I started Proforma in 1978, just one year after graduating from college, in my Cleveland apartment with a $200 investment in a phone answering machine, stationery and a used file cabinet. We grew nicely in those early years. By 1984, we had grown to about $4 million in the Cleveland area. I decided it was time to increase our geographical reach, and we chose Columbus, Ohio, as the first area for Proforma to expand.
We identified several prospects to open our first satellite office, and drove to Columbus (about two hours from Cleveland) to interview six candidates. From those interviews, we determined that there were three candidates to interview again. The next week, we drove back to Columbus to speak with our top three candidates.
As a result of those interviews, we chose our No. 1 candidate. We informed him that he was our No. 1 choice, and we drove to Columbus once again the following week to finalize our offer and determine next steps to opening our first satellite office.
But that meeting did not go as planned. I thought we would be talking about the offer and next steps. However, when we arrived, he said he had some bad news. He told us that he really liked us. He was inspired by us. He told us that our story of starting the business with only a $200 investment and growing it to several million moved him to want to start his own business just like we did.
We had more than a month of our time invested in expanding to Columbus, and now this bad news came as quite a disappointment.
But I thought long and hard about his decision. He wanted to own his own business. I got it. I wanted to own my own business, too. So I started to wonder how Proforma could create a business model that would empower people like him to own their own businesses, and leverage our systems, resources and success. The more I wondered, the more I thought finding a way to help people start and grow their own business was a good idea. And that is what led me to start franchising Proforma in 1986.
That was the best business decision I ever made.
Now, we have more than 700 franchise owners with more than $500 million in total sales. Our sights are set at achieving our first billion-dollar year in the near future. To this day, I wonder what would have happened if that prospect had accepted our offer to open up an office in Columbus. Perhaps we would have never decided on the franchise business model. Today, I’m very thankful that he turned down our offer and helped us choose franchising.
Truly, your worst news can turn into your best decision.