Long before he created 3Fold, Tim Joiner was a kid with a yard to mow.
Realizing mowing one yard was not going to make a 10-year-old the extra money that he wanted, he borrowed his dad’s mower and started cutting the neighbor’s grass for a fee. But instead of spending his new found cash, he invested in his own mower and started cutting grass around the neighborhood.
But he still didn’t spend the money on something frivolous. He found a website that was a precursor to E-bay. He heard about it after a very short conversation with a visitor at his church proving that luck and intervention can sometimes happen in the most unknown ways.
He noticed some computers for sale that were very cheap. He had an interest in them so he bought them. Not for himself, but to resell in his hometown of Freeport, Illinois – a small place on the outskirts of the Chicago metro area. When people started to come to him with repair questions, he started calling IBM and Microsoft call centers. He didn’t know how to fix, but someone there could tell him how. Realizing, this was a lot more fun than cutting grass under the hot summer sun – it does get hot in Illinois in the summer. He decided to create a company in 1996 called Tim’s Computer Sales.
And then something really strange happened. People started coming to him to create websites.
Not just anybody. The city of Freeport. The local library system. Major area employers. By the time he headed south to Greenville to start college at Bob Jones University in 2001, he had a thriving little business. He earned a bachelor’s degree in the humanities at BJU and later a master’s in Bible. But there was that computer company. Now called Dynamic Technology Solutions. It was plugging along and he now had an employee. He decided to shift gears, move the company to Greenville and see what he could do in creating a different kind of web marketing company. They changed the name to 3Fold Creative in late 2013 to better show how it had expanded to include web marketing and business consulting, adding experts along the way to better meet client needs. The rebranded again in late 2017 as 3Fold, a growth agency.
With all of that going on, he graciously answers some questions for us. But not just any questions. The Least Asked Questions.
Who was your first hire? Why?
My first hire was a developer/programmer. That was a scary thing, because the amount I agreed to pay him was basically equal to my prior year’s total revenue! Prior to that, I was the programmer, the writer, the designer, the project manager, and anything else that needed to be done. I was good at a lot of those things, but not really great at any of them. I decided that I wanted to do excellent work, and the only way to do that was to hire people that were better than me. Development was the first priority, followed by design, and content, and lots of other skillsets. Many of those early hires are still part of our company today!
What was it like the first time you had to fire someone?
Terrible. I’ve only let three people go in my lifetime, and all three were pretty difficult. In all three cases, they were good people, but bad fits for the organization. I take hiring really seriously (and am probably way too slow at it) because I want to avoid terminating people at all costs. I think I handled all three separations with grace and kindness, but it’s still an experience I’d rather not repeat!
People say that at the end of the day, being the head of a startup is lonely because you don’t have someone to actually relate to. Do you feel that is true? Why?
This is absolutely true. Running a business is a lonely role for most people. Back in the early days I remember leaving on a trip four days before payroll, without enough money in the bank to meet it. I was expecting a big check from a client, so I asked one of our key people to watch the mail and make a deposit if any checks came in. But I didn’t want her to be stressed out, so I didn’t tell her it was critical in order to meet our payroll obligations! Fortunately, we don’t have problems like that anymore, but the principal is the same – who do you talk to when you have problems? Financial, personnel, operational, client – no matter the problem, you can’t talk to your team, and you don’t want to talk to your competitors, and you often don’t want to stress out your family, so you kind of just deal with it. I think I’m getting better at letting people in, but it’s definitely a job that tends towards loneliness. Also, the friends you have from college or before have all kinds of different issues they’re dealing with, and it can be hard to relate. The things that excite, worry, and interest them tend to be different from the things that move me. You can’t just show up to a party and say, “Man, I’m really excited about buying this $2 million building” when they are stressed out about making their car payment or whatever.
What is the one company that you wanted to start, but never did?
I’ve got lots of companies in my head, but haven’t had the time or resources to start them. I still plan to pursue most of those ideas, though, so I’m not ready to list them just yet! =)
What is the worst bill you got that you weren’t expecting?
It sounds funny now, but the first time we retained an attorney (to handle our incorporation documents), the bill ended up exceeding the estimate by over $1,000, which was an unbelievable sum of money at the time. That really stung!
Who is the first vendor you pay each month?
I make it a point to pay ALL of our vendors every month, but if money ever got tight and I had to prioritize, I’m always going to pay my people first. They are who make our company awesome, and my loyalty is with the team first.
When things get tough in business, who do you turn to for support?
I’ve worked with business coaches for a long time, most notably the good folks at Broad Insights (broadinsights.com) here in Greenville. I’m actually a minority partner there now, and serve as fractional CMO, because I believe so much in business coaching. When I need advice, confidence, clarity, or accountability, my business coach is usually my first resource.