Harbert Podcast

Overcoming challenges of entrepreneurism: Kyle Tothill

September 16, 2020 Harbert College of Business Season 1 Episode 4
Harbert Podcast
Overcoming challenges of entrepreneurism: Kyle Tothill
Show Notes Transcript

Kyle Tothill is co-founder and partner at three business service firms: eHire LLC, Make & Build and Collective Insights. As an entrepreneur focused on helping organizations acquire select talent, he has started four professional service companies and one software firm. He is a 1997 HCOB graduate in marketing.


Welcome to the Harbert College of Business Podcast.

Sarah Gascon:

War Eagle. It’s your host, Sarah Gascon and Currie Dyess. Thank you for joining us today on another episode of the Harbert College of Business podcast. Today we are joined by our special guest, Mr. Kyle Tothill. Kyle is a co-founder and partner at three successful business service firms: eHire, Macon Build, and Collective Insights.

He is a true entrepreneur focused on helping organizations acquire select talent, and he has successfully started four professional service companies and one software firm. All requiring significant capital, creative organizational and startup development skills.

Currie Dyess:

Why don’t we just jump right into it? Tell us a little bit about your tenure, overnight success story.

Kyle Tothill:

Hey, look. Listen, you hear of these folks that hit lightning in a bottle early, and it's true, but very infrequent. Most of the time, it's a 10 year story overnight success. That was actually the name of our sales kickoff this year. Or was it last year? When we had our 10 year anniversary, and that was like the 10 Years Later Overnight Success was the name of the pitch. So it's just the way it goes.

The most important thing is that you learn every day. You get smarter every day, and you don't pay the dumb tax twice. You're going to pay plenty of dumb tax, just don't pay it twice on the same subject. That's the number one rule.

And then the second one is, is understand that you're going to have all kinds of emotive swings. You're going to have very, very high points of elation. You're going to have very low points like, "What in God's green acres am I doing here?"

But at the end of the day, you just got to stay real steady and you got to be realistic about what you're doing. It's okay for it not to work. It's okay. It doesn't make you feel good to say that. And you guys are both superstar athletes. So that doesn't compute. I can see the look on your face.


I'm wondering how you delineate between pushing through and pivoting to something else or just stopping altogether. Because as athletes, there's a difference between injured and hurt. And there's not a day goes by that we're not hurt. Is this about figuring out, am I injured or am I hurt?

Kyle Tothill:

You ever heard the term you were zigging when you were supposed to be zagging?



Kyle Tothill:

Sometimes that's the case, right? And I've learned throughout my life, I've zigged a lot when I should have zagged. And you really can't control that sometimes. My friend taught me sometimes you're the bug and sometimes you're the windshield. Which is totally true, especially in sports, right? That's a good analogy for getting waxed on the field.



Kyle Tothill:

But the reality is, is that is a deeply personal and difficult decision. I've had to shut one down. And it's tough, you got to call your investors and you got to call the people who supported you and you got to say, hey, man, this is a wrap. I kind of split it in the middle. Say this is a pause. I couch that very carefully. It's going to be very long, more permanent pause than an actual...


How do you learn by reading a book and then learn by practical application, and then learn by us sitting with you and talking to you about navigating? And then still working on our business but then also trying to survive?

Kyle Tothill:

So number one, that's a great question, right? I think of the learning continuum, I don't think of one modality versus the next. They all have different value. Reading a book is an unbelievable way to absorb someone else's point of view, learn a framework, learn a model, hear about other stories, be inspired.

Practical application, in my opinion, is the most valuable exercise, but it's very time consuming. It's costly. And you have to have the right mindset. You have to have that learning, agile mindset that says, what did I do today that I want to do more of and what did I do today that I don't want to do anymore?

I think what happens in practical application is that people don't take the time to digest what they've done. I think you have to be pretty focused on that. I think you have to have accountability.

I have a business coach, and I've had a business coach for six years. I have an advisory board. I have a lot of friends that I talk to. And I make that relevant by asking them questions and getting to engage in some of those.

