As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan to Rebuild in The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Joseph Meuse.
After years on Wall Street, Joseph Meuse created Business GPS because he was looking to use his experience and business acumen to help struggling businesses. Enter COVID-19, and his company is helping hundreds of businesses get government loans, decrease their commercial rental payments, negotiate their loans to better terms — all on contingency. It is a unique business model, where Business GPS gets paid at the end of the process.
“Business GPS is here to help business owners navigate this new, more challenging, business era,” said Joseph Meuse. “Business GPS is dedicated to providing effective solutions to real problems which all businesses, at some point, experience.”
A serial entrepreneur over the past 30 years, Mr. Meuse has started and built over a dozen successful businesses and in the process has also helped thousands of other US companies execute on their business plans. Sectors of experience span financial services, investment banking, accounting and finance, IT, business consulting and legal services, giving Joe a broad perspective on best business practices and how they can be most effectively transferred across categories. As a thought leader in business transformation and financial management, Mr. Meuse has been a regular contributor on TV and radio, including Bloomberg, CNN, CNBC and Fox Business.
Business GPS, which was launched in 2013, has helped hundreds of businesses, across all business sectors, stay in business by improving their cash flow and resolving their financial issues. Business GPS maintains co-headquarters in Washington, DC and Los Angeles, California.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve always enjoyed working — the feeling of being productive and learning new things. I had my first job at 14 and started my first business at 19 to help pay my way through college (and I have been working for myself ever since). I quickly learned that I had a passion for business and like anything you have a passion for, you are always learning how things work, how to do it better — always a student.
In 2008, my business was doing well and I thought I had it all “together” when the Great Recession hit. What I learned was that while I knew how to grow a business, I didn’t know how to manage business when times were bad. I did what most business owners would do — I turned to my lawyer who said if I got into legal trouble or needed to file for bankruptcy, he would help me and I turned to my accountant who simply looked at my financials and said cut more expenses and create more revenue.
Both responses offered zero help in how to navigate the rocky ground that I was on. I even contacted part-time CFOs and turnaround firms but they all wanted retainers and couldn’t promise results.
Eventually I found a turnaround specialist I had heard about. He was willing to work with me on contingency, which was exactly what I needed, as I was too afraid to part with the little remaining cash I had at the time. It was how I knew I could trust him because he would only get paid if he performed — he was truly in it with me. With simply a few phone calls, along with my financial reports, he was able to get my creditors to agree to the terms I needed so that I could stay open. It made all the difference and I realized nobody ever teaches you how to deal with tough situations like that — whether it’s the Great Recession or today’s Covid19 environment.
I promised myself at the time that when I got back up on my feet again financially, I would start a business helping other businesses navigate tough waters and I would do it on contingency which I did in 2013 when I founded Business GPS.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take-aways’ you learned from that?
My mistake was probably the most common one! I started the business thinking it would only take around six months to turn a profit and that I only needed a limited amount of cash to get started. How wrong I was! Entrepreneurs are truly optimists; we often think it’s going to be a lot easier than it turns out to be. When I ask my clients if they knew it was going to be this difficult to get their business to this point, they all say that they had no idea. I’m sure many of us would not have started their business in the first place had we known then what we know now. The lessons for me were 1) always assume the worst case when planning and 2) growing a business takes consistent effort every single day. There truly is no overnight success.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I feel like business owners can “over think” things. For me, I try to keep it simple — focus on a few principles that truly matter. As long as I follow them, things tend to work out. One of those principles is that no matter what business you own, you are always in the people business. With that in mind, I read books about leadership — mostly biographies, because it’s easier to relate to. The story of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who has been called “the greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth, bar none” for saving the lives of twenty-seven men stranded with him in the Antarctic for almost two years, is one of my favorites. He remains to this day a model for great leadership and masterful crisis management as in the face of guaranteed death, he demonstrates how one person can make a difference.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I just wanted to help businesses and do it on contingency, because I knew from my experience that this was the best way to do it. I was betting on my skills that I could help business owners who were struggling. What I didn’t realize is that it’s not just simply about transferring my knowledge to the business owner, or working with creditors — the most important part of the whole process was developing trust with business owners who were already full of fear, lacking sleep and sometimes down to their last few dollars. I realize now that it’s like any successful personal relationship — trust is the foundation and we must always be there to help when the other person is struggling. If I create that relationship, then the business owner will follow my advice and we will have a much greater chance of success. I didn’t understand the emotional aspect when I started — but my purpose now is to build strong, positive relationships with people in need. After that, the rest of the process is much easier. I’m in the people business.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
