Reclaim Your Time and Unleash the Power of Virtual Assistant Services with Bryan Miles – EP 136

Interview with Bryan Miles

Mario Matavesco

Reclaim Your Time and Unleash the Power of Virtual Assistant Services with Bryan Miles

Here’s a powerful question to ask yourself. Do you own your business, or does your business own you?

Countless entrepreneurs start off dreaming big, but somehow end up trapped in a never-ending grind. Instead of building a successful company, they unintentionally create a job for themselves—sacrificing time in exchange for a paycheck.

Today’s guest, Bryan Miles, learned early on that you only own your business once it can operate without you. Alongside his wife Shannon, Bryan Co-Founded BELAY—a top-tier virtual services company with a remote workforce of over 2,000 people. What’s more impressive, is that the company has won major culture and business awards despite the fact that not a single one of their team members shares an office.

Through BELAY, Bryan and his wife have helped thousands of entrepreneurs in over 30 industries shed hours of “busy” and unproductive time, so that they could build a business and life on their terms.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

✅ The story of how Bryan and his wife left their 6-figure salaries, built BELAY into a company that’s generated over $100M in revenue, and landed a 9-figure exit.

✅ How to unlock the power of virtual assistants to reclaim your time, work smarter, and pursue activities that ignite your passion and fulfillment.

✅ How to build a remote workforce that can 10X your business without you at the helm.

Featured on This Episode: Bryan Miles

✅ What he does: Bryan Miles is a modern-day Renaissance man. He’s a successful entrepreneur, husband, father, backpacker, mountain climber, mentor, and writer. He co-founded BELAY, a premium virtual staffing company that serves businesses all over the United States. Bryan and his wife, Shannon, started the company during the height of the Great Recession with a passion for growing and learning.

Bootstrapping their business with no outside funding, the company has exploded to over two thousand team members all working from home. In June of 2021, Bryan and Shannon sold a majority interest to Tenex Capital Management, and while they both remain shareholders, Bryan also serves as a board member.

Bryan and Shannon also own a craft brewing and distilling company in North Atlanta (NoFo Brew Co), and they also invest in businesses through Miles AG. This enables their vision to have a flourishing marriage and connected relationship with their children.

💬 Words of wisdom: “So often in business, it seems like the most obvious thing to do is the exact opposite of what you should do.” – Bryan Miles

🔎 Where to find Bryan Miles: Instagram

Key Takeaways with Bryan Miles

  • Bryan’s risky leap from a 6-figure salary to a 9-figure exit.
  • Leveraging virtual assistants to reclaim hours of your day.
  • The game-changing power of hiring the right COO.
  • The potential unleashed by hiring and trusting great talent.
  • Why your ego may be hurting your net worth.
  • Family offices’ value in managing your wealth.
  • The day your business doesn’t need you is the day that you own a business.
  • Mindset shifts for avoiding the trap of buying a job.
  • What’s the point of being wealthy if you’re not happy, healthy, and fulfilled?

Free Strategy Session 

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Bryan Miles | Don’t Let Your Ego Dilute Your Net Worth

Bryan Miles Tweetables

“When you have a high ego, expect your net worth to go down. When you basically kill your ego, expect your net worth to go up. So, ego is dilutive to net worth.” - Bryan Miles Click To Tweet “If you take your time and you focus in a certain direction for a long period of time, but if you also remain humble, kill your ego, and you empower great leaders to run your business, you’re going to have success.” - Bryan Miles Click To Tweet


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Read the Full Transcript with Bryan Miles

Justin Donald: What’s up, Bryan? Glad to have you on the show.


Bryan Miles: Hey, Justin. Good to meet you.


Justin Donald: Yeah. This is so fun. We got a chance to catch up off air. And one of the fun things for me is I just got back from Nashville, hanging out with our dear friend Michael Hyatt, and he just raves about you. In fact, when I said, “Hey, Michael, if there’s anyone in your network I should meet, who is that person?” And you are literally the number one person he thought of.


Bryan Miles: Wow. That’s really kind.


Justin Donald: First person, yeah, so I’m like, wow. I mean, with your endorsement like this, I’ve got to meet Bryan. So, I’m glad to have you on the show.


Bryan Miles: Yeah, well, it’s very nice to meet you. Thank you for the opportunity.


Justin Donald: Very cool. So, do you have a really fun story? And I’d love to unpack it and talk about kind of where you were, where you are, where you’re going. I think it’s always fun having interesting conversations with entrepreneurs that have had a lot of different experiences in business, in life. And you find yourself kind of in the entrepreneurial space here for a while. I’d love to find out when you knew you were an entrepreneur and kind of what got you into this space.


