From Bankruptcy To Business Triumph, With Max Emma

April 03, 2024
Dan Sullivan

Almost 31 years ago, 18-year-old Max Emma immigrated with his family to the United States from the former Soviet Union. Now, Max is the CEO of BooXkeeping, a bookkeeping franchise organization operating in the U.S., with offices in Europe and the Philippines, and with plans for expansion into South America. In this episode of the Multiplier Mindset Podcast, in a story that stands testament to the power of entrepreneurial resilience and drive, Max shares how he went from bankruptcy to business triumph, and the many lessons and insights he learned along the way.

Here's some of what you'll learn in this episode

  • The ingenious way Max learned to speak English.
  • How Max bounced back after bankruptcy.
  • Why Max’s company eventually expanded beyond the United States.
  • How Max wrote the initial business plan for his company on a napkin in just four hours.
  • How his business grew after joining The Strategic Coach® Program.
  • Why Max’s unique area of focus has changed.
  • The significance of journaling for entrepreneurs.

Show Notes:

The ties between North America and South America are going to be a growth opportunity as we go forward over the next 25 years.

Speaking English is an important entrepreneurial skill in the United States.

What seems like a failure might actually be the beginning of the next step.

When you don’t grow, you die.

Entrepreneurs need to give up doing what isn’t their job.

It’s important to keep investing in coaching because you don’t know what you don’t know.

If your team members are successful, you’re successful.

When someone gives you a tool, consider it sooner than later.

The sooner you join an organization like Strategic Coach®, the sooner you can become successful and take your company to the next level.


Unique Ability®

Your Business Is a Theatre Production: Your Back Stage Shouldn't Show on the Front Stage

The Gap and the Gain by Dan Sullivan and Dr.Benjamin Hardy

Time Management Strategies for Entrepreneurs (Effective Strategies Only)

Dan Sullivan: Hi, everybody, it's Dan Sullivan here on Multiplier Mindset. I've got a really, really heartwarming transformation story here, and that's with Max Emma. And Max is proof why America was created by immigrants. Max emigrated from the then Soviet Union when he was younger. He lives in San Diego, and he's got a franchise organization, which is called BooXkeeping. Boox is B-O-O-X, keeping, and he's got franchises in the United States, but he's got them in Europe. He's got them in the Philippines. He's got franchises and team members and just giving thought about doing South America, which I encourage him to do, because I think the ties between North America and South America are going to be a growth opportunity as we go forward over the next 25 years. But the thing I just marvel at in listening to Max's story is just the sheer resilience of people who are entrepreneurs. And I think that's even more so for entrepreneurs who have an immigrant background. Because when you arrive in a new country like the U.S., and he had to pick up English somewhere along the line, you know, English, important entrepreneurial skill in the United States, just his sheer desire to be independent and run his own show. And the big thing that he talks about and focuses on, and it's the central cornerstone of Strategic Coach, is Unique Ability, and Unique Ability is underneath all the other thinking tools that we have in Coach. They all are premised on a central thing that there's something that you have, that you were born with, that gives you enormous amount of energy, that you're really good at, and it may take you a while to figure it out. But if you can build a business model around your Unique Ability, you're set for the rest of your life. And the reason is because you aren't going to get tired. You aren't going to get bored. And because the constant growth of your Unique Ability keeps finding bigger opportunities, bigger successes, the money goes up and more and more, you just keep finding other great people who have their own Unique Ability, who support your Unique Ability, and you have a payoff that you get greater and greater freedom as an individual. Time gets freed up. You have greater freedom in the quality of your money, the quantity of your money, greater freedom with your relationships, back stage relationships inside your company, relationships out, and he's got franchise owners. I just can sit and listen to Max for hours, just listening to him talk about how he thinks about things, and how he approaches things, and how he looks towards the future. And as a coach to entrepreneurs, I've been coaching this year, it's my 50th year of coaching. I started in August of 1974, went through the normal difficulties of running a business when I didn't have any training in running a business. And within the first eight years, I was bankrupt. I was divorced. I had numerous physical injuries. It was really tough. And I remember going to a bank and I had to satisfy a banker on some loans we had made. And I did that because I didn't want to screw up my reputation with the bank, but I went bankrupt otherwise. And he said, you know, you've got some real good skills. You're a trained writer. You're a trained artist. Why don't you, you know, stop with this working for yourself nonsense and go get a good job? And I said, well, that's not possible. I said, I'm just not smart enough yet. The reason I'm failing is that I'm just not smart enough. And when I get smarter, I'll be successful. So there's no possibility that I wouldn't come back from this and just go on doing it again. And I can spot that in other people. And it's just a no alternative except going forward. And I picked that up so much in Max's story. He's really funny. The other thing is, I don't know if he even knows how funny he is, but he's really funny. His way of describing his experiences, his way of talking about just the normal kinds of situations. He could be a good entrepreneurial stand-up comic. I see him a lot in Chicago. I just, I love being around an entrepreneur like Max Emma. This makes my life as an entrepreneurial coach really worthwhile.

