Michael Keiser is Co-Founder of coaching, marketing, and advisory company The Entrepreneur Circle and Co-Founder of management consulting startup BKV Solutions. Mike told Innovation Destination Hartford about his startup experience and shared advice for making connections and doing what it takes to make your business a success.
INNOVATION DESTINATION HARTFORD: When and how did the entrepreneurial bug hit? Did you always know you were going to run your own company?
MIKE KEISER: No, I actually had no idea.
I was managing the Connecticut branch of a mobile X-ray company back in 1996. One weekend I was on a call at Danbury Hospital. I was chatting with one of the radiologists, who was telling me that he and another doctor were starting their own radiology practice. He asked me if I’d ever thought of going into business for myself. And that was it. No one had ever asked me that before.
IDH: So you sort had an “a-ha” moment. What inspired you to take the leap?
MK: I guess I saw huge potential for the bone density market. There was hardly anyone else doing it. I somehow managed to convince my wife Maria that I wouldn’t lose the house. Six months later American Mobile Scan was up and running.
I was involved with the company until 2002. Lower insurance reimbursements, the fact that many doctors’ offices began getting their own bone density equipment, and a partner dispute were the three primary reasons it ended.
IDH: And that was your first startup?
MK: Yes. That was my first startup. I became involved with another startup that I thought had huge potential, but one of the partners embezzled all the money we had and that was the end of that business. So not everything has been smooth sailing.
IDH: What did you learn from those experiences?
MK: A lot. Hindsight is 20/20. That was a terrible experience. It took a while to get over, but I think it made me better at what we do now.
After American Mobile Scan, I merged with a Boston based company, which I left in 2004. I started The Entrepreneur Circle in 2003, so I had overlapping businesses for one year.
IDH: Let’s talk about that. How did you develop the concept for The Entrepreneur Circle?
MK: When I was working for the medical imaging company I met with a group of business owners—we were sort of each other’s board of advisors. We helped each other work out problems and provided a sounding board for one another.
That helped form the idea for The Entrepreneur Circle. It was originally called The Small Business Network, and it was a lot more focused on networking. But Maria and I became involved with peer advisory boards and got into business coaching and executive coaching, so we pivoted our mission.
IDH: In terms of partnership, how do you and your co-founder and wife find balance?
MK: It took a little while and I don’t know if it’s completely balanced. No one is really the boss of the other, it’s just who is better at what.
For example, if it’s marketing or business development-related, I have more of the influence. If it’s direct one-on-one coaching, Maria would have more say over that. We just figured out who was best at what and divided our roles that way. The partnership has its moments, but the good times are better than the bad times. And she’s a good partner.
IDH: Who is your clientele and how are they finding you?
MK: Our clientele is usually privately owned businesses that are small but established. The average size of our client is about $1.8 million a year in revenue. The owner is still very much involved in the day-to-day business operations, so we are always working directly with the business owner.
Typically, we work with someone who is been in business for 10 years or more. And usually something is gnawing at them. They’re not growing as fast as they like to. They are sometimes just not as happy in their business as they used to be. But something isn’t 100% right.
We find some of our clients through referral, some through networking. Our best source of new business is through public speaking. Every time we give a public talk somewhere we always get new business.
IDH: So startups aren’t really your focus?
MK: Not really. We’ve been doing a program with Capital Workforce Partners for about 5 ½ years. It’s a percentage of what we do. We created a program for unemployed people who want to go into business for themselves to get back into the workforce. But those are the only startups we work with.
IDH: What differentiates your business from others?
MK: That’s taken me a long time to learn. Truthfully, people in the consulting or coaching world can appear to be a dime a dozen. How can someone tell the difference between us and another company from just looking at our website, Facebook, or LinkedIn?
There’s no fancy language, there’s no better website design—none of that works nearly as well as providing somebody with an idea of what it would be like to work with you.
So, the differentiator is that we have to create an experience for someone ahead of time. We have to get people to trust us and understand whether or not they would like to work with us. That’s why public speaking works so well, because our talks aren’t sales pitches. They provide content. They provide practical tools people have used to improve their business.
It would be hard for me to say we’re better than our competition because we get great results for our clients. A lot of people would say that. You have to give people a reason to believe you.
IDH: That sounds like a good strategy.
MK: There’s no magic bullet for making a business successful. You have to have a great product and outwork your competition.
I’ve always appreciated hard work. And I love to compete. So even if my competition doesn’t know that I’m proactively competing with them, I am.
IDH: Tell us about BKV Solutions.
MK: BKV is new, it’s about a year old. It was a concept we wanted to launch for a long time, because we always get calls from clients and other people asking: Do you know somebody who can do financial turnaround? Do you know a good HR consultant?
Maria and I were so focused on figuring out what The Entrepreneur Circle was, finding our way, and determining how to market and sell it better. We never looked into starting another company until our partner Sheldon Bustow came along, and then we recognized an opportunity.
A lot of organizations have these operational gaps—most of them are temporary. So you can go in and help them identify the gaps and provide a temporary solution for them.
It segues perfectly with what we do because at The Entrepreneur Circle we focus on executive development—helping the business owner be a better business owner. Now we have a whole slew of solutions we can use to help them on a more practical level as well.
IDH: Both organizations are geared toward helping other companies. Why is this important to you?
MK: That’s a great question. I discovered that I loved business and I loved how businesses function. And I also discovered that I really loved to help them function better.
There are a lot of businesses where the owner feels like they are being run by the business, or they feel a little overwhelmed, or the business has plateaued. It’s really gratifying to find practical solutions to help people improve.
IDH: What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?
MK: What it means to me is the opportunity to make something out of nothing. It’s a great outlet for creativity.
IDH: Advice for other entrepreneurs?
MK: That’s a really great question. There’s a lot.
You really do have to be able to take the lows without getting too discouraged. Because the lows happen—it’s how you get out of those that defines who you are.
When you decide to open a business, you simply have to agree to do whatever it takes. It’s the big reason I think a majority of businesses fail. They just didn’t put in enough effort.
You have to realize that a lot of people are going to be launching the same type of business as you, so you just have to work harder at it and be better at it.
Also, even if you think you’re great at customer service or providing a product or service, you always have question it. You have to look at it and ask: Am I fooling myself? Where do I need to be better? Because somebody else is always trying to answer that same question.
IDH: And possibly a step ahead of you.
MK: Right. So don’t worry about the next new fad or strategy, just always question yourself. How am I really doing?
Find out more about BKV Solutions at bkvsolutions.com.