14. Interview with Eric Payne (Venture Advocates)

Eric is a Managing Partner at Venture Advocates. He is one of the leading experts in mergers and acquisitions. Mr. Payne started, grew, and eventually sold Nationwide Valuations, one of the nation’s largest business valuation companies. Eric Payne is a skilled franchise consultant and has many years of experience with startup and exit planning.

Besides being extremely skilled in mergers and acquisitions, Eric Payne is also a father, a husband, a closet musician, and a personal friend. He’s one of those guys people “just want to be around.” Eric always seems to have something fun planned with a group. People always want to see what he’s got going on next.

Mr. Payne has self-diagnosed manic ADD, and he’s also an adrenaline junkie. You’ll often find him upside down on a mountain bike, in a pile of fresh powder, or high-sided on a rock while river rafting.

Below are some insights from Eric Payne. Enjoy!

What is your definition of success?

I don’t think of success in terms of dollars and sense (pun intended). Howard Thurman once said something like this,

“Don’t ask what the world needs, but ask what makes you come alive because what the world needs is you fully alive.”

To me, success means doing things that make me come alive, whether they are profitable and sensible, or not. So I’m about finances, yes, but I’m equally as motivated by family, friends, fun, faith, and some other “F-words” I suppose. I say that tongue-in-cheek. I’ll tell you what is not successful to me: blowing out family, friends, fun, and faith to pursue fame and fortune. I’m reminded of a scripture,

Matthew 16:26 (ESV) For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?

I’m not out to gain the world, but I sure do want to enjoy it.

When did you consider yourself a success?

Funny, when asked about being interviewed for a book on success, I literally laughed out loud. I don’t even think in those terms really. I guess it’s what I hinted at before. I see success as “having it all together”; all of those F-words in alignment, not one being sacrificed for another. “All systems go.” Sure, there must be seasons where we need to be all-in to save our business or save our marriage, but it’s not sustainable to put all our eggs in one basket for too long. So when did I consider myself a success? All those values in full alignment? Maybe for a moment, one day, a while back.

What steps do you take daily to improve?

Every year, the first week of January, my wife and I spend a half-day going over our goals from the prior year, celebrate our victories, then set new goals for the new year. We break out goals into Business, Finances, Individual, Family, and Marriage. We review our goals again in July to see if we’re on track. Each year I joke with one of my token “Ericisms” by saying, “The goal this year is to suck less than last year.” My wife rolls her eyes.

What have you recognized as your greatest strengths, and how have they impacted your success?

I’m comfortable in my own skin (usually). I don’t pretend to be someone I’m not. I throw a party to myself every year around my birthday. I’ll spare you the backstory, but it’s called “The Annual Attempt To Burn The House Down Party”. We just had the 6th annual. If you’re a dude, you’re invited. I love that party. All of my circles show up and cohabitate peacefully together. I have business friends, biking friends, neighbors, poker friends, music friends, church friends, new friends, and old friends. I have no fear of being my complete self at that party in front of all those circles. I’m not trying to keep my crazy neighbor away from my wealthy business friend. Same Eric, take it or leave it.

Tell me about a weakness or personal character flaw, and what you’re doing to overcome it?

I stated before that I’m wildly ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). I struggle with “shiny thing syndrome” for sure. I tend to be a better starter than a finisher. Knowing that about myself, though, I’m very cognizant that I need to put systems in place and hire my replacement before I get bored, put a wrench in it, and move on the next distraction. Also, being a glowing “D” and super-high “I” (DISC Assessment), I tend to be jerkish as well. So I’m distracted and callous? Good times.

How do you make important decisions?

Oh yes, The 24-Hour Rule. I forgot to mention that I’m also a bit of a postal worker (as in going postal). Suppress, suppress, suppress, everyone dies! So I learned several years ago that if there’s heat on a subject, and/or there are long-lasting consequences, simmer before acting. Before sending that next email reply, write it, then stick in it drafts until the next day. Wait to call in that employee until the next day. Wait to buy that new Jeep until the next day. Usually, that email never gets sent, and that Jeep never gets bought!

