Kevin Burkart is the Founder and CEO of StepStoneGroup. StepStoneGroup is a comprehensive creative agency, providing integrated marketing, design, and promotional services that employs 7 people in Minneapolis, MN.
What is your background in regards to your education and experience?
I have a Bachelor Science Degree in Accounting from St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. After college I worked for KPMG for four years as a tax accountant and during that time I earned my CPA. I founded my creative agency 17 years ago. When I started the business I worked for another company for two years full time, and then another two years part time.
Which knowledge or experience has facilitated your career?
I wouldn’t be here without my accounting experience for two reasons. First, it has been very useful in my business experience because I think accounting is the engine of a business. Second, it pushed me to change jobs because I hated accounting.
If you could go back, what would you do better and what wouldn’t you do at all?
What I would do better at is taking more risk. I’m very risk adverse and lived below my means, always keeping my cash in the bank. There have been opportunities with clients – that if I would have been bigger and would have invested more in fulfillment, system, warehouse, more employees – the growth would have been there for me. But I was too afraid to do that. I’m very productive with my time and everything I did so I don’t have any regrets.
What were your biggest difficulties?
Managing my employees effectively. My first 3-4 years of having employees I was very bad, very worried because I was operating from the prospect of fear. Everyday I feared where my next dollar was going to come from, how I was going to make payroll and I viewed my employee as a liability instead of an asset.
Who was or is your mentor?
Many times you have mentors but you don’t knowit until later when you realize they gave you some building blocks or skills to grown on. It happened to me. If I look back at High School or College, I had some people I looked out to. However, I’m a strong leader and I’m a big believer in doing things other say you can’t do. That’s why I’m not good with mentors and authority figures because I don’t follow.
Did you have a vision when you started? How is your company now compared to that vision?
No and I still don’t. I’m not good with visions, missions, or plans and I don’t do it at all. I carry a little piece of paper in my pocket where I write my personal and business goals.
What motivates you at work?
I’m at work to make money. If I wasn’t making money than I wouldn’t be working, I would be sitting on a beach with a cocktail. I think that if you are in business for growth and you are just breaking even, you are not in business but in a no-profit. I’m more focused on P&L than the Balance Sheets, so I prefer to have lots of cash in the bank instead of having lots of Assets and Liability for possible long-term wealth.
What gives you satisfaction at work?
As I evolve as an entrepreneur what gives me satisfaction is seeing my employees grow, the commitment they put in the company. Having those people working 40+ hours/week to make the company successful is amazing.
What would you suggest to the people who want to start a company?
Most people want to be an entrepreneur but they lack two things; One is putting one foot in front of the other, and what I mean is that they are not going to follow the process in order to start a company. Two, they don’t have a long-term horizon, and what I mean is they think they will start a company and the success will come overnight. The truth is that you are going to make a living in five years, so are you willing to do that? If you lack these two things I would say keep working for the man and stop talking about being an entrepreneur. Otherwise be the man!
What do you think is the best habit which allows you to get the best results in your life/work?
I am very organized. I’m the most organized person that I know. Some people are able to work with a messy desk and make things work but I think they are missing the details. To me the difference is in the details, the devil is in the details and profit is in the details. That’s what clients hire you for, to keep track of the details. Also, a lot of people think that they are busy but they are not. They are just disorganized. A quote I like says: “If you want something to be done, give it to the busy person”.
What is success for you?
In a personal prospective, success is some kind of inner peace or tranquility. Surround yourself with a loved one. Because entrepreneurs are selfish, immature and don’t slow down, I don’t think they can reach a point where they feel they are successful. I don’t and I probably won’t.
What would you suggest to your child if they had just graduated?
Get a technical degree, not a general one. You can get a good paying job out of college and that’s important because you want to start creating some kind of wealth in your life. Also, work for the man for a while and make him a big man. Choose a big company because the small ones are the worst one to work for. Find some mentors in that company. Then, if you desire to become an entrepreneur, try an idea or try something yourself. Go head and do it.
P.S. On June 19, 2013 Kevin Burkart completed 151 record-breaking 1 armed skydives in one day and raised over $120,000 to benefit Parkinson’s Disease. It was a tremendous day for Parkinson’s Disease and a great day for adaptive athletes everywhere.