Starting a Business in Your Twenties: A Q&A with Carmelo Marsala
The young entrepreneur behind one of Profit500’s fastest growing consumer services companies shares his experience with aspiring millennials
In just 5 short years and between the ages of 25 to 30, Carmelo Marsala grew his company Spray-Net by a whopping 2355% and landed the 34th spot on the 2016 PROFIT500 list. Spray-Net delivers an innovative permanent exterior paint solution that provides homeowners with a cost-effective alternative to replacing exterior siding, stucco, doors, windows and even brick. Along with his team of franchise partners and corporate staff, Marsala has transformed Spray-Net from local exterior painting company to pan-Canadian home-services franchise now ready to take on the US market! As a successful millennial entrepreneur with a wealth of experience to share, we asked him the questions young aspiring entrepreneurs want to know!
- Why did you want to start a business? What inspired you?
I think most people like to hear a good story about some crazy inspirational moment or idea that fell from the sky, but to be 100% honest it just felt natural for me. I never really kept a job for very long and I knew my personality wouldn’t allow me to, so I probably wouldn’t be happy unless I was doing my own thing. A psychologist would probably say I have a need for control haha! I do feel very lucky to have kind of “stumbled” into this industry and realized a void to be filled so that I could actually pursue running my own business.”
- Only 5% of profit500 CEO’s were born after 1984. What’s your advice to millennials who are thinking of starting a business but are afraid to actually do it?
I think it’s actually slightly easier to start a business when you’re younger since you’re a bit more naïve, which actually ends up being a positive. As a result, you’re less risk averse, you likely don’t have any major family commitments yet and you have a lot of energy. Starting up your business completely consumes you and you really learn what it means to give your 150%, so not only do you need all that energy, but it doesn’t leave you too much time for much else. Make sure you’re happy doing whatever it is you want to do because you’ll be giving up a lot of the “normal” things like leisure and free time that most of the people around you have. If that doesn’t sound good to you, it will be that much harder to succeed and, as anyone will tell you, it’s already not easy! Happiness is the key to success and not the other way around (my favorite quote).
- How does someone in their twenties go about raising the capital to start a business? Any tips?
Sweat equity and re-invest everything you make pretty much. You have to bootstrap your way through your first couple of years and that means different things for different businesses. It’s a good thing you don’t have much time for leisure activities because you’ll need all that money to grow your business anyway haha! It’s very difficult for banks to look at you until you’ve been in business for at least 3 years and have somewhat of a “proven track-record.” I’m sure you can find ways to raise capital but of this year’s profit500 list, 71% of entrepreneurs self-financed, which makes sense to me. Being a finance major, budgets and cash-flow for me were king and they should be, especially in the beginning when funds are tight and needed for growth!
- 2355% growth rate. How do you even DO that?
Well, you don’t do it alone that’s for sure! Part of running a successful business, as anyone will tell you, is surrounding yourself with the right people who also believe in your mission, understand where you’re going and are willing to help you get there. We have a great and committed team at Spray-Net and it’s definitely been a wild ride the last 5 years. We went from our first franchisee in 2014 to all across Canada in 2016, which might be a record for a home-improvement franchise, and the team will confirm that it was not without any growing pains. Now that we got here alive, we’re focused on solidifying our base for more sustainable growth which is a new challenge. Not even a supercar can drive at 350km/h forever without needing some time to cool off, repair and maybe get some new parts… and in terms of a consumer services business, I think 2355% growth is the equivalent haha!
- What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
It’s funny because the best advice I’ve ever received wasn’t even business advice and the person who gave it to me likely had no clue the impact he had on me until this day. Our college team went to the national soccer championship in 2005 and seeing as I was a nervous rookie getting on the field, the linesman said, “just have fun out there!” My nerves went away and I actually scored a goal (even though we lost 3-1). Mindset and attitude is by far the single most important trait to have in business and is why I love the happiness quote. When running a business, there isn’t a day without a problem and as you grow, they multiply. If you’re not positive, you’ll never persevere and move forward so you need to have fun out there!
- Would you encourage more millennials to become entrepreneurs?
We actually have a sponsorship program for John Molson School of Business Case Competition students at Concordia University in Montreal and this question is often asked. I really “got to know myself” in the last couple of years and have developed a profound interest in psychology and understanding people. Everyone has a different personality, perceptions and character which shapes the way they not only see things but how they react to them. The reason why I mention this is because I truly think being an entrepreneur requires a certain type of profile. Entrepreneurialism has been heavily glorified in the last couple of years and has become almost synonymous with success… and I don’t think that’s entirely true. Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean being the best at everything, it means surrounding yourself with the right people who can do certain things better then him or herself. For example, I know my impatience doesn’t make me the best manager, so I look for patient and empathetic managers. Basically, a business is the sum of its parts and all parts need to be great to have a great business. Just because you’re not entrepreneurial doesn’t mean you can’t have success and be part of something great!
- Knowing what you know now, what would you tell a twenty-something-year-old starting their own business?
Plan for growth if that’s what you want. Have a plan in mind as soon as possible in order to avoid becoming the bottleneck in your own business. Transfer your skills, empower your people and don’t try to be and do everything because there are only 24 hours in a day (and you have to sleep for some of those hours). At some point, no matter how efficient you are, you will reach your limit and, as a result, become the limiting factor in your business.
- What’s the biggest perk of being your own boss?
For me it’s seeing the impact you can have on peoples’ lives. I just came back from visiting our youngest franchisee in PEI and he’s running around doing quotes, handling customers and managing his team- who loves Spray-Net too! He told me that Spray-Net has pretty much consumed his life and he loves it! That really reminded me why I do what I do. Seeing that all the hard work can benefit others by creating opportunities for our staff, franchisees and ultimately our clients is very rewarding. Making others happy makes me happy and is actually the foundation of the science of happiness!
- Starting a business looks fun, but it’s hard work too. What would you say is the biggest sacrifice you had to make while starting your business in your twenties?
Well since we’re a seasonal business I don’t know what summer really looks like haha. Seeing sun means working hard in my brain, not “relaxing” and having fun like most people. It was all worth it though!
- What’s next for you and Spray-Net?
The US! Although we’re not going to attack the US as aggressively as we did Canada because we still have some foundations to solidify, it’s very exciting to become an international company! More importantly though, we want to focus on building our Canadian presence as we will have an experienced franchisee in every market in Canada next year which is equally exciting!
- Millennials can’t get enough of Netflix. What’s your favorite show on Netflix?
I don’t know if this makes me sound crazy but I like the show Narcos! I know Pablo Escobar didn’t choose a legit path nor were his methods respectable but I still think his is an impressive story.