Ep 13 – Kyle Friedman – Building A Million Dollar Painting Company
The Ambition Project – Calgary Entrepreneurial Podcast
The Ambition Project is a video series in which we interview successful and ambitious Calgary entrepreneurs and talk to them about their struggles, what they’ve had to overcome on their journey and valuable insights they have to share with up and coming business owners. The series will premiere on September 18th, 2018. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay updated or stream an episode on Spotify or iTunes.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Welcome Kyle, thank you for being a part of this, you’re part of the trailer a long time ago so. I’m excited to finally interview you in full.
Kyle Friedman: I’m excited to be here.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Tell us a little bit about your multiple companies and what they do.
Kyle Friedman: Yeah so I have a few companies, Zoom Painting and then we have Zoom Living which were just releasing, it’s a restoration company, the painting is self-explanatory, and then we have Okanash, so we manufacture products, import them and they are painting products.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So you started it in painting when you went looking at an apartment I believe, how did that go?
Kyle Friedman: Yeah so the back story, I’m from New Brunswick, I went to school actually for audio engineering and I was going to school and I was looking for a place to stay so I was viewing at an apartment, it was 10 o’clock at night that they said we could go and when I got there the person was painting it and that was really interesting so I was like why are you painting this place? And he said, well we just have so much work if you had a painting company you would make a pile of money. And I said, naturally, I have a painting company, so that was how it all started. The next day I was told to go to the office, this ended up being [INAUDIBLE] properties, and they said thank you if you had everything an incorporated business, DCB and whatnot we would be able to give you work but you’d have to come back next year and I said, can you give me until the end of the day? They said yes, I called back at noon, had everything and I was working for [INAUDIBLE] Properties.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Wow.
Kyle Friedman: Yeah it was cool.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So you must have moved really fast to get all the stuff you needed then hey.
Kyle Friedman: I move very fast all the time.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So what brought you to Calgary?
Kyle Friedman: A friend offered me a place to stay on a couch, so going back a little bit I went to school for audio engineering, I was painting houses in the evenings and weekends, apartments, ended up having all my friends working for me and kinda kept going, never really made it too huge but had it going in the background, wanted to explore a little, a friend of mine said come to Calgary you can live on my couch, I said awesome and I moved down with a snowboard, backpack and 500 bucks, yeah it was really cool so that was I think about 8 years ago, the tail end of 2011.
Jonathan Hafichuk: When you moved here did you start painting right away?
Kyle Friedman: So I moved here thinking I was going to be a musician, so working as an audio engineer and music producer and I started applying and looking for studios and I realized that there’s no music scene in Calgary at all, so naturally I got a little freaked out and I said I needed to start working again so I started applying to paint companies, and I got a job within the first few days, I worked for a week and I asked if I could take the Friday off and go snowboarding and I went snowboarding in Fernie and broke my collarbone, totally. So I broke that and basically had to get bed rested on a couch at a friends house one weekend and I called the office to let them know what happened and they said you’re an amazing worker so we can hold your job, we can give you 2 weeks and I said, ok cool. So anyway I took about 3 and a half weeks off and they called me and said you had to come back to work. I started working again with a broken collar bone which was excruciating and basically just worked my way through it until it healed up and 6 months, quit and started up my company again.
Jonathan Hafichuk: And so when you started up your company there, that was City In Colour Painting, right?
Kyle Friedman: Correct, City In Colour Painting, after the band.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Nice, You’re a big Dallas Green fan?
Kyle Friedman: Yeah it all comes together.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Cool, so you said when you were working with City In Colour painting you were working primarily as a subcontractor, and then you got a really big gig with, what was it, Garden Homes?
Kyle Friedman: Mattamy, so interesting thing basically I went off on my own, I wanted to really work for myself and whatnot so I was taking subcontracts, so basically working for other painting companies, doing their work and taking the scraps and what happened was working for one company doing the majority of Mattamy Homes and it ended up that I was doing 95% of their work for the Airdrie location, that contractor failed to pay me so I stopped all work, flew down to a friends house in Vancouver, and hang out for the weekend and basically got a call from the VP of Alberta saying if we would come back, take on the contract, they would give it to us, and then they would also pay us all the money that was outstanding from the retention. So yeah it was pretty crazy, I was at a friend’s house just hanging out in Vancouver,got that call and I had 5 days to start up to be back kicking the company and be able to take the whole prime contract which was quite substantial.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So that was really pivotal for the company then?