Bryan Miles: Well, apparently, my mom told me this about a year ago that when I was six or seven, I mentioned something along the lines of wanting my own company because I didn’t want anybody else telling me what to do. I don’t remember saying that, but apparently, I said it as a kid at some point. So, there’s always been something in me that values independence or autonomy, and it’s a big driver of who I am more so than money.


Well, the money is very important and it provides opportunity. The freedom element as an entrepreneur is always something I was always attracted to. However, I did not take my first foray into business until my mid-30s with my wife when we left our jobs to start our company.


Justin Donald: And what did you do for work prior to transitioning into your own business?


Bryan Miles: Well, I started off, I worked for a dot bomb right out of college that managed to raise $210 million as a publicly traded company and catch every bit of that on fire. That was an interesting ride. And then I went and worked for a VAR for Microsoft and sold business solutions for them.


And then, for eight years, I transitioned and I actually was the vice president of consulting for a church construction company. So, I literally built churches all around the United States. We’d renovate churches, old Walmarts, and things like that and convert them into worship spaces around the country. So, I did that and up until the point that I left and my wife did as well at her job, and we gave notice on the same day, October 1st, 2010. And at the time, our kids were two and five.


If you’ll recall, during that time, it was the Great Recession. Unemployment was 9.6%. And we were like, “What are we doing?” Our salaries combined were probably around $250,000, $300,000 a year. Our family and friends thought we were nuts, but we were like, we just feel compelled, there’s something to this. We had read the 4-Hour Workweek and we thought, okay, there’s this opening here for a domestic solution for virtual assistants and virtual services. So, we entered the market.


So, literally, October 1st of 2010, we gave notice to our employers within an hour of each other. She had a 60-day. I had a 45-day out. And so, December 1st of 2010, actually, it was our first day on our own payroll.


Justin Donald: Wow. What a fun experience and what a cool way to time it. And by the way, you are all in when you are walking away from $250,000 to $300,000 a year. And it’s going to zero.


Bryan Miles: It was 100% terrifying.


Justin Donald: Wow.


Bryan Miles: I mean, I don’t know if you recall during that time, but after ‘08 when the banks melted and interest rates, and everybody was doing some sort of loan modification. And we were actually in a neighborhood here in the northern suburbs of Atlanta that was like 10% built out. And it looked like, I don’t know, some zombie apocalypse in our neighborhood. It was just a bizarre time.


So, the idea that we would go start something when the world kind of looked like that seemed really off to a lot of people. However, I had met a guy in May of that year that was a wildly successful business guy. And I’ve always kind of reached out and sought out mentors. And I asked him, I said, “Could I come see you?” He lived in Seattle, and I flew out to see him in Seattle and I sat down with him. I said, “This is what I’m thinking.” And this was about August of that year. Excuse me, it’s probably July. And I said, “I’m thinking about this.” This is something that we think would really work. We don’t see another player in the market that’s doing it really well yet. We think that there’s a window of time to enter the space.


And literally, within 15 minutes of sitting down at the marina in Seattle, he said, “You should leave your job and start this immediately.” So, I look at it this way, there’s friends and family, wonderful people that have jobs and were employed by things. And there’s this one guy that created jobs, he was an employer. And he’s saying, “Leave my job and do this.”


And I saw his success. And so, we did. We took the risk. My wife worked for McKesson, which is a Fortune 10 company, had been there for about 10 years as a senior project manager. And we had great benefits. We had it all. We had what most people would really wish they could have. And we turned it all away.


And, the nutty part was, I remember we cashed in our 401(k)s and we used that as our startup capital, which I don’t recommend to most people, but we did it. And I remember walking in our local bank and basically putting that money in the bank and starting the C-corp and going all in. And I remember my son was on the ground, and this loan officer, bank officer, part of the bank, and he was eating a sucker and just clueless, right? And I’m looking at him going, what have I done? What are we doing?


And we just every day stepped forward into that risk and were confident in who we were and what we thought we could do. And my wife and I are really good business partners as well. That’s something that we’re two uniquely different people, and that’s what makes it work because she’s completely suited and skilled in an area that I’m not and vice versa. I’m a rubber meets a sky kind of person and she’s a rubber meets the road type of person. I’m all vision and sales and let’s get this out there and going. And she’s like, “Okay, how do we execute? How do we do this well?” And in those early days, we just partnered really, really well before we could hire people to join our team.


