Photo: Nicole Galli and entrepreneurs from the Philadelphia100® Top Ten at a panel on January 17, 2023
This month, I had the pleasure of appearing on a panel with three other entrepreneurs whose companies (along with mine) were in the top ten companies in the Philadephia100®, the annual list of the 100 fastest growing privately held entrepreneurial companies in the Philadelphia region.
On the surface, we did not have anything in common – most notably, I was the only female entrepreneur in the bunch, and each of us was from wide range of ages, backgrounds, and experiences. For example, the youngest entrepreneur on the panel started his limousine business in college with a friend first as a lark but then they got serious with it about 5 years ago, not long after graduating from college. Another entrepreneur, probably about 10 years younger than me, was a high school dropout who had already built, scaled, and exited one successful multi-million-dollar business and was now working on another. The third (who I am guessing is around my age) was an immigrant in the 1980s from Soviet-era Russia, who told stories of selling matches on the streets of Italy as a boy to help his family make ends meet before coming to America. My background was also unique – I grew up the only child of two well-educated high school teachers and administrators and the grandchild of entrepreneurs. I had two Ivy League degrees and a 20+ year successful law career before launching my own law firm. You would think, with these disparate backgrounds, that our experiences as entrepreneurs would be very different. Not so. As we shared our stories and perspectives, several common themes emerged.
Perseverance and Persistance
First, perseverance and persistence are everything. Every single one of us talked about our single-minded focus and devotion to growing our businesses, our drive to succeed and our unwavering belief in ourselves. As one of the other entrepreneurs described it, he has an “indomitable spirit.” I couldn’t agree more! When we were asked about “challenges” we faced–and how we overcame them, none of us could really respond. We all agreed they existed, every day, but none of them really stood out because it is all just part of the experience. What stood out to each of us was the fact we bulldozed through them, more than anything else. Indeed, as I reflected upon it, a related question we had been asked in a prep session was to think about mistakes we made that we wished we had done differently. That question is impossible to answer because I don’t think anything I’ve done is truly a mistake – sure, some things didn’t work out, but it wasn’t a mistake to try things, and the process is what is important.
Tolerance for Risk and Uncertainty
Second, we all seemed to have a high tolerance for risk and uncertainty. One of the speakers explained that entrepreneurship is like jumping off a cliff and building the plane on the way down. I’ve often described the entrepreneurial journey similarly: that it is like building the plane while flying it. Especially when we had to scale rapidly as our business expanded from 2020-2021, that is totally what it felt like in growing my firm. And I had experienced that before when I also launched Women Owned Law, which grew from 8 to 50 and then 200 members across the country in less than one year. Sure, one can start a business with a carefully thought-out plan, and I suppose there are some instances where everything goes according to that plan (although I highly doubt it).
But I wouldn’t know. In the three times I’ve launched a business (profit or non-profit), and countless other times that I’ve started other initiatives as well, I had an idea, it seemed to me like a good one, I decided to go for it, I convinced some people to go along with me (I like company) and we just did it. It’s always worked out (see point one, perseverance and confidence in one’s ability to figure it out), even with the bumps along the way.
The third common theme was necessity. Each of us experienced the drive to succeed caused by necessity – failure was simply not an option. One of the speakers (the one who had already had a successful exit) started his current business because he had run out of money from the sale and didn’t think he could work for anyone else. So, he had to build himself a new business. I certainly felt that way when I started ND Galli Law – I had several options I was considering but, fundamentally, I had ZERO desire to go work for another law firm (or, really, for anyone else ever again), no desire to start over in a different industry, and no desire to go back to school (God forbid) to retrain. So, here we are. It has not been all puppies and roses, believe me, and there were definitely moments when I kept going (see point one, perseverance) because failure wasn’t an option. That’s especially true now because, since 2020, my husband also works full-time for the firm. This means that all of our eggs are in this basket, and we have a number of team members depending on us too. Thus, we succeed, because we must. End of story.
It Truly Takes a Village
Fourth, we all rely on our village. When we were asked to talk about our company’s culture, what was amazing to me was that every one of us talked about how we were working in the business with family and/or friends. As I mentioned, my husband is part of the firm, all of the Of Counsels we have ever had besides him are good friends, and all our administrative/paraprofessional team members are long-time former colleagues whom we have known for decades. Even though our associate is a relatively new addition to the team, he became one of us because he was a co-op student first with the firm and we had developed a mentor-mentee relationship that lasted beyond the semester. This was NOT an unusual story. The young entrepreneur who owns the limousine business and the serial entrepreneur who is on his second successful multi-million-dollar business both talked about how their teams are comprised of people who are their friends. And the immigrant whose business was the top ranked one this year? His business partner is his wife. It takes a village.
Capitalize on Opportunities
Fifth, sometimes, you get lucky. The limousine business had the good fortune of getting the contract to handle the Presidential inauguration, which they had the opportunity to get because they had a chance to work on the campaign and they did a good job. They are now building off that recognition and continuing to grow. The top business, which is known for its pajamas in unusual fabric designs, happened to have launched that product in late 2019 . . . right before the pandemic. The owner pivoted to online sales and his business took off exponentially. The serial entrepreneur had built his first business on helping gyms leverage their subscription memberships. When looking to start a new business, he happened to find out that car washes would be a good next target as they were also looking to start subscription memberships – so now he’s focused on the car wash industry. Totally different industry, but a very transferable experience set of skills and experience. And me, well, I feel like it’s luck every time I get a great new case! Litigation is not an easy practice area to get new business in when you handle large complex cases involving technical issues (like patents, trade secrets) and typically work with smaller or medium-sized businesses in those cases. Clients who fit into that category usually have one of those cases in their lifecycles, so it is the proverbial “one and done.” Thus, in my experience, it takes a wide network, high visibility and excellent results to continue to get referrals for those kinds of cases. But, I hope that you are seeing what I see on this theme. Yes, there is luck, but each of us also knew how to position ourselves to be open to opportunities (or lucky breaks), to capitalize on the luck when it arrived, and to maximize the results from each “lucky” opportunity to perpetuate the next iteration. In truth, there is no “luck” other than what you make for yourself.
And so, there you have it, the five common characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, Philly-style!