The Entrepreneurial Way: Breaking Free From The Corporate World With Rick Elmore

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FTC Rick Elmore | Entrepreneurial Way

 

Have you grown tired of working in the corporate world? Sit tight and enjoy this fantastic journey with the guest today! Rick Elmore shares his path into entrepreneurship and how he tackled the simplicity of a common problem in the entrepreneurial way. Through his technology, he was able to do things better than what others were doing. Although technology is not the only way to make a company valuable, Rick also shares how he rapidly scales his business with millions of revenue! Tune in to this episode, and don’t miss out on this gift!

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The Entrepreneurial Way: Breaking Free From The Corporate World With Rick Elmore

In this episode, I have something special for all my coaches in the audience. If you’re a coach, you want to read carefully. I’ve been a coach for many years. I made some discoveries that have really transformed the results my clients get by working with me. I didn’t realize these things or procedures that I do is quite unique.

Every time I share it, people have said they never heard of anything like it before. I wrote a short but very powerful book called Coach Elevation. You can go to Amazon.com and buy Coach Elevation. You can get it as a Kindle edition or hard copy, or you can download it for free right here at CoachElevation.com. Go there and download your free book now and start incorporating this very simple but powerful system into your own coaching work.

Onto our guest and his incredible story. My guest was stuck in a corporate world with the desire to break free. Not that life was bad. He broke every sales record in sight but he realized he needed a way out. That’s the entrepreneurial way. One day, inspiration struck that need no one has successfully fulfilled. A big one that now is responsible for millions in revenue and some incredible technology with a rapidly growing company.

Welcome, Rick Elmore, to the show.

Thanks for having me here, Mitch. That was quite the introduction.

No problem. I take a little bit of artistic liberty there sometime. What we’ll do is we’ll get started and go right back to the beginning. Rick, how did this all start for you?

You touched on it. My background is in athletics. I played college and professional sports. I got drafted into the NFL in 2011. I was fortunate to live up my childhood dream of playing in the NFL for three years. When I got done, I did what a lot of the guys did. When they get done playing professional sports, they get into medical device sales or highly competitive corporate sales because it’s challenging, rewarding, and fun.

In my first year, I was Rookie of the Year. I was either the top 1% or the top 5% rep in my company. I had an itch that this can scratch with what I was doing at that time. I was doing a lot of stuff. I was on a rowing team training for the Olympics and I was training for an Ironman. I was doing good in school but we were having our first kid. I was like, “There has to be something else.” I went back and did my MBA. I still had a couple of classes left when I started this company.

I was in a Marketing class and I had a professor going over the success rates in marketing. Everything was super nominal. Being in sales, I was always trying to absorb things to make me better. Cold calling was low. Cold emails and everything were super marginal. The professor ended the lecture with a joke saying, “You know what still works nowadays, if not even more than ever, is a good old-fashioned handwritten note.” I was like, “That is a no-brainer, but how am I going to send 400 handwritten notes to my clients that I had at that time?” It took me and my wife two weekends just to fill out an address on an envelope and put a Christmas card in it so we got to work.

Fast forward to a couple of years of doing this full-time, I had eleven employees. We’re going to be 5,000 in 2022. We have millions in revenue. We’ve developed and built our own handwriting robots. We have six patents on it. We have over 300,000 users on our platform every month. It’s been an absolute wild ride, to say the least.

Rick, I’d like to unpack a little bit of that because it’s fascinating to me. First of all, my background is in electrical engineering and computer science. I was responsible for some of the original computers that they used to call minicomputers. It’s the size of a refrigerator. What I’m interested in is technology. I know that we’re going to geek out a little bit here. I saw a video of your machine and it’s amazing.

It is an actual handwritten letter, but the hand happens to be a machine. You explained to me that you couldn’t go too fast because the ink cartridges will get ruined or burn up. You can’t go too slow or else it won’t be profitable. How did you come up with this technology, and once you had the idea for building a machine, what did you do? Did you look for a partner? Did you look for a design engineering firm?

Those are a lot of great questions. I haven’t talked to a podcast host yet who has an engineering background, so I’m sure we could talk for hours here because this topic is infinitely interesting. When I started this company, I needed somebody that was extremely opposite of me because I’m high-energy, super-go, and high-strung.

I knew somebody I grew up with that was super loyal and dedicated but the exact opposite of me. He’s super chill, never gets stressed out, and can take things really slow. I called him Buddy. I flew him out here to Phoenix, talked to him about my idea, and he never went back, so he started the company with me. What we did is we just got started.

