Michael Nova is the founder and director of Nova Custom Printing, a company that does all types of business-to-business printing, including labels, apparel, wall and window installations, posters and post cards. Though Nova’s business is thriving now, he faced several challenges that might have caused others to give up. He got wrapped up in a personal music project he was funding with money from the business and didn’t realize how badly it was affecting the company. He said, “One day, I went to the bank and they told me I had no funds left. I was faced with near-bankruptcy. I had to borrow money to keep the business going.”
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Around the same time, Nova was diagnosed with a serious eye disease. A doctor told him that if he had waited another day to come in, he would have been blind. It turned out that he was also suffering from kidney disease. He said, “My body was falling apart. But, it ended up being a good thing, because I was able to catch the kidney disease early, I was able to treat my eye disease, and a couple of years later, I completely reversed the effects of everything with nutrition and supplements. My business grew stronger than ever and I was able to finally finish my project, X: The Human Condition.”
Nova shared with us how facing these adversities has shaped his perspective as a business owner.
Starting a Printing Business
I was working my way through school, going from job to job, but I couldn’t find anything that really fulfilled me. I got this idea to start a business. I was so miserable working for someone else that I had to make the move at some point. I said, “I just have to try this and risk not having any money for a little while!”
I was working for an event planning business. Part of the business was that they had a book, which listed event spaces. I had to sell advertising space in the book. I got an idea of sales and printing from that. For events, I also sometimes had to do printing of invitations, flyers and T-shirts – things like that. I was familiar with printing because I had also had some printing done for myself to promote my band. Initially, my business was geared at other musicians, to do their printing and help them get their business stuff together. Eventually, I noticed that musicians don’t have a lot of money, so it’s not a good market for me to be in. Also, I saw that the printing end of things was more popular – I had started getting more business clients rather than musicians.
I realized that the business wasn’t going to explode right away, that it was going to take some time. I struggled for a few years, but I eventually built the business up. About a year or two into the business, I got a call from The New York Times asking to interview me. I was very surprised, but also very happy, because that told me I was on the right track.
Managing Business Finances
I started the business with personal savings. It was really only a few hundred dollars. I did the guerilla-marketing thing. I rented office space by the hour to meet clients. I worked mainly from home. Eventually, I hooked up with a company that let me work through their office because I helped them sell their products. I tried to figure out a way to make things work on no money. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I really got through that time because of people helping me out. I’ve completely bootstrapped everything.
I work with as low overhead as possible to ensure I can make the most profit. As an entrepreneur, you have to be nimble. Naturally, you’re going to have hot and cold periods. I make sure that I can get through the cold periods by keeping things on an even keel.
I have terms with a lot of my vendors. I have a credit card in the name of the company. I pay with my credit card because I get 1.5% cash back if I pay within 30 days, so I always pay my bill within 30 days to get that discount, which they apply to the next bill.
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Business Challenges & Rewards
When it gets hot, it gets very hot, to the point where you can’t even have lunch sometimes. The phone rings off the hook. When it gets cold, I get a couple of calls the whole day. Just dealing with that has always been difficult. As time goes on, I become more and more used to it, to the point that I don’t worry about it.
The most rewarding thing is that I don’t have someone looking over my shoulder. I have no one telling me what to do every minute of the day. I can do what I want to do. The freedom of having the option to do whatever you want at any moment of the day is incredibly liberating.
Business Lessons Learned
The main thing to be aware of as an entrepreneur is that you need to treat your clients very gently and very respectfully. There were probably times when I didn’t take care of a client in the way that I should have because I took them for granted. Now, I don’t. I always make sure every client is 100% satisfied so I know our relationship is good and that it will continue to be good.
A lot of companies try to grow too fast. They get venture capital involved and suddenly they’re in over their heads. My philosophy has always been to be the tortoise in “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Go slowly and build things up over time. Be careful. Don’t risk too much. I took one big risk to start the business and then everything else has been very measured and very conservative.
Advice for New Entrepreneurs
Things could take off over night, but that happens very rarely. You need to have a little nest egg saved away because you will have a couple of years of downtimes when not much money is coming in. Realize that it’s a normal process and you can get past that. What I’ve learned from creating the website Rise Up Eight is that everyone goes through adversity in life. You can get past it. The great thing about it is that it makes you stronger so you can get past even greater adversity in the future.
The Future of Nova Custom Printing
We’re breaking company records for earnings. Things have never been better. We have a strong client base. I’m hoping that things will continue this way.
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