I can tell you, we share practical experiences a lot of the time. And that helps me hear their stories and help them, so actually, coaching helps as much as being coached. So practical application is really important. It's the most important but you also have to have the right mindset. You need to surround yourself with other people and share those ideas.

In terms of listening to podcasts, one of the things I learned in the advent growth of the podcast market, which has really been the last, I don't know, five years or so, seven years, probably five, audible books, seven or eight, 10 years in terms of real popularity. I live close to my office. I never had the time to listen to podcasts. I've got three kids, it's a hard thing for me to do.

And so I always envied those people that were getting the opportunity to sit in their car for an hour and a half, because they were listening to unbelievable books, and they were consuming that information. The downside to that is they're also distracted when listening to it.

So podcasts are an important way, in my opinion, to be inspired to hear other practitioners, most importantly. I want to hear thought leaders. I want to hear practitioners. I don't want to just hear thought leaders or practitioners. I want to hear both, and it's really ideal when they're together.

And so from a podcast perspective, I'm a business nerd. I got to say, I'm fascinated by it. I'm fascinated by growth companies and growth stories. So when I do get a chance to listen, which is infrequent for me, but I like to listen to people that are either a practitioner or a thought leader.

What else? The other learning continuums, we talked a little bit about it. But being a coach is really, really important. That could be just a friend. But having that ecosystem of people that are having the similar experiences is really important.

And you can join like advisory boards, like Vistage or other pre-planned advisory board type of... not to give them a plug, but ultimately those types of advisory boards are critical to being able to gain confidence and clarity in what you're doing, step away from your business for a day, a month, and really talk to other business leaders and business owners that are having similar challenges.

What I learned is that everybody has the same problems. You think you're - nobody has this weird partner problem, or nobody has this strange market problem like I've got it. The reality is, we all have the same problems. So solving them requires collaboration.


Another one of those, as they say.

Kyle Tothill:

That's right. I think reading is critical. I think practice is really critical. I think surrounding yourself with other people and having advisory groups/mentors and coaches are really important. I think also coaching. Coaching will help you more than you realize.


Yeah, you talked about, you're tapping into a little bit of diversity of thought and diversity in your experience or your portfolio. And it makes me think about non-profits versus for profit. Would you also include that? Would you include diversity in adding a non-profit to your portfolio or your understanding or your experience and then also your for profit?

Kyle Tothill:

I think all organizations are generally after the same thing. They have a mission, they have an operating model and they're trying to get after whatever their goals are, if they're good organizations. I don't really distinguish a lot in terms of business logic. I think they're more or less very similar in a lot of ways to, especially on the growth side, acquisition side, development side, corporate development side, versus profit, versus non-profit. I think sometimes you have different ways of dealing with the outcome, like results and money. But at the end of the day, they're similar.

In terms of building your ecosystem and broadening your horizons, I fundamentally believe that any business leader, salesperson, external customer facing person, really anybody, but should be focused on some sort of civic or professional association and/or non-profit. Number one, you got to be a meaningful stakeholder in your community. What are you doing here, if you're not helping the place that you live and work and helping the community that you participate in?

I think that that's an essential business development tool. It also creates a lot of intrinsic reward, it creates a lot of connective tissue to people that you want to get to know and vice versa. And so I think, for me, it's essential if you come into my office, our core values, the very first core value that's on our wallets is community first. That's a really great way to motivate and keep my people engaged in the community, whether that's again, non-profit or philanthropic or community or civic.

Thinking about the Metro Chamber, or like a Technology Association of Georgia, or like Women in Technology, or you could go United Way. You name it. You want to be active in those areas. And it's a great place to meet new clients, serve on boards and host committees and initiatives with other like-minded stakeholders, and just develop you and grow your network.


What would you say to individuals who agree with you, but are maybe intimidated by adding something else to their plate? They're already busy, they're barely keeping their head above water. How do you navigate that?


And still be successful.

Kyle Tothill:

It's interesting. There's the full spectrum, the standard distribution of answers to that question that I hear all the time. I'm too busy, or I've got other priorities, or I don't really get anything out of networking.

