We’ve launched Secrets of Success, a new weekly interview series here at Web.com’s Small Business Forum. I’ve asked some of the smartest, most innovative, most successful people I know to share their insights and success secrets.
Meet: Toffer Grant, the CEO and founder of PEX Card, a prepaid debit card service for small and midsized companies. Grant was exposed to entrepreneurship at a young age while growing up in a family-owned business. After working at a company that serviced the budding prepaid card industry, it became obvious to Grant that banks and credit card issuers were ignoring the potential of offering prepaid cards to SMBS—and PEX Card was born.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Toffer Grant: I don’t recall having a specific profession in mind, but in middle school I was an A/V nerd and interested in computers. In high school I wanted to be in the entertainment industry and ended up working at MTV, for Jon Stewart and a prestigious talent agency called William Morris. Once the Internet came around, I sought out a career in tech.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Grant: My family is entrepreneurial so many dinner conversations revolved around the ups and downs of being a business owner. It was energetic and impassioned. I worked at William Morris during their centennial celebration and I later switched jobs to a few early-stage companies, one of which was a startup. The environment there was infinitely more fun to be part of as there was so much positive energy making something new come together and a strong camaraderie with the team. Trying something on my own seemed achievable given what I experienced at home. Some of those dinner conversations are hard to forget and they serve as a reminder for me when I think things are going well or poorly.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Grant: The financial crisis was a major one. We launched [PEX Card] as Lehman Brothers, the stock market and financial industry tanked; there we were with a brand new financial service, for small businesses no less, at a time when financial services were under siege, scrutiny and distaste. There is so much out there about staying the course, overcoming adversity, how hard times make you stronger and the self-discovery/personal insight you gain along the way. All of it is true—bad times improve who you are and test one’s meddle. Self-reflection of this nature can be easily overlooked until those experiences crop up to provide perspective.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Grant: My father-in-law used to own a factory and was in venture capital in the 1970s and ‘80s, so he had three good pieces of advice for me. First, the failure rate of new companies is high—don’t bother unless you are really committed. Second, set realistic goals (for timing of fund-raising, proof of concept, sales milestones, etc.) and a clear path for meeting them. If unsatisfied with where you are at the end of the period, it is OK to get out rethink what you are doing. Finally things will always take longer than you think.
I pass those words along to people who ask for my opinion—it’s nothing new or inspirational, but when you are looking at a spreadsheet and thinking about revenue projections or sales numbers, there is a sanity check you have to do. Ask, “Hmm, can I really go from zero to $5 million in the first 12 months with no brand and no product yet?” Unlikely!
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Grant: Hands down: Cash flow management. In the early days cash is the #1 prize possession you have for survival. Beg, borrow, steal and barter as much as possible. [Do] what you can to get to [your] first revenue as it gets the cash-flow train moving, while giving you data about your product sales, service requirements, etc. in a production/real world environment.
Lesonsky: Do you have a 2014 small business prediction?
Grant: I believe software and app companies will be looking to create more and more B2B services to help save time for SMBs. The smartphone has pulled a lot of non-technical people into using tech mainly because the app builders and SaaS providers are simplifying their solutions for novice users. The days of knowing how to use a computer are more or less gone. Tech is now more about just understanding the basics of Web browsing, be it on phones, computers or tablets. As long as the user experiences are simple and similar across each platform, the adoption of services by non-technical people will improve.
Lesonsky: Do you have a favorite book?
Grant: My favorite book as related to business is Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. While it is more of a self-help book, it really put my head in the right place in the early days of my business. I was able to organize my thoughts clearly about team building and how to create focus for the bigger picture both in my personal and professional life.
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Grant: “First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.”—Napoleon Hill
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