Vince Thomas

August 15, 2007 - 2 Responses


Vince Thomas is the remarkably driven founder of Billhighway is a web-based financial services platform for both organizations and consumers with an emphasis on “groups” and “people’s social money.” Vince created Billhighway in 1997 during his sophomore year of college. Before he knew it, Vince had 50 customers and had accidentally created a test case. Vince had the drive and determination to take Billhighway from 50 customers and make it the rapidly growing company it is today with over 300,000 customers.

Since day one of Billhighway, Vince lived by one of Dan Gilbert’s isms: Numbers and money follow, they do not lead.” Vince didn’t chase money at first. Instead, he chased the skills that would make him great at what he was building. He became an expert. He became the best. After years of hard work, focus, and pursuing his dream with uncompromising passion, the numbers and money followed. During the beginning years, Vince charged $5 for his services, and at one point, he even gave his services away for free as a means of research, trial and error, and brand awareness. He worked all day and night, practically lived in an attic, and gave up any resemblance of a personal life to get his business off the ground. Vince didn’t even tell any one about his business because of fears of having his vision tainted or discouraged. Now Vince has grown to 22 employees and has processed over $500 million in transactions this year.

Vince wishes he would have had people like him to provide guidance when he was a struggling entrepreneur. So for any budding entrepreneur seeking advice, here are some of Vince’s words of wisdom:

People do business with people – Make people like you.

Infrastructure and customers are two very important things.

Keep stupid things stupid – If something is simple, keep it simple. Don’t turn a one day project into a huge ordeal.

Be careful, people can waste a lot of time in a day – Don’t fall into that trap. Time is your most valuable commodity.

The people that really make it are the ones that stick with it through years of determination – Never give up. It will eventually pay off. Nothing is easy.

Accountability is directly related to success.

Be unreasonable in your dreams, but create very reasonable goals. – Never limit your dreams, but always make your goals attainable.


Will CD’s be Replaced Entirely?

August 9, 2007 - Leave a Response

CD sales have been dropping for 8 consecutive years and are now dropping faster than ever. And while legal music download sales are increasing by about 50% each year, overall industry revenue is still down over 30% from last year. Local record stores and other chains have had to reinvent their core businesses with other products such as DVD’s, videos, and other specialty merchandise in order to stay profitable.

Music labels need to realize their extremely profitable days are over. Digital music sales are not going to make up for lost revenue. Suing their customer base is not going to make up for lost revenue. In fact, absolutely nothing is going to make up that lost revenue. The industry, revenue-wise, is going to continue to shrink.

The problem is that their main product, recorded music, has a minute marginal cost to produce. It’s so cheap, and easy, to make that consumers can actually make it themselves. And they do. One billion songs a month are downloaded, though most are done illegally.

As the marginal price of recorded music continues to fall, bands will need to make money elsewhere. I believe live concerts will become more and more popular, and will be the largest source of revenue for many artists. Recorded music will be used to promote those live events. Many popular artists will still make a very good living and others may have to decide if love of their art is enough to keep going.

However, some artists outside of the major label will only benefit from digital distribution. Major labels essentially monopolized distribution in the past, making it virtually impossible for musicians to make it on their own. I believe digital distribution will create a “middle-class” of artists who will create a sustainable living making music. While the recording itself might get closer and closer to free, savvy artists will know how to build enough of a fan base to turn profits from licensing, merchandising, video content, and other such revenue sources we haven’t even begun to imagine. Digital music has essentially changed the market.

                        Source: Inc.

Healthy Food, Unhealthy Ethics

July 24, 2007 - Leave a Response


John Mackey, who built the Whole Foods Market chain, does not practice the “ethical” methods that he preaches. Mr Mackey, who admitted last month promoting his health food chain through an alias on a Yahoo forum, has been found privately contradicting his company’s public claims. Mr Mackey admitted making hundreds of internet posts, mostly praising Whole Foods and trashing Wild Oats, posing as a character named Rahodeb. He posted comments like, “No company would want to buy Wild Oats Markets Inc., a natural-foods grocer, at its price then of about $8 a share.” He also said Whole Foods would never buy Wild Oats because the locations were far too small. He speculated that Wild Oats eventually would be sold after sliding into bankruptcy or when its stock fell below $5. A month later, “Rahodeb” began slashing management and other areas of Wild Oats. Yet, now Mr. Mackey is trying to buy the company?

