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 Michael Ly.
Michael Ly, CEO – Reconciled: Michael launched Reconciled in the summer of 2015 after spending several years as a financial consultant for small businesses in Vermont. He thrives off the passion of entrepreneurs and business leaders and enjoys leading the whole team. He enjoys time with his wife and kids, as well as making friends from all walks of life.
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?
Michael Ly: I’ve been working as an accountant since I was 16 and come from an immigrant family that was very entrepreneurial. Reconciled was originally conceived from my work with entrepreneurs and small business owners. I saw what a hard time they were having with their back-office functions. I just wanted to help them out and provide an innovative way for small business owners and entrepreneurs to easily access back-office products and services. By leveraging technology, I was able to create a new bookkeeping business model that traditionally didn’t exist before Reconciled was created.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Michael Ly: When I was working as an accountant, I realized that entrepreneurs and business owners were having a really hard time finding qualified bookkeeping professionals. Either they were located in an area that didn’t have a large pool to choose from, or they only needed part-time staff at the moment. I figured that I could create an organization that could ease that burden and Reconciled was created.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
Michael Ly: I think I’ve got aspects of both natural-born skills and some that developed later in life. I was the first-born child for my parents, and everyone says that first-born children are natural leaders. But, my parents were also entrepreneurs, so I watched what they did and learned some skills from watching them. I think more skills can be learned than inherited. For example, the determination needed to succeed and the ability to deal with negatives and failures can only be learned through experiences.
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?
Michael Ly: My parents were a huge inspiration for me. They were refugees from Cambodia who came to the country with nothing and they made a life for themselves out of that nothing. Growing up watching their work ethic allowed me to see the benefits of all of their hard work and to see exactly what it takes to make a business successful. It actually takes very few resources, but a lot of determination, execution, and grit to become an entrepreneur. They taught me how to see problems and not allow those problems to become stumbling blocks.
My first boss when I was 16, was a man named Erik Widmark. He gave me some office space to use for my first business, which was amazing. When that business failed, he helped pick me up and learn from my failure, so I didn’t make the same mistake in future ventures.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Michael Ly: Reconciled has figured out how to deliver a traditional accounting service in the digital world. Typically, accounting is an in-person service. It is a business you build slowly in your community as people begin to trust you and the brand. We’ve learned to build trust with our customers very quickly without having ever met them in person.
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?
- The ability to articulate a clear vision – if you want to be successful, you’re going to need a team that believes in the same mission and vision as you do. If you’re able to articulate that vision to them, you’ll end up with a powerful team that is with you through all the ups and downs.
- Public speaking and charisma – this is especially true for the accounting/bookkeeping industry. Typically, it is comprised of individuals that are not extroverts or don’t like to be publically acknowledged.
- Learn from your failures – failure is inevitable. As long as you can learn from your failures and not make the same mistake twice, you’ll be in a much stronger position next time.
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?
Michael Ly: You know, nothing sticks out in my mind. I think even if you follow the advice that you later wish you didn’t, you can still learn something from it. Every decision is an opportunity for growth and change.
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?
Michael Ly: Most accountants don’t view themselves as entrepreneurs or business owners. They see themselves as being the best service provider in their company. However, they should view themselves as the business leader of their company and think of their employees as the people helping them achieve their big vision with meaning and purpose in their work lives. Employees want to feel valued. They want to know they are contributing to something bigger than just the service they are selling. For example, our staff aren’t just accountants and bookkeepers. They are helping each of our clients create more wealth and job creation in each community they are located in. What our employees do affects the growth of each business and community we serve.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
Michael Ly: I would encourage them to have more transparency about who they are as a leader and where they hope to take their business. Transparency about their vision. Also, speak more about their experiences and what they’ve learned from, both failures and successes.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
Michael Ly: The millennial generation and younger workforce no longer prioritize compensation as their number one reason to work anywhere. They also want their experience and job to be fulfilling. Having that transparency as a leader, helps staff feel they are adding value to the organization or community.
