Don't Make The Same Mistakes
Devin MillerThe Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
Don't Make The Same Mistakes
The Inventive Journey
Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.
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someone's already taken that journey before you so finding someone who started something similar or in the same industry that you can uh that can you become a mentee of that you can learn from and not having to recreate uh some of these experience that that someone's already walked that path there's no reason to make the same mistakes [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devin miller the serial entrepreneur that's grown several startups in the seven and eight figure businesses as well as the founder and ceo of miller iplock where he helps startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks if you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com and we're always here to are always here to help now today we have another great guest on the podcast robert hartline and uh robert went to high school in on a military base in germany graduated high school went to school um in uh i think in tennessee and then afterwards went to tennessee after he graduated um because he wanted to go into music only to find out that he didn't like country music which is kind of a problem given that's uh tennessee you it's known for um so started selling uh phones door-to-door um and and over a period of time opened up i think over 60 stores selling cell phones had over 400 employees um did that until about a year and a half ago and then uh after about a year and a half ago had some other side hustles that he was pursuing um with assisting people cold calls and whatnot and decided to kind of pursue that full-time built up some apps to or applications or software to help people do that and uh have been uh doing they're focusing on that ever since so with that much as an introduction welcome on the podcast robert hey thanks devin i appreciate it absolutely so i just gave kind of a quick run through to uh a much longer journey and uh so why don't we uh take uh take everybody back in time a bit to when you were going to high school in germany yeah so my my dad was a music teacher uh on an army base called bomb holder um and it's called the department of defense school systems and uh you know in any uh any foreign deployment for us-based troops they have dodds there teaching the kids and i just happen to be uh in that school and uh uh it was definitely an interesting experience so you go to high school there and you say you know graduate and you're going off to the college and i think you'd mentioned that you were going to go in and you studied music or music related things in school yeah yeah but the game plan was to get in the recording industry and just like you said i wasn't i didn't fit right i didn't play guitar i didn't enjoy country music and i just decided that i needed something new and i tried to get a job at uh holiday inn as a uh as uh as a bag boy and did not get hired i have so you go through and you say okay i'm gonna i'm going to get you know go into country music now he moved all the way to tennessee so you obviously had intentions to do it but help me understand because you go into or did you not like country music or how did you miss that industry or the good good good good catch devon uh really i i came to school at mtsu which is middle tennessee state university they have a great program for the recording industry but uh it was really centered around a lot of country music and uh you know everyone was aspiring singer songwriter and i just wasn't that that wasn't my thing uh i really wanted to get into the production side of it i wasn't looking to be a performer or anything like that and um and you know i just i've never been great at school i never enjoyed school uh it just never did it for me and uh you know i i kept going to school when i when i got my first job in fact selling phones door-to-door um and um i in fact i was in school for the first four years of my career until i finally said you know i just don't need this school anymore it's it's not serving me and it seems like a waste of time oh okay so so it sounds like and i'm so i'll probably put words in your mouth and tell me that they're the wrong words but it was less to do with the country music in and of itself and it was more to do with the industry and doing the schooling yeah yeah i just you know it just wasn't my path you know when you're in high school your your experience is so limited right and you just don't have the opportunities to you know explore different things you don't know what you don't know until you know and uh that was my my case in school for sure uh but you know i got my first job selling a product called telego as a cordless phone while you're away from the house i mean a cell phone while you're away from the house in a cordless phone wedge you're at home and that was 1994 when uh really nobody had a cell phone but uh attorneys and uh and doctors right uh all the important people uh seem to have a a phone but um i did that and uh i got real lucky one weekend i got someone to buy a lot of phones which really kind of inspired me to really lean into the sales thing so sounds like it kind of started out as hey i need the employment need a job here's one that will pay me and i'll go out and sell the phone and then as you started degreeing some traction and get some success you kind of double down or you continue to more heavily go into that field and i think over a period of time you built it up to opening multiple stores and kind of continuing to uh drill down on that is that right yeah so i i worked for other people selling phones for about four years and then uh i started my company in 99 and um for the last uh you know 22 years i've been growing a chain of wireless retail stores throughout the southeast uh and really honestly had a really fun