Jason Sisneros | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jason Sisneros


Feed A Billion is a nonprofit organization that exists to provide a billion meals by November 20, 2020, via the "Billion Meal Challenge," an effort to raise awareness, similar to the "Ice Bucket Challenge" for ALS research. The group provides ways to donate directly as well as engaging "social media warriors" who generate online enthusiasm for the project. A former drug dealer who became a top trainer for motivational leader Tony Robbins, Jason Sisneros is an entrepreneur whose holding company, based in Salt Lake City, has positions in a number of businesses.

The mistake:

My biggest lesson came from my first bankruptcy in business. My career got started from that first failure. My adoptive father went to prison when I was 17 for the attempted murder of me and my mom. He was a ‘bad hombre.’ I got into that lifestyle too, and did my first drug deal when I was 12.

I got out of the drug and gang lifestyle and went and got a legitimate job, hand-peeling logs for $5 or $6 an hour, then laying tack strip and pad for a carpet installer. Bought my first company, interior decorating — carpet, window coverings, cabinets, an interior design store — and just through sheer force of will was able to buy that company from my partner. Started making more money than I ever had.

I had a good understanding about how to build a great team, but I didn’t know the financial ins and outs of a company. I also hadn’t dealt with a lot of things from my childhood. Starting living high on the hog, drinking heavily, and crashed the business. I ended up homeless. A pastor at a homeless shelter gave me a Bible and Tony Robbins’ book, "Awaken the Giant Within" and that changed my mind. I stopped blaming other people for my situation. I made the connection that the stuff that was going on in my life was my choice.

I went to an event of Tony’s, met him, got a job, and told him, ‘I’m going to pay you back.’ He said, ‘I believe you.’ Started building back and really dug into the principles of business. While I worked for Tony, gave 3,000 presentations for him inside of businesses. I’d started a speaking company, but found out my calling was to fix broken businesses, because I’ve made every possible business mistake you can make.

I had a good understanding about how to build a great team, but I didn’t know the financial ins and outs of a company.

The lesson:

A lot of people look at finance like a bookkeeper does, debits and credits. It’s like a dashboard in an airplane. If you can’t read the dials, you can’t fly the plane. They are reflections that turned into assumptions that give you actions. It’s understanding that your finances are speaking a language, translating the activities into dollars and the dollars into better activities so that you keep more dollars. Your business is speaking a language. You don’t have to be a CFO, you have to understand that plain language of numbers into activities.

Follow Jason Sisneros on Twitter at @JasonSisneros.