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No Exit Strategy: Tech Entrepreneur Tomas Gorny on How to Weather Crises

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Tomas Gorny

In 1996,  Tomas Gorny arrived in the US at 20 years old, barely speaking any English. Two years later, he was a brand new tech millionaire. Then, he promptly lost that fortune again – but returned with valuable lessons learned.

Today, Gorny is a successful serial tech entrepreneur and once more a multi-millionaire. Most notably, he heads the UCaaS company Nextiva. His story makes him uniquely qualified to give advice on how to best weather crises, and bounce back from failures. 

“I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Gorny reminisces. “My parents told me I started talking about owning my own business and moving to America when I was just 7 years old.”

Tomas Gorny knew that tech was his future in 1991 when DOS transitioned to Windows. “That was my pivotal moment. Instead of typing long command lines, you could now use a graphical interface. I found it so fascinating that I said, ‘This is what I want to do with my life. I want to make technology simpler to use for people.’”

To get a better education, Gorny moved from his native Poland to neighboring Germany. As a teenager, he started his first venture – a business selling PC parts. Then, the opportunity he’d been waiting for came along. 

“Two months before I would have graduated I got the chance to immigrate into the U.S., and I jumped at it. It was a simple decision for me – I just couldn’t pass it up.”

Things weren’t easy at the start. Gorny had to brush up on his brittle English and work several part-time jobs, from valet parking to carpet cleaning. 

But he seized the chance to join a new web-hosting company, Internet Communications, as an early member. It was a springboard to success. “The company got acquired two years later by Interliant, and I became a millionaire at 22.”

But where other stories of the American Dream ends, Gorny’s barely begins. And its next chapter begins with failure. 

“At this point, I started making my biggest mistake. I began setting my goals around my net worth and made investments in various companies to grow it. When the dot-com crash and 9/11 happened, everything suddenly collapsed.”

Left with less than $10,000, Gorny had to start from scratch once more. 

In retrospect, though, his near-bankruptcy made Gorny into the entrepreneur he is now. He learned how to rebuild, and how to make it through tough times. 

“It gave me a new outlook on things,” he explains. “Failure is like free tuition. You can reflect and analyze not to repeat mistakes. It’s much harder to break down successes to learn how to improve.” 

So what exactly did Gorny learn that set him on his path back to business success? What lessons can he share with other entrepreneurs whose businesses are on shaky ground due to the current crisis? 

“I completely abandoned the view of focusing on net worth. The success of a business really lies in the value it provides,” he explains. “I learned that I needed to focus on providing outstanding products, and on customer service.” 

Gorny champions chaining your heart and soul to your business, especially in rough times. “I firmly believe that as an entrepreneur, you shouldn’t have an exit strategy. If you are planning for an exit, your mind is focused on the wrong things for your business.” A deeply personal stake in the success or failure of your business, though, lends your perspective. It helps you prioritize the right things. 

Finally, Gorny feels that a reliable team is crucial for navigating a business through crises. 

“I also believe in building a team of outstanding people that work well together. I know it’s a cliché to say surround yourself with people who are better than you are, but it’s true. Knowing where my strengths are, focusing on those strengths, and finding people who have strengths in other areas is a key to growing a successful company.” 

To some, Gorny’s advice may sound simplistic – but it has served him well. 

“With these principles, I managed to pick myself up. After I almost went bankrupt, I tried to make the most of my technical knowledge and experience in web hosting. I founded a new startup called IPOWER in late 2001.” 

IPOWER took off. It became one of the biggest players in web-hosting in the US, and eventually got acquired by Warburg Pincus and Goldman Sachs for nearly $1 billion. At the time, Gorny was among the largest individual shareholders. 

Since then, Gorny has kept busy. “I continued to look for new challenges, new gaps in the market – new companies to found. I do believe I have an interesting story. But I feel I haven’t done anything yet compared to what my companies will do in the future.” 

For more insights from Tomas Gorny, follow him on LinkedIn or check out his flagship company, Nextiva.com.

Brian Wallace is the Founder and President of NowSourcing, an industry leading infographic design agency , based in Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH which works with companies that range from startups to Fortune 500s. Brian also runs #LinkedInLocal events nationwide, hosts the Next Action Podcast, and has been named a Google Small Business Advisor for 2016-present and joined the SXSW Advisory Board in 2019. Follow Brian Wallace on LinkedIn as well as Twitter.

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