time i learned a lot you know the first 10 years of business it was just me working in it and uh you know about that time i had read the e-myth uh and then uh the four-hour work week uh came out uh similar to that time frame where i read it and i really started getting engaged in working on the business and being very uh you know intentional about the way i worked and instead of working in the business obviously hiring people and scaling and um and i did that for for a while and i really didn't have a uh some accelerated growth until i uh you know i'm in eo which stands for entrepreneur organization and i went to a uh i saw i saw jack daley who is wrote a book called the hyper sales growth and basically it's a book about scaling your your business by uh hiring the right uh vp of sales which i was always typically the sales leader in terms of leading the sales team and i hired someone else to kind of lead the sales team and and run that and i was able to you know scale from uh about 10 million a year in revenue to nearly 100 million in in revenue in less than three years uh by just you know following a couple of core principles one was uh have hiring someone else to be the bvp and then number two um i followed the eos method uh the the entrepreneur operating system you know from a book called traction it really helped me scale at that point now you say okay i'm going to so give us an idea so when you scaled over what period of time into how big did you get uh we got just just at 10 million we were 10 million to 100 million in sales in less than three years um and um i ended up selling the business uh last december uh it was you know there was a merger that happened and and we were on the losing side of a merger uh which needed which meant we we we needed to sell the business which you know in hindsight um i think i'm gonna i'm gonna call it a good news story down the road but today i'm a little bit frustrated how it panned out but that's how business runs sometimes right so i think that uh that makes sense and you know timing is always it's always in the timing so now you you grew the businesses you you know you got you a pretty good amount of scale you you you know you looked at bringing on the right team members and otherwise getting that in place and for quite a while you know you or had a large you know large amount of storage and you were running a pretty good empire so to speak now it's at one point it sounds sounds like you were running here doing also a bit of a side hustle for cold calling and building up some of that what kind of or how did that start out and then how did that uh transition into being your full-time gig yeah so in 2012 i had a real negative experience with one of my outside sales members sales team members and um you know i had tried lots of different crm solutions and i decided if i had an app that would log all the face-to-face meetings and all the calls and emails i would have a better representation of what the sales team is doing actually in the field and so um i started building uh with the development team uh call proof is an app for fields sales people um and you know it's one thing to have a sales team that you manage that you see every day you see them making calls you're there answering their questions but if you are trying to grow your small business and you are in the neighborhood pulling on doors and going to see businesses you really need a system to number one capture the information and our system automatically imports name address and phone number automatically from google so it's super quick and easy uh to log that visit and then we actually put a gps stamp on it so we know that that sales person was actually there and if they call them we know they actually called them and i was really solving uh my own problem with the software and so we built that and they built other tools for the inside sales team for my own organization to take the downtime that happens in retail and make it uh and maximize it by getting the team to call and follow up with existing customers and find new customers and it had a tremendous impact on our bottom line using it internally now you say okay this is kind of and a lot of times it's always interesting you know you build a tool and it's for out of necessity of hey we need this internally there isn't the right thing out there and so you know we're left with either not or going without or building this and hopefully you know then you build it and it has a lot more efficiency and it's a worthwhile return so now as you're doing that you build it internally you start to use it has a good return what kind of prompted you to say okay now we're going to turn that and start to sell it or otherwise market it to other businesses that may be using it kind of what was that trigger to say hey we've got all these stores we're running it we're using it internally now we're going to make this into its own business well honestly i had several customers that i was selling phones to that would describe the same pain point and it was all the same you know you if you want to grow your business you can do it by you selling yourself or you can find someone who's better at selling than you right and that's you're not always going to find that but there are really good sales people out there that that you can do that and the the problem that i had was was very similar that most people have you train someone you spend weeks and weeks teaching them every single nuance about your business and then you send them out to the universe and just hope for the sales to come back in and if if you have a longer sales cycle you really don't know if someone is good or not because the sales cycle is so long well in the wireless business if i go and visit with uh people five hours a day pulling on doors i know for a fact that we'll have five sales by the end of the day i just know how the the numbers work because i had been doing it so much and i had you know rep after rep