A Founder’s Journey Requires Knowing When To Negotiate With Kerry Michaels

A Founder’s Journey Requires Knowing When To Negotiate With Kerry Michaels

VENTEUR spoke with Kerry Michaels, Co-Founder and CEO of William Murray Golf based in Austin, TX, where she drives the team to think differently, break away from the sea of blue-striped polos, and bring the brand's authentic stories to life.

Before William Murray Golf, Michaels was passionate about high-end consumer brands and worked in multiple capacities for companies like Oakley and Waterworks—from finance and operations to e-commerce and marketing. A true entrepreneur at heart, she enjoys being fully immersed in all aspects of a business. 

The Journey

The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?

Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I wasn't sure if I had what it took. I had a lot of self-doubt early on, but I also had a lot to prove to myself. Throughout this journey, I learned what it means to have grit: to stay in the tough times when you're not sure if your business is going to make it because you believe so passionately in what you're doing. And to keep going year after year when it seems like the cards are stacked against you. I didn't realize how challenging the first few years of starting a business would be, but after having gone through them, I've learned I have what it takes and more.    

The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur?

Yes, absolutely. Although having a co-founder makes the journey less lonely because you have a partner you can talk to about all things and who can relate to the challenges as an entrepreneur. You get to go through the tough stuff together.  

But during those times when I have felt lonely, I have found comfort in knowing that those feelings are normal and experienced by so many at the top levels of an organization. It comes with the territory, so, if I accept those feelings, it becomes easier to move through them. 

The Psychological Warfare 

Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur?

I need sleep to function! As a mom and an entrepreneur, I'm exhausted by the end of the day, so getting eight hours of sleep is essential. I've never been one to stay up through the night working or studying or wake up super early—so that hasn't changed now that I'm a leader for my company. 

I've also been regularly active throughout my life, so I feel my mental health slip when that slips. There have certainly been times when I have let some of these things go, but I have learned to prioritize staying active because that helps me stay happier and more focused.

Newer entrepreneurs often equate their success with the success and value of their business. If their business fails, they are a failure. If their business succeeds, they are a success. Have you experienced this warped perception of reality? 

Yes, I can relate to the idea that success in my business correlates to my success. As a founder who has raised over $7 million from many investors, I've taken that responsibility very seriously, and it's a big part of what drives me to push forward in difficult times. I want a positive outcome for those who have invested in our business. So, if we don't have a positive result for our investors, I will take that very personally and see myself as a failure. And honestly, I'm okay with that to some degree. It helps keep me focused.

On the flip side, I know there's more to me and this life than my business, so I don't let my entire self-worth get wrapped up in the company. Instead, I take time with my family for vacations or volunteer for a school field trip because time is fleeting, and I know those are the things I will remember most when I look back on life.

What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears?

1. Failure Is My Biggest Fear

There are so many people depending on me to ensure this company is a success, from our investors to the Murray's to our employees and business partners, and that part scares me, but I don't let it overwhelm me.

2. Risks That I Didn’t Plan For

Covid opened my eyes to how quickly things can change and impact our business, which depends on a global supply chain. As a startup, we have less cushion than more established companies to absorb many of these disruptions. Things that are only supposed to happen once in a lifetime are now happening more frequently. I don't know what tomorrow holds, but as we head into a global recession, I'm very aware of the risks to our business. It has forced me to think about worst-case scenarios and ensure we have a plan for reacting when the unforeseen occurs.

3. Running Out of Cash!

This is a constant fear because scaling a business is expensive! I learned very early on the importance of forecasting cash 12 months in advance because, depending on where we are in the cash cycle, there are times when I'm looking at this weekly and others when I'm looking at it monthly. This process helps me plan when we need to raise money and how much we need to raise. I don't want any surprises regarding cash, so staying diligent in managing expenses helps me quell this fear.

William Murray Golf

The Mistakes

What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid them?

1. Not Asking for Help

When I started the business, I thought I was supposed to have all the answers, so I didn't want to ask for help when I needed it most. Fortunately, I had advisors who helped me realize that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Now I continue to learn and grow through reading, coaching, and surrounding myself with a network of successful entrepreneurs.  

2. Not Knowing When To Delegate

As we started building a team, it was challenging to know what I still needed to hold onto and what I needed to delegate so our team would feel empowered. Letting go of essential business decisions was scary for me, but over time, I realized that I was opening myself up to do more good for the company.

3. Not Negotiating Terms

Early on, we often got into vendor/supplier relationships before understanding the various terms of the contract because we were excited about finding the perfect "partner." And at that point, we had missed our opportunity to negotiate. We learned the hard way that it's important to negotiate everything from payment terms to early termination notices so that you are protected in the long term.  

What are three things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?

1. Setting Your Company Vision and Values From the Start

Most mature companies are good at this, but it can seem like fluff for younger businesses because all you want to do is move quickly. But that's what makes the beginning the perfect time to set your company vision and values so you have a clear roadmap for where you want to go and how you're going to get there. It helps remove distractions and forces you to decide what will help you move in the right direction. Hiring and firing your company values is also essential to better prepare you and your team for the journey ahead.  

2. Hiring Great Lawyers

There's a big difference between great lawyers and ones that are okay. Great lawyers will become your business advisors, help you navigate all kinds of challenges, and help you mitigate risks when starting a business. Their rate will be well worth the investment if they are truly remarkable. 

3. Setting Company Policies Early

Many startups don't want to create formal policies initially because they think their teams are too small and don't want to seem too corporate. That's how we started! And I quickly learned that policies are there to set boundaries even in the early days, and your employees want and need them. If you don't set guidelines, you set yourself up for disappointment and frustration.

The Successes

What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you've faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them?

In the early days of William Murray Golf, we grew fast and needed to put deposits down on inventory nine months before the season. It was massive cash for us, and we only had a little runway. So we went out in 2018 to raise our Series A, which was much more complex than we anticipated. We expected everyone to want to invest in our business, but we were rejected many times. At the time, it felt like we weren't going to last much longer, and I wasn't sure how we would make it. The key for us was to keep taking as many investor meetings as possible, and ultimately the few that worked out came just in time to help us meet our cash needs.  

What are three ways you have managed to boost your productivity without causing burnout?

Being disciplined in my routine, not checking emails constantly, and regularly blocking my calendar for focus time helps me boost productivity. I love the quote, "Either you run the day, or the day runs you." These are ways I stay in charge of my day and protect my time—otherwise, a million other things will take over.

William Murray Golf

The Advice

How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems impossible?

There isn't a perfect balance, there's just what works for you and your family. Each day my balance is a little different depending on what's happening. Some days, I go to my kids' volleyball or baseball games, and some days I skip them for a work event. Some days I make a great healthy meal, and other days we order pizza! The key is to be kind to yourself and give yourself grace because being an entrepreneur is challenging enough—there's no need to put extra pressure on yourself to have some perfect work-life balance.  

What three key pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey more manageable, and why?

1. Saying No to Things Is Just As Important as Saying Yes

Whether that's saying no to protect your time or saying no to business opportunities that don't align with your vision and roadmap, it matters. Prioritizing what's necessary means we can't do everything, and we have to say no. It also allows us to be more effective with the actions we do take.

2. Making Yourself a Priority

When you show up for yourself first, it allows you to show up as your best self! And, in turn, you can be a better leader for your team.  

3. Continually Working on Leadership Skills

Being a great leader is not something that happens overnight, it's a process. As your company grows, your role in the business changes from doing everything to leading and inspiring a team. Of course, you will have good and bad days, and that's okay!

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