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Q&A with Entrepreneur Keith Young, MBA '08

With the Start Up Meet Up conference happening in the alumni center today, it's only fitting that we share an entreprepreneur's story, courtesy of Texas Evening MBA Director director Trent Thurman.

Trent interviewed Keith Young (right), an MBA alumnus who started a successful business in one of the most unstable markets of our time. Trent's interview below:

Most, if not all of us, know someone – a friend, relative or colleague – currently out of work. I recently caught up with Keith Young, a 2008 Texas MBA at Houston graduate, who found himself in the unenviable position of suddenly being out of work as he and his wife, Stephanie, were expecting and preparing for their first child in July of last year.

Like all Texas MBA graduates, Keith had an impressive resume – undergraduate and graduate degrees from UT, military service in the United States Navy, a successful ten-year track record in sales and marketing – yet, employers weren’t hiring.

What Keith did next could possibly be considered extreme, but definitely not gimmicky. It speaks volumes about his determination, resilience and character. It demonstrates the Texas MBA spirit. It serves as inspiration for those facing similar career crises.

With a lot on the line, he took his life savings and opened up a house painting business of all things. Specifically, he invested in a CertaPro Painters franchise. I asked him if he would be willing to share his story with current students. Here is the text of our conversation.

TT: With a baby on the way, the timing of your layoff could not have been worse. What were your initial thoughts?

KY: I’ve always tried to look at things from an optimistic viewpoint, so while I was quite anxious about what lay ahead for my career, I chose to look at this timing as the perfect opportunity to be present during the birth of our first child, William “Austin” Young in September 2008. After two years of full-time school and work I must admit I was also a bit relieved to have a break. However, with new responsibilities to consider I decided to look for a new job and potential business at the same time and see which direction offered the most promise.

TT: When did you first start thinking about going out on your own?

KY: I have been thinking of going out on my own for many years – in fact probably for most of my life. Having been involved as an employee in a family-owned start up business immediately before my four years at BMC (BMC Software, Inc. was Keith’s employer prior to the layoff), I knew how difficult it was to start a business without the proper amount of capital, particularly if the business needed to support a significant wage to the owner/general manager from day one. With that in mind, I knew that I must start the business with no debt and also not expect to take a salary for the first year of operations.

TT: CertaPro is usually high on the list of top franchise opportunities. Did you research other franchise opportunities or was there a specific interest in this one?

KY: Initially, I spent many weeks doing online research into different franchise opportunities, but felt overwhelmed with the number of choices. I did not take notice of CertaPro during my personal research; possibly because I had some preconceived notions that kept me from considering buying a painting business. After reading some articles about how to purchase a franchise, I engaged the services of a franchise consultant. Working with Scott Jones at FranChoice helped me narrow down the field of hundreds of franchise systems to a small, manageable number (three) that met all of my criteria and had good territories available in Houston. All three options offered very different business models and had great potential, but CertaPro just felt like the direction I should take.

TT: Did you have any previous experience in house painting?

None at all, except for the frustrating experience my wife and I had painting two accent walls in our den. We must have spent twice the money and five times the hours it would take a professional painter to do the work. Based on that experience, I knew there must be others like us who would prefer to pay a professional to take care of their painting work.

TT: “Me included…believe me. According to the CertaPro website, there is a fairly substantial initial investment. You must have been fairly confident to pull the trigger?

That is true – during my investigation of CertaPro Painters, I visited the Philadelphia area headquarters for a franchise discovery day and met the corporate leadership, development and training team. I also contacted many franchisees, both locally and around the country, to learn about their experience with the business. I also spent a day riding with another local franchisee to see what a “day in the life” was all about. What I discovered was that there is a well-designed system in place and if I followed it to the best of my ability, the business would have a much higher chance of success than if I started or purchased an independent business.

TT: You mentioned earlier that you have wanted to own your own business for quite a while now. Did that drive your decision to invest in the CertaPro franchise or was it more driven by the circumstances?

KY: Although I have always wanted to start my own business, if I had not been provided with the time to properly investigate my options and the money to invest through my retirement and personal savings accumulated mostly during my tenure with BMC, I would probably not be in the same place. I’m definitely grateful for the circumstances that forced me to do what I always wanted to do.

TT: Your business is doing well despite the economy. What do you attribute this to?

KY: Following the CertaPro system and utilizing the support provided by both corporate staff and fellow franchisees has had a large influence in my success to date. In addition, I chose an industry that is somewhat recession resistant since people are not going to neglect their homes just because the stock market is down. Painting has both a maintenance and decorative aspect to it and I knew that if I could make this business succeed in a down economy, then when things swing back around that I would have taken market share from existing painters who scaled back on their marketing during the tough times.

TT: What are your goals for the business?

KY: In an industry that is plagued with uncertainty, my goal is to be the company that people count on to deliver an outstanding customer experience with the highest quality workmanship and materials. By putting quality and service goals first, my relatively aggressive growth plan will take CertaPro Painters of Central Houston from a start up to one of the top residential and commercial painting contractors in Houston in the next five to seven years.

TT: What did you learn during the MBA program that has been most valuable to you in this venture?

Arguably the most valuable lesson learned during my MBA was not a particular subject or set of functional skills, but rather was learned simply through participating in the program. What I’m referring to is the ability to balance a busy work and school schedule and yet maintain a quality family life at the same time. Having the ability to continually prioritize and decide what needs to be accomplished next is necessary for any successful entrepreneur and I would be much less prepared for my current role if not for my MBA experience.

TT: What has been the biggest surprise so far?

KY: I always knew I could start and run my own business, but to tell you the truth I am a bit surprised at what my painters and I have been able to accomplish in about a year. Does that make sense? Despite not knowing everything about owning and running a painting business, I went out into the market and executed on the plan that I put in place, which is a very rewarding feeling. I’ve also been surprised at how gratifying it can be to work with a customer to co-create a new home environment for them.

TT: That makes perfectly good sense. Any advice for others who may be researching franchise opportunities?

KY: Searching for a business is a very personal and introspective process. It is important to seek advice from those you trust and who have the relevant experience to advise you during the process. However, at the end of the day choosing a business is a lot like choosing a spouse in that you will invest an enormous amount of time, energy and emotion to make the business a success. Be careful who you ask for advice; trust your inner guidance and consider which opportunity will inspire you to put in the effort it takes to achieve great success.

TT: Any advice for those currently going through layoffs or similar circumstances?

Don’t sit around and worry about things –figure out where you are headed next, put an action plan in place and start working on it immediately. In the meantime, take the time to do a few things that you would otherwise not be able to do if you had to work a full-time job – trust me, you will miss this freedom once your life gets back on the fast track again!

TT: Thanks Keith and, again, congratulations on your success.

This morning, I dug through some old files and pulled out Keith’s application to the Houston program. In his essays, he stated that “with the lessons learned from my previous experiences, the knowledge gained and new partnerships formed during the Texas MBA program and a strong business plan, I will be well prepared to take the risks associated with starting a new venture.” Mission accomplished, Keith. Nice work.


#1 I am considering a Certa Pro

I am considering a Certa Pro Franchise, however financial resources are very limited. You expand on how you financed your first year. I Have considered using my 401K monies but after a discussion today with my accountant and lawyer friend it does not seem to be the best approach to funding the business. Did use an SBA loan at all?

#2 Nice story. Very gutsy of

Nice story. Very gutsy of Kieth to start during a recession

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