If I had all the answers when I started this company, I would never have gotten started because this is still a few years in. It’s an extremely complicated business but what we did was we flew some technology in from China. It was a pen plotter at that time. No paper feed. It can actually draw a plotter. That’s when I had the entrepreneurial seizure moment. I wrote about 500 letters.

It took me weeks with this hand-fed robot. That’s when I sent them out. I got some doctors that call me back and the doctors are like, “This is cool.” I kind of fooled them. They thought I sent them a handwritten note. I had some success and got some sales from it. Once I knew I wanted to start a business, I looked for some off-the-shelf stuff.

There was an autopen company here in the United States, but that was meant for the executives and political figures to sign documents. We made that work for about a year and a half. This company was always in the back of my mind to be built to sell. I knew in order to sell this business, we were going to have to be number one and have the best technology, service, and platform.

Have the best technology, the best service, the best platform. Share on X

For us to be able to scale it and make an attractive company to do, we had to build our own handwriting robot. There were too many restrictions and problems with the technologies that are out there. We even invented our own pen. I know we talked about this last time, but we built our own pen because the pens that we use run out too fast.

We built our own weighted pen cartridge, and then our pen inserts that have 300% more ink so they can last the whole day, and we can control what type of ink it’s gone into it. What I did was do what I did when I was in football. I was relentless and never gave up anytime I hit a roadblock. I’m trying to get better at this now, but I used to run through it with my head and slam it into the wall until I broke it down. I’m trying to get better at that now.

FTC Rick Elmore | Entrepreneurial Way
Entrepreneurial Way: Never give up anytime you hit a roadblock.

 

I worked with fourteen different engineering firms. We went through four Phase 0s. I’m sure if you’re an electrical engineer, you don’t understand what that is. We finally pulled the trigger and we found a good engineering company here locally. I spent six figures on consulting before we even started the project. I knew that this was a big mess if I got it wrong because it was extremely expensive and complicated.

Now I have a full-stack developer and a front-end developer. All these guys are on retainers, but they’re making money every single month. I have a software developer and an electrical engineer. It’s extremely important. I’m talking to that guy literally every day. This project is all electrical engineering. It’s all about timing and movements. A mechanical team as well. It’s been a wild ride.

What happens when you run out of capacity? Do you have your team build another machine or do you order a machine?

That’s another reason why we needed to do this. The plotters were not a good option because they’re supported by a husband-and-wife team here in the US. You don’t ever want to tell or acquire in the future like, “By the way, our technology is off the shelf. When they can get into us, we’re going to get it to them.” Basically, as our business scales, we build and add more machines to the assembly line. It’s an army of writing robots.

We can also build ours for a fraction of the cost or what it costs these other companies to buy these off-the-shelf solutions. I know I drink around Kool-Aid here, but I’m involved in every detail of this project, so I know. From the pen technology to the ink that comes out of the pen to the handwriting software, we have full control of the software. We’re not using any third-party software like Inkscape. If you’re familiar with 3D printers, you know what Inkscape is. We can control the handwriting engine and font variability. It’s been really fun. I definitely bit off a lot more than I can chew, but I’m glad I did because it’s made me so much more of a business person and more capable as a person as well.

It’s amazing how much you learned by scaling a business. When I scaled TimeSlips Corporation, I was only 28 years old. I knew nothing. I swear to God, I hardly knew how to operate a checking account. The bottom line is you learn. You’re basically immersed in it and you have to figure everything out. That’s the journey. The other thing I noticed on your website is that you were smart enough to apply for and get utility patents and full patents. If you’re ever going to sell this, you got to have that.

That’s another thing. I looked at where I wanted to be in ten years, and I was like, “I had to reverse-engineer it.” If I want to sell this company for X, how am I going to do that? We have to have so many users. If we got to these many users, how much equipment? How are we going to get there? A strong foundation. Basically, we’re reverse-engineering this. We’re applying for 6 total patents to redesign 3 utilities. I do subscribe to the thought that a patent is a lawsuit coupon. We don’t plan on selling these anytime soon but if somebody wants to buy us and may want to sell it in the future, let them deal with it. I wanted to give them a really cool product that was protected so that they can do whatever they want with it when we exit eventually.

