Sales and Management Strategies With Brian Will

John Corcoran 13:22

So it was the mid-90s. When this company failed, how did you pick yourself up back up. And while at the same time having a child that needed open heart surgery,

Brian Will 13:34

I don’t have a choice. I had a trial but open he had open heart surgery and I had a wife at home and I had to eat. I didn’t have any money. I didn’t have anybody to support me. I didn’t have any help. You don’t have any choice. So we sold everything down to me a truck and a shovel. And I went back and started digging holes and mowing grass again. Fortunately, a friend came along and said, Hey, why don’t you start selling insurance with me? And I’m like, Can I do it at night? And he said, Yeah, so I was doing landscaping during the day and selling insurance at night. And within six weeks, I was making more money selling insurance at night and I was landscaping all day. And so I quit landscaping. And six weeks later I was half the revenue and this agency I work for so I quit and started my own agency. Success is a progression all the time almost every business success is a progression, you start one place, you end up in another whether it’s a different product or a different process, success is a progression. And then a year and a half after I started that insurance agency, I had somehow developed this, this what we call today a direct-to-consumer call center. I just called it a virtual sales center back then. And this was the dawn of the internet in 1999. And they were two big companies trying to sell insurance online. And one of them bought me, and so now all of a sudden I got bought by a venture capital group having no idea what I was doing and went to work for these guys and then we went on and that company went public, and we developed an enrollment platform that’s still used today, and you know I did to other companies after that. venture capital and private equity and they just, it’s a progression man.

John Corcoran 15:03

How was it for you going from running your own shop to being acquired and going to work for another entity. And, of course, many entrepreneurs can’t handle it.

Brian Will 15:13

Yeah, day one I showed up, they moved us down to the Georgia Tech campus into this accelerator-type program they had down there. And day one I showed up. And by the way, I had a big office with a TV in the corner and a bar on the back wall. And, you know, I’d prop my feet up and watch TV, I loved Shania Twain back then. And for my son, I get acquired by these folks, they sent me down to Georgia Tech, and they put me in a two by two cubicle, who from then then demoted me and told me I wasn’t qualified to run my own business anymore. Thanks for building it, but you’re not qualified to run it like any young, sharp MBA would do, you’re just going to be a manager.

John Corcoran 15:52

Now, that was tough that you have a good agreement that got you out or you know, then oftentimes, that’s when people dust off the agreement and say, “What is way my out here?”

Brian Will 16:01

I lasted nine months. But in that process, in the process of time, we also developed a software platform, we went out and sold and built a whole nother division for this company. And after about nine months, they still weren’t going to let me do what I do. And so I did dust off my agreement. I called my lawyer and said, Let’s buy out my non-compete. And I did and walked away.

John Corcoran 16:22

So you were able to stay in insurance because you bought it.

Brian Will 16:26

Started another started another company. And that one got bought out.

John Corcoran 16:31

Well, that’s unusual that a company would allow you to buy out your non-compete, because oftentimes they don’t want that right. They want you to they don’t want you to be competing with them. 

Brian Will 16:42

They did. Yeah. The next one got out bought out. David Cohen was a lead investor on that one, if you know who he is, they’re on sandhill. Road. That one’s still probably powering nine or 10 states today for the state-based exchange services. Let me ask you this.

John Corcoran 16:56

Let me ask you this. So you go from in the matter of, like, a couple months from selling to landscaping services to large general contractors, and it’s a very different type of sale to selling insurance, again, very different type of sale. Why do you think that you are able to make such a massive pivot to a very different type of industry, very different type of buyer?

Brian Will 17:18

And then once the selling software?

John Corcoran 17:22

Another change?

