The Road Not Taken: The Moment I Realized I Needed to be the Supplier, Not the Seller

November 19, 2014 LinkedIn Influencer

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In this series of posts, Influencers explain how their career paths might have changed. Read all the stories here and write your own (please include the hashtag #RoadNotTaken in the body of your post).

The story of my family immigrating to Canada when I was eight is relatively well known. A quick Google search turns up a number of results about how I’m the “son of an immigrant factory worker” as they say on “Shark Tank.” What many people don’t know, is that my road to success was not always uphill.

little boy headshotAfter graduating from college, I began working in television production. I was one of the youngest producers to cover an Olympic Games and thought perhaps I could make my mark in TV. After the Sarajevo Olympics, I returned to Toronto and auditioned for acting gigs while waiting tables. I quickly realized this wasn’t the life that was going to provide for my family. My parents had shown me what it was like to sacrifice absolutely everything – money, family, security – for the opportunity of a better life. I knew I could do more to deliver for them.

I had a knack for talking to people and an insatiable drive to achieve – so sales made sense. Like so many young salesmen, I was a bit of a hustler. I was the go-getter, the yes-man, the whatever-it takes-to-make-a-deal guy. I was 150 percent committed to getting the deal and my boss and customers knew it. Problem was – I was the man for someone else’s bottom line.

A turning point in my career came when Warren Avis, founder of Avis Rental Car, and my boss at the time, took me aside and told me I was working way too hard to achieve my goals. “You’re putting so much pressure on yourself. You’re never going to scale that way,” he said.

He brought me to the window in our office and we stared down at the hot dog vendor selling on the edge of the parking lot.

“You’re the hot dog vendor,” he said. “You’re pushing your product, you’re doing all the work and you’re sweating it to make a living. You need to be the guy supplying the dogs to all the vendors if you ever want to scale.”

His words took me by surprise, I was doing it wrong. I had huge dreams – and I mean HUGE – but I had the wrong approach.

That day was a turning point in my professional career. I realized that I couldn’t do it alone. I needed to leverage the resources around me and dedicate myself to an opportunity that had the potential to scale.

When I started Herjavec Group in 2003 with George Frempong and Sean Higgins, we were three guys in an office with big dreams of dominating the information security industry in Canada. Over the past 11 years we have scaled to $150 million in annual sales revenue and more than 200 team members. Today we are one of the largest independently-owned information security firms in North America, and recently expanded into the U.S. with presence in NYC, Dallas and Los Angeles. We have the ability to serve customers globally and plan to formally establish a presence in Europe in early 2015. That type of success doesn’t come from pushing hot dogs from a stand. We had to become the service provider – the go-to supplier – the trusted advisor to our enterprise customers.

When you’re deciding what path to choose – think about what’s important to you and to your family.

What will it take to get there? How can you scale? Don’t set a goal to build a $100 million business, build ten $10 million businesses.

Break up your goals so you can almost grasp them.

Now get out there and hustle.

Robert Herjavec (@robertherjavec) is the Founder and CEO of Herjavec Group and a Shark on ABC’s Shark Tank.

Photo: Author’s Own