We’ve all heard the expression, “I dodged that bullet” to indicate that one missed something that, in hindsight, would have been bad, or at least, less than positive. I was recently reflecting of at least 3 bullets that I have, or Melissa and I have, dodged. Two of these involved the beginnings of Magnus, way back in 1993. At the time we conceptualized our company, we were building a plan to create a company to provide trial consulting and other non litigation related research services. We were building on Melissa’s background as part of the premier firm in the trial consulting industry as well with our collective experience with another trial consulting company. While working for the latter company, we met someone who was to be the third partner at Magnus. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it seemed that he would be a good part of the team. Fortunately, he decided he had no interest in contributing financially to the formation of the corporation, even in the smallest way, to “buy into” the business. We needed some seed money to handle things like assembling some basic business equipment, and even pay the state fees to incorporate. He would not contribute even $1! His loss – – but lucky for us because he would have been a drag on everything we did to build the business. He was, even then, questioning why I wanted to buy things like a fax machine (remember those?). I argued it was better than going somewhere and paying for faxes by the page. Whew! The next dodged bullet was that we sought out investors to provide seed funds for our new company. We found a few, but far fewer than what we thought we needed and so we decided to build the company with the funds that came from our initial engagements – growing it more slowly perhaps, but without the burden of repaying debt or sharing profits. I’m not sure now that our projections were accurate, but I am very happy that we abandoned that investor plan to go it alone. For entrepreneurs, the planned path may not play out and, rather than focus on the things which are not falling into place, being willing to switch to Plan B or C to keep moving forward is the only smart path. The third bullet I have reflected upon is much more personal. About 10 years ago, Melissa and I began to research continuous care retirement facilities (CCRF) for my parents. While we visited communities in the N.E. Florida area where they had lived for decades, we also suggested that they look at a beautiful CCRF in Fort Myers and one near to our home in S.E. Florida, thinking it would be convenient for us. We visited these places with them and those visits prompted much discussion. While both had lots of amenities and the advantage of being closer for us – 15 minutes for the S.E. Florida place or 2.5 hours for the Fort Myers one, as compared to 5 hours to Jacksonville, my parents did not want to leave their familiar surroundings, physicians, friends, and church. Was that ever the right call! As tired as I/we get of the 10 hour, 700 mile round trip to and from Jacksonville, it has been so much better for them to be where they knew people and had a significant support network. The CCRF where they moved, Westminster Woods, is wonderful and has been a very positive move – what we anticipated played out. But, both they and we dodged a bullet of making the wrong choice of moving closer to Melissa and me for our convenience. Anyone considering these choices for family members should consider that such a move is difficult enough without breaking strong support networks. It might be different if one did not have such a network, or if one had to contend with terrible winter weather, for example, but my parents were already in Florida so such considerations were not necessary. And, we now able to look back at these events and appreciate that things did work out for the best.
As John Lennon famously wrote in the lyrics of his song, “Beautiful Boy,” “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” It is interesting to see where our lives take us, including when it takes us in directions different from those we had planned. David and I founded Magnus in 1993 with big expectations, but with zero funding. When we asked several people we knew if they would be interested in investing in Magnus, we were turned down by almost everyone we approached. At the time, it seemed like no one shared our vision of what we would soon become, that is, a very successful trial consulting business, but we forged ahead by investing almost everything we earned into the business and by being frugal about our expenditures. Within a couple of years, we were thrilled not to have to pay back any investment income to anyone, as we owned 100% of the business and could, as a result, enjoy 100% of the profits. In a similar fashion, our original, third business partner decided not to invest anything in the business. He was perfectly happy being paid as an employee. Within a short time of founding Magnus, this person was, as they say, “history,” due to several clients declining to work with us if he was involved in their case. Therefore, his refusal to invest as little as $1.00 in our business meant that David and I owned 100% of the shares that were available for purchase and distribution. Hooray for those would be investors and our former partner! Their decisions had the combined effect of “gifting” 100% of Magnus to David and me! We never had to re-pay or buy out anyone and even better, we had complete discretion to decide to own and operate our company in the manner we choose. Things could not have worked out better for us, despite our initial plans. David’s parents’ decision not to relocate from their long time residence in Jacksonville to someplace near David and me was also one of those “Whew! Thank goodness they didn’t take us up on our offer!” realizations. We love and respect David’s parents, however, having them live near us, in a city where we would have been the only people they knew, would have been disastrous for both them and us. David and I would have been his parents’ only source of social support and, given our hectic lifestyle, frequent travels, and dedication to owning and operating our company, we would not have been able to provide them with everything they needed. We have had numerous other examples of dodging bullets, including waiting for a former employee to return to work after completing her Ph. D., in preparation to work for us as a consultant. After waiting many years for this valued member of our team to re-join us, she told me she would only be available to work a few days every month, to allow her time to spend with her family and pursue other personal activities. I explained that none of Magnus’ clients would understand her limited availability and unwillingness to work when, for example, a judge ordered them to select a jury on a particular day, such that, as disappointed I was to find out about her true work ethic, I was delighted to have never spent any time or money training her on how to work as a trial consultant. Just as with the other examples we mentioned, David and I breathed a collective sigh of relief over our good fortune. Sometimes, things have a way of working out even better than we anticipated!