Brian Will 17:24

And I have this third book, I just wrote The Psychology of Sales in Negotiation, right? Sales is about psychology; product knowledge is not as important as understanding the client and the buying process. So for instance, I knew nothing about software, absolutely nothing. But we had a CTO that worked with me. And I did the talking and he sat beside me. And when they would ask me a question, I’d understand I would literally just look at him. And he would start talking. And then when he was done talking, I would start talking again. So it’s it’s, it’s a process of understanding what the buyer wants, what the buyer is looking for. It really doesn’t matter what the product is. i Some people may not believe that, but I’m telling you, a good salesperson can sell about anything.

John Corcoran 18:08

Hmm, yeah. Talk to me about how you ended up in the restaurant business, which is famous for thin margins and difficult to succeed in.

Brian Will 18:19

Sure. It’s a cliche, though. How many professional athletes, people, business people that make a lot of money, and the first thing they do is like, go buy a restaurant, right? You’re all over the place? Well, that was the first thing I did. I used to take employees out for a happy hour, probably three or four times a week. And after I sold the companies. One of my employees said, you know, we come here all the time, why don’t you buy the place? That’s a good idea. So I bought it. And I lost money the first year and about 50 grand, so I sold it and bought for more. You quadrupled down on your failures.

John Corcoran 18:52

Well, so tell me then, how did you avoid losing money on the subsequent four? Or did you avoid losing money in the subsequent four?

Brian Will 19:01

Now the next four made a hell of a lot of money. Okay, so

John Corcoran 19:03

what was the difference then between the first and

Brian Will 19:07

then that year that I lost money? The first six months I was didn’t really care. I used it as a toy. I was getting up on stage with the band on the weekends. And then after a year, I’m like, I’m losing money, I need to figure out why. So I started analyzing why I was losing money, only to realize that the business I was in wasn’t probably capable of making money, a lot of different reasons. But then when the broker came to me with these other four restaurants, it was like a small chain and asked me if I wanted to buy and the first thing I did is went back into business mode and pulled their P&L down. Quorum apart based on the experience I’d had what I learned in the past year, I realized that these were very poor, very profitable restaurants. But what we had was, and this is one of my one of my sayings, we had a distressed owner, not a distressed business. And distressed owner is someone who’s personally in trouble who needs to get out but has a good business behind them. And so we found just destoner we bought his four restaurants out, and they made a crapload of money.

John Corcoran 20:03

Why do you think those four restaurants were as profitable as they were? Is there something you can point to?

Brian Will 20:11

They’ve been around over 30 years. So one of the things we know in the restaurant businesses, you’re either a destination or you’re a brand. And if you’re not a destination or brand, you have a very small chance of success, restaurants have an 80% failure rate in first five years. 60% in the first two, right? They were a brand at this point, when you’ve been around for 35 years, you’re a brand. And so we didn’t have to do marketing. Everybody knew who it was. 

John Corcoran 20:36

So that’s the primary reason then. Interesting. And it’s funny because a lot of times when I interview entrepreneurs have been in a bunch of different industries, they go the opposite direction, you know, restaurants has all these constraints, you have a huge staff you need to employ of, you know, labor that comes and goes. You’ve got perishables, you’ve got fluctuations, you know, where it’s, you know, busy in the evening, and it’s not busy during the day, you got all these different challenges. And a lot of times, they’ll gravitate towards something like software, or something like insurance that you can sell once and get paid over and over again, and you kind of went the opposite direction.

Brian Will 21:14

Restaurants are fun, I like to go sit at the bar and drink and eat for free. I, I used to joke when I started doing and I wanted to be 20 minutes to the closest place I could eat and drink for free. So I started buying them, you know, in this pinwheel pattern.

John Corcoran 21:27

Yeah, yeah. No other reason. That’s good reason. I mean, if they’re profitable, then that that helps a lot, right?

