Inside Track: Bankruptcy provides clarity
After a failing ownership opportunity, Navigate Ventures President Rob Stam rediscovers his passion for teaching.
Rob Stam went bankrupt in 2007, but without that experience, he wouldn’t be where he is today.
The president of Navigate Ventures said bankruptcy was both the best and worst event of his career and allowed him to rediscover his childhood dream.
As he was bouncing back from the bankruptcy, his uncle suggested he use the multiple lessons learned throughout the process to educate others.
“You just got an education in business you couldn’t get from going to Wharton,” Stam recalled his uncle telling him, referencing the famous Pennsylvania business school. “You better do something with it.”
An ambitious Stam was sidetracked in college from his dream of teaching by the promise of money. He kept reaching for more, which eventually led to the tailspin.
From his early years, he knew he wanted to teach. In high school, Stam student taught and ventured to Hope College in the mid-1990s to pursue a teaching career.
A future in teaching was derailed as he began working in sales.
“Money,” Stam said. “It was opportunities in the late ’90s, early 2000s and I had some opportunities to travel the country, working in technology and investing in real estate.
“It was simply the allure of the almighty paycheck. The pursuit of success, and it shifted my mind from pursuing income over passion.”
Early on, Stam said he didn’t have any significant failures or roadblocks, which ultimately gave him an unhealthy confidence in business for a young man.
The Midas Touch Syndrome, as Stam called it, led to getting in over his head with a struggling business. The youthful certainty led Stam to circumvent good practice and allowed a poor decision to come back and bite him.
In 2002, he became a partner and inherited ownership of a company he believed he could save. Looking back, Stam admitted the company was in too much trouble to fix and with issues he wasn’t prepared to solve. At the time, however, he was confident he could save the company.
Shortly after joining the failing company’s ownership in 2004, he began investing in real estate.
“The company, it was too big for me and then to jump into real estate at probably the worst time to start in U.S. history, the inevitable happened,” he said. “We crashed really hard and really fast in 2007 and lost everything. That’s the moment you wake up and go, ‘OK, what are you going to do with this now?’
“Fun would not be the word I use to describe it, but educational, absolutely.”
With a wife and 3-year-old son, Stam lost his house and watched his cars get towed away. The situation made him rethink his life, as he took on a couple jobs to make money and think about his future.
Because of how quickly he failed, he didn’t have time to overanalyze and pretend as if it wasn’t by his own doing. It was a short enough period he wasn’t able to be delusional and think it was the recession that did him in, but what he did.
“I can’t be fooled,” he said. “It is what it is. It was as bad as it really was. I see the mistakes.”
With the advice of his uncle and the former desire to teach, he also began to consult other businesspeople.
The actions that led to the bankruptcy, however, are not regretted, just the timing.
“I regret it in the sense that I wasn’t mentally prepared for it,” Stam said. “The allure of money gets us all, but I’m not risk-averse so I would jump into things with reckless optimism.
“When you have success early in your career but don’t have years of wisdom to handle it, you often assume you’ll get up in the morning and everything will work out and money falls from trees.”
In 2008 as he started to consult, he began using the term “general contractor for startups.” He was looking at the ability to mentor entrepreneurs and help them avoid pitfalls and start on a path of success, using the lessons that sent him the opposite way.
He also vowed to stop using money as a sole motivator, refusing to let money be the driving force behind how he lives his life.
“I realized I had craved how other people viewed my success,” Stam said. “People thought the things I would buy were cool. I made that commitment to myself to never do anything just for money, and it’s a fundamental change — a big change for me.”
Building his new consulting business was quick, he said. From 2008-10, Stam was working with a variety of smaller projects. With some pivotal clients, 2010 was the year he knew things would be OK. Navigate’s largest client to this date is one he’s worked with since 2010.
His clients mostly are in the startup phase, but all of them have no more than a few hundred employees.
Today, there are 12 employees on the payroll at Navigate, with dozens of clients.
Working with a client, Stam said he spends his time as an executive strategist with the business executive at the helm of the company.
“I want to help them personally, look at the industry, the business, help them draw out a plan for success,” Stam said.
Otherwise, the rest of the Navigate team helps the company recognize opportunities in the market, structuring the business, helping with finances and even helping employees balance work and family.
Clients range from those who simply want a website to those who want to know what they can really do with a website, Stam said.
“Most of our clients are long term,” he said. “Really wondering what they can do with a business.”
Stam is happy now that he’s able to live out his childhood dream of teaching, even if it’s not the original desire he had of teaching the school basics.
“I really love teaching,” he said. “Whether it’s standing and speaking in front of a lot of people or sitting one on one over a cup of coffee. That’s my personal passion, being in a position to teach, advise or strategize.”
At 41, Stam knows he potentially has a long career in front of him. He hopes before long others will be empowered to take charge and run Navigate, as he knows that’s not his strength.
“I want this to be built up so I can go out and get our ideal clients and let our employees use their strong suits,” he said. “I want to use this as an example of building up a stable organization and of how to build a company.”
Last year, Stam wrote “Entrepreneur’s Survival Guide” in hopes of helping empower even more entrepreneurs and further spark his personal side business, which is helping entrepreneurs through the outdoors.
It was in the outdoors more than a year ago when Stam realized he was on the correct path in life and that he needed to write a book to help even more entrepreneurs outside of his day-to-day career.
“I’m a lover of the outdoors,” he said. “It’s a great setting to escape and think. I love that setting to teach business and use it as a classroom, whether it’s taking a group to hike in the Moab Desert or scuba dive in Belize. It’s talking about business in a setting most wouldn’t talk about business.
“It’s where I find the most clarity, getting away to where it doesn’t happen.”