Kyle Friedman: Yeah it was massive. Making that first incremental step, but what was interesting was I had this company where I was mostly supplying labor, I never really had to purchase products, I was young and I didn’t have a lot of credit or anything to my name so then I had 5 days to figure out how I was going to bankroll all the materials that I was now going to have to afford so they were with PPG Paints Deluxe, I contacted them and they actually turned me down to give me credit so I had to contact Mattamy to tell them conditionally we would have to move suppliers to Sherwin Williams because they were better and that we would give them a better product, so they did and Sherwin gave us credit. We’ve been very faithful to Sherwin ever since for that.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Awesome that’s great. So When you started out on that contract it sounded like you worked a lot.
Kyle Friedman: Yes, we worked all the time so at that time there was just a few of us, my brother was working with me as well and we just worked as much as we had to, we would hire people, they wouldn’t be very great, they didn’t have great work ethic and we had to do it so I signed myself up for this, I signed the contract and I had to commit and get it done so we would work 10, 14, 20 hour days. It got the point where they have Fisco year ends and they were trying to complete all of the work that they had quartered for the end of the year and so this massive push, this 3 months period, one of them we ended up having to sleep in the houses just because we didn’t have, it didn’t make sense to go home for like 3 hours to come back, so we started sleeping in the houses then it got to the point where we just worked and I think we set a record of working just over 120 days straight at one period, so with people who worked for me as well.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So did you find that you were getting less and less productive running on that little sleep?
Kyle Friedman: 100%, you have to have bodies there so that they know that things are getting done and you have to push through so it wouldn’t be as good but you have massive deadlines trying to complete in say ,a 30 day period you just have no choice.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Do you still have some of the employees that you had then?
Kyle Friedman: I have some of them, yeah my longest employee just had his 5 year anniversary, so Austin,so that would be the length so from that point on we’ve kept every employee that we haven’t wanted to be gone.We have a massively high retention and it was super fun.Austin he was a sponsored skateboarder.
Jonathan Hafichuk: I think I met him at your event
Kyle Friedman: Yeah exactly, in the past so we decided to throw our year-end party which was a surprise because we always throw a party but he didn’t know and it was themed, a video game theme because he’s a gamer, naturally and we had it at TubbyDog, super awesome and presented him with this sponsored 5-year deck. So we made a skateboard deck as if he was a pro skater , a Zoom painting [INAUDIBLE] themed deck which was super huge so yeah, our employees stay,we do cool stuff.
Jonathan Hafichuk: That’s really awesome. What motivated you to work that hard, I guess a part of it was necessity, but then you would have to have some motivation to only be sleeping 3 hours at night and working 20 hour days for 3 months.
Kyle Friedman: Yeah I mean I’m obsessive for sure,so that’s a tendency that entrepreneurs can have so I don’t like give up and I guess if you see a little bit of the light you kind of just keep pushing through,this was my shot, I didn’t want to let it down so I was going to do whatever it took and die trying.
Jonathan Hafichuk: You mentioned you had some issues with hiring along the way and getting the wrong people and learning to get the right people, what challenges came along with hiring and what did you learn?
Kyle Friedman: I learned so many different things. It’s hard to hire people. In the beginning you have no idea so our new mantra is “We are not in the business of great painters , we’re in the business of great people. Any asshole can paint ”. We hired a lot of assholes, we hired a lot of great painters,bad people, things like that so it was this big learning curve to figure out the difference between good people and good painters, what somebody says and what they actually do as actions and what’s that unique fit for us in culture so, I don’t know, hiring people has been a huge learning curve the whole time so I feel like we have it down pat.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So what traits do you look for when you’re hiring people?
