Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur“ we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dustin Giannangelo.
Dustin Giannangelo is the CEO of Fusion Wealth Management. He’s a successful entrepreneur in the wealth management industry. Dustin specializes in working with wealthy families and business owners.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Dustin Giannangelo: When I came out of college, I was $50,000 in student loan debt, and I didn’t own a car. I was 100% broke, but I had a significant amount of ambition. I ended up paying for my last year of college by playing online poker at night while taking a double workload of classes. I wasn’t quite sure how to start a business in wealth management, so I thought it was best to join a company to understand the industry before starting my own business.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Dustin Giannangelo: While I was working with the company and watching how they ran the business, I knew there had to be a better way. They thought small, and I quickly realized they would only ever be small. When I brought different ideas or strategies that could propel us to a higher level, it made them very uncomfortable. I had grander ambitions for my business and wanted to make more of an impact.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
Dustin Giannangelo: Yes, I have always been an entrepreneur at heart. I was always starting little companies as a kid, from starting my own car washing business when I was 11 years old to a landscaping business with two friends who I had working for me. I’ve always been a risk-taker and would rather have all the weight on my shoulders to succeed or fail. I love to build things that can positively impact people. Even though being an entrepreneur came naturally to me, I have become better through a constant process of self-improvement.Dustin Giannangelo:
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Dustin Giannangelo: I wouldn’t say there was one specific person. I was always attracted to entrepreneurs of the past in America, like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and Carnegie. When I graduated from college, I read every biography and business book that involved them, and it inspired me to create a legacy of my own. When I learned how humbly those three individuals started, it made me realize anything is possible.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Dustin Giannangelo: We attract clients by taking the time to understand what’s important to them on a deep level, not through fancy charts or investment portfolios. Clients want to know you care about them and have their family’s best interest in mind. We act as a personal chief financial officer for all of our clients to ensure every aspect of their financial lives is secure.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I am an obsessively inquisitive person
- When it comes to my business, I am constantly learning or reverse-engineering things to become better. When I first started moving upmarket to working with higher net-worth clientele, it was a challenge. It became apparent that individuals who had 20 million dollars had many different challenges and issues than those with 1 million. When I first committed to changing our target clientele, I read every book I could find on this topic, which was about 30 books in six months. I reached out to others in the industry who specialized in this niche. I completely redesigned the business model, which was a risk at the time.
I am an eternal optimist
- I started in the industry in 2007 at the height of the financial and housing bubble. A year later, the whole financial system almost blew up, and we went into one of the worst recessions in U.S. history. At the time, I hadn’t gained much of a foothold in the industry, and business couldn’t have been worse. Many industry veterans in business for 25-30 years decided to retire or sell their companies rather than push through. It felt like the whole world was going to end. Instead of focusing on how bad things were at the time, I focused on how I could survive. I quickly found that many other companies’ clients were being poorly serviced and not communicated with at the time. Rather than navigate their clients through a terrifying time, they instead stuck their heads in the sand. My business quickly began to take off, and even though the recession was a few years long at the time, I propelled to new levels.