Brian Will 21:34

Yeah, I’m probably going to sell out of the restaurant business sometime next year. I got a couple under construction right now when they get done. I think I’ve run my course in restaurants. It’s been 13 years now. So yeah,

John Corcoran 21:45

probably. Now you also I love this to talk about lifestyle design. You’ve got real estate properties, and you need to fly between them. And so you have a plane of Cirrus 22 I think you said it was which is this one. Yeah. 20, which is this beautiful plane that has a parachute built into it, which is phenomenal, really kind of groundbreaking technology. It’s really cool. There’s some YouTube videos if you wanted to go check those out. Hopefully it never gets used, of course. But so tell me about that evolution, like how you made that determination or decision did the plane come first did the rest of the real estate investments come first?

Brian Will 22:24

No, I’ve owned planes for years. I just got into the real estate business a few years ago, and I already had a place on Clearwater Beach. My daughter lives down in Tampa, my mom lives in Tampa. And I live in Atlanta. So I needed to divest out of the stock market, I had a lot of money in the stock market. And you know, you’ve seen what it’s done in the last couple of years, it’s been nuts. And I studied for probably six months or so the real estate industry and kind of pick somebody that I wanted to kind of follow what they were doing. And so since I had to play some Clearwater Beach, and I’ll probably end up in Tampa, I figured I’d start building real estate portfolio in Tampa, so I started buying rental properties down there. Well, while at the same time I rental, I’ve got 21 of them. Now my rental properties are a business. And my plane is a business because I do a lease back to a flight school as well. So if I’m using my plane, which is a business to fly down to Florida, which is where my real estate businesses, then it’s a tax write off, so I can fly back and forth to the beach. As long as I’m on business and write plane off. Now I just did a real on that did 3 million views and probably 20,000 comments and 19,000 people like to do that.

John Corcoran 23:35

Well yeah, I might have watched that one because I’ve read about this a couple times before so is it truly is it truly Would you say it’s it’s profitable, then that kind of blows our minds here because every everything I’ve been told is that planes are very expensive.

Brian Will 23:51

It’s not profitable as I’m doing it to make a ton of money that I’m going to live on that if I have to travel anyway and I can do it private and I can lease the plane back to a flight school which covers all my overhead all my maintenance all my everything including my own flight hours. And I can fly for free which is what I can call it. I mean if you want to get super technical it’s not free but it is to me because somebody else is paying for me to do it then that’s a good deal. And plus I got the tax write off on the airplane I did I did advanced depreciation on it. And then I’ll probably upgrade that plane every two to three years so it’s which is what I do so you’re always getting a more expensive plane.

John Corcoran 24:28

Have you done Have you done the math on it like is it worked out to you know the equivalent of like an economy you know, plane flight between where you want to go or

Brian Will 24:37

if well my planes $435 an hour to fly if if somebody’s paying for it? Because I leased it out. I make a profit on the plane. I fly my hours for free. Got it free for me to fly because somebody else rents my plane pays me a profit. I use that profit to do my flights.

John Corcoran 24:54

Well Wow. That’s That’s amazing. I want to ask you about COVID Because you owned restaurants going into COVID. Take me back to March 2020. I’m not sure how many restaurants you had at this point it was four, seven, whatever, but

Brian Will 25:10

six, you had one of them. We just spent a million dollars to open three months earlier. And they shut us down. We had to layoff 150 employees in one day. It was devastating. I mean, we had it anybody who runs a business knows that you work off accounts receivable and accounts payable, right. So we probably have four weeks of Accounts Payable sitting out there, which in our case was over $400,000. And you pay your accounts payable off your current cash flow. That’s just the way businesses operate. When cash flow gets cut off in one day, and you still got $400,000 of accounts payable, and you got another $100,000 of payroll that you have to make in the next two weeks. And then rent, we were paying $80,000 a month in rent on all of our restaurants. That wasn’t going away. Utilities wasn’t going away, you know, so it was devastated. It was it was a scary time. I mean, we didn’t know what the hell we were going to do it as much as I’m not a fan of big government, I will be the first to tell you that the PPP loans, saved our company saved our jobs saved our employees saved our restaurants.

John Corcoran 26:13

Those PPP loans kind of cut across political lines.

Brian Will 26:17

Yeah, without question that saved. Yeah.