Kyle Friedman: So the biggest thing we’re looking for is a talent , typically if they’ve learned something on their own or if they are a musician, singer,songwriter, if they’re an ice skater, hockey, any type of sport anything like that, they have the ability to learn on their own and they have the ability to deal with failure, which are really critical.Were not great at telling people what to do so,we want them to be able to figure things out,we want them to be able to deal with issues as it comes up and whatnot. The other thing that we were really looking for is common sense, so an alignment of common sense because common sense is not so common. So if we can figure out through the past how they’ve dealt with situations and things, then we can find if we align and if we align I know when a small question comes up or something like that I know they’ll solve it on their own, helps me sleep at night and it helps me not to micromanage.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Right, now you said like a lot of businesses, you have issues making payroll at times and dealing with payroll and that was a struggle for you, how did you overcome that?
Kyle Friedman: The payroll struggle,I mean we’ve all had times where we put it on our credit card that’s a common thing I hear in the entrepreneurial struggle, so coming with it is just the ability to forecast and understand so the revenue is vanity, profit is sanity and cash is king so once you understand that you’re not just chasing the money,and you understand the pipe and where the money’s coming,what your forecast and expenses are, that’s when I really got control of the struggle of payroll but we’re a rapidly growing company with a rapidly growing expanding company. Our receivables are always growing as well and then if you have just one client that’s a little bit late it can just trigger all of this so they call it the 40-mile march, figuring out your 40 marks so to try and build up the stockpile of cash that you might need in case something goes wrong so right now, saving money has been the biggest relief for cash flow.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So you mentioned previously that your fundamental entrepreneurial background,your dad was an entrepreneur, what did he do?
Kyle Friedman: So my father basically started out with a friend of his that was a painter, he was creating artwork and my father was brokering the deals to sell it to on display and then taking commission and then what happened was he saw video games come out and he said this is going to be something so he came up with the idea of brokering the deals between a content creator or a video game writer and a company to be able to broker this game that would be released.It was called interactive game licensing so he was the first of his kind to do it so basically he hit his big home run with the video game industry with Punch-Out, EA Sports, Command and Conquer on PC, so these are all things that he brokered. So yeah it was really interesting, he always had a home office or a scale back home office so it was really cool to see around that time so I learned a lot from him but he was one of those workaholics for sure, he was consumed by it.
Jonathan Hafichuk: What did you learn from him?
Kyle Friedman: I learned passion, I learned passion and the ability to know that you can do something to believe in yourself,and to be a big visionary, a big thinker. So I’m a visionary, he was a great visionary and he would challenge an ordinary thought so it was really interesting, he was a great mentor.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So you said one of your struggles came along with moving from the owner-operator role into more of an administrative business development higher-level role, what did that look like for you and what advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are making that transition?
Kyle Friedman: So I found that struggle to be one of the biggest, so where the company was growing, I’ll walk you through it. My company was growing,we’re painting all these houses, and I have to do all the invoicing. So invoicing and dealing with all the paperwork and emails, I’m doing that in my vehicle in the evening when I stop and at home and then when we expanded in crew, that invoicing was starting to take up time in the morning, and then it would take up time at lunch and I got to the point where you know that was where the invoicing and client-facing relationships were taking up the majority of my time and I had to make this choice to move off of any type of being on the tools but I battled with it because I was scared that once I moved in that direction I wouldn’t be in an income-generating position so it was really the biggest struggle, you’re always wanting to be on the tools to try and make the money like your work is calling you for not to be. So at that point I realized that I needed an assistant, we brought in an assistant to take on that role of the invoicing duties so I can be beyond the tools and still income-generating and I got to the point where I realized I had to manage this assistant, I had to manage the relationships and I realized I had to come off the tools again and I found that was the biggest point, the tipping point I guess of the business where you know you were going to be in control of it you’re not income-generating and you have no choice but to expand and grow, hire more people, take on more work so that it can accent your income and then offset this assistant income and then offset the next division and so on, that was definitely the tipping point. Trying to understand, does the business generate enough profit to sustain your income when you’re not working or is it only when you’re working that it’s doing that so you know you go to find that balance of the right time to move out of the business because sometimes you want it to be right now but it might not be in the cards right so the profit line has to cover your salary then it has to cover the other salaries that you expect to put in, or else the company won’t be profitable.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So during this time you’re obviously working really hard doing a lot of hours,how did that affect your friendships and relationships?
