Nurture Your Mentors
The Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
Nurture Your Mentors
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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like managing your own expectations i wouldn't i wouldn't we all want to manage our customers expectations but we forget about us but you know when i get no business i know there's going to be a lot of hurdles i know there's going to be an issue so when those those issues do come you remember oh yeah that's what i expected instead of getting frustrated stressed out about it you work through it because you know it's has it has to happen there's going to be frustrations there's going to be things that don't go right and for the rest of your life there's everything's going to go right so if you can expect to expect the unexpected you probably can handle those a little better [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devon miller the serial entrepreneur that's grown several startups into seven and eight figure businesses as well as the ceo and founder of miller ip law where we help startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks and if you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com and we're always here to help now today we have another great guest on the episode and uh brian fleck and to give you a bit of a background on brian so at age seven he started selling lemonade um and he decided that he hated high school and just wanted to get a diploma and want it out graduated from high school and he was out but he didn't necessarily know what he wanted to do so he did a few service jobs did a startup or did a startup for grocery delivery that was i think a bit before his time painted houses did a bit of odd jobs i think did a few different waiter jobs at different restaurants um also i think got into poker and gambling a little bit if i remember right um but then uh wasn't uh wasn't or said he wasn't good at money or managing money you could make money but wasn't necessarily good at managing money when he was doing poker and whatnot um and then started a industrial supply uh career um and then kind of jumped around did that for a period of time and i think continues to do it um and also wanted or it got into trucking a bit um and so with all of that um pivoted or continues to do some of that but also really got into weights which is weight plates and weight building and making some of those supplies and doing that and he'll discuss a little bit more of what that is and what they do when they're along his journey but with that much is an introduction welcome on to the podcast brian thank you devin i appreciate it so i gave the very fast quick run through of everything of your journey and it didn't do i'm sure didn't do it near the amount of justice so let's go back a little bit in time so you started selling lemonade at seven years old and pick it up from there yeah i mean basically uh thank you again for having me by the way i do appreciate it this i'm looking forward to this just kind of detouring from packing boxes to now a podcast to going back to pick up product to go pack it up again so um anyway so basically let's see seven years old i don't know if i can remember before that but i've always kind of had this entrepreneurial spirit that i wanted to do something for myself i saw people work their their butts off in corporations or in other jobs and then you get to a certain point you get 60 65 they retire but i didn't seem like there was any you just worked so hard to get basically nothing at the end of it good retirement fun and things have changed since you know 30 years ago um now it's really got to take care of yourself more and more so i decided back then i was like i can't rely on anybody um so i sold lemonade for fun and i used to there was a subdivision that i grew up in that was a newer subdivision so they were building houses and i would go to the contractors to the workers and sell lemonade to them and i remember one specific scenario where i was selling i think for a quarter of drink just for you know lemonade and i had a bucket i drove around a wagon i went to this one house that was being built and the guy literally tried to swindle a little kid i don't know why but he did he said hey i'll give you a dollar for everything you got in that bucket and i was like okay i had this much left that's fine with me so i gave him that and i was like thank you have a good day so he basically paid a dollar for a 25 glass and i was like you don't you gave me the opportunity so i gave it to you um but at the end of the day you the customer was always you want to take care of them um but start with lemonade and then i got a little older i don't know a little older i say 10 years old i decided we lived by a forest and me and my buddy said we should dig up the trees and put them in buckets and sell them and start a nursery and well let's just say that didn't last very long because they we don't know what they were doing but we tried and uh we dug up some trees which was probably not good for the environment and i feel bad about it but you know we tried to put them back i'm sure they grew or something happened to them or they died but either way at some point something happened to him yeah something happened so it worked for the foliage it went in the ground it's all good so that's right um but so now maybe fast forward so then you know you do those things and i always i love that and i wish i'd honestly so i was entrepreneur as a kid and probably did you know i tried some of those uh not elimination i think it was a snow cone station we were on the bad location busy street nobody ever stopped so i never never went anywhere but i always had those little ideas but i always say it's cool when people are you know as a younger age one is if you take initiative and then two you know saying hey i'm gonna figure out you know if i need money or i need to do something i'm gonna figure out to do it rather than rely on parents or other things i always think that's cool and try and always inspire my kids to do the same but so now you kind of fast forward a bit till high school and you kind of were wanting to get out or get out of high school get the degree get out and move on with your life so maybe uh jump to a little bit about about that and tell us how that went yeah yeah and first of all lemonade you have to pay taxes on it so that's good that's the best part but um so high