I would always tell them, you serve yourself by serving others. And if you adopt that mindset, that's a customer first mindset. That's a co-worker mindset, that's a community mindset. And that will generate so much richness in your life that you're missing a very valuable and fun part of just existing, in a cool vibrant community, if you're not engaging in that.

That's what I would say at first, too bad, sucks for you. But at the end of the day, that's not how we engage others. That's not how we share flags. So what I would say is if you follow some of the philosophies of motivating others, you want to find that that flag that we can both share.

For us, it's Auburn, love of Auburn. Well, we both love Auburn, all three of us, probably Jim too. And I imagine just about anybody listening to this podcast probably is associated with the university at some level and is probably interested in that. So we have a common ground.

Okay, now that we've established that we both love Auburn, and we're parts of the Auburn family, then we should get engaged to help that. And that's a pretty easy leap. That's how I've done it here. When I stand up in front of the sales leadership society, the Technology Association of Georgia, which I founded and chaired, we talk about making this community, Georgia technology community in Atlanta, a world class ecosystem for sales leadership, sales innovation, and sales organizations, and that's our mission.

Everybody's like, yeah, that's good for me, good for us, good for the community. So you get engagement that way. I think when you make things binary like that, like, hey, it's just good for business development, it sets you off in the wrong mindset. And then if you don't go shake enough hands or you feel out of place, I don't want to ask anybody for business at a networking meeting.

Fine, go ask them how you can get engaged to make the world a better place. And guess what? You're going to find people that want to talk your ear off and that you know. And so that's how I deal with it and it works. And that's why I also put it on my wall, it says community first if you work here.

But, hey, they understand why. And I lead from the front.


Yeah, it sounds like very much a team focused, team centric model that you're following. And obviously, from your time at Auburn, and your family, and your experience with your family and working together, and I guess all your startups and then how you built, I feel like that's been the same theme throughout your life, correct?

Kyle Tothill:

Yeah, it's a model that works. And it's a model that's fun, and that binds people together. It's a really good glue that goes beyond profits and losses and new customer acquisitions and churn and all the things that we do every single day.

And it creates family. Who you serve with, I don't care what the cause, typically they're your brothers and sisters. I think you see that all the way down into the military or our first responders. Those are brothers and sisters because they go through it every day. And they're bound together by a primary cause, protect and serve, take care of our community, you name it.

I think that that creates a lot of connective tissue and keeps people engaged in the cause. It also is a really awesome way to elevate your brand and to grow your business. You got to be engaged, you got to care, and it's more than just raising money in most cases.


Why do more businesses not have the same philosophy on corporate social responsibility that you and y'all do at eHire?

Kyle Tothill:

I think that there is lots of different types of business owners out there and business leaders out there. Some people are very execution oriented. And they see those activities as not short term, immediate impacts to the bottom line.

Community engagement is a long game. It is the longest game, and you've got to think years and years and years out, because it's a slow investment. But I can tell you that it's very difficult to displace someone that's really engaged in that community.

I think it's short-term thought, or very execution oriented thought that tends to shy people away from those types of activities. I see them as strategic investments of the organization and I see them as value creators. I see them as brand lifters. I see them as opportunities for my people to meet other people and to engage in meaningful activities with other stakeholders. All of which, there's not a lot of negatives there.

But I have a longer term view. My view extends beyond my stewardship and leadership of this organization, on to the next generation of leaders that this organization or any other organization that I'm a part of or build, will carry on. And it's an important glue factor.


Do you feel like you learned that here at Auburn, or is that something you've developed over a period of time?

Kyle Tothill:

I don't think that that was explicitly said at Auburn. I actually believe that the community itself, the Auburn University community, and the city itself has a lot to do, a long way to go in terms of building additional ecosystems.

But I think the word Auburn family taught me the meaning of connected relationships, and having that love for the school that we love, all of us love so much is the central theme. That wasn't expressly sent to me via my education at Auburn. But I think it was inherent in just being part of the family.

Probably laid the foundation for acceptance for me, probably, is a better way to say that.