Kyle Friedman: So they say that every 7 years you lose 50% of your friends, I’m all about those statistics now, so I probably lost all of them and a couple.Yeah so I didn’t really have any time for friends but I did make time for my relationship so my fiance, we’re still together, we have a wonderful relationship, we have an amazing 3 ½-year-old daughter and another baby on the way, 2020 wedding in case you’re wondering but I really made sure that didn’t suffer, you know I always wanted to have that , my fiance is an entrepreneur as well so we got it. The limited amount of time that we might have, but we have the time now so that’s great.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So what advice do you have for entrepreneurs in terms of knowing your credit and managing debt , using debt?
Kyle Friedman: With that big transition of where we’re working on the tools and then working our way out of the business, and we’re not in an income-generating position,you can tend to make mistakes along the way,maybe you’re short on payments or things like that or you’re lapsing through but the thing is as your business is growing, you’re going to rely on your own personal signature ,you’re the cosigner of everything so if you don’t have a strong credit score, you’re not going to able to get what’s needed to expand and grow , it’s going to take close to 5 years or more for the business can have it’s own credit score and legs and funds to be able to let you separate away from it, not signing on every single item, so I think really understanding that the choices you make are not just tied to yourself they’re tied to your company and you have to be really smart about making all your bills, you payments,things like that. Cellphone is the number one destroyer of credit, for young people in Canada or North America so make sure you pay that cellphone bill if you want to be an entrepreneur
Jonathan Hafichuk: Good to know.
Kyle Friedman: Yeah.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So you’ve attributed a fair amount of the success of Zoom through having a great brand,how did you go about building that brand and how do you recommend other people to go about that because a lot of businesses don’t think about it.
Kyle Friedman: Yeah, yeah totally,those items that you might not spend your money on, but would be very wise to spend your money on, like the neglected little step child or something, but branding has been critical, so we were City In Colour and City In Colour Painting, that was our painting company it says we paint the city colors and we float, so in 2016, I decided that I really wanted to take a crack at this painting thing and we decided to rebrand, so we rebranded as Zoom Painting, Zoom says we’re fast but we never say we’re fast so we’re competing with the other companies that are able to paint things very quickly, and it’s a Zee letter so it’s a letter in the alphabet, the last letter which means it’s very uncommon for a lot of words, its Zoom it’s a sound, as well as a word that you would have at the back of your head, we wouldn’t have to teach you it but it almost sounds like a word that we created so Zoom Painting kind of gave that tech feel of being quick, something that you could already understand and know and that we didn’t have to teach you it. So we incorporated the colour blue because blue is the colour tied most to trust, and we wanted to make sure that we built that trust engine with everyone and our first branding slogan was “ Professional,Affordable” so we were telling people exactly what we were coming in with being the most affordable ,professional service so these were all brand decisions before we even started to create anything , so before we came online to sell we had already figured out all of these items and then launch through with new websites , marketing and all other aspects but this thought of how we could create something that our customers wanted, and that they were looking for, opened so many doors so our revenue when we launched in the first year, we did almost 80% of the revenue that took us 4 years to get to with City In Colour Painting so to give you an example,it was like once we rebranded,, because we kept both divisions open, it was like there was a weight holding us back that got let go and then Zoom just started going so we actually only phased out City In Colour Painting last year, and we still have some select contracts that we’re really trying to close with it, but Zoom is just rapidly growing and I really feel that marketing is about doors and the more doors you put in the way to open, these are the things you need to tell somebody, so it’s like Zoom Painting,we’re painting company it says painting in the name if we were, you know just Zoom, then we would have to open a door ,or we would have to say we’re a painting company right? So these were just some of the things that we thought about and why we thought branding was so important if that helps.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah that makes sense , so what advice do you have for people just starting out in business to building a successful brand?
Kyle Friedman: I think it really comes down to that analogy of the doors, so the least amount of doors that you can put in the way to open, the more successful you’re going to be. Be simple and explain yourself with a short message, if you can have a clear, concise name for what you’re doing and if you can be current with trend,these things are just going to take you so much further. If you come up with something because you like it but maybe it doesn’t make sense and you’re finding yourself explaining it to everybody, that might not be the best thing, that’s typically branding 101.
Jonathan Hafichuk: I may have dropped the ball there a little bit, look creative agencies never have that great , very explanative names.