school you know to be transparent i absolutely hated school i hated high school because they had an agenda and what their curricula had to be and i was like i don't like this i want to be able to do what i want um so basically i got d's and c's and the way through school i know my senior year i missed 36 days of school because i just didn't want to be there and i knew if i missed one more i couldn't graduate so of course i did what i needed to do to graduate so i get out or else i'd have more misery than i thought was um but what i learned from that experience is kind of a sales aspect of it because i was never a bad kid or anything i just didn't want to be in school so i learned if i just told the teachers or if i told the dean and what they wanted to hear or what what i needed to do and just was transparent so hey i don't want to be here i'll do what you need me to do but i'm not going to do any more um sounds really bad but they got to the point where like brian's a good kid just let him get out of here be done so and i kind of knew what i was doing he was i was going to go to get try to get associate's degree and i figured if i get a d c a b it doesn't really matter i'm going to the next step there's no use in putting in more work for this asset which threes you know it's cleat 180 now that i'm here in the work life it's like i'm doing more work than ever imagined so just kind of a little later but um yeah i mean high school i was able to to talk my window like the honors classes for like econ and some of the history classes because you had to have a certain gpa to do that but i just said hey i just want to be here and they said okay come on in i would get a's in that class that's what i wanted to do but like math i was like i don't want to do it so i'm going to get a d get out um there's a lot of arguments of course with the parents with the teachers and just saying i don't want to be here leave me alone but uh yeah so i got out of high school finally so now you say you said okay you beat the system where you you stuck through the system you got out of high school you said okay now what am i going to do and so how did you kind of it sounds like he kind of ping-ponged around a bit or tried a few things out or wasn't quite sure so how did that kind of you got out of high school decided that wasn't what you wanted to do what did you how did you figure out what you wanted to do i still don't know what i do but i just i mean it's i don't think i ever want to know what i want to do let's put it that way but where did you after high school i'll rephrase my question that's the answer where did you where did you start out so you graduate and said okay i've got to do something or i've got to you know make an income or start to you know do something with my life so to speak so how did you kind of figure out what was the next step yeah um i don't know i think i was kind of living you know at my parents house and i did some we had a person down the road who did contractor they were a contractor so they hired me on just as a laborer uh with residential houses and went in some nice houses in barrington which is a nice very affluent area that has like called the i want to say the uh the representatives in illinois live over there so i got to see some of their nice houses uh but so i was there for six seven months and then i went into a restaurant it just was basically to me easy money but it taught me a lot of customer service and how to deal with the public i mean i've been a numerous restaurants and it's just a sales job in my opinion but people come to you you have to find them and then you take care of them they give you money i was like i just gave you food that they made and i walked it over and you gave me money okay cool so that's i enjoyed that a lot it got to learn a lot meet a lot of people so i did that for a while um and then i try to do that weird odd job thing that you were talking about in regards to like helping you know seniors grocery shop or well that's just back when i was 21 22 so about 15 years ago or so 10 14 15 years so is that really other than when you were younger and you did the lemonade stand and then the trees didn't work out is that kind of the first foray back into entrepreneurship of kind of trying to do your own thing and start it up and you know even if it failed it was a good learning experience or how did it go yeah i mean i played poker throughout that even my high school i was going to play poker and probably shouldn't have been places where i was at but i was um it was always in interesting environments but i would make money off of that too i remember going to a after poker and i was like 16 years old i went to like a high school party and somebody broke into my car and stole my radar detector for speeding like so i could sketch speeders but they didn't steal the money that i won was 700 bucks a tournament like two hours before that in the middle of the council so i was like whatever take it so i would i won a lot of tournaments in that that's how i kind of supported myself two during high school not having to ask so but uh that was probably my first yeah getting back in the odd job thing that's probably my first kind of back of the entrepreneurial aspect because i wanted to do it so i tried it i didn't know anything about business i knew nothing really i knew i need to make money but do i know anything else you know do i have to write a contract for these people do i have to have some kind of receipt do i have to pay taxes on this i don't know i just want to go do something um i learned that the hard way all right there was a job that the guy didn't fill out a contract for him i went in there and tried to do the painting for his house he wanted and then he kept adding things on and paying me the same amount i was like i'm not doing this anymore like i but i didn't have a contract to prove this is what i'm doing so lesson learned hard way i think i was a little bit ahead of my time when it comes to trying to get people to cert bring food to them go to grocery shopping it's almost like an angie list or an uber or a um yeah like an uber eats type of a thing or the grocery kind of pickup type of thing so so now you do that you know you kind of in and out you're doing poker you you know doing a few entrepreneur things and then you know kind of circling back you know you said poker i think you mentioned you got out because you can make money at it but you weren't a