Kevin Jablon had no choice but to become an entrepreneur. It was in his DNA.
From standing on a street corner in Philly selling pretzels to taking the leap in starting his own flooring business 11 years ago, Kevin always knew he wanted to be his own boss.
He originally had this entrepreneur spirit because he wanted to make money. As Kevin puts it, he had champagne tastes. He wanted the newest shoes. He wanted to be at the coolest concerts. Even when Kevin started Spartan Surfaces, he did so because he wanted to increase his income.
But this all changed years later when he saw how big of an impact his business had on his employees. He saw the families it touched, and Kevin was forever changed. He could no longer be focused only on himself and the money he was making.
He needed to focus on the culture of his company and how he could do the most good for the most amount of people. Spartan Surfaces moved from a “me” culture to a “we” culture almost overnight.
Now he’s proud to say that he’d rather have a great culture at work and a happy home life than a great P&L statement. We sat down with Kevin on this episode of the Cannonball Mindset Podcast to talk about his journey as a transformed entrepreneur.
Kevin didn’t look up to a lot of the same role models that his friends did growing up. While his friends were idolizing Pete Rose and Dr. J, Kevin was following his grandfather around.
Kevin loved to play boss at his grandfather’s junkyard. He saw how much impact his grandfather had on the employees around him; how he could brighten their day by giving them a kind or encouraging word.
This would have a deep impact on Kevin later on in life, but the short term mind of a 13 year old boy was focused on one thing: money. Money meant having those privileges others didn’t have or couldn’t afford, but it also meant freedom. Nothing felt as good as being able to go buy whatever he wanted without having to ask for anything from anyone else.
“I always had odd jobs, but no matter what, I always literally had this burning desire to be my own boss.” – Kevin Jablon
So Kevin did it all. He sold baseball cards at flea markets. He ran a lemonade stand. He sold pretzels on street corners, often 100 in a day! As he got older, he knew he wanted to get a college education to pursue entrepreneur dreams, so he headed to York College.
School and Life Shortly Afterwards
School never really interested Kevin, and he didn’t perform that well as a student. This is ironic now in 2018 as he just finished up classes at Columbia and will be taking classes at Harvard next year. But at the time, he really didn’t see the value in education.
He made it through college, but just barely. He skated by with a GPA hovering around 2.0. He was looking to land a job after school, but the phone was not ringing with opportunity. Kevin’s first job was repossessing cable boxes in Philly from customers who hadn’t paid their bills. A tough gig. Kevin only lasted a month.
But his then girlfriend (later to be his wife) suggested he start looking for opportunities in New York City. Through some connections, Kevin eventually started working in the flooring industry and has never left.
During his time between graduating from school and starting Spartan Surfaces, Kevin became a student of people. He clued into how successful people lived their lives at every chance he could get. How did they eat? What books did they read? What were their daily habits? He became curious and self-aware in a way that would allow him to build his own business.
And after 12 years of learning, making mistakes, and asking the questions most people were afraid to ask, Kevin took the leap and opened his own company.
“That’s been one of my best strengths… I’m just really curious. But I’m also pretty aware of how people are moving around me.” – Kevin Jablon
Kevin’s Change of Heart
The number one piece of advice that Kevin passes onto other entrepreneurs is to surround themselves with capable people. When he started his company, Kevin knew what he was good at and what he needed help with.
He didn’t have the first clue about accounting, payroll, contracts and other aspects that weren’t “in his lane.” So what did he do? He found people he could count on that were experts in their field, and he didn’t get in the way.
This humility was increased about 6 years ago at the company’s first ever Thanksgiving get together. Around 50 employees and their families came to this event and told Kevin about the impact Spartan Surfaces had on their lives. It was overwhelming to Kevin, and he was never the same. Culture is now everything to Kevin – he wants to hire amazing people and help them live out their dreams. He saw that he could do what his grandfather did all those years ago.
“If I’m truly rich, I’m enriching other people’s lives. That’s what it means for me to be rich today.” – Kevin Jablon
Kevin isn’t the perfect business owner. He is still afraid of being Blockbuster instead of Netflix. Or being a cab company instead of Uber. In other words, failure still looms in his mind. He’s okay with little failures, but he’s seen people smarter and more capable than him lose their businesses quickly.
But Kevin is constantly reinventing himself and the business. He’s working on his business, not just in his business. He knows that there is a whole lot more at stake now than just selling flooring. He’s in the people business.