Sean Marszalek is no stranger to entrepreneurship. After owning and operating a personal fitness studio, he then co-founded SDC Nutrition, Inc. in 2009 in his hometown of Pittsburgh, where he currently serves as President and CEO. Under his leadership, Sean has grown SDC at a CAGR of 200 percent since inception. Its flagship brand, About Time, is one of the fastest growing all-natural nutrition brands in the U.S. and can be found in over 2,000 retail locations, including GNC, as well as in Canada, Brazil, and Australia. Follow him @_TryAboutTime.
Who is your hero?
My mother is my hero. She has been an unbelievable example not only professionally, but in every aspect of my life. She’s truly an incredible woman.
What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
One of my advisors told me to ignore anyone who said “don’t grow too quickly.” From that day forward, I have lived my life fearlessly; not by slowing down and making those around me keep pace.
As an entrepreneur, I believe that as long as you continue to execute, the right people and resources will fall into place. No one wants to feel like they have missed out on a potential opportunity, so rapid growth will attract the appropriate talent and capital to help facilitate your growth trajectory.
I have acknowledged that as CEO of a company, I need to be living in the future. Therefore, I have hired the most qualified employees to maintain and run the business while I am in the field helping it grow. Knowing I can depend on my associates to continually help the company prosper and succeed is an incredible feeling.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
My biggest mistake was spending too much time pursuing incompatible investors. There are plenty of individuals in business who claim to be “sophisticated investors,” but in actuality, they are not making any significant investments.
I spent many hours providing one requested document after another to “potential” investors who were never going to invest in my company for a variety of reasons. I even learned that one of my possible investors didn’t have the available funds to invest.
As a result of my mistake, I always recommend doing due diligence early on for any likely investor. It is crucial to educate yourself about a possible new investor. Always ask important questions before sharing valuable information.
Successful investors appreciate due diligence because it shows that you are looking for the best partnerships for your company. It also demonstrates confidence and competence.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
I enjoy waking up really early, having a cup of coffee, and sending emails while watching the city come to life.
I think it sets a tone for the day. It’s amazing how many customers and vendors I’ve met over the years who have said to me, “I knew I wanted to work with you once I saw the time of day you send me emails.” I think ambitious people are drawn to one another.
I also have a cat who sits next to my laptop every morning and would go crazy if I missed our early morning coffee and email time.
What’s your best financial or cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
It is essential to know that sales can fix a lot of problems for early-stage companies. From the beginning, I found that nothing compares to driving top-line revenue. Whether it’s being able to use income to help with expenses or attracting investors by showing them that people want your product or service, sales growth is crucial.
It’s also important to put the business before yourself. When I started SDC Nutrition I lived on my personal credit card for the first two years and didn’t take a salary. The term “sweat equity” really means that you literally sweat every time your bills are due.
What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?
In my opinion, success is waking up every morning and loving what you do for a living. It’s looking in the mirror at night and asking yourself if there anything more you could have done — and knowing that there isn’t.
Every entrepreneur starts with a vision; a dream. For me, getting others to see and believe in my vision was a challenge in the beginning. I felt like I was successful once my vision started to unfold for everyone to witness. It was so rewarding when others finally believed in my company and our products. It was powerful to watch the growth of jobs we created. Those were the moments when I thought, “This is how success feels.” But with that being said, the fun is just getting started.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
Surround yourself with good people. I believe the best way to get to the next level is to build a team of people who are experts within their field. You have to trust that the team you have built are all incredibly intelligent, diligent and motivated. It’s essential to understand our weaknesses and fill those voids with qualified people. This philosophy will help you get to the next level.