The most dangerous thing about being a professional speaker is being a professional speaker. Meaning: there are thought leaders writing books and speaking on the circuit who have never started a company, made payroll or led an organization (other than their own speaking business). I never want to be that guy. Guess that explains why I’m a serial entrepreneur – so I can get up on stage in front of thousands of people and talk about all the mistakes I’ve made and the lessons I’ve learned.

Six years ago I was invited to be the opening keynote speaker for Jersey Mike’s Subs – one of the nation’s most successful sub sandwich franchises. At the time they had about 400 stores across the country. I wrote about my experience meeting Jersey
Mike’s founder & CEO, Peter Cancro and their COO & President, Hoyt Jones in my last book, The Heart Led Leader. I fell in love with these two guys-they’re as real, authentic and genuine as they come.

To make a long story short, I’m now a proud Jersey Mikes franchise owner in Denver, Colorado. Jill and I bought a territory to build five Jersey Mike’s stores and hope to grow that number to ten stores over the next five years. I know – I’m drinking the kool aid, but Jersey Mike’s has the world’s best sub sandwich. More importantly, they are one of the most philanthropic franchises in the nation. And because of their quality product and culture of giving, Jersey Mike’s is now one of the fastest growing franchises in the US (today they have nearly 2000 stores).

We opened our first Jersey Mike’s sub shop on June 29th – seventy-eight days ago… and of course, we have dreams!

One is to become the #1 sub shop in the country. I want to do things differently. I want to treat my Jersey Mike’s sub shop as an incubator of leadership development for the high school students that we employee by teaching them the value of servant leadership. Jill and I named the holding company that owns our Jersey Mike’s sub shops GFO Companies, LLC (honoring GOD, loving FAMILY and serving OTHERS). I want to have team-mates, not employees. I want every team member to call our customers madam and sir. And I want them to say, “It was an honor to serve you”, as they leave our stores. I want to prove that building a culture of love and heart-led leadership can produce extraordinary results. I want our customers to leave our stores feeling like they’ve been blessed, not just served. I wanted my first store to be the “poster child” of what every Jersey Mikes store should be. I want every leadership lesson that I wrote about in my first two books to come alive and be at work in our stores.

Here’s what the last 78 days have looked like:

1) On our second day of opening, we had a customer fake and/or exaggerate a fall outside our store demanding that we call the police, fire department and ambulance. At first she complained that she hurt her knee. When the fire department and paramedics arrived she claimed she had a mild heart attack, neck injury and sprained wrist. When she got back in her car, she lit a cigarette and smiled as she drove away (the insurance fraud department is still dealing with this situation).

2) We had to let go one of our high school team-mates – a great kid with a beautiful heart, but two left feet inside the restaurant. Clearly not a fit. His protective father sent me a few choice emails telling me it would be his life’s mission to tell everyone he knows to never give their business to our restaurant.

3) We had a squeaky front door that woke up every dog within a twenty-five-mile radius when open and shut and it took the landlord weeks to fix.

4) We had a sewer venting problem that made my sub shop smell like $%#@! and it took 76 days to fix.

5) Our store manager, who I paid a full-time salary for nearly five months before our restaurant opened – and sent to New Jersey and Florida for training – quit by sending me an e-mail and giving me only two-weeks’ notice (never break up with anyone over an e-mail!)

6) One of our favorite teammates cut her finger on the meat slicer – sending her to urgent care for stitches.

7) AND each month our Area Director sends us an e-mail ranking the nineteen Jersey Mikes stores in the Denver metro area. Our store has been #17, #18 and for the last three weeks – dead last, #19.

My wife told me last week that the blessing of us opening up a sub shop is now I have great content and material to write about which she found very funny – and me NOT!

But here is what’s really happening:

I’m deeply humbled. I went from poster child to toilet paper. I’m getting my ass kicked. I’m falling flat on my face. And I could not be happier – SERIOUSLY!

My business partner, Sherri, and I have the same attitude – what does not kill us will make us stronger. Failing is not an option. This is nothing that hard work and tenacity can’t fix. And the beautiful thing about being #19 – there is only one direction to go!

Dreams and reality are not always aligned. Success does not grow on trees. Sometimes the first seventy-eight days of a new venture, a new job or a new school may come in at #19. But how we react, respond and regroup to the next seventy-eight days is not only what matters most, but it IS what truly defines us.