When serial entrepreneur Darrell Freeman was running Zycron, an information technology company he founded in 1991 that would become one of Nashville’s largest, he says there came a point when the market decided that he wasn't the best person to run it anymore, even though he owned 100 percent of it. So, he hired a c-level executive based intelligence and experience. But hiring solely for experience and other typical measurables, he would find, wasn’t the best approach.
“When that opportunity did not work out, I learned that it was more important to find good people with those skills,” Freeman says. “And so that became my philosophy: finding good people, because good people beget good people. If you want to build a good team, start with a good coach and start with a good quarterback.”
Freeman says people want to be on the team with people they enjoy being around — people who are nice and who have integrity. That, he says, became one of the reasons he’s been able to realize success in business.
Having the market let him know that he wasn’t the right person to run the company wasn't that tough for Freeman.
“The numbers don't lie,” he says. “The company became stagnant for a couple, three years, and I looked around the table and recognized that I had a good team in place, it was just that they needed a new coach. And unfortunately, I was the coach. So, I went out and began to search for an executive to replace me.”
Freeman says it was an easy decision because his larger goal is to create opportunities for people to grow and to prosper. And to grow Zycron, he had to get out of the way.
“It was all about the people being able to grow in the company, and I couldn't take it any farther,” Freeman says. “So, I went and hired an executive who tripled the size of the company, which essentially tripled the value of the company. And so my philosophy today is, ‘Bet on the jockey, not the horse.’ As soon as I can fire myself, I'm gonna do it.”
In fact, Freeman says one of the regrets he has about Zyklon, a company he sold for $20 million in 2017 to BG Staffing Inc., is that he should have fired himself sooner.
Entrepreneurs, he says, can sometimes have big egos. That oftentimes leads them to build companies around themselves.
“And that's a huge mistake,” he says.
Companies come and go that had great business models, but the wrong leadership. That’s often because the founder would not get out of the way of the idea.
“And so my philosophy is to invest in good companies, and I'm wanting them to find myself as soon as possible.”
Freeman spoke at the Nashville Smart Business Dealmakers Conference about his entrepreneurial experience, and how those shape his investment decisions today. Hit play on the video above to watch the full interview.