John Grifonetti of Old Tappan, New Jersey, wants to retire, but his restless and creative business mind won’t let him. He was a CPA at the start of his career, running an online brokerage firm as its president and COO, then taking the reins of an interdealer broker that specialized in credit default swaps. It was from that job that he retired about 10 years ago, the second such retirement in his business life.
Since then, John Grifonetti has settled into “retired” life by investing in small businesses and personally helping them grow with his considerable acumen for understanding markets, innovating products, and bringing the best out of his staff.
John Grifonetti’s diverse investment portfolio includes a sports apparel company, a car dealership, and various real estate projects.
Beyond the undeniable success John Grifonetti has enjoyed in business and investing, he has most enjoyed watching his kids grow up and move on to college. It’s a life well lived, and he is still very happily living it!
Where did the idea for your career come from?
I have invested in different businesses because I really enjoy the challenges of improving upon something. I like building and rebuilding a business. I like being able to invest in people and help them become successful.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I usually start off my day very early. I’m a morning person. I’ll catch up on the news. I try to catch up on some different news channels. Because I try to listen to a little bit of everything to get different perspectives. In this crazy world, just focusing on one channel doesn’t give you a good perspective. I’ll also read some different finance websites, like The Wall Street Journal or Investor’s Business Daily.
Sometime after 9 o’clock, I’ll start calling up my different partners, or managers that are running the different companies I invested in, and talk through what happened the previous day or week, handle any issues that might have come up, and guide them as best as I can. I’ll do some site visits. I try to get to the different companies at least once a week. Sometimes I can’t get there, so sometimes maybe just twice a month. I also try to set up other opportunities. Yesterday, for example, I took a two-hour drive to look at a piece of property I’m interested in. I spent a couple of hours at the property. All those things go into my typical day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’ll give an example: I’m a partner in a sports apparel clothing company, where we make all our apparel here in the United States. The way the company started was when I went to a wrestling match that my son was involved in. I watched a kid using a football helmet chin cup for his wrestling head gear. I talked to his coach and asked why the kid was having to use a piece of football equipment and he said nobody was making headgear for wrestling. Of course, I saw an opportunity and thought about how to make it a reality. From there different coaches kept asking us to make wrestling apparel , since most of the apparel comes from overseas . That’s what inspired by apparel company. It’s all about thinking about what’s in front of me and thinking about how to make things better.
What’s one trend that excites you?
How the phone is becoming more and more powerful is certainly a trend I am excited about . . Now your entire life is controlled by your phone. In a way it excites me and in a way it scares me. In ten short years, you can do everything on your phone and who knows how the next generation of technology will advance our phones.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I don’t stand still. I’m always looking at a new opportunity. I’m not scared to explore different opportunities, even in industries that I know nothing about. I bought into a car dealership even though I know nothing about car sales. I spent nine months doing my research and my homework before I decided to make the investment and it’s worked out. I think the dealership has generated four times more income than when we bought it.
What advice would you give your younger self?
The advice I give my kids now is that they have an enormous opportunity in front of them. For whatever reason, without getting into politics, it’s become okay to basically tell people not to work hard. I keep telling my kids and their friends that they have an enormous opportunity to outwork everyone. I think that will give them a leg up going forward.
If you start working at a company, just take the challenges. Don’t say no to any opportunity in front of you. If a supervisor or boss asks if you’re interested in an opportunity, they want to give you, then take it on. I probably would have given myself that advice earlier in my career. I probably didn’t take advantage of that wisdom until four or five years into my career.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I have constantly said, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” People disagree with that. The best way to explain it is through an example with our sports apparel company. Some of our competitors (and former employees) have said they could easily copy our print on demand model. To date, I am not sure I have come across anyone who has said that actually having gone on to implement our model.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I probably spend a lot of time looking at the financial statements, the daily revenues and the daily expenses. I think you have to stay on top of that more than anything, especially if you’re not the person that manages the business.
The other thing that I do every day is read as much as I can to stay up with the business. For example, with the car dealership, I didn’t know anything about the car industry when I got into it. Even growing up, I didn’t care for cars. I wasn’t a “car guy.” I just wanted my car to get me from point A to B. But now I try to absorb as much as I can about the industry. I’m not a big reader. I don’t read a lot of books, per se, but I’ll read a lot of articles in news and industry publications.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I like to put a process in place. I’m a big process guy. If you’re just casually going about operating your business, it’s not going to go well. I constantly pound the table to put a process in place. I’m not saying you can’t change a process once you’ve got it going, but I do think the process will help you identify what’s not working in your business and that way you can adjust. Everywhere I’ve gone and every business I’ve built and invested in, I’m big on putting a process in place.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I invested in a business about ten years ago and gave my partner way too much power with very little oversight. I failed to put a better oversight process in place. I learned my lesson and from that point on I changed a lot of what I was doing on a daily basis. I thought the business was running well, but I didn’t realize he was taking advantage of the business.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I don’t watch TV that much, but one of the things I do enjoy watching on TV is golf. One phenomenal idea which I’ve heard from someone else is something and that I’m surprised nobody has done yet, is sports gambling with golf. It has taken off in this country. It’s booming. New Jersey put in sports betting and revenues are through the roof. New York is about to put a system in place. Nobody has put together a minute-by-minute information source of information on golf tournaments. Let’s say Tiger Woods is about to putt the ball into the hole. If he misses the putt, nobody has linked to a sports betting app that would say that just cost him a hundred thousand dollars. If there was an app that showed that information, I think that would put golf viewership through the roof. If someone could connect what each stroke or each putt of a golf tournament was worth to that player, I think the sporting world and the gambling world would come together and the viewership of and betting on golf would have a tremendous uptick.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently bought a pair thin-layered winter gloves because I walk my dogs in the morning. They’re really thin, but very warm and comfortable. They were just what I needed.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
At one of my companies in the car business, we use a CRM service called Momentum, which is probably the best piece of software I currently use.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recommend The Martian by Andy Weir. It’s a great example of human ingenuity. He’s stuck in Mars by himself and he has to learn how to survive. Every day he comes across a number of different problems, and he has to find a way to solve every problem he can in order to survive. It’s an amazing book about problem-solving. It’s a great business book. If somebody had asked me for a book to read coming out of college before going into business, that would be the one. Read it with the aspect of a problem-solver. The ingenuity of a human is incredible. Don’t accept problems, solve them.
What is your favorite quote?
“Just do it.” A friend of mine asked me about putting a business plan together and how she could launch her business during COVID, and she wanted to write this elaborate business plan. I said to her, you’ll experience death by analysis. You’ll overthink it. If you’re really passionate about it, just do it. You don’t need an elaborate business plan. Just put some bullet points together. Don’t paralyze yourself.
• The opportunity is enormous to outwork everyone.
• If you have a great idea, don’t paralyze yourself. Just do it.
• Become a problem-solver.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.