Josh Stika | Perpetual Learner and Graduate
Josh Stika is the owner of Integrity First Lending – a mortgage company in South Jordan, Utah. We sat down with Josh to learn about what it was like to start a business and the things he’s learned six years into running it. Josh is also a graduate of our KeyBank Business Accelerator Academy.
What was the process of starting a business like for you?
I didn’t always plan to own my own business. In fact, my father owned his own business – he built guitars. That’s a really cool thing that he did – but there were times as a family when we didn’t have any money because people weren’t buying his guitars. My wife’s father was self-employed growing up and she kind of had the same experience. When we were married, I had been with a mortgage company for a period of time and I was managing and was doing well and was seen as a “young, up and coming corporate rising star.” I remember it was less than two weeks after we got back from our honeymoon and I told my wife I wanted to build my own company. She was not happy about that at all. She totally thought she had latched onto this good, steady, stable, corporate climber and she was wrong.
We’re a little over six years in and it’s a lot better now than it was in the beginning. The first year not only did we not make any money, but we lost $132,000. And that’s kind of crappy. The second year, we didn’t make any money and we didn’t lose any money. The third year we became smarter and hired better people and it started to work. All along the way there have been expensive lessons we’ve had to learn. Even in year five, there were some really expensive mistakes we made as a company. It was hard, but I’m very happy where we are now. Every month this year we have consistently had our most profitable months. We’re getting closer to doing things the right way and we’re on track.
What is your favorite part about owning your own business?
The part of the business that’s most fulfilling is creating. When you own a business, you’re kind of like the scientist. You get to try some things and figure out what works. The process of creating is exciting and it’s fun and never gets old. I’ve been in the mortgage industry for 19 years and I got to a place as a loan officer where I felt like I was solving the same problems over and over again. I enjoyed the work and I enjoyed helping the people I was working with, but creatively it didn’t feel like there was a lot of variety. Now I have lots of problems I get the chance to solve. The element of getting to approach those problems with my own creativity or teamwork and partnership with other people – all of that is fun.
How has the South Valley Chamber’s KeyBank Business Accelerator Academy helped you think differently about your business?
Probably the best thing that’s come of the courses so far has been viewing my company more completely – being consistently cognizant of the mission and marketing and recruiting and financials. It’s made me realize that when you’re running the show there’s certain things you need to be watching and need to be cognizant of. So many of the lessons I’ve learned about building this business has been through expensive mistakes. It’s nice to get that overview and comprehensive information to build a company. The information is close together and learning it all in a short period of time makes me view growing a business differently.
I’m also surprised there aren’t more seasoned business owners in the program. There’s three or four of us that have a seasoned business and I think we’re all getting a lot out of it. Don’t be too quick to dismiss it or that you know it all/have it all figured out. I think that there’s really good material in there for people that have very well-established businesses.
Since going through the academy, what did you implement in your business that you didn’t have before?
I feel like I was very much focused on the financial health of the company and all my key performance indicators and felt like I was kind of awesome at it. I was surprised at the very first lesson about how you’re reading your P&L sheet. I was surprised at how many things on the P&L sheet I had completely glossed over and how many numbers I had never really dug into or paid much attention to. That has definitely been very different since going through the academy. The degree to which I’m scrutinizing the numbers has grown and all those things makes me feel like I have a better understanding of what’s going on in the company.
Do you have any advice for future business owners?
Choose good partners. When I started the company, I started it by myself. One of the things I learned about a year and a half or two years in is that you’re going to need some help. Maybe not all businesses need partners, but I know mine does and I know my business became much more successful as I found the right partners to work with and to help me grown the company. One of the things that I’m grateful for is that when I brought people on as partners I put together contracts that gave us both the chance to make sure it was the right thing and that it was a good fit – and if it wasn’t then we could both go our separate ways and no harm, no foul. The partners I have now are somewhat of a lifeline for me. There’s always this thought that you’re building this business to create a life for yourself. The end scope of the business is not to really be a job, but to help you create the life that you want and something that works around hobbies or family. If you’re going to build a company, then it should support whatever that dream is. Bringing on the right partners allow me to focus on certain aspects of growth and business development and having their help to run some day to day very important things. That’s where the journey has evolved.
What are your overall thoughts about the academy?
I think it’s a well-done program. I like Ralph a lot. I think he’s a great instructor. I think that a lot of business owners would benefit from being part of it. I’ve even thought to myself, “maybe I’ll go through it again.” Both for the people I meet and for the things you don’t catch the first time.