Finding Paradise: Build a Business, Not a Job

For 20 years David Finkel has lived by the mantra of “build a business, not a job,” and his clients are converts that have seen annual growth of 32.4% annually. David’s company “Maui Mastermind”, helps business owners build sustainable companies they love owning. Read this interview to learn how David built an empire and how you, too, can grow your business while achieving work/life balance.

Q. How did you become the “Maui Mastermind?”

The company started back in 2003 out of a mastermind group I was a part of with three other very successful business owners. Twice a year they would get together in person for a full day to brainstorm ideas to scale each other’s businesses, give direct feedback on new ideas, and hold each other accountable. 

At one of these sessions we agreed to do a “one time only" joint event in Maui for our respective top clients. The event was so successful that we decided to make it an annual thing.

In 2007, after I sold two of my companies, I started to expand the business from an annual elite retreat to a practical, structured program to help business owners grow their companies and get their lives back.

As we’ve continued to grow at 40% per year, we’ve grown our reach to impact more entrepreneurs.

Q. You note that over 60% of the graduates from your program come back each year. To what do you attribute this pattern of success?

I think it is two things. First are the results they generate. Our average annual growth rate for business coaching clients is 32.4%. And on average they reduce their business’s reliance on them by 81.5%. These are dramatic results over 24-36 months.

Second, I think it’s the community of peers they now have to connect with. Being a business owner can be a lonely affair. It helps to upgrade your peer group.

Q. What setbacks have you faced on the path to success?

Many. I think one of the toughest was in 2008 when the financial markets crashed. At that time, 40% of the business owners we worked with had a large part of their net worth tied into real estate. It hit our business hard. But we scrambled and made it through, learning in the process. Now less than 10% of our clients are heavily reliant on real estate, the other 90% are service businesses, wholesalers, retailers, professional service firms, online business owners, or manufacturers. It’s a much more stable mix.

Q. One of your slogans is: “Build a Business, Not a Job,” and one of the values that you hold dear is: “The mission is always more important than the money.” Can you tell us what that means to you personally and what you think it should mean for all entrepreneurs?

I’ll share a very personal story. My grandfather died, and I remember having a sold out seminar to give the weekend of his funeral. I scrambled to find a way to record portions of the training and had two close friends come in to video facilitate the workshop while I was at the funeral. It was a painful lesson to me that I needed to eat my own cooking and build my company to be independent of me. 

Building a business, not a job, means growing your business and reducing its reliance on you, the owner, at the same time. The way that most business owners try to do this is by making the mistake of scaling one the one-legged stool of “Team”. If everything stays in balance and alignment, you can sit on a one-legged stool, but it is wobbly. And how long does a one-legged stool balanced solely on team stay in perfect alignment? Not very long.

When you scale based solely on hiring “key” people, you just create a new problem for yourself. You move the critical dependency from your shoulders to those of your key hires. What happens if you have an employee issue?  What happens if a critical team member’s spouse is relocated?  Or someone gets hurt?

Instead, we teach business owners to build on the stable, three-legged base that consists of: team, systems, and internal controls. Sure, you’ll still want great talent on your team, but you’ll also create stability and scalability by empowering your team with the structure (i.e., systems and controls) they need to produce more, better, and faster for your company.

Scaling on the stable base of systems, team, and controls means that your business can handle the loss of a key team member.  Plus, by having the other two legs of systems and controls, it’s much easier to find, hire, and onboard new team members because you have a structure into which to integrate them.

Q. You have hosted many popular SCORE webinars, one being on 6 Time Tactics to Free up 8+ Hours per Week. Can you discuss the importance of time management and how this system has specifically helped you?

One of the most common complaints I hear from business owners (and I talk with thousands every year) is that they feel like they don’t have any time.  They feel pulled in so many directions, forced to put out fires, and stuck doing low value “stuff”.  Not only does this hurt the business, but it also kills the business owner’s sense of joy.

For years now we’ve asked new coaching clients to keep a time log for one week.  What we see is that with the exception of meetings, most of their time is carved into small 5, 10, or 15-minute slivers.  But we know that to do truly valuable work, you need blocks of time (at least 30 minutes, and ideally 1-3 hours) on a weekly basis. That’s why that particular webinar you mentioned resonated with business owners so much; it gave them a concrete framework to structure their week in such a way as to give them 8 or more hours of this “prime time”.

For me, it’s allowed me to run two active businesses and passively run several others and still keep my working time to an average of 35 hours a week (and take 10 weeks off each year.)  When I work, I want to be doing the things that create maximum value for my company and my market.  But I want to be there to raise my sons, love my wife, and have some time to care for myself, too.  Hence my obsession with using my time well.

