The Entrepreneurist: David Nilssen David Nilssen / Credit: David Nilssen | Guidant Financial

David Nilssen is the co-founder of Guidant Financial. Since launching in 2003, Guidant Financial has become a leader in small business financing and self-directed IRAs.

David Nilssen's entrepreneurial journey started just 10 years ago, but in that time Nilssen has been recognized many times for his efforts. In 2007, he was named the Small Business Administration's (SBA) National Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Nilssen was also named a two-time finalist for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. BusinessNewsDaily spoke with Nilssen about his start in business, the role of mentoring in starting a business and the importance that patience plays in the life of an entrepreneur.

BusinessNewsDaily: What did you want to be when you grew up?

David Nilssen: I had this amazing dream of owning a high-end restaurant that would have a basketball court in the middle. My brilliant idea was to let my dad come in and shoot around the court to entertain our guests. Even today, my dad is so proud that I thought anyone would care to watch him play.  At the time, I just thought he was so good it would attract people from all over.

[The First Steps to Starting a Business]

BND: What did your parents do for a living?

DN: My father was the General Manager of Kirk Company. Kirk is one of the largest fresh Christmas tree companies in the world. He started at Kirk when I was seven years old and is still there today. He purchased the company about five years ago and is now a business owner himself. I’m proud of how he’s driving change in an old industry.  My mother was/is the household CEO and raised five great children and seven grandkids. She’s an amazing woman.

BND: Can you talk a little about your businesses and how you got your start?

DN: My background is in real estate development and my business partner’s is in real estate agency and investment. The business idea came to us when collaborating on a real estate project: Our attorney suggested we look at self directed IRAs as a way to fund the deal. As a result, we helped a few investors use their retirement assets to invest in a project that went very well. What we learned during those transactions was that there were not any companies that offered a simple, national model, so we saw an opportunity to do so.

We launched Guidant Financial to help people diversify in assets outside the stock market. Over time, we have morphed from all asset classes to a narrower focus in small business and franchising. In fact, just two years ago we launched a full suite of funding services to focus on increasing the number of people who succeed in small business.

BND: What’s the best part of owning your own business?

DN: There are so many things I appreciate about owning a business. Primarily: I love going to work and knowing we’re making a difference. For example, while the economy has been shrinking, jobs have been hard to come by and credit has been tight—our business has helped nearly 8,500 entrepreneurs access and deploy over $2 billion into businesses that now employ over 50,000 Americans.  We can truly say we’re making a difference in people’s lives—and in the economy. 

Personally, I love working with our team. We spend more time at work than with our families so we better believe in what we do and love the people with whom we work. I have that benefit.

BND: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as an entrepreneur?

DN: Entrepreneurs see the world on fire, and I’m no different. The biggest mistakes I’ve made as an entrepreneur involve acting too quickly and not gathering enough data to make an informed decision. I’d also say that my belief in people has also been a challenge. I often hire too quickly and fire too slowly.

BND: What was your main motivation in starting a business?

DN: Just like our tagline, I wanted to create the life I wanted to live and saw small business as the only way to do so. While I knew it would be hard work, I also know that it would be the catalyst that would allow me to grow as a business and family leader, build generational wealth and travel the world pursuing my passions.

BND: What previous experiences helped you in that journey?

DN: I started my first business at 18—a landscaping company. Shortly thereafter I learned the value of investing while swing trading in a phenomenal bull market. In addition, I started investing in real estate and then later developed some. Each has provided me experience that made me uniquely qualified to start Guidant. I was able to bring the perspective of an investor and business owner to an industry that was run by attorneys and bankers. We hired those roles, and because we’re a company built by entrepreneurs—for entrepreneurs—we have quickly become the market leader.

BND: What was the biggest challenge you encountered and how did you overcome it?

DN: The goal of any great leader is to decrease the level of entropy within an organization.Every business owner needs to be careful about the types of employees they bring in to their organization and quick to remove anyone that creates a challenge for the company culture.

BND: What is the best bit of advice you have for other entrepreneurs?

DN: Find a mentor. Never go it alone. Research people you admire and respect, then ask them if they have time to work with you. Be sure to look for someone who will challenge you in the areas where you are strong. Also, utilize the resources available in your community such as SCORE, the America's Small Business Development Center and the Entrepreneurs’ Organization.

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