Let’s talk about the exit. I think there are a lot of readers here who have businesses. They’ve either scaled them or are in the process of scaling them. What you said that I really liked is you reverse-engineered the end game or the liquidity event. Talk a little bit about that. What were you looking at when you saw yourself a few years from now? How did you think about how that would apply now?

My background is in athletics, and all I’ve ever done is study the competition. We used to watch 3 hours a day of our competitors on film before we even went out to our 3-hour practice. What we immediately needed to do was build a more attractive and complete solution. There is a competitor out there that has been around a little bit longer than us, but we’ll catch up with some of the software stuff that’s external.

What we wanted to do is build the most compelling product from start to finish. The user base, usability, technology, and vertical integration of how everything works. It’s not like we’re getting outside resources to bring stuff in here. We run our own printing press. Everything’s done in-house. We have our in-house designers.

Build the most compelling product from start to finish. Share on X

As I said, we’re creating our own pens. We brought everything inside to control it. That was my way of creating the most compelling product for somebody who would buy our business. All I did was sit out there and see what other people were doing. I was like, “We needed to do it better.” The way that we’re going to do it better is through our technology.

The tech is fine, but tech alone doesn’t make a valuable company, particularly a company like yours. What makes a valuable company is growing revenue and a large subscriber base. Let’s talk about how you decided to start getting your first customers. Now that you’re way past 1,000 clients, how are you selling, and how did you get here? Tell us about the journey.

We had this cool saying in our locker room when I was in college. It said that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. I’ve always prided myself. I’m somebody who’s been more willing to try harder, work harder, and want it more. Activity always equaled results for me as long as you’re learning from failures. If you keep up your activity and find ways to scale it, you’re automatically going to be 99% more successful than anybody else.

Most people just do their job and go home, or they’re not willing to learn or try new things. That’s all I did. I called a lot. I figured out ways to scale my emails. We used our own letters, so we’d always send out letters to prospective clients. At the end of the letter, we’d always put a little, “PS: This was written by a robot.” That was always a good hook to their thought that it was a handwritten note.

I did massive amounts of activity. I did the B&I, the Chamber of Commerce, the EOS, and the vestige board meeting. I even did the postmasters. I literally did everything. Our business is so busy now. What I’m trying to do is do the whole Michael Gerber thing, The E-Myth. It’s like, “Start working on your business rather than working in it.” What I’m trying to do now is kill the King. It’s to get rid of me so I’m not the main connection in this business anymore.

Rick, let’s go back to the selling system. Do you have salespeople now? I’m assuming you didn’t start with salespeople. You were probably doing it all yourself.

I did everything myself until 2020. We do have multiple sales reps now. We do use some agencies and some booking platforms. I’m a tools guy. I’m always taking meetings on new programs and new software to learn what’s out there to help grow our business. I was in a meeting with a new SEO platform because I’m all about organic growth and keeping people coming back organically, not ads. We have some competitors. All they do is dump money in ads. They don’t dump money into their platform and their product.

FTC Rick Elmore | Entrepreneurial Way
Entrepreneurial Way: Keep people coming back organically, not through ads. Some competitors dump money in ads. They don’t dump money into their platform or their product.

 

When you started selling, I assume you went right to the medical industry because that’s where you were from. Who did you go to inside the corporation to pitch handwritten letters?

My background is in Stryker, which is an orthopedic spine surgery so I was working with spine surgeons. I had one good friend that was still there. I never did any business with him but I respected him a lot because he was a successful businessman and doctor in his industry. I went and talked to him before I even got started. I was like, “What do you think about this?” He said, “It’s an amazing idea. You absolutely need to chase this. This is going to blow up.”

When I got done with orthopedic surgery, I went to dental. Dental is the backbone of the US in small business. There are over 300,000 small dental practices out there, so they’re all small businesses. They get what I’m going through because they’re running payroll, marketing, buying, and paying bills. I’ve had a few relationships in that industry. Again, relationships are everything across anything that you do.

Some of the clients that I worked with were the ones that helped me get going. They supported me early on. They did some test orders. We burst some bumps and bruises on things. We’re not using the right postage and making some big mistakes on some of the rules of the post office. Seriously, we had people at the post office who would check our mail every time we drop it off, and they would shake their heads like, “You guys have no clue what you’re doing.”

I would go back to my friend and I was like, “The postage is $0.20 more. Do you care?” They were super patient with us. You got to have relationships early on to put a little bit of wind in your sails to at least help you work through some of the kinks. I would knock on doors and go to insurance, real estate, and mortgage companies. I go drop off samples and see if I can talk to anybody. I did the whole B&I thing. What worked for me is SEO. We’ve spent so much time in two years to get people who had search intent to come to us when they’re ready to buy versus me trying to cram it down their throat like, “You need to use handwritten notes.”

