely hard, but it was also really, really great.
And that brings me to the third crucial meeting that I had, and then I’ll close with the nuggets and guarantees that I always give you in these episodes. So I’m in the middle of the hundred-day CEO transition when I was selling Care to Continue, moving from me being the leader to the next leadership team, and I was trying to figure out what to do next. And I had explored some amazing opportunities in a few different states, but Emily and I really just wanted to stay here in Athens, Georgia. We like Athens. It’s a cool town. It’s a college town. It’s small. The problem with college towns is that they’re small, right? And if you’re gonna make a great living, you really have to start a business. But to be honest, I was kind of drawing a blank. I didn’t really know what kind of business I wanted to start next.
And then when I was on the eve of signing to go move to another state and join an effort with a start-up there, I got an email from my friend, Brandon Checketts, asking if we could meet. Now you may not know who Brandon is, but he is the guy who founded a large software company that serves Amazon sellers. It’s called Seller Labs. He’s the guy that originally was the coder, wrote Feedback Genius and wrote the beginnings of Ignite and is now the CEO of his company. He had stepped away for a few years, and he’s back. He’s amazing. I knew him because we were in the same CEO mastermind here in Athens. So of course I took the meeting. I met with Brandon, and he shared this vision with me, guys, of creating jobs and bringing value into this smaller market, Athens.
And I was like, ye, I’m totally sold. I do not know what that looks like, but I wanna do it. Tell me, tell me more, buddy. So Brandon was like, “Listen, this e-commerce space, this Amazon space is exploding, and there’s a lot of problems that I believe you might be able to solve.” And I was like, really? You know, I’d been like an eBay guy back in college, buying and selling parts to build guitars, and if I’m totally honest, not always proud of this, but we are complete Amazon junkies. But I didn’t really know that I could solve problems that the $1 to $20 million a year sellers might have. And it turns out that actually I could solve them. And actually it turns out that my experience made me perfect to coach these sellers on a financial level.
And so with a little bit of help from Brandon, we started Seller Accountant. So literally, hundred day transition, I sell Care to Continue, I take a long weekend to take my wife and daughters camping, and then that following Monday we start Seller Accountant. So guess what? My approach starting Seller Accountant was exactly the same as my approach – let me bring this little slide back in real quick so you can see it. So my approach starting Seller Accountant was exactly the same as my approach starting Care to Continue. I spent the first two months just calling prospective clients, asking lots of questions. I actually called a few of my competitors to learn, you know, what they had learned. And, you know, if you ask people – here’s another lesson I learned. If you just ask people, they will tell you stuff.
Even if you are, like, honest. Like I literally called a guy named Scott who’s a friend of mine now, and I was like, “Scott, I think I’m gonna be competing with you. And you’re doing a really good job. Can I pick your brain for an hour?” And he was like, “Sure, go ahead.” And then of course I called, you know, dozens of sellers and was like, “Guys, what’s the pain point, what’s harming you here? How can we do this better?” And guess what? They told me. And so Seller Accountant was born. Again, if you happen to be watching the video here’s a shot of my, the third business partner for us, Ashley Carter, she’s the COO, and our four original teammates. That’s kinda awesome. So pretty cool stuff there. And here we are. You know, again, we made mistakes. We didn’t do it perfectly, but here we are four years later, 25 employees, providing bookkeeping, providing CFO services for a large pile of the growing e-commerce brands.
You know, this has been much easier. I just wanna say, that’s the second thing – I’ve started the first business, and I needed to, like, run into every wall along the racetrack. Like, I couldn’t drive straight, period. And now I run into a few walls, I might hit a ditch here and there, but I’m a lot better at driving than I was the first time. And as a result, this has been much less dramatic, much more profitable, much more quickly. So honestly, we’re crushing it. I’m so thankful. We’re doing great, and it’s because we have a great team, which is why I wanna make one final point before I dive into hacks, and I’ll close this little, you know, thing about my story.
So one of the most unbelievable things to come out of my time at the bank and at Care to Continue, is the COO, Ashley Carter. She is the third partner at Seller Accountant. She’s unbelievable. She was the best teammate that I had the privilege of working with at the bank. We recruited her away to be the finance manager at Care to Continue where she was the one, you know, managing the financial complexity of having over a hundred employees in that company. And of course, she’s actually a really good bookkeeper and accountant. So she joined our team and became, you know, the COO of Seller Accountant. She’s amazing. And so the point that I wanna make here, and the nugget here, is that finding – if you’ve ever read Traction, there’s a guy out there named GIno Wickman. He wrote a great book called Traction. And one of the big things Gino talks about is finding an integrator, finding the person who can be that operational, like, leader, and Ashley is for sure that person. She’s great, and so I’m really thankful for her. And because I’ve been able to partner with Ashley, I’ve been much, much more successful. Maybe that’s my other like kind of final nugget before I jump into the real hacks here is that anything that’s really done well can’t be done alone. You’ve gotta have a tribe. You’ve gotta have people around you. And I’ve been so thankful to have really great people around me and the companies that I’ve built.