Right. So I know the last time we spoke about courses, that you think all students should be taking, in terms of business, whether you're going to be an entrepreneur, go into startups, or if you're going to go into the industry. What courses would you recommend students should learn and that would be really great foundations for their future?

Kyle Tothill:

Number one, I 100% think principles of marketing should be in everybody's curriculum for a lot of reasons. But number one, it's how the world moves stuff around and makes products sell off the shelf and how you talk to different audiences. I think that that's if you're a non-profit, if you're in business, it really doesn't matter. Even if you work in healthcare as a provider, it's still a business at the end of the day. And understanding that fundamentally is critical.

I think business law is a really good one. Even though it sounds boring, it's the concept of contracts and the concept of how business relationships work, and SLAs and you name it. And I think that might be a little technical, that's my POV. I think it gives you a foundation of how things work, in a law centric society.

And then the other side of that was finance. I think it's really important that people have a fundamental grasp on finance, just specifically for their own personal lives, but understanding compound interest time, value of money, understanding how corporate finance works, understanding yields and investment vehicles. Just having that exposure.

The last thing you want to see as an Auburn student that graduates that's 10, 15, 20 years in their career, wakes up and hasn't been thoughtful about their financial planning, or is not aware of how these financial instruments at least fundamentally work. And you've just had some exposure to that.

And like I said, if you're in engineering or you're in healthcare or you're a provider or you're a teacher, it's all revenue based, at the end of the day. That's how the world works. So it's important that you have those fundamental understandings and I think that we would produce even a better workforce ready student than we already do. I think Auburn produces great students, great graduates, I should say.


What are some resources that somebody maybe who already graduated and didn't take those classes that they could utilize, to then learn about principles of marketing and business law and finance, as they move through their career and progress to higher levels?

Kyle Tothill:

Number one, I think the university, specifically the Harbert College of Business has a really good online certificate program that's growing and it has an online MBA, which is ranked I think really, really highly amongst all of them. They've been doing it forever.

But you can look to certificates. So if you really want to get ingrained in real hardcore classroom like learning, shoot, you can proxy just about anything out there. But Emory University here offers a certificate program. I know Auburn does. There are things like the FinTech Academy, in the great state of Georgia, that you can get engaged with and learn from.

Also, a level of online resources, podcasts, YouTube videos. My kids learn to do stuff in minutes that baffles me, it's because they go to YouTube and the depth of education is there.

I also would consider getting involved in professional associations. So, there's definitely a marketing society in the Technology Association of Georgia here in this town. I'm sure there are in other areas, user groups engaged, but you have to be just intentional about it.

And the resources are everywhere. If you just choose to open your eyes, they're hiding in plain sight everywhere. I don't know if that answers the question, but...


It does, absolutely.


With all your experience, what would you say, I'll say one of your favorite failures that you learned from, and you're glad you experienced?

Kyle Tothill:

I was working for Robert Half International. And I got invited by a founder of a technology company called, actually then it was called Site Logos, but it was later called Navacon to be the VP of sales. I was very excited about that.

I joined that organization, got a board seat, believe it or not, at a very young age and got exposed, we acquired a couple of entities. I got involved with how to build a structure, all the business planning. I felt like I got what I'll call an entrepreneurial MBA during that process, and it completely blew up in the atmosphere.

That was the one that I had to go tell the investors, sorry, this didn't work. But we had the right idea. We had a brilliant concept, most people would know it as the App Store today, in apps. We had a platform that allowed you to build a downloadable application that you'd have on your desktop, that would basically extend web capabilities and functional capabilities out to a platform like an app, where you could book a flight or you name it. So we built a bunch of cool apps, built some stuff for Coke, build some stuff for PGA Tour, built some stuff for Delta, it was really, really cool, really innovative, and we were going to have this Navacon where you could download them.

What I realized is that we didn't have a platform. We didn't have the right people. We were on the wrong side of the country. We were five years to seven years way too early for that concept. And the technology really wasn't there.

Conceptually, obviously, you can see what's happened with that type of concept, it dominates the world. So that's why I was so attracted to it, and so eager to do it, but timing and life is everything, really having a fundamental grip on all the pieces that you need to be successful and not going into things blindly.