Being decisive and quick thinking
- When coronavirus first started to spread in the U.S. in January and February last year, we didn’t know what to expect. I vividly remember the end of February when things started to heat up on the virus front. The markets began to react at the end of February negatively. At the time, we still really didn’t know what to expect, nor did anyone. I came to a crossroads when our investment model noticed a dislocation in the market. Is this just normal volatility or the start of something bigger? I didn’t sleep for more than 30 minutes that night. The next day I took decisive action and moved a significant portion of our portfolios to a defensive position. As history would show, the S&P 500 would drop over 30% before it rebounded. Quick thinking and decisive action saved our clients’ portfolios from ruin.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Dustin Giannangelo: I was once told that you need a few grey hairs if you want to be taken seriously in business. It might have been the single worst piece of advice that I ever received. I quickly found out that people don’t care about your age. They care more about your competency and if you’re a likable person. What I was told was a weakness was actually a significant strength. Who wouldn’t want to work with a young entrepreneur who’s highly competent and a likable person in any business? Don’t ever let someone tell you that you’re are too young to be successful.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
Dustin Giannangelo: You need to create an enlightened self-interest – meaning your company and employee’s interests need to be aligned. Their interests should be tied in with the company. They need to believe in your “Why” as a company, but they need to understand how it will positively impact them personally as well. Will you offer continuing education, great compensation packages, or the ability to climb the company ladder? You need to understand what drives your employees so you can align the proper people with your company and keep their loyalty.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
Dustin Giannangelo: Work on becoming a thought leader in your industry and give back to it. Whether that’s through knowledge, mentoring, or joining a leadership position in an organization-specific to your industry. The more you give back to your industry, the more credibility and trust you will earn within it.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
Dustin Giannangelo: If you want to be an innovator, you can’t just be in the industry. You have to be someone that’s helping to improve and evolve the industry.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Dustin Giannangelo: They have flawed business plans when it comes to their numbers. Most people are overly optimistic about how fast they can become profitable, which underestimates the amount of funds they need to stay afloat until they generate enough revenue. Also, focusing too much on a product or service they are providing instead of developing key relationships. In today’s age, with many unicorn tech companies, you see them grow very fast with massive IPOs, but they are the exception. Work on building a company, not a shell that will collapse if you can’t gain traction fast enough.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
Dustin Giannangelo: Most entrepreneurs typically always want more. They are constantly resetting goals to move farther along. You’re never fully satiated, no matter how much success you create. When you get close to hitting one goal, you move the bar again to keep your business advancing. Strategies as a startup are much different than when you are an established company, and the stress shifts from basic survival to scaling up the company’s growth. It’s a perpetual cycle that never seems to end.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Dustin Giannangelo: A few years back, I took a risk and changed my client engagement model, and I was a little worried that some of our well-established clients, who were used to being engaged in a certain way, might not like the new model. However, they ended up loving the new direction we took. Our referral business grew 30% in just the first two months. We ended up hitting our annual revenue target in the first quarter of the year. Something I thought was a significant risk turned out to be a big game-changer.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Dustin Giannangelo: My business was just starting to gain traction after about a year, and then the 2008 crash happened, and the economy went into a deep recession. I had to fight for survival, both personally and professionally. I quickly realized what I had learned no longer applied, and if I didn’t adapt, I would promptly be out of the business. I spent many sleepless nights wondering if I would survive long enough to get back on my feet. Luckily, I was able to turn it around, but I never thought about quitting.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
Dustin Giannangelo: I never stopped working on the business, no matter how bad things were at the time. Instead of being upset that we were in the worst economy since the Great Depression, I stayed positive. I doubled the number of hours I was working and proactively called potential clients every single day. I slowly started gaining great clients and building a good reputation with executives. Eventually, I started having some success through the sheer force of having a great work ethic.
Okay super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your "Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur"? Please share a story or an example for each.
Do The Hardest Things First Every Single Day
Take control of the things most people stress about or delay doing. Have the toughest conversations, complete the most challenging tasks, and make the biggest decisions at the start of your day. I’m under pressure every day from all angles, but this allows me to own my time. I promise you, the rest of your day will be easy if you tackle your biggest challenges first.
I started this habit about ten years without realizing what I was doing. I woke up at 3 am worrying about the stressful day that was ahead of me. We had multiple prospective client presentations to prepare and a significant client appreciation event to finish planning. I remember writing out these specific items on a piece of paper and nothing else. I told myself no matter what happens. I need these finished today. Well, I ended up finishing them before lunch instead of delaying or pushing them to the next day. The rest of my day felt easy, and my efficiency rose significantly that day. That made such an impact on me that I have created the same list every night since. Instead of stressing about the most challenging things, I look forward to crushing them daily.
Embrace Your Critics, Don’t Take Things Personally
As an entrepreneur, you will experience more than your fair share of criticism, whether it’s from your competition or your target audience. I found the more success I created, the more criticism I received. Embrace the feedback and leverage it for growth. Welcome that criticism and learn from it, don’t take it personally. Use it to your advantage in business and life.
When I was first starting out, I had a large potential client give me harsh feedback. I still remember him saying, “I like you, but you’re not one of the big guys, and I can’t do business with you because you don’t offer what they have.” So I asked what those were, and he listed about five things in a very unforgiving manner. I remember being irritated for about an hour because I took it as a personal attack. However, after thinking about it for a while, I reframed the conversation in my mind. This individual was an ideal client, and he just told me everything I needed to change about my business model in a matter of 10 minutes to land him as a client. I immediately went to work on adapting my company business model to include these capabilities. Not only has this allowed us to attract a significant number of clients just like him, but a year later, he became a client. I am happy to say he is still an excellent client and close relationship of mine.