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?
Michael Ly: Lots of CEOs and founders start a business without an end in sight. They only have this murky vision that they want to start something and can’t see what it looks like in the future. Also, their mentality of being the best prevents them from finding great employees to help them succeed. CEOs and founders must rely on others with better skill sets in different areas. Appreciate those that are better at things than you are and utilize them.
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”?
Michael Ly: Founders have a fiduciary responsibility for themselves and also customers, investors/shareholders, and employees. This automatically makes their mindset different from a “regular job.” The highs and lows come because we know if we stop doing what we’re doing in our business it would shut down (unless there is a succession plan in place). The consequences of our decisions have a much bigger implication than a “regular job.”
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.
Michael Ly: The first time I attended the Intuit Connect conference in 2015 I was exposed to what a business in my industry could become. It was inspiring! Intuit did such a good job of articulating what accounting could become. The following year, Intuit recognized Reconciled as part of their Firm of the Future contest. Only 1-year into our business and we were recognized for what we were doing within our industry. It was such a good feeling.
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.
Michael Ly: A key employee quit while I was on a flight and didn’t allow me to understand why they left. At the time, I didn’t even know they were having a difficult time with their job. Having anyone leave an organization without understanding what happened is hard. It’s even harder when you’re just starting up and your staff is small – you take all of it very personally.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
Michael Ly: I was able to lean on the rest of my team to fill the void that employee left. They also helped to reinforce that the reason I started the business in the first place was still valid and not a terrible idea. Also, I communicated with other business owners who had similar experiences. They helped me figure out my next move and reminded me to look at the areas of the business that were doing great. It is easy to get discouraged by a bad event.
Ok 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.
- A trusted group of advisors and peers you can be vulnerable with – as with the situation above, they’re able to get you back on track and remind you there are bright spots too.
- You need to be on the same page with your spouse/partner – whoever is financially tied into the business with you needs to be on the same page to know how far you’re willing to go financially.
- Understand whether what you’re building can become a real business – some things are a valid business idea. Others are just a great product, service, or hobby. You can validate your business idea by asking an advisor or consultant in your industry.
- Delegate – you shouldn’t expect to do every aspect of the business yourself. You have a specific skillset. Hiring individuals who are masters at their trade only help you and your business succeed. Utilize those talents for your benefit.
- Best Thing Ever – you need to believe that this is the best thing you can be doing with your time versus anything else in life. Because you’re going to be spending all of your time on your business or idea. So, you better be all in.
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?
Michael Ly: Resilience is your ability to respond to the stress of success and failure without letting it destroy you. Resilient people allow that stress to help them succeed. You also can take difficult circumstances as opportunities and come up with a solution.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
Michael Ly: As an Asian American who grew up in the early 80s in Tempe, AZ, I looked different than the majority of my classmates. I was always the shortest kid in my class. Also, people who didn’t know me just assumed that I didn’t know English, even though I was born and raised in America. It was also strange trying to figure out American culture outside of my home. My parents kept their Cambodian traditions inside of our home and outside of the house I was a typical American kid. It was an interesting dynamic to be able to do both at the same time.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Michael Ly: YES! I do. I try to stay positive because I know it could always be worse. For some reason, that thought is very encouraging to me. Also, I believe that everything has a potential solution and it is just a matter of time and creativity before you find it.
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.
Michael Ly: For your team that is already positive, a leader with a positive attitude only reinforces their great disposition. For those that aren’t always positive, or get discouraged easily, they need a reminder or a new perspective to get unstuck in their current frame of mind.
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?
Michael Ly: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” by Marianne Williamson
This idea has always stuck with me because I believe most of us (including myself) believe in a very limited view of ourselves. We forget that we probably are only utilizing a minuscule amount of the actual potential in each of us. So, it drives me to find ways in which I can continually get better and better at what I do, but also how I can bring others along with me.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with
this. We wish you continued success and good health!
Conni Medina:Thank you!