Mike Warren is a self-taught serial entrepreneur that has been transforming businesses for over two decades. By following his earliest passion for finding things and uncovering their value, he’s built a multi-million dollar private equity firm, been a bestselling author and co-founded Boots2Suits, a company dedicated to helping veterans transition from the military into civilian business ownership. His number-one bestselling book, “The Exit Formula: How to Sell Your Business For 3x More Than It’s Worth Today” and co-authored how-to, “Guerrilla Credit: How to get Cash and Credit For Any Business,” have sold millions of copies worldwide.
A former military veteran, Warren has made it his mission to empower companies and entrepreneurs that are dedicated to giving back to their communities, and the world at large.
We had a chance to talk to him about how he got started in business and where he sees the economy heading (and it’s good):
U4G: What inspired you to go into business for yourself?
Mike Warren: One of the things I realized as an employee was that having a job seemed like security, but it was just an illusion. When people quit or get fired, there is no real security to fall back on. Whereas I started my own business, I controlled my own financial destiny, so my income wasn’t capped. I always wanted more than a job—I wanted a business that supported me.
U4G: What kind of services do you provide?
MW: We partner with companies that have the intent to expand nationally or internationally, and help them grow with support and equity. We work specifically with companies that are devoted to giving back to their local communities, especially by creating jobs.
U4G: How does that process work?
MW: Let’s say there’s a company that does manufacturing or selling a service. A marketing company, medical—you name it. The idea is to go in to either partner with them or buy it, with the intention to grow the company. There’s a number of ways to invest in companies without cash. You can invest in a company by providing resources, time, guidance. It could be our connections. In the beginning when I started this process of buying and selling companies, it was about all about how I could make more money. But I’ve learned it’s not about making money anymore—It’s about how to give back, make the world a better place tomorrow than how it is today. So now we focus exclusively on companies that want to give back.
U4G: What do you think caused this transition for you?
MW: The realization that I can’t take the money with me. And since that’s the case, the next best thing to making money is making the world a better place. when I am in it today? I have two kids; a boy and a girl. They model me, so what they see me do, they are going to do. So if I can show a good path to somebody else, to help them be somebody better, that will last longer than me making a buck.
U4G: Would you say this consciousness came as a direct result of having kids?
MW: Yes, I would say it did. My son is 21 years old, and 21 years ago, before my son was born, my work was motivated by how to make more money, how to travel, how to buy more toys and stuff like that. When he was born, it showed me that there is more to life than just money. I always knew that there was. But it didn’t really hit me until he was born and that as he got older, it would up to me to show him how to live, how to be in the world, what values to hold. Show my son how to find out what kind of man he is, and my daughter what kind of woman. I had to walk the talk. I couldn’t just say “Do as I say, not as I do.” That’s a model that my dad followed. That’s old school.
U4G: You co-founded Boots2Suits, which helps military veterans transition into entrepreneurship. As a veteran yourself, what are some of the biggest issues you see right now affecting veterans and their ability to start businesses?
MW: They don’t necessarily have the right kind of mentors, the right guidance. They come with the mindset of following orders—someone asks them to jump and they ask, “How high?” That’s not how being an entrepreneur works. You have to set goals for yourself and achieve them. It’s not about being told what to do. So you have to find the right mentors to model for you how to do that. The other is that, if you do manage to start a company, there is a tendency for people to hold on to equity. Equity is a cheap way to get somebody to buy into your vision to help your company to grow. So if it requires you giving up equity, even if it’s a majority, ownership to somebody else, but they can help take the company to the next level, you should do it. The best people don’t work for free, and equity is all you have to offer without capital.
U4G: What kind of support did you have when you started your own business? Did you have mentors?
MW: Yes, I definitely did. But one of the things I didn’t do in the beginning was realize I can’t do everything. I was also very secretive because I was worried my ideas were going to be stolen. But there’s plenty of ideas to steal in the world. As I changed from mindset from lack to abundance, I started to realize there is plenty of money out there. There are plenty of deals to be made. That allowed me to trust people, because I perceived it as less dangerous to do so.
U4G: Where do you think your acumen for business came from?
MW: My father was a military man as well, but he was also an entrepreneur. When I was growing up, he used to take salvaged parts from small planes, piece them together and build a new one. It was a whole side business. I think that’s where my entrepreneur streak comes from. My very first business was actually dumpster diving. I would go out to the dumpsters, I’d find trash that people threw away, and I’d do a yard sale that weekend selling stuff that they threw away. Sometimes I’d sell it back to the same people. I was a seven or eight year making sometimes forty or fifty bucks in a weekend. It’s kind of like what my dad was doing. Taking things other people didn’t value, and remaking them into something that could be valued.
U4G: What are the qualities that you look for in a company that you’re going to invest in?
MW: Overall, willingness to support the community. The company needs to be able to hire people. Sometimes when going to a company, we have to let some people go, especially when a company is not succeeding. There is a reason for that. Usually it has to do with people, processes or systems. Sometimes you get rid of couple people, focus more on hiring better fits. It’s not to fire people to create a better bottom line, it’s to improve the bottom line. I want a company that has a good growth potential, and can give back. It needs to make a profit, sure. Because I’m not interested in doing something that’s not making a profit. If it’s not making a profit, how can it give back? At some point, you make enough money and you have an opportunity to do something good with it.
U4G: Why do you think people are so much more interested in giving back now than they were before?
MW: Because it has become essential. Let me give you an example. Back in the 50s It was not acceptable, for dads to work at home and really acknowledge the family. He was supposed to be out making money. Kids were suppose to be seen but not heard. So the world itself has changed, has become more family oriented. More family means you also share the resources with the community. That may start local, but eventually it will go global. So it becomes more acceptable to focus on social good. In fact, if you don’t have a social program to do something, in due time you’ll be looked upon in a negative way. People are going to choose to spend their money at the company that’s giving back.