good money manager is that right or is that no i did i did online poker a lot too and i remember making winning some big pots but i never kept the money let's put it that way it was the bankroll management was not good um i read a lot of books on it to do better at that but i wanted i was i enjoyed it more than i actually want to make money off it which is a sad part um so i stu but i still did that in between everything still did all the online and then they kind of got rid of the big online poker uh platforms in illinois at least and i was not able to do the same kind of poker that i used to uh so stepped out of a little bit and went and kind of got a corporate job finally i decided i'm gonna go and dust your supplies like this is easy i need if i want to go farther i need to get some experience so so you said okay finally you're going to go work for the man so to speak your work for industrial supplies work for a bigger company um and you did that for you know i think you're still doing that is that right working for the man no i'm not working for me but i'm still working for somebody all the customers customers per se but no i got out of working for a corporation back in right before covet in 2019 okay perfect for some reason i was thinking that you were doing medical supply sales as well is that i am but that's that's my oh gotcha that was where my wires got crossed my apologies so you did that for a period of time and you said okay i'm gonna go work for the big end you know a bigger business you know get that experience what was the reason that you decided to you know was that a good experience or was it kind of pushing against the grain of hey i'm really just like to do my own thing kind of like high school i don't want to do the things that i that i don't have control over kind of what was that and what made you kind of transition out and kind of lead you up to where you're at today yeah so i mean definitely push it against the grain nobody listens to you so to me per se um you think you have these good ideas but like no that's how we do it deal with it okay i mean what do you hire me for if we don't if we can't innovate it doesn't make sense so um but i worked at fastenal for a year and i learned a lot about because we ran i ran a whole branch technically by myself we had a general manager but he never showed up he was just kind of back and forth anytime you wanted to so i had to do everything by myself so i learned a lot about invoicing collect collections talking to vendors uh shipping receiving what our cost is how to put the margins and all the stuff that goes into business so um luckily that was a huge stepping stone to my next step where i went into another industrial supply company called rsu's and they're very old school i actually loved it there but their money wasn't what i wanted i tried after about four years i asked for more money because i was like my sales are good but i'm gonna penny paid much more so uh end up going to another smaller company they paid me more didn't last long then i got into industrial compressors so a more engineered technical sale learned a lot um i was there for about a year and a half and then i got again trying to step up in the corporate world i got kind of dragged away from another corporation that did impressors too and they offered me a pretty penny so i was like okay i'll go this way turns out that was not worth it remember that it didn't matter how much they paid me i hated that place um they they were yeah they don't get details of course but it's part of my journey but along that journey to put into perspective my mother had a company called k-trox and she still does that's what i'm kind of on the side of that as well so for about seven years during that all industrial supply is the compressor thing i was on the side kind of building that up so i can just jump into that so i'd build up a relationship with vendors and and kind of get them on board with k trucks and try to put some customers on the side um so that i have something to step on when i left the corporation um so 2019 november i was going to quit my job where i was at the but i wanted to wait because i had the top sales that they had so i was waiting for that commission check like one more thing they fired always a good time you always want to wait till you get past the commission check or pass the the end of the year bonus before you make that exit right you would think so um but we had i mean it was going to be a good amount of money but me and the vp of the company didn't get along then uh basically right before i was gonna quit they fired me before they invoiced anything out so i was like all right this is silly what did i do all this work and work 15 hours a day for when you just get rid of me after i finally get something going even though i quit anyways but doesn't have a story they'll tell them that they know now but it uh so that's absolutely good and so that was 2019 that you kind of jumped over started doing your your own thing and uh left the corporate was it 19 or 20. sorry i couldn't remember it was 2019. um so november he they fired me on my birthday november 5th 19 2019. um so i was i was grateful though i was like kind of relieved but also like because now okay well i get unemployment i guess but it's not really worth anything when you really put it down you're like i can get it but it doesn't pay any bills that i was used to so um so you get you know you get let go but or butt heads with the vp he said okay i'm gonna do my own thing i'm not gonna go back to working for someone else so you kind of started to work with the the family business work or run that and then or to participate in that and then you also started your own business or along that way you started the the business you're doing now which is also with the weights is that right yeah so that came out of i want to say like uh serendipity in my opinion i mean i hate to say covet was horrible and is horrible but it's helped a lot of people too and some if you you know there's always opportunities and tragedies uh but with i don't want to say i always put a different i think there's opportunities and change whether that's good change bad change whenever there's a change in the marketplace that forces people to adjust re or re-analyze or do something different it creates opportunities and so i think that you know covet certainly created a big change in the marketplace in daily lives which then creates