Max Emma: So my name is Max Emma, and I'm CEO and founder of BooXkeeping. It's bookkeeping with an X, and we provide bookkeeping solutions for small, medium-sized businesses throughout the United States. Mostly we work for franchise brands. We're doing it for 85 different franchises, companies in the U.S. such as Fast Signs, Cinerama, Sport Clips, a lot of emerging ones. And a few years ago, that gave me a crazy idea that I can be a franchisor. So I've started franchising bookkeeping as the concept. So we're now selling bookkeeping franchises and also doing bookkeeping for other brands. So people ask me where my journey began. I think the journey of bookkeeping and the journey of Max, who he is today, and definitely who will become tomorrow, because that's not going to be the same Max, 100%, and I'm very happy about it, started when me and my parents, we moved from the former Soviet Union to the United States almost 31 years ago. I was 18 years old. I graduated from high school and one year of university. And then we immigrated because my older brother already was in the United States. And when I came with my parents and my two grandmothers, I naturally became the head of the family from a little kid growing up. You know, I was the only one who spoke English out of five of us. My brother had his own family, so he was busy working and taking care of his family. So I had to take care of my parents taking them to different appointments, and grandmothers, nobody spoke English. I spoke just a little bit. That was a challenge. And that was early ‘90s, so internet did not exist. So I was limited how I can learn English other than going to school, which I did once a day for a couple hours, but it wasn't enough. So I created my own know-how, and I wish I could monetize that, but I didn't. So what I was doing, I was going outside, to the pay phone, and I was calling to different credit cards, American Express, Visa, MasterCard, different banks. And back in the days, all the call centers were located in the United States. So they were forced to talk to me for 30, 40 minutes, explaining to me why I'm not qualified to get credit cards. And I kept talking and talking. And then when they finally were done with me, I called another one. So I had two to three hours of practice of speaking English on the phone every day. So I don't know how I came up with that, but it helped me so much. So in six months, I've started speaking English. And I could understand people and doing it over the phone. So that was a very great experience.

 And then, of course, getting a first job in the U.S. and then from that I got hired by Costco and I was there for five years before I graduated from university. So that was a great experience. Just, you know, meeting different people. My first job was bussing tables in a local restaurant. And the very first job that lasted a day was like a small fast food family-owned place where I worked for the whole day and they didn't even pay me for that. They just said, no, it's not going to work out. So they got a free labor for one day. I'm still going to this place, different owners, but every time I go in, you know, I'm just looking at it. I'm like, gotcha. So I guess it's more personal. So I'm grateful for every experience that I've had in this life. So I'm not just taking everything for granted. I own every mistake that I made. I own every achievement. And yes, I have a team. I have people around me who are helping me. I would not do that without them. But I don't forget. I will never forget, you know, where we came from and, you know, what I had to go through to get where I am right now and where I'm going to get next. You asked how I felt about the bankruptcy. I mean, it's been 15 years and I'm shaking right now when I'm just remembering this moment because it's honestly, for a little bit, I felt as if I'm a failure. And that was one of the worst feelings, I guess, I've had in my life. Because I'm like, I didn't make it. Like, you know, this is it. This is the end of life. Because I had no idea that this was just the beginning of the next step. For me, at the time, we had a four-year-old, and we had one on the way. another kit and we had to sell the house so I can pay every single of my employees. So we sold the house. I remember I took the last paycheck to all the employees we had at the time and I hang a key literally on the storage and let banks to take whatever they wanted to take. I didn't care at this moment. And I thought, I'm done. I'm like, you know what? I'll figure it out. I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm not going to have my own business. Luckily, it didn't last for too long. And I was able to say, oh, wait. No, no, no. That was a learning experience. Let's move on. And we opened again the landscape maintenance company and learned that there is a light in the end of the tunnel. But now I'm looking back at it. A couple people who I trusted told me earlier that, hey, you don't have an option other than bankruptcy. And I did not believe them. Again, that's my theory. I'm going to try it. I don't want to go into a Gap, but I probably at a time would be better if I listened. It would be an easier transition for me. That was like, you know, this is it. I ran out of all the options, so I had to do it. But now looking back, that was my MBA. That's what taught me one of the biggest lessons that never give up. So we went through the bankruptcy procedure, and because in construction we have to personal guarantee stuff, we had to go through a personal bankruptcy as well. Which again, now looking back, it was smart thing to do. At a moment, it was very, very emotional.