that we would you know train on board and we wouldn't discover that they weren't really working for about 30 days after uh after it was really too late you know and so uh that's why we needed to build something and and i changed up my whole model how i trained you know my new model uh was i'd bring someone in i'd spend a couple days training i would have i'd give them some template uh flyers that print out a number on them and i would have them go visit uh for that first week and if they did the activity after that first week then i would spend time and energy actually getting them trained properly you got to see if they have drive first otherwise you're going to find someone that's going to be very happy with the salary but not do a lot of effort now you say okay this is one that you're solving your own problem you know solving a problem that was for you and then also found that a lot of people you're working with or that were customers had the same problem to say okay you know too hard to bring someone on wait a month or even sometimes longer so for some sales position only to find out that they're not effective now i basically paid them for that period of time and you could have either one you could have if they were doing it incorrectly give an opportunity to train or two to say hey we've got to cut our losses they're not going to be the good fit for what we're doing in either case it provides that information earlier on so you build that out work it do it internally and then how did you know and i think this was what about two or a year and a half ago two years ago when you started to sell that to other individuals oh no we we we've had call proof going for uh since 2012 so you know uh we're going into our 10th year uh and we we started selling it as as soon as we built it for our own use and then you know as time went on we we added a ton to the platform so you know now sales people you know i really have two customers that i have to service the guy with a credit card which is the company business owner who wants to grow his sales by scaling a sales organization but my true customer is the sales rep so i have to build a tool that is number one super easy for them to use and number two add more value and in the app we have a tool that makes it easy for them to identify prospects in the neighborhood so we have 26 million businesses already loaded by industry sic code employee size that you can click one button it shows you people that you could be likely selling to so if i was selling to attorneys for instance i can hit the attorney button click it on a map circle it and create a route so i can efficiently see a lot of people in my day and automatically a lot of those visits as i go along so you know the the the value piece is is um for sales reps to make sure they see more people and they earn more money because that's ultimately helping them be more successful sure no that definitely makes sense now one other follow-up question to that is you know so you had it there at the stores you had these cell phone companies that was going along he said okay we built this out of our own use and we're going to can you know use it for our own internal training for ourselves but also sell to others now what was the tipping point so i think along the way at some point you or more recently you sold the stores or you shut those down or whatnot and you made the transition to this being your full-time focus so what kind of was the trigger or what made or caused that transition uh well for me uh you know i i have been in retail for a long time in in the business you know i had people that ran the business but i was uh you know it's it's a very stressful business to be in in retail and in 2020 it was even more stressful it was incredibly stressful uh during 2020. um and uh in our business uh not only are you uh making stores stay staffed paying people and managing inventory and things like that it's it's it has a lot of fraud and a lot of theft whether it's an employee stealing or uh armed robberies in the daytime or organized uh crime rings at night burglarizing it it's a very busy uh stressful business and that's ultimately when i started uh call proof uh back almost ten years now i made sure that uh i was gonna be in a business that was not retail so when i eventually were to sell i would have a business that uh is definitely scalable but does not have the stress on nights and on the weekends no i think that that uh that certainly makes sense so now you say okay covet hits first of all hit retail all really hard you're now getting impacted with other you know addition increase in crime theft and other things and the stress and that you're saying hey i don't know that i want to be in the retail game i'd rather go and focus my time and talents you know fully over here so now as you made that transition maybe looking back just a bit was it a good idea would you has it been one whereas you've put your full time and focus on it the business continued to grow or is it one where it's also been hit or you know because that one of the one the questions i had is you know cold calling works great other than if you were in copen then it's also going to be a hard one because people aren't going to be opening their doors or they may be worried or they're locked down or whatnot and so have you seen something to where it's still continued to be able to grow and prosper you've had to pivot or how everything's gone there you know initially the first uh the first couple of months we had customers that were uh you know very worried concerned and then we navigated many of them into uh tracking their their zoom calls uh and increasing the number of actual phone calls instead of you know face-to-face visits but uh clients quickly realized that they had to be uh you know feet on the street even during covid doing it safely with masks and the the business is growing uh faster than i would imagine it would have during covid uh and a lot of