That’s a tough question! Probably that owning a business is like going to school as there are lessons every day that you need to learn to graduate and get to the next grade. Sometimes we have to relearn the same lessons, but they are there every single day to help you.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
One of the biggest issues for me is that before the pandemic, I would spend a few days each week flying to see clients or to see my two sons (who are now in college). I love seeing people face to face — there is a real emotional connection that is made and of course I always enjoy seeing my sons. Now, I try to call, FaceTime and Zoom as much as I can. There is nothing more important than the connection we make with other people.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
There are so many as we have never seen anything like this in terms of the immediate negative impact on entire business sectors. The pandemic will forever change how business is done. Trying to figure out how to help each client can be extremely difficult because we are in unchartered territory. Every business is already unique and takes a unique strategy to get out of a bad situation as now we also have to deal with a much larger set of unknowns. Probably the biggest issue is fear. So many business owners are scared and that leads to bad decisions, or even worse — no decisions. I always say that almost all of the decisions I have made in my life, based on fear, have been wrong. Trying to get back to a logical decision, and not an emotional decision, is a real challenge.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Two things — focus on what you can control and focus on what really matters. First, we can’t do anything about what happens in the news so ignore it! Focus on what you can control. Don’t read your news alerts or watch TV if you don’t have to. Create a list every day of what you need to do and accomplish it. This is when the “take it a day at a time” approach is really effective. After a few weeks, you will look back and see the progress you have made. Second, what really matters are the relationships we have with each other. A wealthy man is one who gives of himself to others. Right now, people need help more than ever — give to others and you will see that even the smallest gestures can have a big impact.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
The obvious post-pandemic growth areas are anything online or delivery, businesses that take people outdoors (we see boat and RV clients who are thriving), but I also think that traditional businesses that can cut their cost structure significantly below their competitors will do well. For example, your local area may not need thirty restaurants but the five that survive will do well. And this does not just pertain to restaurants, but other industries where there is a significant reduction in business.
We are also seeing good acquisition opportunities. If you have cash, you can buy your competition at a price you never thought possible. It is critical that every business owner stop focusing on just survival. If they do that, while their competition is pivoting, they will wake up one day with no business at all. I think it’s also important to assume that this truly is the new normal — and if it is, then how would you run your business? Every business owner needs to think that way and when they do, they will likely find new opportunities for their own business.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I think the biggest concern I have is that how we act with each other is changing. I feel already our behavior has become disconnected from each other, with social media, etc. Now I wonder about how our youth will learn the skills of personal interaction, of understanding how our words impact others. Will we all still value each other the way we used to when we were able have shared in-person experiences like having a meal or simply meeting at Starbucks to catch up. I think we undervalue those moments and now there are even more limited.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
I think the big thing for us is that we need to learn how to regularly connect with our clients without the ability to meet them in person. I also think we need to be creative with the solutions we offer our clients because there is no simple formula for helping our clients stabilize and eventually succeed. Many industries will never be the same; many will be gone. Helping clients in the hospitality space pivot is an example. We need to find creative solutions so that our clients can continue to stay open, can continue to provide jobs, etc.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
It’s hard to find a solution to a problem, if your mind is full of fear. That is the number one problem I see right now — and you can see why! Fear of losing a business, fear of losing a house, fear of losing a way of life. I encourage people to find a way to relax, get rest, etc., so that they can think without fear. If you can do that, the answers will come to you. The other thing I recommend is to communicate. Most business owners, especially men, don’t want to discuss their issues — but if you can communicate your fears and your issues with someone, it often helps find a solution.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Whatever you want to receive in life, you must first give. Thinking of yourself first may lead to some short-term success, but if you want real long-term success and happiness, then do for others first. That’s what being a leader is all about — lead by example.
How can our readers further follow your work?