How to build a $5 Million side business while working a 9-5 and raising a family and continuing to grow all Three Together

Secret to Success – Jebo Lopez

Secret Entourage Success Story
Most people start their careers in typical corporate America fashion, only to realize that the American Dream isn’t quite the dream they expected. This realization is often what breeds entrepreneurs to be creative. While some try to attempt a few side hustle gigs, others like Jebo Lopez have created successful side business while working a full time day job. Although Jebo’s company Wheelz Up, a parts logistics and transportation service, has done nearly $3 million in sales last year, many would be surprised to hear that Jebo still remains loyal to his day job and doesn’t plan to leave yet. What is even more impressive is that Jebo does all this while raising a family.

Tell us a little bit about Wheelz Up…

I started Wheelz Up back in 2010 primarily because I wanted to have some income to buy some cars – I’m a huge car nut!
I live in the DC metro area and noticed all these dealerships that delivered car parts were in vans or pickup trucks. They look dilapidated and often not professional. Then it dawned on me, why don’t I change the business model a bit and make it look and feel like the UPS/FedEx of parts deliveries.
I made it more professional by slightly changing the tools (vans) used and focusing on training good drivers. I’ve bootstrapped the business on my own and bought cargo vans with the help of my dad, including our first one for $7,000 that’s still in operation today and kind of an keepsake momento of when we started small.

I knocked on doors pretty much and started cold calling the dealerships here and I said, “I’ll match the price but my competitive advantage is to provide you cargo vans that fit all the parts and deliver your parts with trained drivers that wear uniforms.”
We started with that and flash forward to now, we’ve got about 60 cargo vans, about 18 happy clients. Essentially, I started a niche business that fulfilled the need in the area. Last year, we’ve hit close to $3 million in revenue and it’s slowly growing. What we’re doing now is really investing internally again on systems and tools like GPS tracking, telematics, training, nicer uniforms, and more people who can propel the business forward in other areas besides auto parts deliveries.

Now we’re beginning to get requests from around the US to franchise, however, we’re not there yet. We’re still a small business. Still frugal in many ways. We are fortunate enough to hit a niche industry and fulfilled three things – auto parts delivery, transportation services, and DX, (or shuttling dealer vehicles). We provide actual bodies to dealerships that need porters or parts advisers. It’s almost like in the IT consulting world where you have a service contract and then they provide IT experts to that particular service contract. We do it for the automotive industry in a targeted area. Someday, I would like to expand in other cities because the business model works!
DX means direct delivery or driving dealer vehicles from lot-to-lot. So we have all these cars around the US that need to be delivered to dealerships or need to be upfitted for certain shelvings, etc. Someone has to move those and they can’t be put in freight trucks or tow trucks because there’s a plethora of them in the tens of thousands. So my resources move them. I’ve got about 18 of who are currently working at the port of Baltimore and all we do is move cars, about 700 cars a week for Ford right now.We hope to also expand in this niche industry.

How are you able to work a full time job yet run a multi-million dollar company?

Obviously, I live in two worlds right now and I’m sure some of the folks who are reading this can resonate to it because you might have a day job but then you might think of something that is an opportunity, and you want to start that, right?
First of all, it’s all about time management. I’ve got two kids as well so I need to balance everything. Work/Life balance is very important and I believe that job security doesn’t exist anymore. You can pretty much be fired right away even if you’ve been working for a company for 10 years. The first thing is time management. Integrity is very important to me. The company that I work for is 9-5 so I’m at my desk 9-5. I don’t do any outside business during that particular timeframe. I honestly provide that to the company itself just to be fair and right after 5:00 or 4:30, I shift towards my business.

I’m doing administrative work and I’m following up clients. The key here is I knew that I couldn’t do it myself so the first thing I had to do was hire three managers that I trusted very well, that knew my philosophies, my policies, and my procedures that I had set in place, and they executed those for me. They handle all the day-to-day operations. Fortunate for me, my right hand is my brother-in-law – he knows what my expectations are and he acts on them on a daily basis allowing me to work at my day job almost stress-free.
If there is a big problem, they will raise it with me during those hours but for the most part, when we started, I knew I needed a partner or I needed someone that I can trust. Time management is the first thing and having a really understanding and patient wife helps too!
You really have to improvise sometimes where you need to set those policies and procedures in place before you do anything else. I learned through progressive elaboration – meaning, I wasn’t a logistics expert. I loved cars, but I wasn’t a UPS guy or a FedEx guy. I didn’t know anything about tracking or fleet management and all that stuff. As you grow along, you’ll learn all these things but you need to make sure you keep learning. You need to work smarter, not harder and set those policies/procedures in place and hopefully, everything should be okay.