I wouldn't trade the experience for the world. So, look, I was young, I could take the hit, I didn't pay myself for a year and a half and September 11th came around and that was the final bullet, that knocked us off of our momentum. We couldn't raise any more money.

All in all, it was a good experience, but biggest lessons there, there's been plenty more, but that's probably the biggest one that stands out to me.


How'd you recover from that?

Kyle Tothill:

Very organically. I had a friend of mine, actually a former Auburn graduate, Aaron Dowd, who I'd recruited to come be a part of this, I'm not sure if he recruited me or I recruited him, I can't remember. But he was a top notch guy in the search space. And we decided that we would figure out a way to make a few dollars, make a few placements with some old customers of ours, so that we could figure out what was next.

So we pivoted as a point of need, and started a little company called Clearpoint Consulting. Nine years later, it became eHire, merged that company with eHire. So we just pivoted into something that we felt like we could make a quick couple of bucks and that we knew how to do. And it turned out that we figured out we had a nice little business, we started growing it.

So, fortune bounced my way. A little bit of just aggressiveness and probably naivete and I didn't overthink it too much, to be honest with you.


It sounds very instinctual for you.

Kyle Tothill:

Yeah, I think that's been something that I've been very fortunate to deal with, I've been through I guess two recessions ad a pandemic in a very short career. How many people do that?

But I think it's really helped me not be scared. I launched eHire in the middle of the Great Recession. And right now during this period of time, I'm launching a bunch of new stuff right now and I'm inspired by it and it's because I'm not scared of it. Maybe my wife can be scared of it a little bit, but I'm not scared of it. I've got that level of confidence that I can figure it out, probably.

So, let's see. Failed dot-com, September 11th crash, so it's 2002, then the great recession and the pandemic. So there you go, dot-com... that's four big black eyes. Maybe God's trying to tell me something. Go get a regular job, kid. You're screwing things up.


Speaking of regular jobs, it seems like entrepreneurs are a different breed. But most people feel pressure either from society or the education system or their family to take more of a traditional role. How does one recognize qualities in themself that are going to allow them to be happy in either path? What's the right decision?

Kyle Tothill:

First and foremost, there isn't any right answer to that question. It's all about what it is that you're trying to accomplish as an individual. I think you got to be thoughtful about being an entrepreneur and there's a level of risk that you have to be willing to take, to be able to do that. And being like a founder, like a from scratch person is different than joining an entrepreneurial endeavor.

Versus more mature growth company, versus a more established growth company, versus an enterprise. So, I think you got to look across your particular risk spectrum and you got to be comfortable with each level of risk.

More importantly, I think a lot of entrepreneurs that start things off, don't really think about it too much. Otherwise, I don't think a lot of companies would be born. Because there's a lot of risk inherent in it, and you just chase that dream.

I think that there are people out there that are just wired and built that way. I think most everybody that's listening probably knows one or two of them, and they're just different people. So we're probably the exception and the risk takers out there, but it takes all types.

How do you know inside that it's right? Look, the water is cold. It's going to be cold when you jump into it, and it's probably going to be cold for a little while. And you're going to have to swim really fast to get warm.

I think you just have to make a calculated understanding to say, look, I've got X number of burn rate. I'm willing to accept this much risk. Really, and more importantly, you better be agile and you better think about cutting a lot of steps out of it, if you're really risking intolerant.

Thinking through your next move. If I'm going to go do this entrepreneurial move, how does that help me with my next logical step, if I have to take one? How does that set me up?


What are the qualities that you just talked about, the differences in entrepreneurs? And I guess what avenue or what lane to go into, what quality separates them, aside from the risk, the amount of risk that they're willing to take?

Kyle Tothill:

What I have observed about myself, is that I'm an idea guy. I've had ideas, a million of them. And I see the world like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, he sees the world in code. All I see all the time, I see the best in people all the time. I see what's possible, not what's probable all the time. My wife gets so sick of hearing me say, oh, man, what about this idea? Or what about that? What do you think if we did this?

