Whether it’s backpacking along the Appalachian Trail, entrepreneurship or life in general, BirthdayPak CEO Paul Berman has always looked to the future to stay on course. And he’s certainly had his share of storms to weather and difficult terrain to navigate. A self-described “serial entrepreneur” for over 30 years, Paul has experienced many “up, down and sideways” moments. As BirthdayPak surpasses the one-million mark in birthday wishes sent annually and Paul approaches a milestone birthday of his own – he turns 60 in March! – this entrepreneur and CEO reflects on what he’s learned along the way.
“Never fail without giving 100%.”
In the span of two years, Paul went from being a financial planner, to filing for bankruptcy after a bad real estate investment, then investing only $400 towards the purchase of a 40% interest in a Valpak franchise in Fort Worth, Texas.
It all started with $400.
That decision paid off and landed Paul on his ultimate career path. But it wasn’t without another major hurdle. In 1993, Paul used the proceeds from the sale of the Ft. Worth franchise to purchase an underperforming Valpak franchise in his hometown of Philadelphia. Making the move with his wife Mary Jo and their oldest son Jake, the plan was for Mary Jo to get a job as a nurse until the franchise became profitable. “Except Mary Jo couldn’t find a job – there were no jobs in Nursing at that time in Philly, we had $35 left in our checking account, an insolvent business, a young son, and a car in the shop that needed repairs.”
“It was a ‘put everything down on the table, Texas hold’ em’ situation,” he says.
Fierce determination compensated for Paul’s temporary financial instability. “I never gave up and kept going. I told myself I never want to fail without giving 100%.” After years of incredibly hard work and long hours (which continues today), Paul made a tremendous turnaround on his new Valpak franchise, growing the number of sales representatives from 5 to 27 and business revenue grew from 1.1 million to 10 million per year. His wife now manages the business and the couple is in a unique position as a franchisee and franchisor within the same industry.
“Find your ikigai.”
Ikigai is a Japanese concept that loosely translates in English to “the thing that you live for.” Paul also refers to it as his “mojo” – it’s what keeps him motivated. After buying his first ValPak franchise, he realized he loved helping businesses grow. Time and again, being in the direct response industry with Valpak, as well as offering direct mail, SEO and other services, it worked and had a great impact on a lot of businesses. “To me it was simple, I would tell business owners give me a dollar, I need to give you more than a dollar back and cover your costs or I get fired.”
In 2010, Paul had the opportunity to go from franchisee to franchisor and assume the role of CEO of BirthdayPak. The goal was to turn it into a national franchise, but it took staff, capital and a strategic use of resources to get there. “I put everything into it, we took it from one market to four states, debugged and scaled it,” he says. With the assistance of Mike Spinka, Vice President of Technology & Production, he was able to reconfigure the product and develop BirthdayPak as a profitable franchise model. Paul describes his ikigai as “business, entrepreneurship, systems and processing and putting BirthdayPak on the path to becoming an Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) Traction company.” As a result, everyone at BirthdayPak has a laser focus on goals, BirthdayPak has grown to 36 markets in 21 states and is achieving year-over-year growth. In addition, BirthdayPak is developing a mobile platform that will bring gifting to a whole new level.
“If you want people to take the hill with you, understand their hearts and heads.”
As an avid listener of audio books, Paul draws lessons on leadership from books about the training and missions of special forces, as well as some of the business greats such as Verne Harnish, Jim Collins and many others. “The same constructs hold true as an entrepreneur – if you’re there for your employees, they will be there for you. With discipline, focus and the right culture of collaboration, you can build a great business with threads of excellence,” he says.
“Be an optimist.”
It can be difficult to stay optimistic during tough times, but for Paul, staying positive gave him the strength to endure the low points. He refers to his youngest son, Sam, as “the toughest human being I know” after he defied the odds of surviving stage 4 cancer and is now in remission. He worked his way out of a wheelchair 4x persevering over 3,000 therapy sessions. “We never talked about how horrible it was, and always looked to the future.”
The power of positive thinking contributes to happiness, and happiness can have a ripple effect. Paul’s positivity not only reaches his immediate circle, but the broader BirthdayPak community. “We get to deliver happiness to women,” he says. With over 60,000 FaceBook followers we hear all kinds of stories about peoples’ connection with our brand, not all good. “We hear stories of loneliness after a recent divorce or death of a spouse. Recipients thank BirthdayPak and say, ‘if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have received anything for my birthday.’ It’s an honor to serve our community and our valued franchise owners – I really love what I do.”
Birthday Wishes Abound!
Paul Berman has always remembered birthdays, long before Facebook and BirthdayPak. Now the tables are turned as Paul celebrates his 60th and reflects on his life’s work and sources of inspiration. He says, “I’m not excited about turning 60, but I’m happy with my life – my family has never been better, I love BirthdayPak, our brand and the people I work with. And I get to wish a million people a happy birthday.”
His goals for this year? “I am only 200 miles away from completing the Appalachian Trail – need to get that done as well as grow our company by 25% or more and launch our new digital gifting platform with the eventual goal of helping 20 million people in the USA celebrate life all year long, not just affluent women celebrating their Birthday.”