John Corcoran 26:22

So you end up having to lay people off? Did did you pivot into, you know, restaurant delivery or anything like that? What did you do?

Brian Will 26:30

There’s no money in restaurant delivery, that kind of restaurants we do. Fortunately, again, back to the lessons we learned. We have no debt. So we didn’t have to service any debt on this stuff. We were able to go in and negotiate with our landlords try to get rent abatements done, which we did. We told all of our suppliers that we’re sorry, we’re in the same boat you are. And then one of the things we did when we got that first PPP loan is the very first thing I did is I went and paid every single one of my suppliers every dollar we owed them, really, because I wanted them to go, Hey, this guy took care of us. He didn’t take you know, he didn’t go do anything else stupid. So we had structured a business properly that we did not get in trouble. But a lot of plate, a lot of companies did a lot of four to 10 restaurants in our little town went under. Yeah, it was just a big wash out everywhere.

John Corcoran 27:14

For sure. It was a lot of different and so did some of those restaurants not survive of the six that you had.

Brian Will 27:22

Sure that like my place over and Johns Creek, there’s us and to others, the other two collapsed, we were able to survive, because we were in a position to do that. And then when COVID was over, our sales in that location went up 60% As we were able to pull the clients from those other locations that didn’t make it. So in that respect, weird enough to say, nobody actually did that business a favor. Oh, those poor owners did that business a favor.

John Corcoran 27:48

Right, right. It’s actually there’s a lot of people that say that, you know, let’s say like, you know, it was awful at the time. Definitely a lot of bad that came from it. But then, you know, I think we naturally were wired to look to the silver lining of that experience. 

Brian Will 28:00

Yeah, we lost one of our restaurants that never reopened. But then, you know, a couple other ones did really well. So yeah.

John Corcoran 28:11

The really interesting thing is sometimes restaurant chains were diversified. And they didn’t realize they were diversified. For example, I interviewed someone, this was maybe a year into COVID, who had a restaurant chain, mostly around Manhattan. And they had about 15 locations call it the vast majority, like let’s say like 10 of them were in downtown Manhattan, and they were the wildly profitable ones. And then a couple of months or a year before COVID, they’d opened a couple in the suburbs, which didn’t do hardly any business. And then as soon as COVID happened, it flipped because everyone went to the suburbs, and no one was in downtown. Right. And so the ones downtown, were not doing well at all. And the ones in the suburbs are the ones that saved their butt. And they end up surviving, because they diversified in a way that they never would have anticipated that that was diversification, right?

Brian Will 28:59

Didn’t even know. Yeah, lessons we learned that we don’t even know. Right, exactly. So

John Corcoran 29:02

I mean, I guess the lessons are right, you know, like, find different ways to build a business that has different revenue streams, even if it’s not the most profitable. And I think of like, you know, direct to consumer companies out there that have 99% of their business comes from Amazon. And then they’re completely indebted to them. Just like you know, you were dependent on the big construction client early on.

Brian Will 29:27

Yep, yep, yep. Yep. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So

John Corcoran 29:33

I want to wrap things up. We’re almost out of time here. I want to ask you about my I have a well, first of all, Oh, I forgot to ask you about Necker. Well, I previewed it in the beginning. So we have to ask you about Necker Island. So you you just got back from Necker Island, which is Richard Branson’s place island that he’s owned for 40 years on the British Virgin Islands. Actually. A mentor of mine, Dan Lee and Ella was coincidentally was on the same trip with You hung out with Stan, it’s on my bucket list. So I’m hoping to make it there someday. What was it like for you?

