Jul 12, 2021
One of the most essential parts of our entrepreneurial journey is the ability to continually learn. We should never stop learning. If we stop learning, we stop growing.
Sir Richard Branson, a business magnate, investor, and author, said, “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” If we can learn from great books and courses, our mistakes and successes, our mentors, our critics, and our customers, we will have the ability to continually find success. The worst thing we can do as entrepreneurs is to think we know everything and stop learning.
Jeff Burningham is a serial entrepreneur who has founded some very successful businesses in his career and has been on over 10 start-up boards. He is also the founder and chairman of Peak Capital Partners, a $2 billion real estate investment firm, which was named the second fastest-growing company in Utah and one of the 500 fastest privately held companies in the United States by Inc. Magazine.
In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss Jeff’s career and how his passion for learning helped him get to where he is today.
A Passion for Learning
Brian Herbert, an American author, said, “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.”
We should always be growing and progressing, and the only way we can do this is by learning. From a young age, Jeff developed a passion for learning and created a growth mindset. Each life experience he went through, he found a lesson to learn. However, this is often easier said than done.
Learning is a choice. We should actively search for new opportunities for growth if we want to constantly progress. There are so many different ways and things to learn we could easily miss if we aren’t paying attention. We can learn skills, history, spiritual lessons, or life habits. We can learn by reading books, listening to stories, or watching the examples of mentors. We can even learn from the massive glaciers in Alaska.
Jeff went heli-skiing in Alaska and learned a new skill. While he stood on the massive mountain, watching the northern lights flicker over the horizon, he learned perspective.
We can learn from everything around us if we are looking. Some of the best and hardest ways to learn are through trial and error. Making mistakes is hard and unfortunately, guaranteed. What determines our success is not the intensity of the mistake, but the way we react to it. If we can look at our challenges and failures as opportunities to learn, we will have much more success in our businesses and in our lives.
Here are a few examples of experiences Jeff took as an opportunity for new insights, knowledge, and growth.
Over the course of his career, Jeff learned that relationships matter most.
“It's about relationships,” Jeff said. “We often focus on results or things we want to get done and sometimes those are important, but really, at the end of the day, the result we really want are the relationships, and whether that's an MBA program, or a business, or a family, or a community, those relationships are what matter most.”
When Jeff was about 12 or 13 years old, he started a carpet-cleaning business. His parents bought him a carpet cleaner so he could start cleaning the carpets at school, the dentist’s office, and churches. He eventually handed on his business to his little brother, but he said this first step on his entrepreneurial journey taught him some of the greatest lessons.
“We don't get there alone; we almost always need help, whether it's through investors or mentors or partners or employees,” Jeff said. “Without my mom and dad . . . I wouldn't have been able to make it.”
While we may have the skills necessary to start a business by ourselves, we will have a much greater capacity for success when we get the help of others. Jeff learned this lesson from his parents and re-learned it again with his mentors, partners, and investors. When we focus on relationships, whether it be with our customers or partners, success and profit will come naturally.
Jeff learned a lot from his first scalable business. He started Mind Wire, a technology company, as an undergrad at BYU, and he won the BYU Business Plan Competition in 2001. He later sold his business to a publicly-traded company, learning a few lessons in the process.
Jeff and his partner had scaled their business up to about 20 employees and created a great team of people. When he sold the company and made that transaction, he learned that watching his small company get absorbed by a bigger company was harder than he thought. He also stayed with the publicly-traded company for about two years until he left to open his own office.
“I learned a lot about transactions [in] that early sale,” Jeff said. “I also learned that it was hard for me to work for someone else. It wasn't motivating to me to follow someone else's vision. I always like to set the vision, set the plan, set the course within my team.”
By selling his company, Jeff learned new ways to negotiate with others, and also learned something about himself. He learned that he doesn’t work great under someone else. He learned he works better when he can implement his own ideas and visions with a team.
After Jeff left the publicly traded company, he teamed up with two of his friends to create Peak Capital Partners. There were times when they weren’t sure if they would make it as they had about two to three years of no revenue. However, as they continued to work hard and pursue their vision, they turned it around. Since then, they have been one of the fastest-growing businesses in Utah for the last 5-10 years and have scaled their business to about 800 employees.
During his time with Peak Capital Partners, Jeff continually looked for new opportunities to learn. He first learned to never give up. It took Jeff two to three years to earn a profit, but because he put in the hard work and effort, he was able to turn our business around and become extremely successful.
We also need to be very intentional about who we choose to partner with. “I've learned the value of good partners,” Jeff said. “Don't ever get a partner that doesn't have your same baseline ethics or morals, and I'm not talking about religion. I'm talking about honesty, integrity, work ethic, etc. Find partners that see the same way you do in that regard. Also, get partners . . . that complement your weaknesses. Be self-aware. Know where you're strong, know where you're weaker, and get partners that can complement your weaknesses.”
As we constantly seek new ways to learn and implement what we learn, we will find that our chances of success will increase. Because Jeff was able to learn from his experience and the experience of others, he found strategies that work in a business and others that don’t, and that helped him in his future ventures.
“I really love the early stages [of a business],” Jeff said. “There's a lot of risks. It's really hard, but I find it to be . . . such a rich time of learning. And so I love those first five years. I love the startup.”
Thank you so much Jeff for sharing your stories and insights with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:
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