Map To Success 5f469fceaca4a

What is Your HVAC Entrepreneur Story?

Aug. 26, 2020
Defining moments exist in the lives of all successful HVAC entrepreneurs. Service Roundtable CEO Matt Michel wants to hear from you.

In a few weeks, I will give the final keynote for the Service World Expo. The address is titled, “An Entrepreneur’s Story.”  I do not want to limit it to “my” story.  I want to include the stories of a many entrepreneurs.  What is yours?

Crossing the Rubicon
In 49 BC, Julius Caesar disobeyed the Roman Senate and marched his army across the Rubicon River, stating, “The die has been cast,” leading to civil war.  When Caesar crossed the Rubicon, there was no turning back.  Every entrepreneur has a Rubicon.  I remember mine.

We held a foundation meeting in the upstairs training room of Tempo Partners.  Potential investors had flown in from California to New York for the meeting.  I was 41 years old and an executive with a prestigious marketing research and consulting firm.  It was idiotic to considered ditching a steady paycheck, but I had the entrepreneurial itch.  I don’t think it became real until the meeting ended and a contractor I had never met before handed me a check for $20,000.  As I accepted it, I thought, “Oh crap, I’m really doing this.  There’s no going back.”

Accepting the first check was my Rubicon. What is yours?

Judas Moment
Judas was one of Christ’s Disciples.  Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.  Many entrepreneurs suffer a Judas moment, where they are betrayed.  In fact, most entrepreneurs have multiple Judas moments.  My biggest one came the day before we launched the Service Roundtable at HVAC Comfortech in 2002. 

One of our investors introduced me to the head of a trade association with the thought that we should be able to work together for the good of contractors.  It was a noble thought.  I was naïve and never asked for a non-disclosure agreement or other legal protections.  I shared our full business plan and we made a verbal agreement to work together.  I drafted a memo of understanding, but it was never signed.  The delays and stalls continued until the eve of our launch when I was informed that the deal was off.  The day before we launched, the association announced a program that appeared to be lifted directly from our business plan.  I felt betrayed.  

Some of the investors wanted to call in the lawyers. The best advice was from Jim Nicholas at Bay Temperature Control. With his Arkansas drawl, he advised, “Just ignore them. Do what you do. They won’t be able to execute. They won’t be able to keep up.”

Jim was right. That’s what we did. What is your Judas moment?

The Battle of Cannae
Rome was a rival of Carthage for centuries.  In 216 BC, Hannibal delivered to Rome the worst defeat from one side to another in all of history. Over 70,000 Roman troops were lost in a single battle. The panic in Rome following the defeat was epic. And yet, Rome survived and Carthage lives in history books and archeological sites in Tunisia.  Many entrepreneurs face a Cannae event where the future is in doubt, but the company ultimately endures.

My Cannae moment occurred when I realized we had less than six months of cash, given our current burn rate.  I shut down all spending not related to generating business.  We stopped website development (though David Heimer and a couple of the developers continued to work for free). We sucked it up, gutted it out, and became cash flow positive within six months. The lessons we learned and the culture we developed during the Cannae time served us well during the 2008 recession, which gave us guidance in turn for 2020.

A Cannae moment is when things seem particularly grim, but somehow you work through.  What is your Cannae moment?

An Entrepreneur’s Story
I have been blessed to live the full entrepreneur’s story from business concept to business exit, though I continue to oversee the team built through the years.  While everything will not be fully unwound until 2022, the people who invested with us at Tempo and the months following before we launched will see a return of $60 for every dollar invested.  The most extraordinary part of the story is how ordinary it is and continues to be. 

Share your stories, your Rubicons, your Judas moments, and your Cannae battles with me. Email me at [email protected].  Who knows?  Maybe your story will be part of my keynote at Service World

The best place to learn about new products and services is the Service World Expo.  Register now for the Service World Expo September 22-24!  It has gone virtual, features 44 different presentations, and a trade show with a virtual reality, augmented reality, and 3D experience that makes it more like a trade show in a video game.  Best of all, it is FREE to attend.  Register now at

About the Author

Matt Michel | Chief Executive Officer

Matt Michel was a co-founder and CEO of the Service Roundtable ( The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization. Matt was inducted into the Contracting Business HVAC Hall of Fame in 2015. He is now an author and rancher.