Mike Harris was a middle-class kid from Racine with no family history of entrepreneurship. He played it safe at UW-Parkside by studying accounting, then got a job as an auditor with Ernst & Young and became a Certified Public Accountant. However Mike’s appetite for risk grew when he got a job at Wind Point Partners, the venture capital fund led by the Johnson Wax family at the time.
At Wind Point, Mike took on the extra duty of part-time Chief Financial Officer for a built-from-scratch portfolio company called Alternative Resources. That job turned full-time, ARC grew like crazy and went public – and at 33-years-old Mike had caught the entrepreneurial bug.
After experiencing the exhilaration of taking a portfolio company all the way to an initial public offering as its Chief Financial Officer, Mike founded Jefferson Wells, a professional staffing company that provided internal audit, accounting, technology risk and tax services on-demand. Jefferson Wells grew organically to $132 million in sales and 1,600 employees.
In 2001, five years after Mike started it, Jefferson Wells was acquired by Manpower for $174 million.
Mike went on to start five more companies, including two he’s still involved with – Patina Solutions as CEO and the Novo Group as chairman. Patina has raised about $10 million over the last ten years. It has 65 employees and about $35 million of revenue.
Mike’s Tips For Other Entrepreneurs:
- Be super prepared when you go in to ask people for money: The business plan should be perfect without typos and well put together.
- Don’t make crazy projections: I see some plans that say in five years, the company will be at $500 million in sales. The wilder your projection is, the less realistic it is likely to be received. Find a balance between exciting and realistic.
- Always have a board of directors or advisors: They can be a pain in the butt sometimes, but you don’t need to do it alone.
- The pace of change in a successful startup and growth company is significant, you’ve got to be able to handle it.
- A lot of entrepreneurs can’t get past $10 million in sales because they micromanage everything, you gotta let the horse run wild.