So it started in the garage and then at some point we got an office, we got a first employee, actually first employee was working from the garage and the second employee was working from garage as well and then we got an office, started growing and it's about pivoting. In the beginning, the idea was that we are going to be only working out of the United States. I mean, all these collateral, all the flyers were saying 100% U.S. based, because that was the thinking. And then a few years into that, probably I'd say about five years into running a business, we realized that we are not competitive anymore because everybody is moving outside of the United States, not just for the monetary reasons, but for the reasons that we are running out of talent. And if you talk to anybody in accounting right now, it's very, very hard. A little bit easier now, but a few years ago it was almost impossible to get anybody out of college. To the point that we were buying other bookkeeping practices, and I remember we bought one in East Bay, San Francisco. One of the employees stayed, and we relied that she's going to be staying there, and we're going to continue growing it. And then she got an offer from a big corporation, and they offered her 50% more than we were paying. She didn't have even a college degree, OK? But they needed somebody who understood accounting. So they gave her 50% more, and I was like, well, good luck. That's all I could do, because it did not make sense for us to try to match it. And that's when we went internationally, and I'm very proud of it. I mean, I do have U.S. employees, and we do work as one team, but we do have accountants who are bookkeeping employees in Europe and in Philippines, and we're slowly moving to Latin America as well. So switching, not switching, but adding franchising to it, that was one of those moments. So the business was growing, and we were getting more clients, and we were getting more franchises that made us preferred bookkeeping providers. But I wasn't challenged enough. That was my problem at the time. I needed to be challenged. I need to grow. Because now I know when you don't grow, you die.

 But 2019, when this whole idea came to my mind, I didn't know that. I mean, I knew, but I didn't realize it, I guess. So I was looking for different opportunities. And I remember that I started to lose interest in the business, and I felt it. I'm like, something needs to be done, otherwise I'm just gonna hang the key. I mean, not because of bankruptcy, but because I just wasn't interested in doing that. I remember I went to Philippines to meet with my team, and then one day I just stayed in the hotel extra day, I was having a cigar and a scotch and then something just came into my mind and I just started writing. I literally started writing on a napkin that I got piece of paper. So the whole business plan of bookkeeping franchise was written in this three or four hours. Yes, we made it way better and numbers and Excel, but the original one was on this napkin because this was like, at a time, it felt like an amazing idea, even though people were telling me, like, maybe that's not a good idea because it's a blue ocean. There is only one more bookkeeping franchise that exists other than us. So there are no, you know, 40 of them. There are some that do taxes and offer bookkeeping, like an H&R Block, but it's completely different. We do not do any taxes. We just do the bookkeeping because we get a lot of referrals from CPAs. So the whole concept is not to shoot yourself in the foot. You probably have heard that many times, the lessons that I've taken are actually more than lessons, but strategies associated with Coach. So I joined Coach almost two years ago. I'm finishing my second year right now. And the business started growing like that when I did, because first of all, I learned to delegate. I was a very bad micromanager because I knew I can do most of it myself and I was way better in it. I never done bookkeeping because, trust me, you don't want me to do your bookkeeping because I don't remember how. It's been over 20 years since I've touched anybody's books. However, everything else, I was involved in marketing and sales and admin. So it was just me, me, me, me, and then team members doing the accounting. And I had that limitation. I couldn't even double, forget about the 10xing it.