And so, I tend to believe that real founder type folks are people that just see opportunity in everything. It's probably really annoying to the rest of the other people hanging out with us all the time, because you're constantly thinking up ideas or constantly working through a business

plan. But I heard Neil Young, he's obviously a Hall of Fame musician, but he mentioned songwriting almost as a burden to him. He said, it was just so constantly in his head, that he hardly found any peace. And he just produces an enormous amount of stuff all the time.

I think great entrepreneurs... not great entrepreneurs. I think entrepreneurs share that mindset. And there's also a difference between a great entrepreneur or idea creator and someone that can execute it and bring it to life. And people that are very execution oriented, that are methodical, that are dogged about what they want, those two combinations of things, so high assertiveness, high grit, and a lot of creativity tend to be the ones that are the idea generators. That's just my observation.

If you're the type of person that struggles to come up with new ideas, that doesn't make you good or bad or anything, it just makes you probably someone that's really good at other things, and it's okay and you have to have a different methodology to be innovative, versus a person like myself that has to be corralled all the time. Okay, don't over engineer this, Kyle. Right. Okay, hold on. No, no, that's just a feature. We don't need that. That's not a game changer.

There's that balance, you need to have balance to be able to pull something off.


So how do you classify each one of your ideas? Or when you're working or collaborating or mentoring, and you're helping other entrepreneurs, how do you classify which one to tackle first?

Kyle Tothill:

I think you have to prioritize what you're even willing to share with other people.


Good point.

Kyle Tothill:

So the first priority is, am I willing to talk to somebody about this? In terms of market appetite, I think you have to really think about plausibility, there's a million and one great ideas, a lot of them are all possible, but execution is so critical. I've learned like, I learned from that first entrepreneur opportunity that I had that, there's a lot of dynamics to execute ability.

I try not to get too wrapped around the axle about the big idea, unless I think there's a pretty clear pathway to start to at least explore the concept, and start to screen the idea a little bit, and start to backdrop that against some other logic, before I get engaged too far. And then of course, my own expertise, my own relationships, my own network, bringing that to life, what does that mean?

And then you have to really cross reference, what am I going to take away from if I go pursue this idea? You got to concentrate at some point.


So tell us a little bit about your dumb tax. You alluded to that earlier, and how that plays a role in how you evaluate the landscape and what's coming next.

Kyle Tothill:

The dumb tax. My good friend, Freddie taught me that term, I think it's brilliant. The dumb tax is a simple way of saying, if I had talked to somebody that knows what they're doing, I wouldn't have paid this price.

And so the real lesson about dumb tax is, collaboration can cure a lot of it and having the right people around, you can avoid a lot of it. And understanding the big dumb tax loopholes, really surrounding yourself with the right advisors, particularly in the entrepreneurial sense, you better have a good accountant. One that's not just good at debits and credits, but somebody that can help you understand the broader landscape of liability and all the right things, you better have a good lawyer.

And again, you need an advisor. It's not just about legalese, it's about, hey, you probably should do that. You probably shouldn't do that. You need a good business coach, you need good advisory boards, right? You need good people around you to help avoid the dumb tax.

And we always think about that, like, oh, we go down this path, spend a lot of energy and learn the lesson that if we just opened our eyes or asked somebody else, we probably could have avoided that. A lot of entrepreneurs do that. And they make a lot of mistakes.

So having the right people and the right expertise around you can help you speed to market. Dumb tax is just another word for obstacles that get in your way of speed to market. We should have thought about our intellectual property, prior to launching our business. Or we should have thought about copyright before we thought about getting to scale or you name it, right?

So, there's lots of ways to do that. And it's just a funny way of a... The only way that I know how to avoid it is to, before each step, really take some time to play some chess, think a little bit and think a few steps out. And make sure that if you've got a meaningful pivot or a meaningful thing that you're getting ready to go undertake, that you ask somebody that knows what the hell they're talking about, just to get their POV. Does that make sense?


That makes perfect sense.


Definitely. You're also a legacy guy. So what are some of your long-term legacy goals?