Have The Proper Mindset; There Is No Plan B
I never thought about failing because I was always so focused on building my company. Not only was failure not an option, but I never allowed myself to think about doing something else. There was never a Plan B. Your mindset has to be 100% focused on reaching your goals, whether that takes two years or 10.
In the beginning, my business wasn’t making much money, and yes, it would have been easier to become an employee in someone else’s business, which could have been very profitable. Although it may have been tempting to sell my company or quit, it was never an option for me. I was going to work on and grow my business for as long as it took. I had a company vision I was determined to create at all costs. As an entrepreneur, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel that “ah-ha” moment of okay; I’ve made it because I am constantly taking things to the next level.
Become Obsessive About Your Daily Routine
Creating a well-structured daily routine allows you to be consistent week in and week out. There are only so many hours in a day, so you need to become obsessed with efficiency. Whether your company is thriving or going through a rough patch, your daily routine will create a foundation for success. Start each day with purpose, and success will follow.
As an entrepreneur, there never feels like there is enough time in a day. I started getting up at 4:00 am every day to attempt to correct this issue. I could squeeze in a few hours of work and exercise before most people even got out of bed. However, it wasn’t enough to only get up earlier. I found out how important it was to schedule out my time in specific chunks. I block out specific times of the day where I only do certain things. During those blocks of times, I do those particular tasks and nothing else. This allows me to be highly structured and productive
Enjoy the ride
Not every day will be easy, and that’s why it’s essential to embrace both the ups and the downs. Take solace in the fact that you’ve created an exciting adventure most people may never get to experience. At the same time, you need to enjoy life away from your business. Give yourself the time to unplug, recharge, and reconnect.
I never let a good or bad month dictate how I feel about building my company. A lot of entrepreneurs fail because they burn out. They let success or temporary setbacks dictate their attitudes. I break the daily grind cycle at least once a month by doing something exciting. Whether that’s taking a trip with clients to ski, fly fishing, or hiking somewhere without cell-phone service. Breaking out of the daily grind cycle will allow you to come back 100% refreshed, and your output will increase tenfold.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Dustin Giannangelo: Resilience is when you’re able to stay focused on your end goal no matter what life throws at you. It could be a recession, a virus, an unprofitable quarter, etc. Resilient people are eternal optimists, someone who doesn’t see failure as a setback but an opportunity, and someone that can stick to their convictions/values no matter how tough things get. Being stubborn is helpful in these situations. Embrace the challenge.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
Dustin Giannangelo: Yes, I was the youngest of the family and extended family, including cousins. I was always “too young” or “too little” or “too” this or that to participate in their activities. It built a mentality where I would do anything to prove them wrong. I used that to fuel my mind and be the best, whether in sports or later in business. It became a joke never to tell Dustin he can’t do something because he’ll prove you wrong.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Dustin Giannangelo: I always keep a positive attitude, 100%, and I never believe there is a situation you can’t work your way through no matter how tough. The most challenging situations typically have a simple solution, but your mind can become clouded during difficult times. It’s critical to focus on fixing the problem and not dwell on the negativity. I can turn any negative into a positive.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Dustin Giannangelo: I think optimism is contagious. There is so much negativity that surrounds us daily. People are drawn to an optimistic attitude, and you will stand out very quickly.
I had many deep and challenging conversations with my clients in 2020. I had one client who was watching the news every minute of the day. She was worked up in a frenzy and was thinking about making some extremely irrational decisions with her money that potentially could have cost her a large sum of money. The negativity of the situation hit her so severely she believed this was her only option. I can happily say that after many conversations where I struck a pragmatic but optimistic tone, I guided her into making logical decisions. I was the only one in her life at the time, showing an optimistic viewpoint to a terrible situation. In the end, optimism won, and it always will if you stick to your convictions.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
Dustin Giannangelo: Winston Churchill said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” I love this quote because I believe it’s the mentality that every entrepreneur needs to have. Otherwise, they should be prepared to fail. I have lived this quote every single day since starting my business. The most successful entrepreneurs are the ones that have typically failed the most.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with
this. We wish you continued success and good health!