Michael Maher wears many hats—entrepreneur, speaker, singer, host of The Longer Game podcast, and founder of Cartology. He's also an active Business & Bourbon member—with lots of valuable stories and lessons to share. See what wisdom Michael has to pass on in our recent interview!
Tell us about your education and background.
"I was pretty directionless when college rolled around. I did well in high school but wasn't really digging college. I didn't want people telling me what to learn. An entrepreneur not liking being told what to do... Go figure. After changing majors several times, I landed on Asian Studies. I had taken Japanese for 8 years and that was the quickest path to graduation.
What does Asian Studies have to do with entrepreneurship? I'll let you know when I find out.
I was working at Starbucks when I graduated and just decided to work my way up in the company. I got up to Store Manager and after a year I came to this realization; I hate this job.
I leveraged a friend of mine, who also hated his job that had started an eCommerce business, to teach me the ropes. He did and I invested $2,000 into the product. I started selling on the eBay channel and did that for a year while working my full-time job. After I had proof of concept on the business, I quit my job and went into entrepreneurship full time. From there, I would spend the next 5 years growing my company onto channels like Amazon, WooCommerce for my own site, and developed a couple of brands. Some of the brands worked and some of them flopped.
In 2016, I had a pivotal year in that the market changed dramatically when Amazon opened up the marketplace to China, which then flooded the market with products similar to my main ones but at a much cheaper price. I had to decide if I was going to dig my heels in or fold. I ended up having to fold. I quickly pivoted, talking like 2 months here, into becoming a freelance worker for other eCommerce businesses. I had to get another job while building out my list of clients, which was a very humbling experience.
I noticed right away the need for services that focused on the Amazon marketplace. A lot of people were mystified about how it worked and I had experience. I turned in that direction and never looked back. I didn't even really plan to build an agency I just knew I needed to scale to grow. And I wanted to grow.
It was a grueling 11 months of working a full-time job and building this consultancy, that would become my agency, but it was super rewarding when I was able to then get after building my own agency and leave that temporary job behind.
Almost 5 years later I'm now running a full-fledged custom done-for-you agency that is working with brands to increase brand awareness, accelerate growth, and become profitable on the Amazon marketplace, soon to be others."
What was your first job?
"Mowing lawns was my first gig. At 14, I wasn't old enough to work anywhere officially and I wanted a new skateboard, one that was better than the used one I got for cheap from a friend, so I started cutting grass around my neighborhood. It taught me a lot about what it meant to run a business. I was the sole worker, I collected payment. It was super simple but hard work.
When I finally got that new board, it made all the effort worth it. I never was good at skateboarding but I did build a different skill set that's served me well to this day."
Describe your most pivotal career experience.
"Seeing my business start to fall apart and having to be flexible to move my skillset in a slightly different direction was rough. My self-worth was tied up in the success of my business and seeing that it was failing, I thought I was also a failure.
I look back now and realize God was just molding me. He was using these tumultuous circumstances to prepare me for my next venture, running this agency. I learned to stop trying to plan out my entire future and let Him call the shots. I was showing up to do the work. God was making the way.
Those 11 months ultimately put me on a path towards both career and financial success. I wouldn't trade that for $1 billion. Not playing. Let that also be a reminder to others out there. Don't allow anyone to take those difficult moments out of your life. It's not in spite of those circumstances that you become successful. It's because of those moments. They make you the person you were designed to be."
Who is/was your mentor and what was the most important lesson you learned from them?
"One of my most impactful mentors was and is my accountant Todd Franz. This guy was cool as hell. He would grab a beer with you, have a conversation about nothing financial in particular, and then give you a couple of minutes about how things were looking at the end.
What Todd taught me was the key to me actually leveling up my game and my business. I have a tendency to undervalue myself. I have undervalued how much I can achieve, what my services are worth, and pushed me to demand because well, I was worth it.
He gave me the confidence to really step into the business owner I needed to be in order to grow my business successfully. Love that dude."
what piece of advice would you want to give colleagues?
"Don't stop. Yes, it's simple but it's effective.
You're in a heap of shit right now. Don't stop. Everyone tells you that you should quit. If you believe you're on the right path, do NOT stop for anyone.
You may quit certain things, like serving this customer base or offering this service to then provide a different one. That's cool. That's called progress. That's development. You don't quit showing up and doing the work. You keep pushing forward.
You certainly will never be where you don't head towards. Do you get that? If you don't start moving towards where you want to go, you're never going to get there. Your path may have some extra twists and turns but it's yours. Own that."
What are you most proud of in your career?
"I've built an incredible team that surrounds my vision for my company Cartology and puts it into action. They are more than capable and I make sure they know that.
It's empowering to know that I have a team that really wants to see our whole group succeed. I don't call us a family. That really doesn't make sense to me? What if you are an asshole to your family? I don't want that at work.
We are a high-functioning team that supports each other towards a common goal of progress. What the term for that is, that's what we are."
If you could change anything in your industry, what would it be and why?
"I'd force Amazon to step up and provide better support to the service providers and sellers that make the platform go round.
They provide a great service for the customer but the sellers often have very little recourse when Amazon shuts down their account for whatever reason, allowing Amazon to hold money from them. That's money they've earned.
I would also require Amazon to provide a level of availability to the service providers, such as myself, that are helping brands spend money on the platform. We're helping build the ecosystem so some support is needed for it to run much more smoothly than it is now."
What lasting contribution do you hope to make to the professional world and society as a whole?
"I am a light in the business community.
I'm shinning the light God gave me to help encourage others to do live in their purpose and do the same. We're all made uniquely and wonderfully. I want others to let their light shine through.
We're all worth it. We've got incredible potential and I want other people to walk in their purpose. Maybe it's the young entrepreneur who has a long road ahead. Maybe it's the business owner who has lost his way, grinding it out.
Either way, I'm going to shine my light."
To learn more about Michael and his story, click here.