Video Transcript

00:09 Susan Leger Ferraro: Thanks so much for being here. Thanks to Inc for having me. Very excited to be with a bunch of mad scientist entrepreneurs, right? Kindred spirits. You're like, "They're all nuts like me, right? It's not just my biological conditioning." It's very inspiring. So, before I share my story with you and my three life's lessons, I'm gonna ask you for two hall passes. If you can't tell by now, I am a Bostonian, so my first hall pass is I don't say my R's and I don't want to distract you the whole time I'm up here talking. So, park the car in Harvard yard, there it is; doesn't come out. My mouth end doesn't actually move like that, you know? So, Bob LaPointe, the president of Inc, is also from Boston, and my hall pass number two is he told me that it was okay if I dropped a few curse words. So, I'm asking for pre-forgiveness, just in case they come out, but he said it was okay. So, I'd like you to do something with me for a minute that's gonna help me share with you my life's lessons that I learned in this last year after 30 years of running a business. I want you to take a deep breath in with me and hold it, while I tell you a few things about myself and my story. And I'll tell you when to let it go.


01:20 Ferraro: So, I started Little Sprouts when I was 17 years old, and I have sold it twice, as Dan said at the beginning. And I sold it, and merged in 2008, with a group of venture capitalists. Are you guys still holding your breath? Okay. Hold your breath. Just like that. And I sold it in 2008 to a venture capital group called American Education Group and I sold it again last year for the second time. First time was my choice, second time wasn't so much and I'm gonna get into a little bit of that story with you. So, release that breath for me. Shh, just like that. And my lesson that I learned this year was, it's not the letting go that hurts us, it's the holding on and that was a tough one, right? Because just like we all do and I think it's an entrepreneurial condition, you hold on sometimes too long to relationships, to your businesses, to that employee that you know probably has served their time with you, but you just don't know how to tell them it's time for them to go, 'cause they do a couple things that's really good. So, when I realized that Sprouts was... That I was probably holding on and after 30 years in the business, I decided I needed to let go. So, I went... In 2008, as I said, for the first time to sell the business, and I sold it for 5½ million dollars. And what I'll tell you is if... This is the beginning when I actually first started doing... I was 17 years old at the time. This is a picture of us at Imagine That on the other side.

02:52 Ferraro: If Inc actually wants to do a story on you, tell them "Yes." I was in the middle of my negotiations in 2008, and this 2007 Inc Magazine came out about my elevator speech, and I am convinced that I got an extra million dollars at the end of the day. Because these venture capitalists were so like impressed that we made it to Inc Magazine, we were capitulating over that last million dollars and I got it. And, you know, you got to think about this, right? I was this small businesswoman, I started when I was 17, I only had five schools at the time, and they had 40 million dollars to invest, and they're like, "Can she do it?" And they looked at this Inc Magazine and they're like, "Alright." They were from Chicago and Washington State, and so they were kind of like, "Can she do it?" And, honestly, in two weeks after this came out, they were kind of like, "Let's close the deal, five and a half million dollars," and I was like, "Yes! Dink, Dink!" So, if they tell you, yeah, say "Yes."

03:45 Ferraro: And so, again, what happened is in 2012, I had my own "Come to Jesus" speech with myself. And I was just not feeling it anymore, and it really came down to mission and margin, right, as it always does. And you know that when you're working in an organization it will fundamentally come down to those two things. Are you going to make your decisions by your mission at the end of the day or by the margins? And these guys were venture capital boys, and I know that's their job, right? They're about margin, and I was about mission and I was really pissed at them for a long time, right? Really pissed at them, and I won't drop those curse words right now, but I was really pissed. And I had to kind of let go of it and say, "Susan, don't hate the players, hate the game." And I went to the guys and I said, "Alright, boys, this is how it goes. I'm having a good time, but not that much fun anymore, and so I'm either gonna buy it back or I'm gonna leave."

04:42 Ferraro: So they all got together, as VCs do, and they decided they were going to make a decision. They came back and they said, "That's good Susan, but what we have decided is we're actually gonna sell, but we're not selling to you and we think that we can get more on the market." Because you know why? I was the founder, I was the entrepreneur. I knew where all the cobwebs were, right? I knew the real valuation of the company, and what I offered them, they actually did get. They got 25% more than what I was willing to pay for it and they wanted me to help them sell the business. And so when we were closing the deal, I was working with them, and you know how it goes, right? They're thinking about slashing jobs during this conversation, because that's how the business valuation gets brought up. And I went to the chairman of the board and I said, "Look. You know what? I'm really concerned about my people." And he said, "You know what? You've lost that privilege, Susan, when you sold majority share."

05:33 Ferraro: And I thought, "Okay, I'm done." I gave my notice and walked away from a million dollars in bonus and salary. I had no job. My other businesses that we talked about at the time, you know, they were hobbies, right? I had started them, like Gary did, because I was bored and had nothing else to do. And so, they really weren't making enough income that they were gonna be able to support me. So I woke up the next morning, after going out and giving my notice with that decision hangover, You ever have that? You're like, "What the bleep did I do? Holy God! 30 years of my life's work, and I went, 'Sorry guys, have a good time, I'm out'." And I did.

06:11 Ferraro: But in the end it was the right thing for me to do. And now a year later I have all these kinds of really, other great businesses right? I am the Chief Innovation Officer for Lupoli companies which is the partner of mine, Sal Lupoli. And he owns a hospitality business, pizza restaurants, real estate, 80 million dollars, 800 employees and I am helping them with their transformation. I am the Chief Curiosity Officer for Imagine That, which is an interactive children's museum that we have pop-up models and we have grown a 110% this year. I'm the Chief Inspiration Officer for Inspirational Ones, which is a grant writing business and a development and design company that does training on all over the country, and we have written $24 million dollars over since 1997 for four profit businesses. And so if you're interested in learning about that, come see me afterwards because it's amazing the amount of grant money out there that people don't know about.

07:04 Ferraro: So very exciting, and what I realized was were I could stay stuck and holding on to that business model, I would have never been able to do all these cool things that I'm doing right now.