Kyle Friedman: Yeah exactly, and I mean we’ve all done it, so we just wanted to make sure that we didn’t do it this time. So Zoom was calculated,it was thought out to the point where we don’t even really believe that phone numbers are so important so we branded ourselves as Zoompainting.ca. So everything that we do, awards,advertisement stuff is Zoompainting.ca so you know where to contact us as a subliminal message.
Jonathan Hafichuk: You’ve grown really quickly over the last couple years what was the award that you got or the ranking you got? Was it Macleans?
Kyle Friedman: Yeah its Macleans, it’s business, Canadian business, it’s the growth 500 which is like the Ink 500 in the US, we came in the 86th fastest growing company in Canada
Jonathan Hafichuk: That’s impressive.
Kyle Friedman: Thank you, that was really big and we’ve continued to grow and we know we’ll be on it again this year so that’s super awesome, maybe a little bit lower.
Jonathan Hafichuk: I believe part of your success in the rapid growth was due to you figuring out how to pitch large buildings and large numbers of units right?
Kyle Friedman: Yeah, so there’s a few different points of the success but probably the biggest one was understanding , like we were looking at all these places that were working and we have to drive and commute in between each one of them and all that commuting and driving is on billable time so it was eating into our profit margin as well as we have to sell a ton of small sales to cluster into our annual gross revenue, so I was like what’s the biggest thing that I can sell, the most amount of units, and that’s highrises. So urban density is out market compared to multi-family, I’m a firm believer that as the cost of living goes up, we would go up as well ,and people are congregating into these cities meccas so that’s what our play was on so we went after highrises,it just made natural sense so it’s the biggest contract with the most amount of units that we could sign and the great things about highrises too is that we’re bidding sometimes up to a year away and what that gives us is like the ultimate job security because we know instead of we’re painting a house and we know we’ve got work in two weeks,we know that we’ve got work in a year or two years or whatever it may be and as anyone knows in construction,even flow or the ability to forecast work can be quite scary so it’s solved a lot of things for us.
Jonathan Hafichuk: You say your efficiency and productivity really changed when you had your daughter what did that look like or how did you manage to go from endless hours to the 40-hour workweek or whatever?
Kyle Friedman: Yeah exactly, so recapping some of the successful points,understanding branding and opening those doors, targeting this vertical multi-family and this highrises is largest collections of things that we could sell under one contract and then having my daughter and now coming to terms with I don’t want to be a bad dad so I want to be there so I’m going to stop work at 4:30 and I’m not going to work the evenings,I’m not going to work the weekend and how am I going to get this done and then that was the final learning of working smarter and not harder and that was really the tipping point of the final piece of my success so yeah I’d probably say I owe the most of it to Olivia and Leah, definitely.
Jonathan Hafichuk: What kind of practices did you need to implement to cut your hours down like that, become more effective?
Kyle Friedman: So from that point I started really understanding departmentalizing so creating the different departments and organizational workflow for my people, being able to not micromanage so you’re not able to manage everyone else’s workload, to delegate appropriately,there were so many things that I’ve learned, it all started with just like forcing myself to turn off my cell phone for periods of time and figuring out how I’m going to deal with the backlash after and that really just teaches you a ton of delegation, you have to get other people to handle it and with that then it starts coming in with the systems and processes, work charts, the flow of work, so many things came in so I don’t know how to perfectly describe it but just forcing myself not to work, naturally you’re going to figure it outright? You figure out anything.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So where do you see your companies and yourself in 10 years?
Kyle Friedman: Sitting on a beach in 10 years we’re going to be, we’re already multiple cities so we’ll be multi-country, that’ll be our focus. Right now we’re manufacturing select materials so we’re doing the disposable products, the tape and the sleeves we’re going to continue to do that and we’ve been implementing some technology so systems to run our contractors, to run our company so we’ll be utilizing that. So a multi-country with this connected supply chain is where I see it.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Sounds very exciting, I’m excited to see where you go and I’m excited for you to have another kid.
Kyle Friedman: Thank you, yeah it’s coming soon.
Jonathan Hafichuk: I’m sure you’ll have to lose some sleep for a little while.
Kyle Friedman: Definitely yeah but I’m sure I’ll be ever stronger working less, smarter hopefully.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Awesome, well thank you so much for being a part of the show, I really appreciate you taking the time.
Kyle Friedman: Thank you, happy to be here.
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