 So what I did, what Coach taught me is to actually give up what's not yours. So finding my Unique Ability, and going with that. And the biggest revelation that I've had is that Unique Ability changes. That was huge because my Unique Ability originally was that I just need to concentrate on meeting with the clients. And I started doing that, so I hired an executive assistant and she pretty much took over all of the admin stuff. I got a lot of free time and then started doing eight to 10 new meetings with Davis clients. And at the time, I thought that was my Unique Ability. So I redone it 10 months later and was completely different. Because I'm like, you know, I can train somebody to do that. I can't just work on partnerships. So it's interesting. I'm looking forward to do it again and to take my Unique Ability test in the next few months because I'm sure it's going to be something different. It's important for me to continue investing in Strategic Coach because I don't know what I don't know. And every time I come to Strategic Coach, I learn a new tool. I'm not going to tell you that I'm using all of the tools that I learn because I just don't. But some that I'm using, an Entrepreneur's Time System is great for me. And I actually put my entire team through Coach. So my executive assistant went through Coach. My direct reports went through Coach. Even my 17-year-old son went through the Strategic Coach Edge. And that actually changed his thinking. And I could see that. I brought him to Chicago and then we spent a few days afterwards and like it was completely different person. So it was awesome. So definitely I'm continue learning and I have a strategy how I go about working the Coach. So I come in and I usually do two days of different seminars, and then I always stay one extra day in Chicago, where I go through my entire material. Because what I was doing before, I was flying the next morning or the same night, and then the life began again. I'm like, and the folder was sitting somewhere, and maybe I remembered to look at it a week later, maybe not. Now, Friday after I'm done with two days, I'm spending four to five hours staying in a hotel, and looking at every line item and, you know, taking them to my InMotion folder and learning. And then I have a debriefing with my team every time I come from Coach, and they do the same. After their session, they have a debriefing where we discuss what we learned and how we can implement it. I'm divorced, I'm not married, but my ex-wife is the co-founder of Bookscaping, and she's still a big part of both companies, Bookscaping Corporation and Bookscaping franchise, because now she lives in Barcelona, she got her PhD, and she's a professor teaching accounting, and also she does executive coaching for large corporations all over the world. So now everybody who's involved with Bookscaping, either as a franchisee, or as an employee, get one year of executive coaching at no additional charge. And the idea of this coaching is that it takes them to the peak of their performance. And look, if they're successful, we're successful. So she's involved.

I have two kids. One is a 13-year-old who still lives with his mom in Barcelona. And I go there every two months. Or he's coming here, so I see him all the time. BooXkeeping now has an office in Barcelona. So it gives me a reason to also see my team when I go there. But mainly, the reason I'm going is to spend time with my son and travel all over Europe. And then my almost-18-year-old lives with me. He came back because he wanted to get his last two years of high school in the U.S. They're both American kids born in the U.S. One of them is still going to the American school in Barcelona, so it's an English education, so they can come back anytime. But he ended up, my 17-year-old, when he came a few years ago, he ended up not going to high school. He got his GED, and he's producing beats and electronic music and sells it to rap artists and actually making money. So now he's moving to Atlanta in next month. So I'm going to be an empty nester again, which is very interesting. And he's doing great. And he's the one who went through Coach Edge a few months ago. The advice I would give to someone who wants to be successful, don't try to do everything by yourself, okay? Ask for help. It's fine to ask for help. It's okay to ask for help. So the reason I got into Coach is my good friend, he used to be a client and he became a friend and a mentor, Paul Abel, who's been part of Coach forever, been telling me about it and showing me the tools and telling me, Max, you need to join. And I'm like, yeah, sure. And then, you know, a few years later, I was just, you know, like at the intersection, like, you know, what's next? I understand I need help to get to the next level. And I remembered what Paul mentioned several times, and I reached out to him and said, hey, so now I'm ready. Tell me more. So my advice would be when somebody gives you a tool, at least look into that early. Again, I'm not going into Gap. I'm happy that I'm part of Coach now. Probably the sooner you join an organization like that, and in coaching in particular, the sooner you can become successful and take your company to the next level. The only thing I wanted to add, I appreciate the opportunity and every time I get a chance to talk about bookkeeping, it just gives me different insights. And I'm sure I'm going to journal about it tonight, which by the way, because of Lee Brower and because of Coach I've started journaling. I've never done it in my life and I've only started doing it six months ago and I haven't missed a single day. That's another piece of advice I have for entrepreneurs. Understand the significance of journaling because that makes your mind to actually remember what happened in a day and you can look back at the notes or you just have a mental like okay I put it on paper, so it's done now I can move to the next level.

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