• Mark Olivito

The Eye of the Storm For Small Biz

Updated: Jul 1

One of the nice things about having a blog and opinions that are “on the record?” You can go back and see if your opinions, view points and “arguments” change over time and how grounded you are in your positions on whatever topics you care to communicate. Now with social media apps like twitter it’s even easier. Yes, there is a tweet for that Mr. President!

One of my pivotal career moments in my career was acquiring buying a business and turning Hustle or Bust into not just a cute blog name, but a LITERAL possible outcome. 2 days after I closed on the deal I put the thoughts down in April of 2014, link below if your curious.

Government Backed Program Enabled A Dream

What was NOT talked about in that article however is my PERSONAL view on the government back SBA (but there’s a 10 minute video on YouTube somewhere in outer space). I made an off-handed comment that came back to me:

“One of the few government programs that actually WORKS, the SBA…..it enables entrepreneurial dreams to actually have a shot, if your really up for the challenge and willing to stomach it.”

In short, I was able to secure MAXIMUM SBA 504 & 7A loans, a cool $10mm+ that had my signature (“PG” personal guarantee) of repayment in a deal to buy a 15+ year old food manufacturing company with a group of investors and Private Equity Partners I remain friends with.

In short, I LOVE Capitalism, and believe that Government should do its best to stay out of the markets. But when you have first hand experience with something that positively impacted your life, why not tip your hat to them, as I did with a back-handed compliment.

Fast forward to April 17 2020, the Covid-19 and the lens of a “new” small business owner (PAVERART Enterprises, LLC).

The eye of the storm with Covid-19: Human Live’s Lost, Economy Ravaged.

  • Statistics that are staggering; 676k confirmed cases and tragically, 34,784 lives lost.

  • Economic toll not seen since the great depression: 22 million jobs filing for unemployment, wiping out a decades worth of job growth. Hard to tell what the unemployment rate but most put it at 17% north.

  • Economically, IF most think the country will open in some fashion in Mid/Late May, easy to see how unemployment will move way north of 20% and Deaths too many to comprehend.

A couple of thoughts from the perspective of a Small Business Owner

  • The speed of the economic impact was breath-taking. The end of the day seemed completely different than the start. Planning horizons became daily, throw out the months.

  • The most unsettling thing (beyond obvious health risk and worrying about friends, family and co-workers)? The government shutting down business, and making selections WHO can stay open and who needs to shutter. It is an absolutely helpless feeling. We’ve been fortunate in NJ where Manufacturing has been able to operate, but I lost sleep for a week fearing we’d be forced to shut down, and that could change any day.

  • I thought early on (and still do) that the government should not mandate and decide what’s “Essential” they should mandate SAFETY. Said differently, if you can operate with social distance requirements, operate, if you can’t? Don’t. Case in point? Smithfield Foods, 100+ infected in a plant outbreak. “Essential business” in the eyes of the government, clearly couldn’t operate safely. Are you telling me a business that has say 10k square feet and 5 employees but not “essential” can’t operate safely? There’s flaws in this logic and it’s divisive. But this is a topic for another day.


  • Social media, for all its good (and I’m a massive believer in it) can really be toxic. People that spout off politically ideology (and we all have a leaning don’t we?) and criticize or promote (both political side) with no pressure of making a payroll, interesting or insights beyond their political positions simply won’t get you to survival, they will be the ultimate ankle weights. BTW: To tag this to “social media” is not fair, lets call it “Life.”

  • Unfortunately, families or friends can fall into this group of toxic people. If you are a business owner and your family/friends are exhausting you through this? Hate to say it but your putting your business in danger (beyond where it already is) when the business and employees need the best owner possible for even a sliver of a chance for success. They are counting on you and you have a CHOICE to let toxic people infect you……or NOT.

  • Having a network of trusted, smart business savvy people (fellow owners, managers, entrepreneurs, people that “get” the pressure and responsibility of making the payroll) is a massive asset. I would argue it’s your number one asset. If they have similar pressure, struggles and you can compare notes and learn, they are your lifeline. I’ve been fortunate and have a handful of people I navigate the waters with. Note:

  • This group can ALSO be family and friends the anti toxic people. The important point is for the owner to recognize toxic vs oxygen generating, run from the former, embrace the latter. Cheerleaders of you is fine/nice, but you also need people in a similar struggle to learn from and help.