That’s a great idea. I got started with a new SEO company called Diib. They’re fantastic. They’ve done a great job so far. I didn’t probably pay attention to SEO until about 2021.

One of my biggest regrets is not starting it right at the beginning. You don’t know what you don’t know. That’s why I’m a big podcast fan. I’m always listening for carrots. Anybody who’s reading this, that’s a carrot. Start now because you’re two-years-from-now self will thank you. These guys who are paying $5,000 a month in leads, I’m getting those leads on the same day. We’re getting 50% to 100% leads a day. They’re not all great leads, but not all great leads are great. I’m not paying for them month after month. It’s just the work that we’ve put in 18 months to 2 years. It’s paying off now.

You don't know what you don't know. Share on X

You mentioned earlier that you keep going back to your football days about sayings, slogans, and practices. I got off a show with a guy who came out of the Air Force. It was like the same thing. He’s going back to all his military sayings and all. I look at my own life and I go back to those days of building a software company. My terminology is still based on KPIs, software, and production. We are who we grew up to be or grew up professionally through as who you are now. Before I move on to the next part of the show, what advice would you have for somebody who’s dedicated to getting started, they might even still be working another job but they’re determined like you were to make a go.

If I was talking to my son and he was starting a business, I wouId say, “You can’t wait to have all the answers. You’re never going to have all the answers.” You’re going to be ten years in the business and you’re still not going to have all the answers. All you can do is do the best with what you have right now and get started. There are tons, but you got to want it as bad as you want to breathe because I guarantee you, and this is 100% honest, somebody else out there does want it more than you. If you don’t want it more than that person, that person is going to win because they’re willing to work harder, stay later, self-educate, invest back into themselves and do whatever it takes to beat you.

I do feel that that’s why I’ve been able to be successful in this industry. I have no software or technical background. I have an extreme amount of drive, competitive spirit, and perseverance. I have two decades of this built into my DNA. That’s why I’ve been able to do this. Get started. Don’t wait. Want it so bad, just as bad as you want to breathe, and learn, never give up. I’m telling you, you’re going to look back after a couple of years, you’ll be like, “Look at what we’ve done.” That’s what we have done here. It’s a 3,000-square-foot space and we’re blowing out of this. We’ve built technologies. We have a huge platform and I have no experience doing this. Anybody can do it if I can do it. I’ll work with you.

I’m going to give you a new nickname. You’re the Elon Musk of the handwritten note business.

I appreciate that. I’m a fan of his. That guy has an incredible mind, to say the least.

Notice that everything he did, he never did before. Do you think he has ever built a rocket before? He didn’t.

Do you want to know how he learned that? By literally taking people to dinner, asking them questions, and reading books. That’s how he did it and hiring people that are smarter than him like what I did. I hired an engineering firm and developers. You want to boil it down to that. I don’t have any of the technical skills to do this, but I have the drive to want to get it done and keep pushing like, “Let’s go. Let’s figure it out. Let’s set up a timetable. This is what we’re going to get done in 10 or 20 days.” I hold them accountable. I’m a great product manager, I guess.

That’s what it takes. You’re a great business manager is what I’m hearing. A product manager is somebody who manages theoretically one element of the product cycle. You have to evolve into being a great business manager, which clearly you’ve done and are continuing to do. I want to go back to something you said. You said that you went to an associate in the beginning and asked what they thought of your idea. I want to caution people. When I first started my very first company, TimeSlips Corporation, I went to a company that is no longer in existence, Lotus Development Corporation, and spoke to the vice president of sales and marketing. I took him to lunch. I shared with him what my idea was, and he told me every reason I shouldn’t do it.

I’ll tell you why. It’s because that guy was an employee. He wasn’t an entrepreneur. I went to entrepreneurs, people who ran their own businesses, and they knew the spark. You can’t talk to people who have those closed minds because they’re kept in their box. Kevin O’Leary said that great quote, “Your salary is the drug they give you to forgive your dreams.” It really is. I’m telling you, I have tons of terrible days when things are going bad. I would have 1,000 of these days before I have another one of those days where I’m not living out my full potential and doing what I’m doing now.

Owning a business is a bit bipolar.

It perfectly is.