it has to do with the cold call now i'm not talking about a phone call that's cold i'm talking about a stranger walking in and talking about your products that you sell to anybody is the oldest strategy ever you know but next to um growing your business through referrals which is by far the best way a word of mouth that is the best way that next one is is a physical cold call and um if you do it in volume and your team is taught the right way uh to to do it that constant awareness in the marketplace if you have a hundred prospects in your town that you could likely sell to and you identify that we help clients do that we we literally build their list and then if you stay in front of those 100 clients in a nice steady steady tempo you're bound to crash into an opportunity and close more business and so that's why people kind of flock to some kind of way to grow their business and of all the tools you see online like a drip sequence or you know all these wigs bang things whether it's google adwords or facebook or online marketing all those things can work but right now there's a business in your neck of the woods that are a few blocks away if you just pull on that door hand out a card there's an opportunity waiting for somebody no i think that that definitely makes sense and sounds like it's a con is a great ongoing opportunity so well with that now as we've kind of caught up a bit to where you you know where you came from what your journey is and bringing it up a bit into the present it's a great time to transition to the two questions i always ask at the end of each podcast um so the first question i always ask is along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made and what'd you learn from it i can look back and tell you some of the worst business decisions i made was under the influence of alcohol absolutely i decided five years ago to uh to stop drinking and uh i have not looked back um you know for the first couple years it's always awkward going to a party or hanging out with people at a bar or in a social situation but once you kind of get over that that was good but i i could look at the business decisions that were made from emotions were always influenced by alcohol and so i always say whenever i have that that question from people and i've made a ton of mistakes but i look at all of them and go well why did i make those and it seemed to be a reoccurring theme that alcohol was invited involved in some way [Music] well it sounds like it's a lesson you know and what's interesting and i said i personally don't drink any alcohol but the industry that i'm in which is a legal industry has one of the the highest uh alcohol or people that turn into alcoholics raid and it's one where attorneys often more often than not or in that a bit of that same field of where when you have alcohol involved it affects their practice and that's oftentimes what leads to attorney's downfall so i think that there's a lot of wisdom in that of looking and saying hey what are the causes or the reasons why sometimes scenes don't work out or i make bad decisions and then how do i remedy it so i think that's a great takeaway second question i always ask is if you're talking now is somebody that's just getting into a startup or a small business what would be the one piece of advice you give them number one someone's already taken that journey before you so finding someone who started something similar or in the same industry that you can that can you become a mentee of that you can learn from and not having to recreate uh some of these experience that that uh someone's already walked that path there's no reason to make the same mistakes no and i think that that you know oftentimes if you're there's two ways you can learn from mistakes you can either learn from the mistakes of others or you can go and make the mistakes yourself and one certainly costs a whole lot more time money and effort which is doing it yourself and learning them the hard way now sometimes you just there are some lessons that you just have to learn because you know it's one thing there isn't you're not able to learn from others mistakes until you make it yourself but a lot of times i think that there's ability to see what others have done what other mistakes they made or missteps they've had and then they'll say hey now learning from that i can i can get that much farther ahead and not have to recreate those i think that's a great takeaway well as people want to reach out to you if they want to be a customer they want to be a client they want to be an employee they want to be an investor they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to reach out to you contact you find out more yeah absolutely best is email robert at callproof.com all right well that's an easy way definitely encourage people to reach out make those connections and if you're in the the market for uh assistance and cold calling and sales and then this product would be beneficial certainly a great connection to have well thank you again for coming on the podcast it's been a fun it's been a pleasure now for all of you the listeners if you have your own journey to tell and you'd like to be a guest on the podcast we'd love to have you um feel free to go to inventiveguest.com apply to be on the show a couple more things as listeners make sure to click subscribe make sure to click sure to make sure if i can don't get tongue twisted make sure to click subscribe like and leave us a review because we're really looking to share all these awesome journeys with all those other entrepreneurs out there to help them along their journey as well so make sure to do all three of the above and last but not least you ever need help with patents trademarks or copyrights feel free to go to strategymeeting.com grab some time with us to chat we're always here to help thank you again robert for coming on the podcast and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last thanks devin take care