opportunities where you can say how do we now address those changes that sounds a lot better than i said it yeah put it that way um so 2019 november that's when i went on my own to cage rocks which is the family business just me and my mother basically but i've grown it to a point that we were able to get a lot of distributors like the 3ms of the world those kind of people that you know big names that we just go into manufacturing plants or industrial plants and try to improve on their process but ultimately that's a value-added service and our we make money off distribution um we sell them they need tape if they need med safety supplies our production supplies cutting tools we go and work on that and get the right thing for them but let's just fast forward maybe three four months to covet when that actually hit like what is it late march or so we uh i was making a presence on linkedin before that which i'm glad i did or else i would have had a upheld battle because you couldn't go visit anybody yeah um march hit covet hit luckily i'm in safety supplies as a and we do a lot of that so i had a lot of connections but it was a lot of late nights because i figured okay i gotta talk to china all the time now so i'm up all through the hours and trying to supply people with with uh three-ply mask or anything they need which you know i figured we're gonna get some more customers here long-term but customers just think they need it now they don't think about long-term and they forget about you after you took care of them so and that's you know could be my fault too but uh because i didn't follow up with them afterwards all the time because i get so busy i'm only one person so then so now give me another so you're doing that you're saying okay covet hits we gotta pivot we gotta adjust we're and uh you know it looks there's a presents you know the potential for an opportunity to a pivot and expand the business now how did because you also do the weight plate business right where you're working on uh you know making it so you can have thinner weights to allow people to bench press more how did you get into that side of the business or get that idea for a startup and kind of get into there yeah so that was going to be the next statement april i actually work with a manufacturing association that has 800 plus manufacturers locally here in chicago and i was like i want some weights for myself i can't go to the gym i can't do anything i'm sure they can make something they're manufacturers they make anything they want so i reached out to the organization they contacted pretty much 800 of them and then they whoever wanted to talk with me did and next thing i know guy says yeah we can cut in a circle and make a plate here you go okay cool so i got it it weighs exactly the same it sounds awesome um why is my phone going i'm sorry google's telling me i thought i said something about google but that's listening to me um so everybody big brother's always listening that's okay i need a big brother once in a while so ah i made some plates for myself and i figured maybe i could make a couple more and maybe sell them on facebook to help some people out because i know there's a huge shortage of weights right now and i can help some people well so i put on facebook started after about a month it started getting popular people wanted them more so i started increasing inventory and then i said well i'll make a website let's make it make it easier from the order then i started figuring out different coding processes that start why am i what are these weights good for i mean they're great i can see that but what are they really what's their value into that market so find out being so thin because they're made of solid steel accurate if it's 45 pounds it's 45 pounds it's not like 44.3 48.2 it's nothing like that like cast iron plates are so i started gearing my audience to power lifters because they can get a lot more on that bar when there's only such limited amount of space and people been liking them we just kind of adjusted some coatings and we're just continuing to adapt as a going and last year without with only me marketing really there's no other marketing i had we did 164 000 sales which is awesome it's it's we don't make any money off it yet but we did the sales that counts for anything it means there's an audience so that's good no it proves the concept proves the audience it gives you a foundation to start building things off of and then expanding it so i think that's cool and you know that's a lot of times when you're getting going on a startup or a small business your first you know first thing is to figure out the product the next thing is to figure out if there's a demand or an audience and then figure out how to scale it and make it uh you know profitable and make it uh worthwhile to pursue so it sounds like you will on your journey to that when you look at now between you know so you're kind of doing the the family business you're also doing the weights business now looking kind of out to the six to 12 months kind of time frame where do you see things headed or what's in it what's in store for you yeah i see having more time to go sell more because i'm streamlining as much like i'm getting a fulfillment company um i'm working with one let's put it that way to get pack all my stock it there pack everything ship it out on my behalf because you know it'll help me be more proactive in the sales process and also with the with the industrial and safety supplies with the weight plates and then i'm also kind of looking at another business that we want to try um and actually juices so it's uh there's something that we can private label and they make it locally down here and they make a lot of different recipes so look at ecommerce platform on that as well and they do their film for us if you if you're like any any like any other entrepreneur and certainly like me i always have 20 ideas that i want to pursue by the by the end of the day and you know by the end of the day i've decided that 19 or 20 of them are bad ideas but every so often i'll have that one idea that's just a great one that you continue to pursue expand get additional diversity and have a fun time at it so it sounds like a great uh path in there towards the future and one that will hopefully be successful well as we've now kind of gone through your journey i always have two questions i ask at the end of each journey so we'll jump to those now so the first