Kyle Tothill:

I've given this a good bit of thought. I know my time on this earth is limited, God's given me a license that expires at some point. I'm not going to be able to take what I built with me, all I can do is leave a legacy and an imprint on the people that follow me, right? My grandchildren, my children, potentially, my family legacy, my university, hopefully, my friends, the business community.

I just want to be able to be seen as someone that stood up for their community and actually spent a meaningful amount of their life making the place that they live better. Someone that thought about sustainability in their business and wasn't always focused on the short-term goal, but had more long-term goals. And someone that actually made a contribution, not just to their families, or their wealth, but to the overall business community, overall community where they live.

And making sure that when people look back at your life, or examine your life, which they'll probably be able to do a lot easier now, because of Facebook and some of these ways we're documenting our life, that they see the real me. And that it's an example, hopefully, a good example for others to follow, so that they can have great success and continue on this great experiment we call capitalism in the United States.

High level, small things, small legacies, right? But ultimately, I can tell you this, ultimately, I want to be able to meet my maker and have an attaboy from my maker and job well done. I was a humble servant, and built a kingdom. At the end of the day, if I don't do that, I don't think he's going to care much about what great new product I developed, unless it makes the world a better place and grows the kingdom.

Sorry, a little religious spiel. I'm a Christian. I don't hide that.


Well, we love it. So thank you for sharing that. We've talked about this so many times, that thinking about your legacy, what you want to leave behind and how you want to do that, it's very intuitive, and it should be done by everyone and reevaluated pretty frequently.

How does someone who say is a student and isn't even sure what they want to do with their life, how do they think about their legacy? Do they think about their legacy to determine what they want to do? Or do they determine what they want to do, before they think about their legacy?

Kyle Tothill:

I think there's a great saying that says something like a perfect plan is always good until you get punched in the mouth, right? And then you have to pivot.

So a lot of people go to college, I had this grand idea what I was going to be and then you get out in the real world and things happen. I don't want college students or real graduates thinking too far, too, too, too far out in advance, unless it's just natural for them to do that. You think about building blocks.

I think getting off to a good start is really important. Making sure that you have good attributes of the organization that you want to be a part of, is a really good way to start to build up to what you want to do. I think you should evaluate life, ultimately, probably in three to five year chunks.

I think when you're starting to get off into your career, I think you need to be pretty focused on where that leaves you in three to five years, right? When you get to be 45 or 50 years old, I think you can really start to focus and hone in on legacy a little bit more.

So it's not a single point in time answer. That's never going to change. Maybe a few people, okay, maybe there's a few people out there that are just dead set on doing something and they're able to go accomplish that goal. And that's amazing. The world needs people like that.

But for the rest of us that live in the real world, I think that it's important not to overthink that. I do think that it's important for you to envision who you want to become. I think it's important for you to look at others that may follow you or others that may look up to you, or others that you may influence and to be a good example to them and say, okay, how do I want to be perceived by those people? And what example am I setting for it?

I'll use our dress code here at eHire, we actually don't have one in so far as that we won't tell you what facial hair to wear or what type of shirts to wear, or whatever. But it is a policy that says that you need to come to work, dress like the person that you want to be perceived as.

And that might mean for me, slacks and a golf shirt, it might mean to somebody else, a bow tie and a jacket, right? But at the end of the day, we want people to live and breathe the way they want others to perceive them and the example of who they are. And that's much more important to us than having a uniform way of presenting ourselves to the world, right?

And so I think that goes back to the vision statement, which is if a 10 year old kid looked at you, and where you are in your career, are you showing a good example? Are you being someone that they want to aspire to be? I think that's always a good neutral point.

And then ultimately, what are your principles? What are you actually really trying to accomplish? Ultimately, what do you want to be known for? I think that that's a more complex answer or requires some significant thought. But I think it's easy to think, hey, let's think in five year chunks, if I take this opportunity now, what type of organization am I going to be around? What are the attributes of that organization that are going to help define my career? And how is this job and set me up for my next job?

I think that's a simple way to make it a framework long term, right? You need to give some sense serious consideration to where it is you want to end up, while you're taking steps, right?