Mr. Mackey argues that the acquisition will not push up prices of so-called natural foods. Yet, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which wants to block the deal on competition grounds, produced evidence that it said proved that Mr Mackey does not believe his public arguments. Central to the FTC’s argument is an e-mail that Mr Mackey sent to his board in February, the month in which the deal was agreed, which said that the Wild Oats acquisition would allow Whole Foods to “avoid nasty price wars”. The FTC’s lawyers cited Mr Mackey as telling his board that Wild Oats “is the only existing company that has the brand and number of stores to be a meaningful springboard for another player to get into this space . . . Eliminating them means eliminating this threat forever, or almost forever.”

I wonder what would cause such a well respected organic food guru to do such a thing. Why wouldn’t buying the $670 million company, Wild Oats, in order to eliminate his competition, be enough? Was it really necessary to anonymously trash his rival for over 7 years? It’s not just about doing the right things, it’s about not doing the wrong things. Why would Mr. Mackey go out of his way to write hundreds of awful comments about his competition? If he truly believed in his business, he should have felt no reason to unethically trash his competition.


The Wall Street Journal                            Friday, July 20th 2007

Hands Up in Michigan, All Year Round!

July 18, 2007 - Leave a Response


Main Street America Inc. is only 2 steps away from beginning development on an 1,800-acre piece of state owned land right off the I-75 Interstate near Grayling, Michigan. First, Main Street America Inc. is planning to request zoning changes on July 31. After completion of that hurdle, the company will need a second appraisal on the land before arranging for purchase. This proposal has been in the making for over 5 years. The city and state have already given conceptual approval.

The theme park will have rollercoasters, multiplayer video games, an extreme sports exhibit, a farm, a children’s play area, resort hotel, toboggan ride, and train station. All of this will be open year-round, even in the “subfreezing temperatures.” A great deal of tourism and increased traffic is expected. This will be a great opportunity for Michigan.

The article stated that this amusement park is expected to bring in many tourists from out of state also. Though I think it will attract a great deal of Michiganders, I don’t know if many out of state tourists will travel to Grayling for this entertainment venue. I feel this way for several reasons. Due to the location of Grayling inside the state and the fact that Michigan is surrounded by the Great Lakes, you can’t easily or quickly access Grayling from any other state. Also, unlike Cedar Point, this theme park will be open year round, but it will be much smaller. Cedar Point has been slowly taking out all carnival rides to replace with new world famous roller coasters. Competing with Cedar Point, could be a dangerous road to take.

In addition, who wants to get off a roller coaster with frost bite? Cedar Point’s sales decrease dramatically by October, so I can imagine how few people would go to an outdoor theme park in January in a county that gets twice the amount of snow than a southern Michigan county. And why would people travel north in the subfreezing temperatures as appose to traveling south to the larger, more established parks including Six Flags and Disney World in the warm and sunny weather?

I think this theme park will be an incredible addition to the state of Michigan, however, I don’t feel that it will attract many customers nationwide.

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Like Father, Like Son

July 8, 2007 - Leave a Response


Bruce Schwartz, President and CEO of In House Realty, began his entrepreneurial career at a very young age. At eight, Bruce began working with his father, the ultimate hustler. Bruce’s father was a hustler in both the business world and the world of billiards. His father, a kitchenware salesman and former 9-ball world champion, took Bruce around the country selling pots and pans out of a truck during the summers. Bruce learned a lot while helping with this very lucrative business.

After graduating high school, Bruce briefly tried the college life and soon realized it wasn’t for him. Bruce then moved to Florida and began a sports information business with his father. This business provided “inside” information and forecasts on future games. This ultimate hustle worked great for several years, until banks prevented credit card transactions over the phone. They soon shut the doors.

Bruce quickly began another endeavor. Bruce and his friend owned a home improvement company that focused on small repairs and upgrades to the homes. Again, this business was very successful for several years, but soon took a downward swing. Several years into this business, the area was hit with a hurricane. Bruce and his friend knew this could be the defining moment in their business, but never thought it could ruin the business. Bruce and his friend took on every job they could. However, these jobs were much larger and more difficult than what they were used to. If the work wasn’t perfect, customers wouldn’t pay. Their opportunity turned into their own hurricane, causing Bruce to again close the doors.

In 1994, Bruce moved back to Michigan and began working at Rock Financial. As a mortgage banker, Bruce proved to be the best salesperson for several years. Bruce then moved to Florida, with the support of Dan Gilbert, and began converting apartment buildings to condominiums. He soon realized though, that the real estate business could be much more leveraged here in Michigan with the help of Quicken Loans, and again moved home in 2006.

In January of 2007, Bruce launched In House Realty, which is based in the Quicken Loans headquarters in Livonia. In House Realty continues to grow as it quickly develops relationships with real estate companies nationwide. In House Realty now employs 8 agents. They closed 25 deals in April, 48 in May, and 60 in June. After only 6 months, In House Realty is breaking even. I am anxious to see where Bruce takes this business!