Q. What was your original marketing strategy for “Maui Mastermind” and how has it evolved?

It started as a one-off workshop we invited our top clients to, but from there we recognized that there was a hungry need in the market for a structured, proven system to help business owners grow their businesses the right way, so they could also increase their personal freedom.

Early on our marketing strategy was based on the exclusivity of having just one workshop, with 40 spaces, that sold out up to a year in advance. Once we launched the coaching part of our business that strategy changed. Now we focus on sharing the concrete map to build a business not a job.  Our market really appreciates that we give them so many free or low cost ways to learn our approach to scaling a company (from free video series on our website to our latest book SCALE which I wrote with co-founder and Maui Advisor Jeff Hoffman).

Q. Is there a marketing outlet or strategy that you think more entrepreneurs should take advantage of?

My three favorites are formal referral strategies (not to be confused with passive word of mouth referrals), reactivation campaigns, and creating a “gateway offer” or defined up-sell path through your product/service line mix.

A formalized referral system is an active referral strategy that you intentionally craft to spark and prompt your existing clients to help you find more prospects.

A reactivation campaign is an organized way you consistently go back to past customers and clients and give them touch to ask them to come back and work with you again.

Then a gateway offer is the sculpted first step that you use to get new customers to buy from you that leads to the richest, best relationship for you and them.

Q. Giving back appears to be very important to you and your program. In your mission statement you note, “Part of our mission is to inspire and empower business owners and entrepreneurs to serve greatly, care deeply, and give generously!” Can you talk about the importance of giving back and how it has served you and your members over the years?

Since 2003 we’ve set aside a defined portion of our operating profit to give to causes and charity. Initially, we did it because we felt it was the right thing to do. But now it’s just become an institutionalized thing. But more than the money, we consistently share internally stories of how our client’s lives are better by the work we do. It’s been a great way to help us build a culture that attracts the kind of clients and team that share our values.

To date the Maui community has raised over $5.1 million for dozens of charities. What’s more important is that we keep this idea alive for our clients so they can model it in their companies.

Q. Another value that you emphasize is “sustainable giving that goes on well past our lifetimes.” When you’ve retired, what legacy do you hope to leave behind?

This is a great question. I was talking with my executive team here at Maui Mastermind a few weeks ago about this very thing. What we talked about was that a big part of our goal with Maui Mastermind is to build it to endure long past our lives so that it is still thriving and serving others even when we’re retired from actively working in the company.  It really struck a chord with each of us. 

Beyond that, my biggest drive is to have a loving, lifelong, committed marriage with my wife Heather and to help my three sons, Matthew, Adam and Joshua grow to become strong, kind, happy, and contributing men, and to be an active parts of their lives as long as I live.

Q. You are the Wall Street Journal Best-Selling author of “SCALE: 7 Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back.” What is one of your favorite business-related books?

One of my favorite “life” books, which directly applies to succeeding in business is Clayton Christianson’s, How Will You Measure Your Life? The book has had a huge impact on how I conceptualize building a company. 

Q. At SCORE, we encourage all entrepreneurs and small business owners to reach out to a mentor. Can you tell us who has been a critical mentor in your life?

One of the mentors who really impacted me in business was a woman named Stephanie. I still remember the first time she shared with me her three questions: What matters most? For the sake of what? How much is enough?  Watching her succeed in business and in her personal life really inspired me to be very intentional about how I looked at success, in business and in life.

Q. Can you tell us what attributes you think make a great mentor?

Look for someone who has done what you want to do in a way that you find inspirational and want to emulate.  Find someone who is real and candid about the good and bad, not just a cardboard caricature of one dimensional “success”.  I want someone who is human -- flaws and all -- who can share the good, bad, and ugly of their experiences in a way that I can directly relate to.

Finally, you need someone who cares, a person whose heart is there, not just their head.

About the Author

David Finkel headshot

David Finkel is co-author of, SCALE: 7 Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back (written with co-founder Jeff Hoffman), and one of the nation’s most respected business thinkers. A Wall Street Journal and Business Week bestselling author of 11 business books, David’s weekly business owner e-letter is read by 100,000 business owners around the world and his business articles have been featured in over 6,000 newspapers and publications.

David is the founder and CEO of Maui Mastermind®, one of the world’s premier business coaching companies who helps businesses in the $1-20 million range build their companies to sell, scale, or own passively.

Over the past 20 years, David and the other Maui coaches have personally started, scaled, and sold over $2 billion of businesses. 

Maui Mastermind helps business owners build companies they love owning again--for the value they create, the lives they touch, the profits they earn, the team they employ, and the freedom they enjoy. Their clients have enjoyed an average annual growth rate of 32.4 percent while at the same time radically reducing their companies’ reliance on them as the owners.

An ex-Olympic-level athlete turned business multi-millionaire, David is an American success story. He and his wife Heather, and their three young sons live a very simple life in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Interview by Patrick Tedder