To the Brink and Back

Article by:
Dallas Oskey, EO DC
Dallas Oskey
EO DC

Dallas Oskey has been a member of EO DC for more than three years. He is the Founder of Telforward, which is an NEC and 3Com supplier of telecommunications and VoIP networking equipment, installation, service and support. Dallas and his wife Tracey, President of Telforward, can be reached at doskey@telforward.com and toskey@telforward.com, respectively.

“I FELT LIKE GIVING UP, RUNNING AWAY. I WONDERED, ‘WHY ME?’ I WONDERED WHAT WE HAD DONE TO DESERVE THIS. I WONDERED A LOT OF THINGS.”

I started my business from scratch in 2001. I didn’t know what I was doing, I just knew that I could do it better than the people I was working for. There I was, a telecommunications specialist, thinking that owning a business would be a drop in the hat, an easy task. Boy, if someone had just warned me! Like a lot of us, I started my company with the money in my pocket and lots and lots of credit cards. I was what I like to think of as “just a kid,” ready to take on the world of business.

My wife, Tracey, and I started our company together. She’s a school teacher by trade, so the world of telecommunications was all new to her. She started learning telephones and accounting and I started selling. I had my eye on the pie in the sky. We were going to be rich!

As time progressed, I decided that I wanted someone a little older, with more business experience, to come and help guide us. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that someone else knew more and could do it better. I asked a good friend, someone I thought of as a father figure, someone I looked up to and respected, to come aboard. Pretty quickly, I realized I had made a mistake. He was treating our company like he owned it, not like he worked for us. He made many bad financial decisions, but since I thought of him as the older, wiser one, I trusted him without question. I started wondering whether ulterior motives were at play. Times were tough, and I was realizing that he didn’t know any more about business than I did. 

LESSON NUMBER ONE: I HAD TO TRUST MYSELF. Just because someone is older than you, or has more experience than you, doesn’t mean that they can run your business for you.

Before I knew it, I was on the hunt again, looking for a partner, someone to help guide and nurture our company. I found someone who has been in the industry and worked for one of the largest telecommunications companies in the area. I thought I had found my savior! Things started out strong, and we landed a few big deals. But lean times followed. After a few hard months, our new savior ran for the hills. I understood his reasons for being unable to stick it out...he had to do what he had to do for his family and career. 

LESSON NUMBER TWO: SOME PEOPLE ARE CUT OUT FOR THIS LIFE, AND SOME JUST AREN’T. There’s a reason why some people own companies and some people work for them.

During this lean financial period, my wife became very sick. We didn’t know what was wrong. For months on end, our lives revolved around doctor visits, blood work, MRIs, X-rays. After three long months of unanswered questions, my wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She was in a lot of pain a lot of the time. It sounds like a cliché, but this health crisis forced us to put things into perspective. We were caught up in the everyday stuff of life, and we had forgotten what is truly important. 

LESSON NUMBER THREE: I HAD TO TAKE CARE OF MYSELF AND MAKE TIME FOR MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS. You might think that once your business is built, then you’ll be able to make time. Keep in mind that for some people, that is too late.

So here we were. My wife was sick. Our business was a mess. We were behind in our bills, considering bankruptcy, and of course the bank wanted nothing to do with us. Our employees were gone, including the two executives that I thought would lead us to glory. I felt like giving up, running away. I wondered, “Why me?” I wondered what we had done to deserve this. I wondered a lot of things.

I can’t gloss over all the hard work it took to finally see the light after getting to such a dark, dark place. Without the friends I have made in Forum and on my chapter board, I can promise you that I wouldn’t be here today to tell my story. My Forum members made me feel worthy of their support and encouragement, even when I felt worthless. My chapter members donated, with astounding generosity, the technical expertise I needed to get my business back on track. They introduced me and Tracey to people living, and living well, with multiple sclerosis. Most importantly, they shared their stories of hardship with us, assuring us that it is possible to make it...no matter how grim things look. Tracey and I were solely responsible for picking up the pieces, but we couldn’t have done it alone. 

LESSON NUMBER FOUR: I HAD TO GET OVER MY FEAR OF ASKING FOR HELP.

Today, my wife is pain-free and in remission. My business is finally profitable again, and I’m working hard to make sure things are different this time. I’m not going to fall into the trap of doing things the way I did them before, but expecting different results. How could I? The lessons I’ve learned along the way have changed me forever.

They say it takes a village to raise a child– well, sometimes it takes a village to lead a company, too. As we like to say in EO, an entrepreneur alone is an entrepreneur in trouble. No matter what the future brings, I know I won’t have to go it alone. 

LESSON NUMBER FIVE: NEVER GIVE UP


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