Justin Donald: That’s incredible. And by the way, the 4-Hour Workweek was a revolutionary book for me as well. That came at a great time where I was starting my first business, and it opened my eyes to this whole idea of leveraging my time. And so, shortly after that, I hired my first virtual assistant. And so, it’s always funny to me when people are like, “What’s a virtual assistant?” Or “I’ve never hired that.” I’m like, “Are you kidding me? I’ve had a virtual assistant for over 20 years.” I mean, no joke, no exaggeration, for over 20 years.


Bryan Miles: I know it. It always blows my mind when I hear that because in sales, I used to be in sales, too, and most salespeople don’t work in the corporate headquarters. They’re out remote, so they’re working remote and they’re working with a team that’s remote. And for some reason, when you use the word virtual assistant, it’s like this is foreign subject to them.


Justin Donald: That’s right. Yeah. It’s so funny. And by the way, when I hired my team, it was a husband-wife team, so I actually had a two-for-one package with two different skill sets. So, technically, I’ve had two for over 20 years.


Bryan Miles: That’s great.


Justin Donald: And we’ve added on. I mean, today, in our business, my operations manager has two or three virtual assistants. My COO has two or three virtual assistants. My EA has a virtual assistant. I mean, the list goes on and on. So, what a powerful idea and to be so early, but at the same time, nerve-wracking because you’re cashing in your 401(k) money. Everyone’s telling you this is crazy.


And by the way, I totally get it. My family, my friends, everyone thought I was crazy. When I started my first company, when I started buying real estate, when I bought my first mobile home park, people thought I was nuts because, I mean, the reality is most businesses fail, like 96% of them, right? So, the odds are not good. But at the same time, I want to be taking advice from the people that have expertise, not the backseat driver.


Bryan Miles: That’s right.


Justin Donald: And I’ll love them just as much as I ever did. But I’m going to pick and choose what advice I’m going to internalize, right?


Bryan Miles: Yeah. And I say this often that not every mentor is qualified in every aspect of life. I’m not going to go ask somebody, hey, how did he have a great marriage if he’s had three trainwreck divorces, right? He might be wildly successful in business but maybe an awful husband. So, why would I ask about that there? So, you do have to qualify your mentors for sure.


Justin Donald: And so, what did growth look like in this company? You’re starting out, just the two of you. And by the way, I’ve got so many also funny stories because my wife and I started working together early on. And for us, it was great because when I bought my first mobile home park, it replaced her income.


So, she was a teacher. She didn’t have to work. So, we actually covered that amount of income. And then she came in and did all the books. So, she was kind of like the accounting, anything, everything, like the software, entering the data, all that. And so, for all these years, I was like, we worked so well together.


And then one day, she’s like, “Yeah, I had to leave because I didn’t feel like we worked well together.” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” The thought had never crossed my mind that we didn’t work well together. But I guess, in her mind, it was whenever we go out on date night, all we’re talking about is work. And she didn’t want that. And so, that was a good distinguishing factor of like, oh, no, we got to kind of compartmentalize here, right? This is a work conversation. This is a date night.


Bryan Miles: Yeah, we definitely had to put up some boundaries around how we talk about work when we talk about work, but they’re not that many. What we’ve said is, “Look, if we need to talk about work, I don’t care what time of day it is, you can wait me up and talk about it. No problem.” But if I come to you and I say, I’ve had enough today, I don’t want to talk about work anymore, we respect that. So, it’s kind of one of those things. It’s been pretty free.


And then we have some structure. We still have an owner’s meeting on Thursday mornings. It’s an hour long. We review schedules. We talk about things that are tactical in nature that need to get done across our companies or our teams, and then we leave strategic things to every other week. So, we have a strategic meeting that we meet, and generally, that’s over margaritas somewhere. But it’s something where we kind of park that stuff that’s a little bit more strategic out there. But we still have structure around how we work together. And that’s one. She’s an incredible business partner. But two, I also have to sleep in the same bed with her. So, it’s important that we keep that rhythm in place.


Justin Donald: And it is great that you guys are not both the same, let’s say, executive type, right? That you’re more of the CEO. She’s more of the COO. And I think that’s powerful. My wife and I are very much that way as well, which is great. And so, while we work together, I mean, truly, we had a great working relationship, but it also got to the point where she’s like, “Okay, we have the money to hire people. Let’s just hire people. I’m ready to move on.”


