Many people have false believes about entrepreneurship; they think it is all about fame and fortune. Unfortunately, this isn't the case; its often much more devastating and depressing than it is lucrative. Last week I got the opportunity to interview Bradley Smith CEO of Rescue One Financial. Based in Irvine, California, Rescue one is a financial services company that brought in about $32 million in sales last year alone. This marked an increased in growth of 1,400 percent for the company in the last three years, which ranked it as number 310 out of this year's Inc. 500. This is especially shocking given that Smith was on the brink of financial collapse (and mental defeat) just five years ago. To tell his story, let's go back to 2008. Five years ago, Smith worked as a consultant helping clients escape debt. Unbeknownst to his clients, Smith was worried about debt on a personal level. Like his clients, Smith was also being consumed more and more by crippling debt. Ironically, despite working for a debt-settlement company, Smith was in over his head in debt. By this point, Smith had already burned through his 401(k) and maxed out a credit line of $60,000. He even had to sell his Rolex. It got so bad that he was forced to ask his father for $10,000, which he agreed to pay back at 5 percent interest. While internally Smith knew he was in trouble, on the outside his demeanor remained calm and optimistic. He was nervous, but his employees thought he was confident and relaxed. Just as the pressure had brought Smith and his wife to their tipping point, it got even worse. Smith found out that his wife was pregnant. Months and months went buy, during which Smith spend hours worrying and wondering what would happen. After eight months of panic--Smith Company began churning a profit. Smith's story is one that teaches people the struggles and anxieties one must endure to become a successful entrepreneur.
It is traditionally frowned upon to express anxiety or grief as an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are encouraged to "fake it till you make it" and to hide their true feelings in order to keep their mindset and their team calm and confident. For entrepreneurs, the pressure is tough. So tough, in fact, that in some cases it is tragic. About a year ago, the founder of Ecomom, Jody Sherman, committed suicide. This was a wake up call for many and a reminder of just how psychologically taxing startup life can be. Since then, many other entrepreneurs like Ben Huh, CEO of Cheezburger Network, and Sean Percival, former VP at MySpace have written and spoken depression in entrepreneurship. Many entrepreneurs have struggled on their road to success, and nobody knows this better than Smith.
Bradley explained me to the challenges and rewards of getting into the Inc. 500.
Smith's company, Rescue One Financial currently ranks at number 21 out of the Inc. 500 (for financial companies.) The company is a part of the American Fair Credit Council, and was founded in 2007. In its early days, Smith worked with Mark Photoglou and Branden Millstone. At the time, the business was focused around consumer debt management. Today, the services are offered in 31 states with over $2 billion in consumer debt being managed and $750 million of unsecured debt settled. Back in 2009, two years after being established, Smith's company saw revenues of $2.1 million, which jumped to $31.6 million in 2012. The company also hired more people, bringing the total head count to 53. Prior to founding Rescue One Financial, Smith was a core contributor in the memorable Rule 144 trade, which occurred at Merrill Lynch and involved the sale of over 5 million shares of The Walt Disney Company. In 2010 was when Smith first saw big press; he found himself featured in Inc. as "America's Fastest Growing Debt Collector." Since then, Smith's success has skyrocketed. Entrepreneurship wasn't easy for Smith, and he walked very close to the edge. However, he is living proof that the challenges of entrepreneurship can pay off in the end.
Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with Bradley Smith, and was able to gain some helpful insights.
Q: "What are the dumbest mistakes you see entrepreneurs make?"
Smith: "Entrepreneurs often let fear get to their head. As an entrepreneur, you're going to have ups and downs. It's easy to be positive and optimistic when times are good. The challenge is being positive and optimistic when times are bad."
Q: "What do you recommend for new entrepreneurs?"
Smith: "Never lose faith. Times are tough for everyone--especially entrepreneurs. Back when I was consulting people suffering from debt--I had twice as much debt as them. Yet even in these times, I stayed positive. I remained faithful and loyal to my beliefs. If I had given up early, I never would have made it this far."
Q: "What is the relevance of your team in your business endeavors?"
Smith: "My team is everything. The guys I work with--I could not have done this without them. It is important for entrepreneurs to surround themselves with people they like and trust. That's the only way to be truly successful."
Q: "What would you have done differently?"
Smith: "Ideally, I wouldn't have allowed myself to accrue so much debt earlier on. If I had been smarter and planned more wisely, I could have lessened the debt. However, hindsight is always 20/20."
Q: "What was one of the main reasons for your success?"
Smith: "We saw a hole in the market, we knew how to fix it, and we did."
Rescue One Financial was recognized across a variety of different media outlets, and was even Ranked #28 in the Los Angeles Metro Area by Inc. Magazine. Bradley has made it past the hardest part of growing a business. The only question now is how big Smith can grow his business.