You have a great job at a great company so why bother still remain in corporate America?

There was one point where I was going to quit my day job and then go full blown with my business. But I thought to myself, “Let’s think of the day job as another business opportunity. Think of it that way. It’s earning good money as well so if I have people managing the day-to-day operations of the other business, it’s not failing, and it’s moving forward, why not keep both because both are sustainable.” That’s the first one.

The second one is that I promised myself before I jump into my own entrepreneurial business full time; I want to make sure that I have a career in something. What I’m doing right now is very community based. I help employ people with significant disabilities and they work on several products and services for the US government.
For me personally, that’s really an important aspect to give back to the community and my passion for helping people with significant disabilities. I want to continue doing that and want to give myself 10 years. So I’ve got three more years to go.
Right now, I’ve got the best of both worlds. I can sustain my 9-5 job. I can sustain my current business that’s growing at a 12% rate every year, but still the most important thing is hiring people properly for the other business and making sure your policies and procedures are set in place.

Don’t you feel that you could take your business to the next level if you had a physical presence?

You’re absolutely right. Right now, it’s in its fourth year and I’m feeling this. When my resources are out there and my clients are out there, they know that I’m involved, but they don’t see my face or they don’t see me personally that often.
In a business, it’s all about networking. So when you network, you’re the face of the company but what I did was make Wheelz Up a brand that is not associated to me. I didn’t want it to be personable so that when you think of Wheelz Up, you think of me. I wanted to brand it as a niche service business.
I wanted to brand it with fun managers that understand my philosophy, so really, my right hand man, my brother in law is the face of the business. They consult me on things like whether or not I want to do a different type of segment, pursue a new client, or do business development. Although, I do commit to at least physically seeing a client once a week or calling a client over the phone to continue that networking.

You can still be absent but just as long as your directors and managers understand what the road map is for your business, things should fall into place. I still have afternoon meetings right after work and I still have conference calls. I look at action registers every single day. These are some tools that we progress every single day but as long as they understand your scope of the business, everything is working so far.
Fortunately for me when I started Wheelz Up, I got that first cargo van for $7,000 through my father. The other cargo vans that came through were because of the result of good credit. I was borrowing from the banks at that time to purchase the vans. Cashflow is KING!

The other fortunate success factor for me was I made my brother-in-law my second in command. He knew that this is the start of the business. He knew that it wasn’t going to pay well in the beginning but he also knew what roadmap that I envisioned for this to become a reality. So he trusted me and basically, he represented who I was when I couldn’t be available when I was busy with my day job. Today he is now the vice president of the company.
With the profit we had from the first clients and the first year, we started just giving it back to hiring good people, getting good drivers, and training our staff. I didn’t pay myself until a year and a half. It’s almost like having a partner that can realize your roadmap and then continue that going forward. If I didn’t have my brother-in-law there and I had someone else out in the street, that would not work because that person wouldn’t know my roadmap, my business, and there’s no family connection there. Sometimes its hard to involve a family member. I got lucky.

Every time we do business development I obviously want to be involved in it. Sometimes I will take an annual leave or take days off my day job and then work on business developments, sign contracts, and then get it going. But ultimately my managers and my brother in law will propel that forward.

How did you get your first few clients?

As you know, most dealers in America right now have been family owned and operated for a long time.
With our first dealer, I was pretty lucky because my uncle is a part owner of the Browns Automotive Group. He owns all the Mazda stores here in the DC Metro Area.
I started with him and once the dealerships saw the efficiency, the professionalism, the branded vehicles, uniformed drivers, and our logistics control it was just word of mouth and networking.
Another dealer would see that and say, “If it’s almost the same price and I get a cargo van with a professional driver, I want that service” because as a dealership, you want to exude that professionalism, right? You want that professional look.

The first two years was just all word of mouth. I did not have to do any marketing; it was really just word of mouth. We continue that process because in a way, it gives us room to grow. Every two months, we almost accept a client for the price that they want to pay us and it’s been growing ever since like that – just word of mouth and networking. Those are two most important things that are keeping our business alive.
In the second year after gaining more clients, we started to increase the price of our service and that’s because we realized that even though it’s profitable, for it to be sustainable, we have to charge a fuel. Fortunately, there has been only one service provider in the DC Metro area who has been doing this since 1975. It’s safe to say, right now about 80% of the clients that we have came from their clients and we are beginning to eat their market share.

