MF 176 : Cole Zucker on Moving Forward from Job Layoff to Highly Successful Entrepreneur
Cole Zucker is co-CEO at Green Creative, a company focusing on LED lighting products for mass retail stores. Today, Cole will share an amazing entrepreneurial journey that started when he got laid off from his job.
Successes at a glance:
Cole started out his career as a finance major in college. As a kid, Cole watched old movies and TV shows about Wall Street and thought that would be his future. Cole did end up on Wall Street after school but the reality did not match the fantasy. Cole experienced a real shock to the system when he realized he “had no business being there.” Cole felt suffocated, getting to the office was “restrictive.” He felt he had no control over his life. Cole also saw the path that his boss was on and decided it was not for him. Meanwhile, he felt something else tugging at him: his love of the Chinese language, which he was studying during his off hours. Cole’s passion for the language led to a vision of moving to China. Soon after, he experienced what he calls a “blessing in disguise.” He was laid off by his firm and candidly reveals it was performance related. Cole shares an important lesson: “if you don’t care about what you do and you don’t see a step forward, then clearly that’s a place that you shouldn’t be.” After trying to get another job in New York, Cole decided to move to China. The reprieve was a big welcome change but as his money started running out, he was soon scrambling for a job. At first, Cole tried to pitch himself to consulting companies but to no avail. He eventually was referred to a project manager position with a small Chinese lighting company, an area he had no experience in. Desperate for a job, Cole accepted it right away. What Cole didn’t realize was that this would set him on an amazing path. Cole found stability but he also knew that he couldn’t stay long term. His mom didn’t want him to stay there forever and Cole didn’t see himself there for the long haul. Cole decided to start thinking of his exit strategy while learning about the LED business. Throughout, he saw the future and a lot of possibilities as LED rose in prominence. Two years later, Cole moved back to the US and co-founded Green Creative. He credits his passion and the tug to move to China as the foundation for this new opportunity. Cole has scaled the company, reaching a tremendous level of success, having recently sold the company.
Cole’s big why:
Cole is blunt with this message: for anybody that wants to make money, the chances of success are very low. In reflecting on his career, working in New York and China, Cole notes that the number of hours and effort he put into the jobs he had did not equate to the money he should have made. He attributes this to the tradeoff of accepting a paycheck and stability with less risk when you work for someone else. Cole was at an age and stage where he could take a bigger risk and aim for something much bigger. He also saw the possibility of doing a lot of good by bringing a technology to the forefront that was more efficient and less expensive into the marketplace. His gamble paid off. Cole’s big why is to work for himself and put the control of his future and life, squarely in his hands.
Biggest challenge today:
Cole and his partner recently sold the business to a private equity fund. While Cole has spent much of his time building up a company and scaling it, now the rewards and the challenges are much bigger. Cole’s biggest challenge is integrating his company with another, as he and his partner are still involved in managing it. This means working with different teams and managing the bridging of people and cultures while creating a significant, worldwide organization that provides the market leading platform for lighting products.
Moving forward past that challenge:
Cole shares that one big lesson that he embraces when it comes to being successful in building a platform out of a merger is managing a lot of strong personalities. Cole faces this challenge by working hard to have the best lines of communication possible in and amongst his team.
Go for a run: it’s his form of meditation.
One habit or practice that is against conventional wisdom that works well for you.
Sleep: Because Cole loves what he does, he goes to bed excited for the next morning. He runs on 5 hours of sleep and has been doing so for a long time.
How is Cole moving forward today:
Journaling: write how things are going, what makes him happy, and assess what I need to do to move forward.
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Who is Cole in five years?:
Constant improvement, each and every day – becoming the better version of himself. For Cole, this means having a family, continue building the business and to one day, be a competitive runner. Moreover, as long as Cole has done his best, whether he reaches his goals or not, that’s what’s important for him.
“If you’re looking to be successful or do something entrepreneurial, make sure it’s something you’re good at … the truth is, if you do what you’re really good at, you’ll see great progression as a result and that will make you happy as well.”