Bryan Miles: There’s seasons for that. There’s absolutely seasons for it too. We can fast forward in this conversation a little bit with Belay, but Belay is a virtual services company that’s done really well. You would ask about the growth of it. For the first three years, it was modest growth. And then we decided to kind of open up to multiple verticals, thanks in part to Mike Hyatt. He was an early-on advocate of us, and we were really focused on particular niches. And he opened this up to several other verticals and then we opened up our business, too.


And today, Bela is 30-plus verticals, deep and wide in those verticals where they deploy virtual assistants, bookkeepers, accounting clerks, social media strategists, payroll specialists. It’s a pretty wide-flung virtual services company today from where its humble beginnings began in 2010. We saw a lot of growth in the years 2014 to 2017.


And then, for whatever reason, branding just started hitting on all cylinders. And I just saw something the other day where an executive coach said that a brand in the United States takes about eight years to really build, to really find that flywheel. And that was the case for us with Belay. We got our messaging right.


I have a friend, Don Miller, who basically helped us with our messaging with StoryBrand and that really kind of locked us in and got us really clear in the market with who’s the hero. And with Belay specifically, it’s really simple concept. It’s like our clients are the hero. We’re the belayer. And if you know anything about rock climbing or mountain climbing, the belayer is a support role. You’re helping that person climb higher. They’re the ones in the lead position. And we’re all just serving them. And so, Belay’s got a lot of personal meaning because I’m a mountain climber, but it also has got a lot of just visual meaning to it that we are in a support role to our clients. So, once we kind of got really clear on who we were and how we could go to market, we started really, really growing.


And then, in 2019, my wife and I decided to take a 90-day sabbatical. At that time, we were co-CEOs of our company. We actually had a great COO running the business as a whole. And we said, “Hey, we’re going to take these 90 days in the summer of 2019 to basically evaluate if we could jump the chasm from being CEOs to the owners of the company and hand off to the company.” The COO becomes the CEO in 2020. So, we had a wonderful sabbatical. I learned a lot about how you take a sabbatical. I asked people about it, and I learned a ton, but we had a great sabbatical.


And Tricia, who was our COO at the time, she executed really well. We gave her six things that we had to see happen during that 90-day window. She crushed it. We give her a list of things you had to call us if something went bad, no phone calls, and we literally 100% disconnected from the business.


Justin Donald: Wow. One of the rare things, most people cannot do that. I mean, I just applaud you. That is incredible.


Bryan Miles: It’s the acid test for whether you can actually jump the chasm to become a business owner, because it’s a burning of the ships. It’s not an, oh, I’m going to come back as you hurt that business significantly and the leadership of it if you come back into it. And that was the counsel we got. So, we did that. She did great.


We took a quarter to basically put her into business, and in January of 2020, she became the CEO of Belay. Well, three months later, the world ends with the pandemic, which is hilarious because as a virtual services company, one thing that we have battled for over a decade was this goofy dogma of like, I don’t think work from home actually works. And then, the pandemic hits, and that sales objection completely goes away. It’s okay, just send me a contract. So, our business exploded in 2020 and took off and gained great heights through the pandemic. And we’ve got a lot of notoriety. We’re on CNBC and Yahoo! Finance and all these things. We’re talking about our growth when everybody else was in decline, which is super cool.


But at that time, though, our CEO, three months in, her hand in a pandemic, and we just said to her, look, our job as owners is to serve you. We’re here to serve you. We’re not coming back in. You’ve got this. You’ve been in this business for plenty of time. You know what to do. We’re here. We’re going to resource and equip you. We’ve got your back.


And she’s done a tremendous job in that capacity. But jumping the chasm from being CEO and kind of that vision caster and all the things you have to do to completely unwinding yourself from that in a responsible way to becoming the business owner is quite the task.


Justin Donald: Oh, I love it. And by the way, I just want you to know and we didn’t talk about this at all, but on my podcast, I love bringing on friends, I love bringing on people I do business with, I love bringing on people that I’ve used their products, I’ve used their services. And so, with Belay, I hired just an incredible person through you. I’ve recommended you to so many friends, and several of my friends use Belay as well. And one of them, Brad Johnson, who we talked about earlier, is the one that turned me on to Belay himself.


Bryan Miles: That’s awesome.


Justin Donald: And then Michael Hyatt talked about it. So, I’m thrilled with your service. So, I just want my audience to know that I’m a huge endorser of you and your brand, your company, because instead of hiring someone, first of all, going through the whole hiring process, then going through the whole training process, you just pay a little bit of a premium on pricing for what you could pay, but you get someone that has all the know how to do everything. So, it just cuts down time. It’s brilliant.


