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Serving from the Inside Out: Why I Don't Manage From Above

Tony Lamb, founder, president and CEO of Kona Ice

If you can't enjoy the entrepreneurial journey, don't take the ride.

The road is full of mountains and valleys, twists and turns, U-turns and straightaways. I live for the voyage, taking control of the road with optimism and all senses attune to the goals I have set personally and professionally.

Entrepreneurship is an opportunity to positively impact others – to inspire, teach and empower. I see far too many business owners only worry about themselves.

Through Kona Ice, I seek to create a platform for others to succeed, whether it be a team member at our Kona "Korporate" home office in Florence, Kentucky, or one of our franchise owners. Empowering others is what drives me.

Growing something meaningful

For too long, I was a victim of the "grass is always greener" plague. Back in the early 2000s, I was conflicted between continuing to grow my door-to-door vacuum sales business and collecting a paycheck working for others. Running the vacuum business was profitable, but the management had begun to take its toll; and my role as "chief, cook and bottle washer" was no longer appealing. I sold the business with a substantial return on my investment and went on to work as a marketing consultant.

However, the yearning to have my own business again returned, strengthening each year. But this time, I knew I needed a talented management team, an infrastructure that would help me lead. I had a trio of prerequisites that were non-negotiable in starting a new entrepreneurial endeavor.

First, the business had to include my family. Second, going into business for myself meant surrounding myself with great people, not the cheapest. Finally, the business had to make a positive impact on the lives of the people and communities it served.

In 2006, a dingy ice cream truck and frightful driver pulled up on our block, and the idea for Kona Ice was born. Later that year, I quit my job; and in another year, the first Kona Ice truck rolled off the assembly line.

Sitting on the inside and serving out

You cannot just manage from above. Entrepreneurship is about the day-to-day aspects of working with your team. For me, that includes more than 500 franchisees and their families. I have to know the operational features of the business as we evolve and to remain at the forefront of innovation. That's why we still run our own local franchise in northern Kentucky, a decade after we launched, and have successfully grown into 48 states. I could have easily sold off that piece of our company.

Where we are at today as a company was beyond my wildest dreams. My intentions were to cater to the northern Kentucky and greater Cincinnati areas when we launched. But, by sitting on the inside and serving out, amazing things began to happen.

The Kona Ice truck was a hit. It was clear that we had something special, so I put resources into obtaining a patents and trademarks. People came from every direction, asking if they could buy a similar truck.

Keeping perspective

Those early days still shape what Kona Ice is today and who I am as an entrepreneur. Businesses, especially franchisors, fly off the rails when they are not concerned about how their franchisees operate the business. In fact, I still talk to every franchisee prospect about what it is like to run the business.

I maintain this mentality despite the demand for our franchise opportunity. This year, 2017, has been our best yet – more interest in franchising with us and greater franchisee successes than ever before. Yet, I have never raised the $3,000 annual royalty fee, and refuse to do so in the future.

I am not answering to shareholders or venture capitalists. I am sitting on the inside always serving out.

About the author: Tony Lamb is the founder, president and CEO of Kona Ice. A true community ally renowned for facilitating endless fundraising options, Kona Ice has given more than $40 million back to neighborhood schools, organizations and teams since its inception in 2007. The brand's iconic truck offers customers a one-of-a-kind experience, featuring the opportunity to create their own shaved ice on the self-serve Flavorwave. Currently, there are more than 900 franchise units and over 500 ancillary units in 48 states.

Image Credit: Kona Ice