question i always ask is along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made and what did you learn from it um probably expecting that i was going to make money no i mean right away put it that way right away i think you you get into this these businesses and assuming that okay this is what it costs to sell them a seller for then you forget about all the other variables involved so um the business decision wasn't much of like a one decision it was more of uh all the little trial and errors along the way that you adapt to so i don't know i don't think anything's a bad business decision when you think about it because you learn from it i mean is it bad yeah maybe you look back like that was stupid but at the same time i won't do that again i learned from that now i know how to adapt differently so sure no i think there are bad businesses but you can always say the opportunity to learn and become better and to grow from those decisions so there are decisions if you if you were to go and throw away a million dollars you'd probably say that was a bad idea or a bad decision but it doesn't mean you can't learn from it or you can't grow from it so i think that that's a you know i think i agree with you there the other thing is you know talking about you know i think that we've been a bit conditioned whether it's you know watching shark tank or movies or television shows or other things that everybody is an overnight success you go you have a great idea you build it you put it up on facebook or you put it up there and it just takes off and it's viral and but what always misses and that's why i always love to kind of talk to everybody's journeys is there's a lot of work or a lot of journey and a lot of work and effort and experience that goes into building that overnight success so you never don't usually hear about and you don't usually see and so i think that you know that expectation that you're gonna just make or be rich on day one so to speak is one that a lot of people get into falsely but i think it's one that you know definitely to learn from that there is that time and effort and growth that takes place for to let a business mature yeah no and i wanted to say one more thing on the business decision aspect i think a lot of people look at a decision and don't remember don't actually see the result they look at the decision it should be separate from the results you make a bad decision you make a good decision the result could be good the result could be bad but you can't make a decision and say that was a good good result after the fact that makes sense because i can make a bad decision i have a really good result or vice versa so they're they're contradicting themselves and you need to to separate those a little bit sometimes too because if i fire somebody it could be the best decision at the time but later the result could be bad so we got to separate those and just make a decision results come no i completely agree so now as we jump to the second question which is um if you're talking to somebody that's maybe overlaps a little bit with what you just discussed but we'll hit on it anyway if you're talking to somebody that just is just getting into a startup or small business would be the one piece of advice you give them i think managing your own expectations i wouldn't i wouldn't we all want to manage our customers expectations but we forget about us but you know when i get no business i know there's going to be a lot of hurdles i know there's going to be an issue so when those those issues do come you remember oh yeah that's what i expected instead of getting frustrated stressed out about it you work through it because you know it's it has to happen there's going to be frustrations there's going to be things that don't go right and for the rest of your life there's even things that don't go right so if you can expect to expect the unexpected you probably can handle those a little better um and that's that's about it nothing's gonna go right all the time now i've never quite figured out how to expect the unexpected or at least i don't know what the unexpected is so i think it's uh i expect that things are going to not have be or turn out how you add or you don't know what the unexpected is but something unexpected will happen but having kind of that grit and determination and understanding hey everything's not going to go just exactly how i thought about or how i planned i might as well expect that and be willing to navigate and to pivot and to adjust according to it i think is a great piece of advice well that's why you're doing the interviewing because you can make it and tweak my words into a nice way of saying that's right i get the easy job so well as we wrap up if people want to reach out to you they want to find out more they want to be a customer they want to be an investor they want to be um you know an employee they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to reach out and find out more i mean you can go to my linkedin it's brian fleck f-l-e-c-k uh like a spot in the world and then you can find me it's you're gonna find me under k-trox so letter k-t-r-o-x or you can type in wait it out like weight like a weight plate w-e-i-g-h-t it out dot us or dot com um but otherwise we can probably put some contact information on this right and just say for people to reach out to and definitely encourage people to whether it's on linkedin whether it's on the website or anything else check you out be a supporter um you know find out more and uh definitely uh and or do or do your job or do the participating in helping you grow the business well as we wrap up first of all thank you for coming on now for all of you that are listeners if you have your own journey to tell um feel free to go to inventiveguest.com apply to be on the podcast love to hear your journeys if you're listening also do a couple additional things one if you uh click subscribe on your podcast listener so you get notifications as all these awesome episodes come out and two leave us a review so other people can find out about the podcast as well last but not least if you ever need help with your patents or trademarks feel free to go to strategymeeting.com grab some time with us to chat and we're always here to help thank you again brian it's been fun to have you on it's been a pleasure and watch the next leg of your journey even better than the last thank you so much devin i appreciate all your time and thank you