In his book Unleashed, my coach, mentor, and friend Rick Simmons wrote, “We define Liminal Space as a period of discontinuity that creates an openness to change.” My best description of the transition from 2022 to 2023 is that we are in a period of Liminal Space.
I have only worked in eCommerce for six years. Those six years represent almost half of what has been a 14-year run of strong economic growth. For nearly a decade and a half, credit and spending have boomed amongst businesses and consumers alike. With a slowing economy and rising interest rates, we are prepared for soft demand going into 2023 and beyond.
The first half of 2022 at 365 was marked with growth and many wins. We were so optimistic that at the end of Q2, we were talking about forecasting up the entire year! As the back half of the year unfolded, we were met with challenges at every turn and watched as the revenue gains from the first half of the year were slowly eroded. Thankfully, we ended 2022 with growth over 2021, albeit not as much as we had expected. It truly felt like a period of discontinuity, and with that came an openness to making changes.
As we enter 2023 in Liminal Space, I am optimistic despite the challenges that I expect are ahead. We made so much progress in the business last year. The tough environment in Q4 forced us to take a hard look at our team cost and operating expenses. Upon critical inspection, we realized that we had to both reduce overhead and tighten financial controls. With those changes made, I now feel that we are very well prepared for whatever 2023 brings our way. On top of that, we ended 2022 with the addition of two new brands in the 365 family — so there is much to be grateful and excited for as we start the new year.
We started off 2022 as “the year of the process.” This ultimately evolved into “the year we fully use EOS 100%.” Our decision to commit to running 365 purely on EOS is perhaps our biggest strategic win of 2022. If you are running an SMB without a strong operating system, I would strongly suggest that you stop making it up as you go (that’s what we did for the past six years) and commit to using a proven system. We used to “run maybe 50% on EOS,” but as of writing this letter we are using 90%+ of the EOS tools as prescribed. To accomplish that, we deployed EOS software from ninety.io across the organization — and I can’t recommend it enough. I am grateful to have Justin as my business partner. While I have always been the “deals, ideas, and strategy guy,” he has long been the “operational side” of all of our ventures. As I watch him in the EOS role of Integrator, I can see the tangible impact that EOS makes in his ability to best lead the company day to day.
In addition to EOS, we embraced some other winning systems in 2022. Thanks to insights and nudges from some friends, we dove headlong into rebuilding our HR systems around Culture Index and Top Grading. Just like the EOS recommendation above, if you are running a company then you need systems for hiring and understanding your team — find good ones and use them!
In May, we welcomed Jesson as our VP of Supply Chain. Upon arrival, he immediately got to work improving our manufacturing operations through standardized work and the implementation of a proper S&OP process. The journey of implementing S&OP has been met with many challenges and resulted in hiring our first full-time internal data analyst (welcome Chad). With further prodding from Jesson, we are also beginning to incorporate many elements of LEAN across our supply chain and warehouse operation.
In July, I was proud to co-host the first annual HoldCoConf with my friend and now business partner, John Wilson of the Wilson Companies. We welcomed more than 100 HoldCo entrepreneurs, founders, and executives to Cleveland for two days of fun and learning. We were proud to host amazing industry thought leaders as speakers while showing off some of the best that Cleveland has to offer. If you missed the 2022 event you can see the session recordings on YouTube. HoldCoConf23 is scheduled for September 18–20 and registration will begin soon (see HoldCoConf.com for details).
In August, I took my first Think Week. This was inspired by both my Executive Coach Rick Simmons and a book recommendation to read The Road Less Stupid by Keith Cunningham. The term Think Week is often attributed to Bill Gates, but you don’t need to be the founder of Microsoft to benefit from this practice — all entrepreneurs should take time away to think. Don’t use vacations or work travel for this. Schedule time to get out of your office, go someplace different (outdoors is best in my opinion) and think deeply about your business. Take nothing with you except for a notepad and your business challenges and goals. You will return with some great insights and ideas. I will be taking another Think Week (or two) this year, and if you are an entrepreneur you should take one as well.
In September, I was approached by an info-product industry veteran to build a brand in M&A education. We partnered to launch Masters in Business Acquisitions (MBA) and welcomed more than a dozen students to our beta launch in Q4. The first full cohort launched this month. Our aim is to build a premier brand in the ETA/SMB acquisition space focused on education, resources, community, and expert advice. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my career as an acquisition entrepreneur and will be using that platform to promote it to others. If you are looking for training or mentorship in small business acquisitions, reach out to us at MBAcquire.com.
In late November, I got a phone call from a lender regarding some troubled eCommerce assets. Less than 45 days later we closed a transaction to turn around two long established, but struggling, eCommerce brands. I suspect we’ll see more distressed deal flow in 2023. If you are an investor or lender in eCommerce that has assets in need of workout, please contact me. We keep everything confidential and can work very quickly.
In December, I had planned to publish our first ever Vivid Vision. I still have the final draft, but it is shelved for the time being. The concept comes from Cameron Herald’s book by the same name where he makes the case for the importance of documenting a visual representation of your business vision. I wrote our Vivid Vision just after Think Week in August. As the balance of our year unfolded, I watched our operating environment change dramatically and found myself re-evaluating that vision. I have questioned some of my own assumptions and analyses and now want to spend more time on it before publishing.
There is a quote debatably attributed to John Maynard Keynes that says, “When the facts change, I change my mind — what do you do, sir?” I find that the facts as of late change quickly and with them so do my plans. I suspect 2023 will be a year of “Strong Opinions, Losely Held.” Our organization will need to be agile and responsive. I will spend time this year refining our Vivid Vision and plan to include it in the 2023 Annual Letter.
As I reflect on 2022, a final thought comes to mind on the topic of leadership development. Last year I joined YPO and Justin joined Vistage. As an organization, we invested heavily in leadership development for our leadership team through the Telos Institute and training with Culture Index. Additionally, Justin and I both had the opportunity to travel to some amazing events and conferences (Capital Camp, SMBash, ECF, and more) to network and learn. For entrepreneurs and high-achievers alike who read this, my advice is simple: invest in yourself. Self-awareness and support from peers are critical drivers of success. We have seen the benefits of both in our business and plan to keep investing in the activities and resources that drive them.
If you have read this far, thank you for your time and attention. I hope following our journey at 365 is helpful to you. I’d like to close this letter with a simple encouragement. I am writing this from a period of Liminal Space. When you inevitably find yourself here as well, I would encourage you to lean into the experience. Be open to the change and opportunity in front of you, then put your head down and get back to work.
Lastly, thank you to everyone who is a part of making 365 a success. As co-founders, Justin and I owe a debt of gratitude to everybody who helps us along the way: employees, mentors, lenders, peers, and family alike — thank you all. Here’s to another year of pursuing our Core Purpose of Winning in eCommerce!