Bringin’ Sexy Back

July 3, 2007 - 2 Responses


“Lingerie is second to handbags as the fastest-growing apparel category, so everyone in retail is trying to capitalize on that growth.” Retailers, including JCPenney, Kohl’s, Target, Macy’s, and Walmart, are changing their lingerie line to make it more “sexy.” This has hurt Victoria Secret’s sales dramatically. For 20 years, Victoria’s Secret has had the market for fashionable lingerie to itself. Other brands such as Maidenform, Vanity Fair, and Bali have appealed to different, more conservative shoppers. But, with an overwhelmingly high amount of new competition, Victoria’s Secret net income fell 47% last year.

Will Victoria’s Secret make it another 20 years? If these department stores are beginning to sell these sexy lines of lingerie for competitive prices, what will stop the consumer from not buying them there? In the past, shoppers would purchase their clothes from department stores such as Kohl’s and Macy’s and then migrate toward Victoria’s Secret for an enormous variety of hot, colorful, and unique bras, panties, nighties, and such. But if these products are being offered at the same stores consumers are already buy their clothes, shoes, and other accessories from, will they really fight the urge to shop in the lingerie section? I foresee a panties evolution.

It is unfortunate that Victoria’s Secret is going through these hard times, but they were lucky to have had 20 years of business without the direct competition. Granted, Victoria’s Secret sales would have dropped this past year with the new competition, but I feel that part of the problem was brought upon by themselves. Victoria’s Secret was known for sexy push-up bras and see-through, silk, and lace nighties. And they were very successful in that department. So I ask, why would they replace their sexiest push-up bra and half of their nighties with a new line called Pink? Last year, this line of sweat pants and other conservative sleepwear and clothing was introduced. Why did they migrate away from their prosperous core business in which they had it practically monopolized, and begin selling articles of clothing that could be purchased almost anywhere for a lot less money? Victoria’s Secret needs to take a step back and really decide where they would like to focus in the near future.

Bill Emerson

June 29, 2007 - Leave a Response

Bill Emerson, the CEO of quicken Loans since 2002, shared a little bit about his leadership beliefs in class last week. 

First, you can’t motivate people.  People are either internally or externally motivated.  You are there to help them, direct them, and lead them; but you are not there to motivate them.  You can create the right atmosphere and culture for a person to be externally motivated, but one must allow themselves to become motivated.  As an effective leader, you are there to help, serve, and develop your workers. 

Other leadership advice from Bill Emerson:

  • “Let them tell you what they want to accomplish.” – Let your workers express their goals to you, and then help tweak those goals.
  • “You must be approachable.” – If the people around you don’t come and talk to you, you’ve lost.
  • “You get one chance to build a culture.” – Start building your culture from day one.
  • “Under-promise and over-deliver.” – Never fall short of your promises, always go above and beyond.
  • “You’re on stage 24/7.” – Always watch your body language and physiology.  It’s critical to understand your non-verbal communication.
  • “All of us are smarter than one of us.” – Never be the smartest person in the room.  You can always teach someone and learn from another.
  • “All of us are leaders.” – Number one, we lead ourselves.
  • “Leadership is doing the right things and building trust with your people so they will ultimately follow.” 
  • “Human beings run at about 65% of their potential.  As a leader, push them closer to achieving 100%.”
  • “The person that recovers the quickest will be the most successful.”
  • “Tactics without a belief system is a fad diet.” – You must have a belief system to be successful.
  • “Actions speak louder than words.” – Don’t just say it, do it.  Execute.  

Bill Emerson’s advice of the day:

“Ask yourself every sengle day, where can I have the most impact?”

Powerpoint Turns 20

June 22, 2007 - Leave a Response

PowerPoint is our most popular used presentation device at Bizdom U. It helps add a lot of flavor to presentations. It adds the visual aspect with pictures and colors. It’s hard for me to imagine life without PowerPoint.

According to Lee Gomes, a writer of the Wall Street Journal, “The program is one that the world loves to mock as much as it loves to use. ” Although this software has been responsible for many remarkable presentations, it has also allowed “an endless expanse of dimwit ideas to be dressed up with graphical respectability.”

PowerPoint’s two creators are appalled at the direction that this software took. “People very often make very bad use of PowerPoint,” according to Gaskins, one of the creators. Gaskins never intended for the PowerPoint presentation to be the entire proposal, just a “quick summary of something longer and better thought out.” Gaskin’s original business plan for the program was 53 pages long and only consisted of about 12 slides that included only the highlights.

