Posted on 2021-01-18
Nick Iozzo, founder and CEO of DPM Energy Inc., and Erez Zevulunov, founder and CEO of M.I.T. Consulting, both joined the Toronto chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization in 2013. The two met through EO and have evolved from acquaintances, to a client-vendor relationship, to authentic friendship. We caught up with Nick and Erez in December 2020 to ask about their entrepreneurial journeys. Here’s what they shared.
How did you make the leap into entrepreneurship?
Nick Iozzo’s company, DPM Energy, recently celebrated a milestone: its 10th anniversary.
“I tell people that I’ve built this business three times―twice for other people, and then I was finally smart enough to build it for myself,” he said. Despite operating a paper route as a teenager and starting side hustles while working full-time, Nick didn’t consider himself an entrepreneur. Until suddenly, he went for it: “I finally got tired of working for corporate engineering firms. Small corporate didn’t work for me, big corporate didn’t work for me, and that’s when I realized I could only work for myself.”
Erez Zevulunov started M.I.T Consulting in 2003. Prior to that, he worked in venture capital and mergers and acquisitions during the Dotcom Era. When the industry collapsed, Erez ran out of options.
“I became an entrepreneur when my contacts in finance dried up and nobody else was hiring. I started doing contract management consulting on IT-based projects,” Erez said. Fast-forward 18 years, and he employs 20 people in a thriving IT business.
“Looking back, I can see that I was an entrepreneur for most of my life, mostly because I needed the cash, ” Erez said. “I ran a landscaping company in high school, then grew it into a maintenance and construction company to pay my university tuition.”
What’s surprising about being an entrepreneur?
When people think about entrepreneurs, they often see the highlight reel: Milestone celebrations, extravagant dinners, architectural houses and luxury cars.
While those do exist, there are a rarity rather than the norm. On a daily basis, entrepreneurship is synonymous with hard work.
“One surprise about entrepreneurship is how much decision-making you have to do on your own―especially in a growing company,” Nick said. “You’re the sole person responsible for the company’s survival. There’s no one to bounce ideas off of—and there are a lot of heavy-lifting decisions. Entrepreneurship taught me to rely on myself.”
Erez agreed. “I didn’t realize how hard it would be. I started my company with a $500 credit card limit. My friends—who were all getting paychecks in the corporate world—couldn’t relate to my worrying about whether I would have enough cash to make payroll next week.”
Cash gives a company options and oxygen, but a lack of it gives entrepreneurs sleepless nights. “From a cash flow perspective, it was very emotionally draining. Even my wife was a corporate employee; I had nowhere to turn to get the support I needed.”
“I had to put my company first, or we wouldn’t have survived challenging times including the SARS outbreak, H1N1, the 2008 Great Recession, and now COVID-19,” Erez continued. “I’ve had to lay people off and cut salaries to keep the company alive. These were tough decisions; I had very few people to consult with about them. Going through the unknown—like we are today with COVID-19—can be quite daunting.”
Nick agreed. “EO is a big help in finding like-minded entrepreneurs to connect with. The opportunity to be around other individuals who are running companies and navigating similar situations was the driving force behind my decision to join the organization,” Nick said. “EO is a network of people you trust and respect, who can share their experiences and provide a place to vent, seek advice and find support is invaluable.”
What mistakes have you made, and what lessons did you learn?
Mistakes are part of the journey, and smart entrepreneurs value the lessons they’ve learned.
“One recent lesson is, from a compensation perspective, understanding how much you have to spend to hire high-caliber leaders into your company,” Nick shared. “We benchmark salaries, and I always thought everyone fell into those ranges. But I was wrong. That’s my lightbulb moment as I step back from day-to-day operations: I need to spend the money to bolster my senior team.”
Nick made a purposeful decision to transition away from the day-to-day operations of his company, giving his team the freedom to grow into leadership positions. “I plan to spend more time pursuing activities such as coaching young entrepreneurs, angel investing and contributing more time to EO’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards programme,” Nick explained.
Erez has learned the importance of hiring slow and firing fast. “I’m also transitioning my role and empowering my team members with the trust to reorganize operations,” Erez said. “It’s been enlightening to see which team members stepped up, helping grow the business while I was facing some personal challenges.”
“Being in EO has changed my perspective on life in many, many ways – in respect to the way I live my business,” Erez continued. “I used to live for my business, but now I don’t live in it every day—I’ve learned to step back a bit and trust my team to get priorities accomplished.”
Tell us about your working relationship.
“I met Erez through EO. As DPM Energy grew from 10 employees to 65, we needed additional IT support,” Nick shared. “That’s when Erez stepped in as our IT vendor six years ago.”
EO members share a strong, confidential bond forged by sharing the highs and lows of running their companies. In monthly small-group Forum meetings, EO members share mistakes, challenges and experiences in a Gestalt learning environment. When EO member companies work together, that authentic bond forms a powerful base.
“During DPM’s hypergrowth, Nick told me exactly where his team needed more support and which deliverables weren’t satisfactory. I was able to turn up those dials to make it happen,” Erez said. “It was incredibly valuable input that positively impacted my entire company and client base.”
“I wouldn’t have received that transparency from any other client,” Erez continued. “Nick and I shared high-level, open, difficult conversations based on the trust formed in EO.”
Nick agreed. “In all honesty, we might’ve changed vendors without that EO bond because I wouldn’t have been as patient with giving another vendor the time to respond and adapt. But because of EO, we knew Erez would do whatever it took to provide exactly what we needed.”
M.I.T. Consulting also services about a dozen other EO member companies. “I get candid insights on what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong,” Erez said. “It’s helped me build a better company. That’s a huge benefit.”
Look for Part 2 of this insightful interview where our interview with Erez and Nick explores their leadership roles within the EO organization, how each of their companies are giving back to the local community in the midst of the pandemic and their advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs.