The world is full of comeback stories. From the Chicago Cub's 2016 World Series win to Oscar Figueroa's come-from-behind victory at the Rio Olympics , to the business world's most "wow"-worthy comeback stories , human beings consistently demonstrate a tremendous capacity for resilience--and that's especially true for entrepreneurs .
When an entrepreneur's business goes under, we might employ a figure of speech to say that a comeback in the face of great odds would amount to coming back from the dead. In the case of renowned entrepreneur Jim Piccolo, I mean that literally.
After the real estate bubble burst in 2008, Piccolo was scrambling to piece his professional and financial life back together. Then one day, he found himself rushing to the ER for a surgery that would temporarily seal his professional fate and change the trajectory of the rest of his life. Here's how Piccolo came back from the dead--literally--to become one of the country's most respected entrepreneurs.
"All in on real estate"
Well before anyone foresaw the 2008 real estate crash, Piccolo had built something of a real estate empire. He was the founder of a real estate investment college (the first of its kind) that served more than 165,000 students and included an accounting firm, credit repair service, capital markets company, and mortgage company. He owned single family homes in seven different states in addition to raw land and commercial properties. He even rented out these properties to real estate businesses and mortgage companies. Over the course of two decades in the real estate industry, Piccolo built up a net worth in excess of $100 million.
"All of my business concerns that were generating cash flow--and my personal investments--were in the real estate market," says Piccolo. "I was all in on real estate. When that crashed, it was the worst thing you could ever imagine."
Between 2008 and 2011, Piccolo was operating purely in survival mode--trying to negotiate with banks to keep his commercial properties, trying to continue selling the value of real estate investing education at a time when the market had gone completely haywire, trying to avoid having to lay off his team. "That was consuming me," says Piccolo.
But on June 26, 2011, he found himself facing a much more pressing issue. "I landed in the hospital with a perforated colon," says Piccolo. Almost immediately after arriving at the ER, he was sent into emergency surgery. His wife was told to say her goodbyes as they rolled him into the operating room.
Piccolo survived the surgery, but his tribulations didn't end there. "From that point forward, I was in out and out of the hospital," says Piccolo. "I had four major surgeries in 12 months. I went from fighting back to save everything I'd built to being completely taken out of the game for a year. And as a result of that, I lost everything. Because you can't fight a battle when you're drooling out of the side of your mouth."
So Piccolo went bankrupt. He lost his house, his cars, his cash, and many people he once considered friends. That year was the lowest period in Piccolo's life. At the end of it, he says, "Here I was with nothing other than what was left in my brain."
From Rags Back to Riches
Instead of letting his setbacks defeat him, Piccolo chose to learn from them instead.
"When you face death on the operating table and in intensive care, when you can't feed yourself or control your bodily functions, what's important to you changes," says Piccolo. Prior to his health issues, Piccolo was chasing money. His goal was to be a billionaire. But, he says, "I didn't lay in bed wanting more money. All my values changed, pretty much across the board."
These values became the driving force behind Piccolo's efforts to reinvent himself. He drew on his education and vast network of mentors to begin putting the pieces of his career back together. In the process, he has held a vast array of positions including President and CEO of a multinational manufacturing company and CEO of an international marketing company. While he may not be exclusively focused on money any more, his career is rife with financial success: All told, he's created and acquired more than 40 companies which together have generated more than $1 billion in affiliate transactions and sales.
Today, Piccolo is a highly sought after consultant and the Co-founder and Chairman of Tecademics, the largest digital marketing education company in the country. In its first year alone, Tecademics generated tens of millions in revenue.
While the company is enjoying massive financial success, Piccolo derives his motivation elsewhere. "My whole driving force is the fact that I want to do everything I can to empower entrepreneurs," he says.
To that end, Tecademics is dedicated to cleaning up the noise in the digital marketing space by utilizing instructional techniques designed to ensure greater learning retention. "Our students learn, they use [this information], and they make money," says Piccolo.
In addition to providing value for his company's students, Piccolo concerns himself with creating an internal team culture based on mutual respect and an empowerment attitude. "We want to create a place that you get to go [to work], not a place you have to go," says Piccolo. Tecademic's team members are taught that they're allowed to make mistakes (unless said mistake is self-serving, unethical, or immoral) and to act on their own instincts. And they never, ever, use the word "boss."
"Nobody works for [co-founder Chris Record] and I; they work with Chris and I," says Piccolo. "We don't ask anybody to do something we haven't done at least once, right down to cleaning the toilet."
No doubt this team culture is informed by Piccolo's shift in values after his year of hospital stays. "What's important now are not things but events," he says. "I'm buying memories, not things. I'm taking trips with my family. I'm making sure the team and I get to do things together outside of work. I'm making sure that I contribute to others--that every action I take is for the benefit of someone else too."
Of his more than 30 years in the entrepreneurial world, says Piccolo, "It's been an amazing ride, up and down." And back up again.