I think PowerPoint is great and has really livened many of my presentations. Yet, I completely agree that it, along with most technology, has an evil side. PowerPoint is now being used by grade school students for their book reports. Children need to write in complete paragraphs, not bullets and pictures. Businessmen are replacing written business plans and reports with PowerPoint. This software was meant an an aid, not a replacement.

I have fallen guilty just as the school kids and businessmen, which is why I feel it’s so evil. Technology is already doing much of the work for us. The Internet has made it easier to research, contact people, etc. New software has made it easier to present graphs, data, and all other information. And now PowerPoint is the gateway to drop the expectations even lower by accepting bullet points and animation instead of written reports?

Small Plates

June 22, 2007 - Leave a Response

Todd Stern was in last week to share his inspiring story and delicious food. Todd is the owner of Small Plates in downtown Detroit. He began as an entrepreneur at a very young age as did I. His first job was similar to mine; raking leaves and shoveling snow. At 12, Todd became a dishwasher at a nearby restaurant. He was soon promoted to busboy. Todd was running the counter at a cookie store by the age of 15. Todd always knew he wanted to work in and later run a business in the food and beverage industry.

But it wasn’t until Todd worked in Spain for two years, from the age of 18, that he realized exactly what he wanted to do. Todd’s idea of owning a tapas style restaurant, a well developed concept in Spain, originated during the 2 years Todd spent working in the country.

When Todd returned, he worked as the general manager of Rattlesnake, a fine dining restaurant. Todd feels one must be a general manager before an owner. He, along with many of our other speakers and instructors, feels you must work every position in a business before opening your own.

Todd came to class with many other beliefs, too. Again, repeating the words of many recent speakers, “you must never give up,” he said. Todd went through many rough times throughout the first four years Small Plates was in business. He took five years of no salary and in turn, went through many financial hardships. But the “key” he says, is to never give up. Todd acknowledged the fact we will often be disappointed, but we can’t give up. You must always pick yourself up and walk forward. No one can stop you if you really believe.

So far, my story is similar. I’ve always believed that I was unstoppable. I was also raking leaves and running a lemonade stand at a very young age. I also began working in a restaurant as a young teenager, hostessing at 14. I quickly moved up the chain, becoming cashier, waitress, bartender, and trainer. I agree that one must work every position before owning them. The one area I have not touched on is management. Though I have many years of restaurant experience and schooling, I still feel that a stab at management would better prepare me.

I would like nothing better than to learn management from a strong willed restaurant owner that can survive in an under developed downtown area and expand after surviving many barriers, including horrible construction outside of his restaurant for the majority of the life of his business. So with that being said, I have my fingers crossed that Todd Stern will welcome me as his intern next semester and provide me with the unbelievable insight that he holds. My goal is for my story to continue down the same path as Todd’s; opening a restaurant, surviving hurdles, and slowly growing.

Electronic tickets… Who would have thought?

June 18, 2007 - Leave a Response


Sam Gerace, the CEO of Flash Seats enlightened Bizdom U on the history of ticket distribution. Tickets have been around since 500 B.C. They began as engraved stone, eventually evolving to paper, and through technology, have now become electronic. Who would have thought? Yes these tickets may look quite different than they did years ago, but they still basically consist of the same information and have the same use.

Sam Gerace is the man behind these newly exposed electronic tickets. Flash Seats is a service currently used by the Cleveland Cavaliers that allows season ticket holders to buy, sell, and transfer their tickets to others. Flash Seats is great because it provides something additional that the traditional paper tickets don’t. It provides a tracking system, which is an incredible marketing tool. It allows teams to have an awareness of who is the buyer of their tickets and who actually attends the games. Tickets can be bought by a season ticket, passed to business clients, and given away to a friend.  This friend may bring several of his friends. So who actually attends these games?  With Flash Seats, the Cavaliers can really grasp their customers.

This concept is not only beneficial to the team, but the customers as well. I went to the Cavaliers playoff game last week and luckily I had only traveled 2 blocks before I realized I forgot the tickets.   You may not have ever forgotten your tickets, but I’m sure at some point, your heart skipped a beat when you asked yourself, “Did I remember the tickets?”  Through Flash Seats, no tickets are necessary. All you have to do is show your drivers license or credit card, two things you always carry with you. Flash Seats also provides a much better alternative to scalping. You can resell your tickets through the marketplace. Your physical safety is ensured and you’ll never again have unused tickets if you can’t make it to a game.

Twenty five percent of Cavaliers guests use Flash Seats and over 50% used it for the playoffs. Flash Seats has had a steady increase in both guest awareness and use and I expect this increase to continue. Flash Seats is a wonderful concept and I can’t wait to see what is introduced next.