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Building Business

Building Business

Cashflow: How I Wrecked My Business, Screwed My Friends, and Almost Destroyed My Marriage - Part 1

comments (7) September 16th, 2011 in Blogs
Click To Enlarge Photo: vancanjay at

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A former home builder admits that blaming the recession for his company’s failure would be easy, but looking hard at his own mistakes is a lot more useful

Starting out with the best of intentions
I started my home-building business after burning out as a high-school science teacher. My goals were simple: start a small residential contracting business dedicated to great design, quality construction and green building. My wife was incredibly supportive, yet understandably nervous. Nevertheless she did not, nor has ever, faltered.

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Being a virginal builder, I couldn't convince any sane individual to contract with me to build their home, and I didn't want to build for insane people. My wife and I stretched out on a limb a bit and decided to build a home, my first build, for us. Our plan was to live in the home for a few years, establish the construction company and see what happened. On this first home, I touched every stick and brick myself. And that house was the first in our state to be recognized by a regional green-building certification program. It was a “right time, right place” scenario, and as a result the house garnered a fair amount of media attention and generated interest in our company.

I resisted taking on employees because I really didn’t want to be responsible for other people’s livelihood. But thanks to the publicity, the demand for my company’s services was such that I had no choice. I could no longer be effective without help, so I hired a couple of folks, including the man who would become our general manager. But I stayed awake nights worrying about having enough work and about missing paydays.

My wife and I moved into that first house, and within a year were presented with an offer to sell. The potential buyers had been living in an older home and worried about exposing their child to lead paint. They wanted to build or buy a green home, and I offhandedly suggested they take a look at our place. The deal was done very quickly. The buyers were sold immediately, grew a family in the home and still live there to this day. Since we didn’t even have to list the house on the real estate market, and sold the home for a profit, I realized the potential power of spec building.

Even though that first house wasn’t technically a spec house, it worked out that way, and I was immediately addicted to building spec rather than custom homes. I knew how I wanted our homes to look and how I wanted them to perform. I didn’t want to concede to a client’s agenda. I felt like I could sell any home as rapidly as I could get it built, and that’s what we did for next few years. Up until 2008, we sold every home within two weeks of completion.

Initially making money was not one of my goals. All I wanted was a decent salary for me and for my employees. At that point, being such a small company, We were a very tight knit group. Employees became fast friends with similar goals and motives. We wanted to grow, be the best and save the planet all at the same time. I didn’t care about big profits. As it turned out, this was one of my biggest mistakes.

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posted in: Blogs, business, green building
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Comments (7)

organicthink organicthink writes: This is the real Mr. X. I can't convey how helpful writing this article was for me. It felt so good to organize my thoughts and log what happened at one of the most incredible times of my life. It was cathartic, healing and therapeutic to say the least. I mean, we all have life experiences, but in this fast-paced life, we rarely have time to compute what the hell is going on to us and around us. I'd encourage those with similar experiences to WRITE IT DOWN! Get it out of you, so that you can move on. It helps emotionally and physiologically. I have a stronger family, marriage, career and character because of my experiences, strengthened by the writing process. The biggest gains that I have achieved through this is a healthy dose of humility and reorganization of my priorities both personally and professionally.

A HUGE thanks to the incredibly professional, human and compassionate editors at Fine Homebuilding (Kevin Ireton and Dan Morrison) that helped to pull this out of me. They actually made me sound like a good writer! I really don't like writing very much. It takes too long.

Thanks also for all of your comments here. I was feeling a generous amount of trepidation about putting all of this out here in the public, but the reader comments have made the process all that more incredible. There was not a solitary motivator for writing this story. Yes, I wanted to tell about what happened to me, but I also wanted to let others know that everything can be ok, that we can go through some of the darkest periods of our lives and careers and come out better for it on the other side.

I can't wait to hear what others might write.
Posted: 7:08 am on October 14th

thejim thejim writes: I am enjoying the article, and hope the next segment is available soon (hopefully sooner than the next magazine?!).

@OhMisha, mrsalty just seems to be echoing the article about what happens when focus gets lost. His comments weren't out of place. Something that was an eye-opener for me: realizing atheism is a religion just like the others. The same passion exists to evangelize, gain majority, etc. If you've got a comment about what happened to a partnership between you and a few other atheists, the good and the bad, post it! I suspect we'd all be glad to read it. Too bad we can't exchange handshakes instead of comments. It would probably remove most of the stress/imagined aggression.

I'm just getting started in this field, and am avidly taking notes about dos/don'ts from the article. Very interesting about the TV show. I liked WestSeattleSteve's comments about that - ditto. No control = no control. Huge pile of suck after all that work.

Lessons I've already learned personally:
The better you know someone, the more you need everything in writing.
If they're family, you'd better not just have it in writing, but notarized and possibly blood drops on the paper. heh.

But I know those things are just the beginning. I thank the author for taking the time to write down his slice of experiences.
Posted: 12:29 pm on September 21st

OhMisha OhMisha writes: I sincerely hope the comments don't go south into politics and religion again, at least until the story is done. This is about business,... Sharing real life lessons among the creative and ambitious is a great value for all of us whom I believe to be hardworking achievers here first, not religious, political, nor special interest zealots, no matter how sincere. Let's keep that to our own individual kitchen tables I'm an atheist and would counter with no disrespect that, I don't believe that Jesus, nor Obama, nor Bachmann, have anything to do with this. Let's all follow the writer on this journey he is generous enough to share with us. My sense is the education factor will be of great value. There is if you look closely a vast network this site provides as indicated by the "v" on it's side for anyone of any persuasion to share this media with their particular outlet of persuasion without polluting finehomebuilding with crappy personal persuasion ear-marks. Let's simply listen and be grateful for the story which I believe is, so far, in it's depth, candor, and presumable motivation, far braver and personally revealing than most all of us have so far stepped up to offering for the collective benefit of us all.
Posted: 11:30 pm on September 19th

mrsalty mrsalty writes: I feel for you brother! Im coming out the otherside of a 3 year partnership myself. its cost me my best friend, a great deal of time, and money. Greed, and Pride,gets in the way and effects dicission making. we where a Christian based business and we lost focus of that.nothing else mattered but bottomlines and speadsheets. once we lost focus on God, it complete fell apart. thank you for shearing your story. God Bless you and your Family!
Posted: 1:24 pm on September 19th

eyremountllc eyremountllc writes: Thanks for writing this. I am a lawyer turned builder and hope to learn some lessons from you.
Posted: 12:45 pm on September 19th

lrob lrob writes: Excellent article. Appreciate the honesty and the insight and look forward to the next installment.
Posted: 10:37 am on September 19th

WestSeattleSteve WestSeattleSteve writes: An important article about life's lessons. My take-away so far is this: If you want a particular outcome, you have to have the authority/power/influence to make that happen. If someone else is in charge - a director or producer or show host - you will get what they want or need in the end product. Your values are YOUR values, not someone else's values or objectives.

Friendships can be a powerful source of assistance. But when they go sour, those friends can become powerful enemies as they have intimate knowledge of background information and an axe to grind.
Posted: 1:13 pm on September 17th

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