All right, here we go. We wanna dive in now to the last segment – the last segment in every one of our episodes here on Return on Podcast. And it’s where I want to guarantee you a return on this podcast, an ROI on the time you spend with me, and I’m gonna do that by giving you some lessons and hacks and habits that if you apply them, if you just pick one of these and apply it, I guarantee you that the time you will have spent with me today will be worth it. So let’s dive in. I have four for you in this episode.
Number one: if you want to know what your customers want, ask them. If you’re an e-commerce seller listening to this, don’t forget to listen to your customers. It may feel distant because they’re in a different state. No, no, no, no, no. Read the reviews. Actually ask them questions when they have challenges. Interact with your customers on social media if you have the opportunity to. If you do this, if you take the time, and sometimes it can be hard, but if you take the time to get to know your customers, you can turn a transactional relationship into a relationship of raving fans. That’s number one.
Number two is do something hard every year. This is kind of a, this is like an out-of-left-field kind of thing here, right? A book I wanna recommend to you called Grit by Angela Duckworth. It’s a great book if you wanna learn more about what I’m talking about here with point number two. But if I could give you one gift out of listening to this podcast, it would be to every year, pick one thing that’s hard, that’s new, and do it. Something small, something meaningful that stretches you, something you have to learn, something you suck at when you start it. And the reason I wanna encourage you to do this is that you flex a really important muscle when you do hard things. You flex a muscle called the “I can do this, I can do hard things” muscle. And I’ll give you some, like, dumb examples. A few years ago, went to a trade show for Amazon sellers. And I saw one of these guys, like, solving a Rubik’s cube. Now let me be honest with you: solving a Rubik’s cube has – which I can do it now, ’cause I’ve decided to be obsessive about it and learn how to do it.
And being able to solve a Rubik’s cube in 40 seconds has generated zero monetary value in my life. It’s just something I got obsessed with for a couple months, watched a couple YouTube videos. You could do it, too, it’s not that hard. But what it did was it was something that was completely impossible for me. I had absolutely no prayer of solving that super complex cube, but it was a hard thing that I picked at for a few months, and I figured it out, and because I figured it out, that was one vote in my kind of “feather in the cap” for my identity as somebody who can do hard things. You know, in this past year it’s kind of been chess. I’m still terrible, but I’m getting better. But my point is, pick something that you’re kind of interested in. And honestly, if it could be a hobby like that, that’s kind of cool. Find something that seems hard and make yourself good. Not great! I don’t need to be great. I don’t need to compete. I don’t need to win any awards. I wanna prove to myself that I can do hard things. So that’s number two, do something hard every year. In fact, encourage your kids to do something hard. In the Jefcoat house, our kids, if they don’t wanna do gymnastics next year, they don’t have to, but they can’t quit during the season. And it’s because if we commit to a team for a season, we’re committing to do something hard that’s stretching, that’s relationally challenging, and we’re gonna stick with it to the end. If you don’t, if you’re not interested next year, it’s fine. We can drop out. That’s number two. So remember number one, ask your customers. Number two, do something hard every single year.
Number three, just because your business gets bigger and you start making money doesn’t mean life is easier. So I just wanna say this for any of you guys here there are start-ups, there is an arc of happiness as you get closer to kind of quote unquote “making it” where it’s like, “Oh, this is so hard. Business is getting a little better, getting close, getting close, getting close.” And then you arrive at a moment where you actually start making money. And then the complexity comes. And the reason I wanna say this is, just be aware of that. If you’re selling a million dollars a year in Amazon right now, being a $10 million a year business is gonna create some additional challenges. And again, this is why you need to be the kind of person who is zealous to grow and evolve as a leader. Because the things that are making you successful now will not make you successful in two years. So number one, ask your customers questions. Number two, do something hard every year. Number three, bigger does – bigger, I think, is probably better in most situations, but it’s not necessarily easier.
Final nugget I wanna drop on you today, number four, and this is really a habit you can integrate: invest 30 minutes, 30 minutes per week, pursuing mentors. Think about how crucial that first conversation I had with Mark back in college. I would’ve gotten a normal, cushy, probably accounting or corporate job. I probably would’ve made a lot of money, and I would’ve been miserable. But he challenged me to think outside the box and do something a little bit more entrepreneurial, and I wonder who that person is in your life. I wonder who you could send one more email to. Because guess what? The great mentors are not gonna come chase you. They’re not gonna be asking you for meetings. You are gonna have to pick up the phone. You are gonna have to send emails. You’re gonna have to stalk on LinkedIn and send messages and find ways to send them a present. You’re gonna have to do things outside the box to get their attention, but I guarantee you, if you spend 30 minutes a week pursuing mentors that can help you learn and grow the people who have done the things you want to do, you will be more successful. That is a guarantee.
Those are the hacks, that’s the Return on Podcast section of our pod. And let me wrap it up now, guys. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much for any of you who’ve made it to this point in the podcast for listening to Return on Podcast with me, Tyler Jefcoat. If this content has served you, if it’s helping you, would you please consider sharing with a friend? Maybe liking it and subscribing to our channel? Thank you again, and have a fantastic week.