Was there a pivotal moment that set you on the path to where you are now?

When I was in college, I delivered pizza for Domino’s Pizza. I would go to the library and rent 4-5 books on tape (way before Audible). Some would be the motivational Zig Ziglar or Tony Robbins type of books and seminars. But what I loved most was renting autobiographies. I loved hearing the story before their success. I couldn’t get enough of hearing about the Lee Iacocca types that sold used cars before turning around all of Chrysler. Those countless hours in uniform (red, white, and blue polyester nonetheless) made me realize that Iacocca’s successes started long before we ever heard about him.

Are there any books you’ve read more than once? Why?

The book that’s been on my shelf since college is “The Goal” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. It’s not a sexy book; it’s more of a textbook. But it is singly the most impacting book I’ve read. Although it’s a business book about identifying the bottlenecks, process flow, systems, and managing constraints, I see its wisdom play out in so many other realms.

Tell me about a difficult commitment you’ve made, and would you make it again?

I have a partner that invested in a tech startup with me. He invested basically sight unseen because he’s a friend and values my opinions. Over four years, he lost $130k. No personal guarantees. No commitments to pay. But he’s getting paid back every dollar and then some. He trusts me even more now than the day we spent the money. But you know what else? He still has money, and he has friends with money. He’s one of my first calls when another ‘shiny thing’ pops up. There was a study years ago where a company messed up, fessed up, and was extravagant when making it right with the customer. The customer reviews were even better than those customer reviews before the company messed up. I want to be that guy, the one that messes up plenty but has no enemies and only glowing reviews.

What character traits do you value most in others?

Candidly, I carry a massive appreciation that I’m always one poor choice away from losing it all! I wonder if most are? I’m of the age where I’m starting to think about the end game. How do I finish well? Sustain? Leave a legacy? Don’t blow out? Another “Ericism” for you: “You don’t find steak in trash cans.” Also, “You are who you hang with.” So, what character trait do I seek out from others? How do I finish well? Hang out with people that are finishing well. Eat steak and stay out of trash cans!

How do you push through your worst times?

Another “Ericism” is “You can’t steer a parked car.” So I keep driving, hitting bumpers along the way, of course, but I don’t stop. Mountain biking is my current sport of choice. Most of my best friends ride. When we teach new riders, we offer all kinds of advice: “Momentum is your friend. Let the bike do what it was meant to do. Look 10 feet ahead, not at your tire.” I think the same advice applies to tough times. Don’t stop riding. Keep the pace. Do what you were created for. Focus on the future because this season is temporary.

What keeps you awake at night?

Nothing keeps me awake at night. Ever. I can sleep anywhere, anytime. It’s a great trait, I suppose. Or maybe I just don’t sleep well, so I’m always tired? I should probably look into that!?

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by the fresh and new. I’ve been called a trailblazer. I suppose I love the thrill of the unknown. Like the bumper sticker says, “Not all who wander are lost.” I love family vacations to new places. I love meeting new people. I love riding new trails. I love startups. I love playing music. I love taking risks. I love seeing others take risks.

How do you manage and prioritize opportunities?

This is a weakness. My wife tells me that not all great opportunities have to be my opportunities. “Save some for others,” she says. When shiny things create a distraction, and they do a lot, it takes everything in me to stay the course. It is imperative to be in community with other like-minded (and not so like-minded) peers and mentors that can be sounding boards. Slow down. Implement the 24-hour rule (from above). Pray. Listen.

What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

“Eric, dude, seriously bro” (this is how I talk). “Don’t make poor long-term choices based on short-term needs. Begin with the end in mind. Prior proper planning prevents poor performance. Live below your means. Seek wise counsel. Pace yourself. Finish well. Friends and family first. Don’t hold anything back. Give it all. Be transparent. Forgive and forget. Read more. Pray more. Find out what makes you come alive and do that!”

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