By Doug Kisgen, owner of Kisgen Group, Inc. (Culture Index) and Fregata Fitness, Inc. (Iron Tribe Fitness)
I always had the desire to own my own business. My Dad was a CPA and business owner, and his Dad was the local Phillips 66 guy in a small town (he even had a gas pump in his front yard!). Right out of college, I formed my first corporation. It was a music-publishing company, and basically, it was a means to funnel income from a professional band I was in. I ended up starting a percussion instruction company and ran some other ideas through the business, but none of them completely took off.
Over the course of several years, I found different ways I could be in charge of something without fully starting a business. I call this time of my life my “intrapreneur” years. I was a personal trainer, two-location health club manager, family-teacher at Boys Town and head of the training department at a billion-dollar franchise organization.
Finally, I finally found a business I wanted to start. I convinced my wife it would be a great adventure, and that it would be challenging short-term but pay off long-term. We moved to a city where we did not know a soul, into an apartment with our four little children, and proceeded to take on more and more debt as I halved my salary twice trying to get the business off the ground. At the end of the first year, we were more than US$300,000 in debt and paying ourselves an annual salary of US$36,000. Not good.
I learned a valuable lesson during this low point: I had never truly “failed” before in any business venture. My ego took a big hit, but it needed to happen. I realized that life didn’t revolve around my material success. I embarked on a faith journey. Plus, I proceeded to put others before myself, or, candidly, I tried my best to put others first. I started to live a more “how” life than a “what” life.
Instead of focusing on “what” my goals were and what I was doing, I concentrated on doing it well and with principle. I learned that from Aristotle to Aquinas to Ben Franklin, one of the keys to happiness was striving to live a virtuous life. Winning just to win, no matter the cost, cannot bring sustained joy. I also learned bad things can happen to good people but not without a meaningful reason.
Thankfully, this revelation of sorts affected everything in my life. My relationships improved–with God and my family–and so did our business. In seven years, our debt was gone, and we had built a two-year Inc. 5000-listed company. We sold this company in 2012 with an eight-times return over our initial investment. I had already started a consulting company, Kisgen Group, Inc. (utilizing the Culture Index program) a couple years prior to this, and this year we signed a three-location agreement to bring Iron Tribe Fitness to San Antonio, Texas, USA, where we currently reside.
One of the greatest joys this year was accomplishing a long-term personal goal: I recently released my first published book. I wrote it in an easy-to-digest fable format, but underneath are time-tested philosophical, psychological and theological principles that share the secrets to living with authentic joy. As crazy entrepreneurs, we are constantly setting the bar higher for our businesses and ourselves. But this can easily lead to a loss of peace and a lack of focus on what matters most. If you feel like this describes you, it might be time to Rethink Happy!
Doug Kisgen is the author of “Rethink Happy: An Entrepreneur’s Journey Toward Authentic Joy,” the owner of Kisgen Group, Inc. (Culture Index) and Fregata Fitness, Inc. (Iron Tribe Fitness). He is also an EO San Antonio member, former launch champion and Chapter President of EO Kansas City, as well Area Director for EO West-Central. Doug is also an EMP graduate, Class of 2013.