Brian Will 30:06

Phenomenal. I’ve sailed around Necker many times, been to the BVI many times always wanted to go. Top four people I’ve ever wanted to meet my life. One of them was Richard Branson, so not only get to medium spent every day with him breakfast lunch, you got to spend about 45 minutes on a one on one discussion about politics and world events and his views and my views. We didn’t agree on everything. Sorry, Richard. But it was awesome talking to him. And just just, you’re talking to a guy that hangs out with it. That was hanging out with Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, and hangs out with a queen of England and just the 12 elders of the world. Most people don’t even know their elders of the world. And he’s built a temple there, where the elders meet. And the things that he’s done the experiences that mean, it’s just as friggin awesome. Let’s he lives in paradise. I mean, my goodness, it’s paradise.

John Corcoran 30:57

It’s amazing. And I’ve seen many videos of him around the island, and it just really unbelievable.

Brian Will 31:04

Yeah, I’ll tell you something with it. One of the things he said that struck me really hard. We were we were talking one night. And I said, you know, Richard sold my companies like my big companies 15 years ago, and I took a few years where I just I had no motivation. I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t I didn’t have any ambition. I said, you’re 73 years old. We were there on his birthday. 73 years old, and you have like, 100 companies that you still run underneath you. Why do you still do this? Why do you go forward? What drives him? Yeah. And he said, Brian, he said, first, let me ask you this. Have you got your motivation back? And I said, Yeah, I have. It’s a little different than it is today. I’m not actually just trying to make money like I was. But yes. He said, here’s the thing. If you have a talent, or an ability that you can use, and that includes business, and making money, and if you can take that talent ability, and you can use it to make the world a better place, then you have an obligation to do that for the rest of your life, and not just sit back and take what the world gave you. Wow. Wow. I mean, that’s just a jaw dropper right there.

John Corcoran 32:08

Right? And then you’re gonna take that with you for the rest of your life.

Brian Will 32:11

That’s gonna tell that story on every podcast for the next two years.

John Corcoran 32:16

Yeah, for sure. Wow, what an amazing experience. Now, let’s, let’s think back to, you know, 25 years ago, 30 years ago, your business is failing. Your child needs open heart surgery, you know, you would have killed for $100 $1,000 in your bank account at that moment in time. This is again before you discover insurance. Now, buying a ticket to that island is not cheap to go hang out there. It’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of money. Yeah. And I think even though you’ve got your own plane, now you own restaurants, stuff like that. Even you, you probably hesitated before you wrote that check or party. You hesitated? Or maybe it didn’t? I don’t know. But what was your thought process like before you made that decision, to to spend 1000s of dollars to go for less than a week to hang out there.

Brian Will 33:09

It was a bucket list item for me, John. And I’ve reached this point in my life where bucket list items are more important to me than having some cash in the bank. So when my friend talking, you called and she said, we’re gonna go do this, you need to go. I said, Where do I sign and I wired the money that day. Not even hesitation. There’s some things in life you need to do. If you’re going to grow, be a better person, be more successful. And if you get the opportunity to hang out with super successful people, like your mentor, Dan, my friend, Tanya, with Richard Branson, if you get that opportunity, money isn’t money can’t be an issue, because there’s no way that that that saving that little amount of money and leaving your checking account is going to be better than the experience you got and the lessons you’re gonna learn. Playing around those kinds of people. I honestly, I can’t stress that enough. Yeah, experiences, mentorship and coaching is just the best thing you can ever do for yourself in life.

John Corcoran 34:06

Yeah. That’s so powerful. I have to ask who the other three people on your list are the three other people that you want to meet? Yeah, so

Brian Will 34:15

It was Richard Branson, because I’ve read all his books. My blast book on sales is based on one of the things he says which is if your first offer doesn’t insult him, then you offer too much. That’s one of his famous things. And since we’re in the thing no comes from Elon Musk is one of my guys that I have to meet. I’ve been to SpaceX. I’ve been in Mission Control. Yeah, I’ve been in Mission Control. But, you know, I gotta hook up politically. We got to go in and do a back thing tour, then to the boring company. I mean, villans I’m on my fourth Tesla. I’ve drink Kool Aid. I’m a believer right?

John Corcoran 34:53

Afterwards, I’ll tell you my story of meeting him.

