So I spent it. We added technology, we added lots of people in our company. Perhaps the biggest thing we did is we expanded quickly into 10 cities all around the United States by adding people and offices everywhere we could reach. And we started to really think this is where our growth is going to be; this is where it’s at. And we started to really quickly learn the difference between our vision of growth and what the money guys that had come in thought we should be doing.
One of the first things you learn when you have other people’s money and you’re running your business using other people’s money is that you don’t always agree on how you’re spending it. The thing is when I look back all these years later, I know that they were right to a large degree. And we started this infighting and jousting back and forth over what we should be doing and what we should be doing and in the middle of all this 9/11 happened. The economy completely tanked and one by one like dominoes falling, the offices that we’d opened up all across the United States started to fail and closed down.
And the infighting with my investors and board continued and got worse and worse — until the guy from the money shop we were working with called a meeting with our Board of Directors. There were seven members of our board and there was a 4-3 vote and they voted to remove me as CEO of the company because I wasn’t managing it properly and replace me with a management committee. You can’t even imagine how it felt to walk out of the office that afternoon which I did with a couple of co-workers that I was really close to, and went over to a local pub. And I sat down and I told them, “Look, I’ve been fired. I’m not the CEO anymore. What are we going to do?”
Over the course of the next several months I leaned very very heavy on the people in our company. The people that I had learned to grow and trust, the people that were there with me in the beginning and we started to slowly figure out how to get control of this. And over time we were able to put a plan together and with the help of some other people, including my father and my brother who are my business mentors, we figured out how to find new capital, private investors and some bank financing and eventually was able to regain control of the company.
So all of this time went by, now fast-forward seven years, Firespring today is a thriving and profitable company. We have more than 75 employees, 3,000 customers around the world in 12 countries and we’re just now preparing to begin to build out of our new corporate headquarters at 1201 Infinity Court here in Lincoln; we’re very excited about that. It’s been a long journey.
And what I’m going to share with you today is how that amazing ride that I’ve taken, how we were able to get from there to here. And the first thing we did in this process was literally open the kimono and share everything with our team. We told everybody everything. We told them the things we did right, we told them mostly about the things we’d done wrong and we shared our financial statements which is something we still do to this day. Every month we get together as a team and we share our financial statements with our company. We share everything. We open the door, we’re authentic and we’re genuine and we’re real about what it is we’re experiencing because we knew that the only way we could make this and get through this is if we had this mentality that we’re all in this together.
Because, you know, building a company culture, it’s not about having free soda in the breakroom. It’s not about putting food out on the table so people feel like you’re giving them these fringe benefits. It’s not about that at all. Building a company culture is about building a team of people who are committed to the same purpose, the same passion and the same ideals. And building a company culture is something that is possible if you’re really focused on doing all those right things. And it has a huge ROI.
I’ve been so inspired by a lot of the business leaders in our community and one of the things that we did during these years is we opened our mind to education to learning. I think the first sign of intelligence in someone is they start off admitting they’re stupid. And when you start off that way, you know that you can learn from everyone. There’s not a person in our company that I don’t feel I can learn something from. And so I look around the community and I see this amazing business people, some from a distance, some I know well, people like Steve Kean who were building just amazing companies right here in our backyard. And today I’m so inspired by friends of mine that are building these amazing companies like Eric Dinger and Bradley Walker and all the people that are really working hard to make a difference, because we all know that building a company with a powerful culture has a huge ROI, a big return on investment.
So we asked the question: Is a company’s culture determined by default or design? How much work do we have to put behind this? Well, to put it straight and simple bluntly, it takes a lot of work to build a company culture. If you don’t build a culture by deliberate design and what happens is it defaults into taking on the personality of whoever your most vocal employee is. So you really have to think about it.