I think it's also important to recognize, when you talk about 10 year old kid, if a 10 year old kid saw you, how would they perceive you? But also recognize you as a 10 year old, would you be proud of who you are today? Did you follow your dreams? Did you accomplish the things that you set forth? Even having that self-reflection, I think is important as you grow and evolve.

Kyle Tothill:

Yeah, and I think it's okay to say life got in the way too. Ultimately, I think people that don't have children, that end up having children, know how big of a factor change that is, for your career and for what you're capable or able to go do or risk you're willing to take. Or, hey, look, I got out of college and we're in the middle of a global pandemic or a recession or you name it, and it's okay to be bumped off your spot a little bit. And it's okay to understand that life does get in your way.

But to your point, you definitely want to pursue who you want to be, and who you're going to be proud of. I think that's a really good way, if you close the chapter on your career, are you going to be proud of the work that you did? Or are you going to regret spending time in a job where you're creating career debt? Oh, man, I wish I wouldn't have stayed on that simple role, and I would have asked myself for more.

I don't want people to live with career regret or professional regret. You're going to make mistakes, you're going to get stuck. There are going to be points in times in your life where you can't move or you can't tolerate the risk or you need a job and you don't really care that it's working as a clerk in a retail shop, you just need a job. And that's okay to understand that.

But it's not okay to set aside who you want to be or what you're trying to achieve for the sake of the moment, in my opinion. I'm not telling other people how to live. That's just how I try to see it. Because it's okay if that's all you want to do, cool, right? But at the end of the day, if that's all you set your sights on, you accomplish it, then more power to you. Seriously.


Kyle, your story is truly inspiring. You're a role model for all Harbert College students, College of Business students, as well as other aspiring entrepreneurs. It's easy to see that your journey is not over. So where are you going from here?

Kyle Tothill:

Oh, man, that's the $64,000 question is it? So ultimately, my long-term goal is to continue to develop the businesses that I currently own and operate, and grow them into highly sustainable organizations that outlive me and my leadership. I think that's a pretty big separation. A lot of business owners want to stay in control and run the business forever. I want to build more companies and do more things.

I think you'll see more product innovations and more organizations roll out underneath this organization. I think you'll continue to see new service lines and new service offerings be developed with my partners. I think you'll continue to see, ideally, my big vision of what I would like to do is, ultimately, I'd like to be someone that makes investments and businesses and helps businesses grow and can be a catalyst for growth, for a lot of other folks.

So whether that's a VC or private equity or an independent investor, an angel investor, I think long term, that's where I'm heading. That's where I'd love to be. Now, again, I might get bumped off my spot.

But ultimately, I'd like to be someone that is a builder of businesses and an enabler of growth. Someone that helps other entrepreneurs, bring successful, sustainable organizations to the table and make our community better. That employ people and create wealth for everyday folks.


Kyle, we really appreciate your time. How can our students and the community best reach you?

Kyle Tothill:

LinkedIn is always the easiest way to reach me. That's a great messaging platform. It's permanent. It's always there. So you can reach me at LinkedIn at Kyle Tothill. It's easy to find me. I'm the only one right now that I know of that exists.


Me too.

Kyle Tothill:

I got one of those random last names. But you can always reach me there or you can reach me on my Twitter handle, which is @KyleTothill. That's another way to do it.

But generally, I'm a listener on Twitter, as opposed to engager. It's a pretty hot place in there. But that's the easiest way to get a hold of me. And anybody at the administration, at the Harbert College of Business knows where I am as well. So if you want to ask, if you're a student, and you want to ask me, that's an easy ask for anybody in Annette's or Dean Ramp's staff. They all know how to get ahold of me.

And if anybody’s out there that’s got great lessons, please share them, please coach other people, please mentor other people. Please mentor our students, coach our students and engage them and give them good feedback. And that helps the ecosystem get better, we know that. We know that works. Right? Serve yourself through serving others and I think you’ll end up having a very rich life.


Kyle, it's such a pleasure speaking with you again, we really appreciate it.


Thank you so much.