How did Wheelz Up transition into offering more services?

You really can’t work the amount of auto parts in a car or pickup truck anymore. You need something enclosed and you need something big, and that’s where our cargo vans came into play. Dealers loved that. They loved that professional look and the amount of cargo space we can pile up parts in which is more efficient than cars or pick up trucks.
From first focusing on the auto parts delivery business, it has diversified now because dealers said, “If Wheelz Up can do this pretty good, how about getting resources from them and filling in positions at the dealerships like porters or detailing cars for us, or even picking up cars from the port or the manufacturers for us, or moving cars in there?” That’s where we are. We are beginning to diversify in a niche industry but most particularly just for the dealers.

How do you scale a business like Wheelz Up which is predominately local?

My dilemma right now is if I should do the franchising type of opportunity which will require me to leave my 9-5 job because that requires my full attention. It requires another team and another set of resources to help me propel it forward.
My scope before was just this area. Now, we are heading to Delaware, Baltimore, and the hub is becoming bigger and bigger and the interest is getting out there. I will not be able to keep my 9-5 job then. I know it. Right now I can because again it’s still the same business model where I’ve got people taking care of it. My phone is right here. You don’t hear it ringing. Normally as a business owner, this phone would ring constantly but it’s being handled by people that I can trust. As long as those people are paid well and the expectations are set in place, it’s good. I won’t be able to scale if I still have my 9-5 job. I would definitely have to leave my 9-5 job to do it.

We are healthy. Our cash flow is good. I’ve come to a point where it’s good enough right now and I have surpassed my comfort zone. I’ve surpassed that level that I wanted to get to. It would require more money to franchise.
The franchising model is a little bit trickier and almost like launching another business within a business. It requires a lot of capital from what I have seen and researched. I have added it to my future roadmap where I would love to do that at some point.
But again, the reason why I’m at my 9-5 job is because I challenged myself that I would need a certain set number of years to have a career so at least I can look back and say, before starting Wheelz Up, I did have a career for 10 years. It’s more of a personal thing right now and also for capital until I get to that level. You never know, maybe next year will be a whole different approach.

What are your best tips for entrepreneurs balancing a side business and day job?

When people see me and then they see some of the positive things in my life, they think it’s really easy to do. It’s not easy to do.
My wife and I have come to a point where in order for our personal and business life to be successful and not to get stressed or anxious, we have set things right now.
We know that I have my 9-5 job which I dedicate myself to and right after that, I have playtime with the kids. The kids are still small but I make sure that I’m there as much as I can. After when they go to bed, I am up until about midnight catching up on actions and I’m always thinking.
I’m used to it now on a daily basis and that’s when I read reports and that’s when I review the actions completed or pending from some of my managers and say, either I have to address it tomorrow or someone has to address it.

It’s very difficult. It still is difficult because in a way, I’m almost spreading myself too thin but it has become such a norm for me that it has become a regular normal schedule. I know I can’t keep this up much longer and again that’s the dilemma when do I decide to stop my 9-5 and jump into my regular business.
Personally, I’m not there yet. It could be next year, it could be in the next three years, but that’s the way we handle it. There is managing everyone’s expectations from the business, to my work, to my wife, and to my friends. They know that time is very compartmentalized and segmented for me.

What are some final tips you can leave entrepreneurs reading this?

There are two quotes that I always live by. One is “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” When you are prepared to do something and you’ve been putting those pieces in place, and then you are given an opportunity to do so, you are ready to move and make it happen.
The other part is getting to that level of success. For me, success is a gradual realization of a worthy cause It’s step-by-step. Continue being persistent and patient. Sometimes, your entrepreneurial journey into a business doesn’t have to be something you are passionate about. It could be a product or service that you become an expert in! Become an expert and someone will want your expertise.

There is another quote that I love from one of my favorite reads: The Last Lecture: “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
You have a lot of entrepreneurs who don’t try enough to get over those brick walls and they don’t make it. For me, being persistent, having a road map, getting all those systems and people in place, that has continued the success of Wheelz Up. Lastly, always remain humble. Be happy with your blessings and always remember to never ever lose that child like wonder – do it always with a smile and have fun at what you do!

We want to thank Jebo for sharing his story with us. You can connect with him at the following places:

“When you are prepared to do something and you’ve been putting those pieces in place, and then you are given an opportunity to do so, you are ready to move and make it happen… You need to make sure you keep learning. You need to work smarter, not harder and set those policies/procedures in place and hopefully, everything should be okay.”

– Jebo Lopez