Thoughts on the PAYCHECK PROTECTION PROGRAM (PPP)

  • My buddy & I (fellow business owner in the epicenter of the crisis NYC) were all over the 800+ page legislation of the overall congressional $2 TT act, with particular focus around small business aid and if it had a place in getting to survival. We dissected it and keep tabs on each others progress as we navigate through the storm.

  • Compared to my past experience with SBA, this is not your classic SBA, not even close: No collateral. No PG. Little/no under-writing. Forgiveness of the loan if you meet the spending requirements. In short, a real shot at it being a grant, NOT a loan with limited personal risk. I endorsed it as the best business owner financing you could imagine, couldn’t have drafted a better plan and its obvious participation would be high.

  • At $350BB allocated and 31mm small businesses in the USA, I’m not sure what the right number would be, but it was obvious this thing would run out of money. I put the over under at 30 days. I was wrong, 50% faster. Another $250BB won’t do the trick.

  • It’s obvious this is not a “first come first served” basis, just look at the number of tweets of people that got their apps in within minutes of program opening, and crickets. Yours truly and my network are in this group. My gut tells me the banks went into their applications and said “who has the biggest loan balances with us, lets fund them first to ensure our income stream is bolstered.” I can’t blame them, but was this the spirit of the program?

  • The “sell of the program” is long on politics “small businesses make up half the jobs, it’s a great program, yada yada” and SHORT on execution, communication and funding. The small biz community (at least on twitter is massively frustrated, job losses will clearly mount as timing alone will cause millions more to shutter.

The (PPP) is the opposite of my experience with 2014 SBA deal. A much better deal for the owner (forgiveness, no PG, etc), and clearly low odds of getting it, at least as of now. Energy and hopes were raised among the small biz community hoping this would be a lifeline, and those that got funded have a much better shot at survival.

Those that don’t get funded, and MUCH more won’t get funded than will, what do they do?

Best I can tell, there’s no unemployment insurance/lifeline for business owners for those that don’t make it. Employees, yes. Owners, NOT likely. So the downsides of not surviving are severe.

Does it make it any better that there are millions in your exact shoes? I don’t think so, millions that can’t pay their bills just means the crisis is not a crisis of 1, it’s a crisis of millions.

My buddy has a great expression for a strategy:

“Last man standing” Whoever DOES survive stands to be in a much better position with a window to grab market share with MUCH fewer small businesses around them.

I agree with that idea. Last 2 months, here’s my playbook:

  • I’ve spent more on marketing than at any period of my ownership.

  • We’ve launched a much talked about R&D project we hope will be ground breaking industry innovation with patents on the tail end

  • We’ve ramped up digital/webinar capability to get closer to our key audiences

  • We’ve ramped up internal “huddles” of where the business stands, what success looks like, talking about our personal safety situations (home life). We talked with key players and tried to paint a picture of what being “part of the team means” and even adjusted compensation north to put $’s where mouth is (at a risky point in time).

  • AND, as it relates to PPP, I put out a 10 part tweet stream advocating for business owners that get it to take at least 50% of the forgiveness amount and “invest” it on offense, new products, R&D, Digital capabilities, etc. Give yourself a shot not just for survival, but to come out stronger.

I have absolutely NO idea if this playbook will yield success. In fact I’m pretty sure that the PLAYBOOK will not, but the EXECUTION of it MAY.

The reality of the playbook?

The government is no longer part of it, no matter how much I wish it could be.

For business owners, it’s obvious we have one tool that can really only be counted on, one that I’ve talked about for years.

It sits in our bathrooms. It creates a reflection, of ourselves. The mirror.


Business Owner’s Best Tool

If your signing the front of the checks vs the back, its on YOUR shoulders.

I wish everyone health and success.

PS: I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve opened myself up various times to give back, listen and maybe provide an insight or 2. Helping others has always been something I’ve tried to do. Text me and I’m happy to give you a window where you can catch me on a 90 minute commute 6 trips per week (and half of those windows are between 4:30-6AM, this isn’t easy is it! LOL

Mobile: (908) 873-7522

email: markolivito9@gmail.com

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