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Brad Kugler: If You Get Knocked Down, Find a Way Back Up - And Come Back Stronger

Updated: Jan 10, 2021

How does one come back from an epic two decade run of entrepreneurial success - then to watch it slowly evaporate around you as market forces shift? This is the story of Brad Kugler and the building of an eight figure cash flowing business that brought him and his family the life and freedoms every entrepreneur dreams - then the crash, the fight for survival, and the epic comeback. Brad tells his rise-fall-rise story, how he learned more on the way down than on the way up, and how he’s now growing again in triple digits for 3 straight years - and disrupting an $8 billion dollar market.

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Opening: Allen and Brad talk about how they first met almost 20 years ago when Allen helped Brad create his first e-commerce website & order management platform.

4:10 Brad talks about how his big run started - taking over his dad’s VHS movie media distribution business. It had revenues of $2M with about 10-15 employees - by 2012 Brad had grown it to $25M and about 55 employees.

7:30 Allen and Brad talk about how what he's doing now with direct mail has parallels to what happened to him with the movie media distribution business - but this time he is the disruptor.

9:10 How does Brad's current business Direct Mail 2.0 work? Direct marketing physical mail traditionally has a very low response rate. With Direct Mail 2.0's technology, companies typically see a dramatic 25% to 50% increase in response rates - and with tracking capability they've never had before.

16:40 Brad talks about growing up in the Chicago area and how his great grandfather, an immigrant, started a window cleaning company that expanded to janitorial services over three generations, to his grandfather, and then to his father.

19:10 Brad’s father purchased a movie VHS media distribution business in Florida and by the early nineties, Brad took over the helm. The business did very well for the next 15+ years and Brad, with his brothers, were able to buy out dad.

25:10 He tells the story of when DVDs arrived - Wizard of Oz was the very first movie on DVD. Brad sold 30 copies in 30 seconds on eBay, that was his clear sign to transition to DVD from VHS.

26:25 Brad and his company achieved #1 DVD seller status on Amazon for several years. Brad once had a meeting at Amazon headquarters and Jeff Bezos walked in - one of many meetings to come with Jeff Bezos.

34:05 Allen asks Brad about what it was like making so much money in his thirties - and the incredible personal freedom, toys, and opportunities that came with the success.

41:30 Then a storm started brewing - a flat year in 2012, the first in a decade. Then in 2013 things got worse - the advent of online movie streaming had begun. The business began to free-fall over the next few years, unable to pivot fast enough.

48:25 Brad says he learned way more going down than going up - how to stretch cash flow, navigate legal, problem solve, etc. The company was forced into bankruptcy - but he was able to buy it back on the courthouse steps as a tiny shadow of its former self.

51:30 He stayed determined - he learned bootstrapping at the end of success, not the beginning like normal. He became profitable albeit small, never missed a payroll, never bounced a check.

53:10 The company limped along until he got a call one day from an ex-employee, top salesperson from 20 years prior. Her name was Joy and she now had her own massively successful direct mail print marketing company.

54:55 Joy said she had watched how Brad had fought and persisted in the business despite adversity - she was impressed and offered him to take over a direct mail software technology product she had developed in-house.

57:10 Being in-house with the larger company helped develop new features and feedback - but they needed to develop more freely to meet and capture the outside market. Brad talks about the importance of sticking with the vision and focusing on your prospective customers.

1:03:10 Brad has grown the company with triple digit growth the last 3 years in a row - and began paying back the investment. Brad talks about the balancing of growth with profitability - especially in a growth market.

1:06:00 Now in his early fifties, Brad wants this to be his last ‘necessary’ entrepreneurial venture - starting to think more about body, mind and longevity.

1:09:50 What’s Brad's ‘go to advice’ for aspiring entrepreneurs? You’ve got to have passion first and foremost. Second, you must have a compelling value proposition with customer validation. If you don’t have those two things, passion and value, do not proceed.

1:15:30 Allen thanks Brad for being on the podcast - his rise-fall-rise story is cautionary, inspirational, and now available to others to learn from and be inspired.

Direct Mail 2.0:


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