You’re swinging from up to down almost by the hour sometimes.

You go, “This is going to happen and everything is looking great.” Last second, something happens, then you’re down in the dumps. Something that you never knew was going to happen comes in. Stay steady, keep taking steps forward, and don’t make bad decisions that are going to tank your company. There was a book. I forgot what it’s called, but it’s the bullets and bowling balls. It’s like, “Always take small test shots before you take a huge big shot. Don’t blow your money thinking something is going to work before testing it and then blow that big shot when you know it’s going to work.” That’s what we’ve done a lot here. It’s a small investment. Lots of sweat equity but that’s what we’ve done to manage our money.

FTC Rick Elmore | Entrepreneurial Way
Entrepreneurial Way: Just stay steady. You know, keep taking steps forward, and don’t make bad decisions that will take your company.

 

Of course, you got to do it that way. I love that. We’re going to transition to the second part of the show now where I get to ask you a couple of questions that are not necessarily about business. It’s more about you. The first question is this. Who, in all of space and time, would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch, or an intense conversation with?

Not to get personal but my father. He passed away when I was seven. It would be cool to sit down with him as a man and have a conversation. Professionally, I tend not to look up to anybody who hasn’t done what I’ve done. I used to look up to athletes, people who did what I was doing, but now that I’m done, I’ve moved on from that. I would say Elon Musk because he’s constantly out there pushing the envelope. As a businessman, maybe not in his personal life because I’ve been with my wife for many years, and that’s a very strong cornerstone in my foundation.

As a professional, that guy is unstoppable. It’s because he’s relentless. He explains that starting a business is two ways. Number one, it’s like a baby. I do simply notice my baby. I’m not going to not feed it or look after it. I’m not going to love it, or be like, “I am going to do all those things because it’s my baby.” He also says it’s like staring into the son of an abyss. Sometimes you’re literally staring into this problem you can’t solve and it’s so painful that you enjoy it because it’s something you’re so passionate about. I would say my father and then Elon Musk, for sure.

Others have said Elon Musk, no doubt. When I asked this question over 300 times, I get similar answers. What’s interesting is that why people name the same person is always different, and I appreciate your answer as well. I admire that quality, too. In a way, I love and hate that moment when you’re looking into the abyss because it summons from you some form of creativity and energy that nothing else can while it’s scary at first and it’s even frustrating.

When it shows up, it feels so good. Even if it’s a thread that you have to pull strand by strand until you finally get to what it is you’re trying to accomplish, it’s worth it. I’m glad you thought about naming him. He’s good. Here’s the grand finale. This is the change the world question. It allows you to think a little bit bigger here, Rick. What is it that you were doing or maybe would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?

I’ve been asked this question a lot in the past, too. I always have a simple answer to this because a lot of people always look at huge, massive, big issues that become overwhelming. In my opinion, a more effective thing to do is to start at home. We have kids. If you can raise smart, self-loving, empathetic, passionate, hardworking, and never give up types of kids, those people, generation after generation, are going to change the world versus trying to tackle a problem that we’ve had for hundreds of years within a couple of years.

What I’m trying to do as a father is to be a great example. I’m trying to raise the platform of the Elmore family. I was the first person to go to college and be a professional athlete. I’m trying to be the person to sell a business and raise the bar a little bit here. Stop trying to sit there and think you got to solve some ridiculous, huge, massive problem where it’s going to take decades and thousands of people when you can start with the people you probably enjoy most hanging out with at home. Start at home. That’s definitely what I would do to change the world.

Stop trying to sit there and think you have to solve some ridiculous massive problem. Start with the people you probably enjoy most hanging out with at home. Share on X

You’re right, it does change the world. It’s a great way to start. Rick, you told me at the beginning of the show that you had something really cool to give to our readers. What is that?

You can go to our website, make someone’s day and send them a card. Tell them you’re thinking about them. If you send a handwritten note to somebody, we’ll do it for you. It’s on us. To thank them, I guarantee you, they’re not going to expect that. They’re going to get it. They’re going to send you a text message. You’re going to make their day or they’re going to give you a call. Maybe do it to somebody you haven’t talked to in a while. Go to our website, SimplyNoted.com, use the checkout code 1FREE, and let us help you make someone’s day.

Thank you so much, Rick. It was a pleasure chatting with you and learning more about your company. I can’t wait to see the IPO filing.

I hope so.

That will be great.

You got some time to go. Thanks, Mitch. This is great.

My pleasure.

 

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