Leap of Faith

This is a post I recently published on LinkedIn.

Almost everything I value in my life so far I can trace back to taking a leap of faith, without a plan, back in 1985.  I had just dropped out of college to join a restaurant startup in Tampa Florida.  I was working my way through college as a store manager for Dominos Pizza.  I was struggling with college.  Working 50+ hours a week while studying for the pre-med curriculum was proving difficult.  My area supervisor had just joined with an experienced and capitalized restaurateur to start a new pizza delivery chain.  He recruited me to  help them open new stores.  I made the leap, but that’s not the one I am talking about.  They had a solid plan, good capital, and a great strategy.  I was confident they would be successful and it was a fantastic promotion that would lead me to the career path I was really passionate about.  I had entrepreneurial blood, and the thought of a startup was thrilling.

We opened several stores in rapid succession. I worked my ass off, and I went from store manager to area supervisor quickly.  I oversaw new store construction and operations of 3 stores.  We were growing rapidly.  One day the owner of the company, Richard Perkins, who I admired tremendously, set some goals for me.  The reward was a week vacation with my girlfriend at his condo in Keystone Colorado.  I was pretty fired up, and did everything I could to hit those goals.  I remember coming up just a hair short in one area, but Richard, being an astute business person and genuinely nice human, gave me the vacation anyway.

The only detail I remember about that trip was whitewater rafting in July, and it snowed.  But I was mesmerized by the beauty of Colorado. Having come from the flattest state in the union, the majestic peaks of the Rockies took my breath away. I vowed to return.

When I got back, Richard decided to acquire some hot trucks.  These would facilitate faster delivery on college campuses and military bases, which were our core customer base.  The guy that invented those trucks was Tim O’Leary, who had two very successful mid-west restaurant chains called O’Leary’s Pubs and Noble Roman’s pizza.  Tim was growing his chains rapidly, but had a problem.  He owned an outlier restaurant in Aspen Colorado, and had gone through 6 managers in 6 years.  It was an iconic location, right downtown, and did tremendous volume.  It had just been written up in Skiing magazine as the best apres-ski location in Aspen.  But it was too far away geographically to manage it effectively and he wanted to sell it.

Richard told me about it, and while the details are foggy around our discussion, I remember Tim wanted $330,000 for it. With an owner operator in place it could clear $100k a year, and he was willing to carry a note for the purchase price with $50k down.  Richard baited me with the idea of acquiring it. Having just come back from Colorado, still reeling from the lure of the mountains, I was hooked deep in my gut.  I was moving to Colorado.

Unfortunately, Tim O’Leary changed his mind, hired his 7th manager, and the deal was dead. But it was too late.  The magnetic pull of Colorado was unrelenting.  So I told Richard I was leaving, convinced my girlfriend, along with my best friend and his girl, to move to Colorado.  No money, no plan, no idea of where we were going to live.  I had just enough money to rent a truck and pay for gas to get there.  I told Richard to mail me my last paycheck, which I intended to use for rent when we arrived.  That was the leap that changed my life.

When I rolled into Colorado, we drove to the Dominos Pizza in the most affluent area of Colorado Springs.  They are always looking for delivery drivers and with my experience they hired me in a second.  I quickly made friends with some of the other drivers, several of whom were in the process of studying for their Series 7 exam to become stockbrokers.  Denver had become the hub of the penny stock business, and the local firms were aggressively recruiting young aggressive people to fill their bullpens. While their heads were filled with dreams of Porches and big houses,  I was lured by the education it would provide.  The training was free, and the knowledge regarding capital raising would fuel my entrepreneurial visions of the future.

I soon received my Series 7 and 63 licenses, and became a stockbroker for Stuart James.  If you’ve seen the Wolf of Wall Street, you get the scene. It was crazy. I realized pretty soon it wasn’t for me and went to work for some more legitimate firms.  And that’s where my first life-changing event occurred.  She worked in the back office at JW Gant in Denver.  We started dating after a few months and several years later we were married. In 25 years together we have managed to raise three amazing kids, who are on their own paths now.

One day, a client of mine in Texas asked me to check out a company he had invested in.  It was a blind pool, a type of highly speculative company that raises cash with the intention of acquiring a private company that wants to go public in the hopes of a big payday for the investors.  Most of these never amount to anything.  This one was another example I am afraid.  But in the process of investigating them for my client, I was introduced to Laser Tag.  A short while later, I quit the stock business, and with 50 bucks to file the incorporation papers, started my first real company.  While growing Laser Storm I travelled the world and made lifelong friendships.  It went on to win industry awards, rank #251 on the Inc. 500. It culminated with a successful NASDAQ IPO in 1996.

They say that everything you want is on the other side of fear.  Had I let fear dictate my actions, I would never have moved to Colorado. I had no money, no plan, and knew nobody there.  But I took the leap from the lion’s head, met my wife and started the company that would fuel my professional and personal growth for almost a decade.

What spurred me to write this?  I am sitting in Big Sur under an old growth canopy on day three of a month-long road trip up Pacific Coast Highway in my classic VW Camper.  I brought some books along for the ride.  The first one I cracked is called  Oola  Find Balance in an Unbalanced World  and  Troy Amdahl. It’s a great book.  I highly recommend it.  Oola is that feeling you get when everything in your life is flowing.  They equate it to the circus performer spinning seven plates.  The seven plates (or F’s of Oola) are Fitness, Finance, Family, Field, Faith, Friends and Fun.  You need to keep them all spinning. This means not neglecting and of the seven F’s. For if one of the plates stops spinning and crashes, all the others soon come crashing down too.  I can attest to this being true.  Ive been on both sides of Oola.

OolaField is your career or vocation in life.  In the book, they encourage you to quit your job and pursue your passion, BUT only with a plan.  I recently quit my job, but my only plan was to take this trip. Not much of a plan.  There are many people who think I am crazy.  But as I sit here and reflect back on my life,  experience has taught me that I am going to be OK.  There are amazing things waiting for me out there, and by trusting myself and being open to life, I am confident they will find me.