Brian Will 34:55

He’s gonna change the world and I need to meet him. So if anybody out there in your land Get him heating. Even a hello I will fly anywhere do anything I mean? Okay, got it. The other two are Kenny Chesney, who is my favorite musician, artist. I just love his music and for 18 years and I stopped watching football when he retired when for 18 years I was a Peyton man. Super fan. I want to I want to meet Peyton Manning. Okay, that’s cool. Kenny Chesney? Kenny, who’s been on Richard Branson’s Island, by the way, he has a place nearby. Oh, cool. And Elon, so those are the next three. So if anybody knows I’m on the air. 

John Corcoran 35:32

It’s a good that’s a good list. That’s a good list. Well, this has been great. I want to wrap up with the question I was asked, which is my gratitude question, a big fan of gratitude, especially expressing gratitude to those who helped you along the way along the way. Business Partners, mentors, peers, contemporaries, you mentioned Tanya, and you mentioned others here. Who would you want to thank?

Brian Will 35:52

My very first mentor, he was a business partner, we were broke. He came to me and offered me equity in his company, if I would let him work out of my back offices. I had an insurance agency we had this was pre sale. And I said, Sure, so he gave me equity in his internet company. And he threw in a half a million bucks. And he said, I’m going to fund a half a million dollars, he’d already made like $20 million. He was he was wealthy. He’s gonna throw in a half a million dollars. You’re gonna pay it back. If you make money, I’ll pay it back if we make money. Nine months later, my CPA came to me and told me, he’s blown the entire 500,000 It’s gone. You need to shut that thing down. It’s gonna bankrupt you. I was freaking out. Man. I didn’t have any money. I was talking to my wife. I’m stressed. Steve comes in my office the next day. And Steve says, Hey, man, we’re gonna throw another $66,000 into the company so we can buy some more servers. And I said, Steve, we haven’t made any money. I can’t do this. I don’t want to take on any more debt. I’m freaking out. I’m just like, Hi. My mindset is so small. I just don’t get it. He said that’s going to work. Listen, trust me. I’ve done this before. I know what I’m doing. This is going to work. 

I said, Yeah. But it’s not working. It’s not working, Steve, and I’m freaking out. He said, Brian, listen to me. It’s going to work. Trust me. I’ve done this before. It’s going to work. I said, But Steve. And he said, Alright, here’s your deal. You give me my equity back, you can walk away and you owe me nothing right now. But I want a decision right now. Give me my equity. You walk away. You owe me nothing. I don’t want money to come between our friendship but tell me now. And I sat there staring at him. And this is a guy that I’ve been following now for about a year watching the way he dealt with people and business. He was an amazing person and things I was learning. And finally had a mental breakdown, a mental breakthrough, we’ll call it and I said, You know what, Steve? You’re we’re 20. Man, I’m worth 20 bucks. If I’m going down and going down with you. So I’m in. And he said, All right. I never want to hear that again. And 18 months later, we sold their company for $80 million. Wow. And I almost walked away. Wow. And that’s when I said, You know what? I need to listen to my mentors. They’ve been there. They’ve done that. They know what they’re talking about. And this is why I tell people all the time. Listen to people who know what they’re talking about. Check your ego. Yeah, what a great story. Man, Steve just passed away recently. He changed my life, my family’s life, my children’s life, my grandchildren’s life. He changed it all.

John Corcoran 38:16

Amazing, amazing story. Brian, this has been really great. Where can people go to learn more about you, connect with you, and learn about your work?

Brian Will 38:24

Sure. My podcasts, books, coaching programs, everything’s on there.

John Corcoran 38:31

Excellent. And follow him on LinkedIn as well. We’ll link that up in the show notes because you also share a lot of great content there. Brian, thank you so much for your time and your service.

Brian Will 38:41

John, this was awesome. Thank you for having me.

Outro 38:46

Thanks for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast. We’ll see you again next time, and be sure to click Subscribe to get future episodes.