Bryan Miles: Yeah, we’re really proud of this business. I mean, obviously, we started it in our basement, but it’s one of these things where, as we got into it, we realized that corporate America was marginalizing certain people that we thought were an amazing workforce, which was stay-at-home moms, stay-at-home dads, and then kids of aging parents, incredibly skilled people that were completely just being ostracized in the market. And we’re like, we can make an army of these people. So, that’s exactly what we did at Belay, and still do to this day.


Justin Donald: Oh, that’s so cool. Now, the other point I wanted to make, you made a very strategic move, one that buys your time back. You bring in a CEO. This person runs the company. You and Shannon can step aside. You can be there as a support, some more like on the board, chairman, chairwoman of the board, but not the day-to-day grind. And that does a couple of things. Number one, it makes your life that much better, buys your time back, gives you quality of life to do what you want to do. Number two, you still can have involvement, so you have an outlet for creation and growth and support. And then number three, what a lot of people don’t think about is in one fell swoop right there, you just made your company exponentially more valuable, right?


Bryan Miles: That’s right, yeah.


Justin Donald: Because now you are a system company, not a personality company, you’re not an owner/founder who’s in the day-to-day. You founded it and have a team that runs it at a high level, and ideally, a higher level than what you were running at before.


Bryan Miles: For sure. And it’s funny, I just had this conversation yesterday with a friend that owns a business and I said, “So often in business, it seems like the most obvious thing to do is the exact opposite of what you should do. What seems counterintuitive seems to be the right thing to do long term in a lot of ways.” And that’s one of those things that if you think you need to be the hero for your business and solve every problem, your company will remain small. But if you decide to basically see it as a stewardship or you’re stewarding this business for a season of time, you’re empowering leaders, you’re resourcing and equipping them and getting out of their way, your business will grow crazy because it’s not dependent on you. And yeah, the day we jump the chasm from CEOs to co-chairs of our company is just pure business owners. The value in the business went way up because we were unnecessary, which was actually a really incredible feeling.


Justin Donald: Isn’t that cool?


Bryan Miles: Yeah.


Justin Donald: Yeah, you definitely, and it can be bittersweet because I see people that have a hard time handling this, you see it often when someone completely exits a company and their identity was so wrapped up in that company that now it’s like, who am I? But I think it’s nice when you can phase it out so for a number of years or whatever, you ran the business and then you kind of stepped aside a little bit more, and then a little more. You brought more people in. You brought someone truly in so that you could step out. And then eventually, you had a company that said, “Hey, we want to buy you.” So, talk us through that whole process.


Bryan Miles: Yeah. So, what happened was in 2020, when our business really took off in the pandemic because we had virtual services and no one could work in office and everybody need to work from home, we kind of got to a place where we thought, okay, well, if you look back to when we started in 2010 to 2020, there were literally 40 quarters of economic growth. And one of the things that our business can never really fully say is, well, we were a very viable business in an economic downturn. And so, that was one thing that we’re kind of waiting on to see, is like, when’s the market going to drop? How can we prove that this business is very viable in a downturn?


So, literally, we had a little drop and then an explosion in our business from a revenue standpoint. And that was the thing that proved that this was a very viable business model. So, we hired, we worked with our family office to go out and interview investment banking firms, and then we selected an investment banking firm, Raymond James, awesome folks. And our banker in particular just did a great job to navigate us through. One thing I can share was just a really cool outcome for us is we had 106 interested signed NDAs for buyers that were interested in our business, which was a giant number.


Justin Donald: Wow. That’s unbelievable.


Bryan Miles: And it boded really well for us. And so, why we thought, okay, should we hold on to this business? It was producing a lot of cash. It was flowing really, really well. It was also an asset that was so illiquid to our family. And we’re like, okay, look, I’m not sure we’re going to see multiples like this for a long time to come. I mean, the multiples were ridiculous. And so, by the time we got done with the competitive process and whittle it down from 106 down to really two, there was a really obvious buyer for us.


It was a private equity firm out of New York City that we really like. And they’re fantastic. Like I can say that almost two years past that point today, they are awesome. They did exactly what they said they would do. And they’ve done a really great job working with our team at Belay. We recapped the business. We walked away with a nine-figure exit for us. And I still remain on the board. And we kept the portion of the business just to show them that we’re still really very much interested in their success as much as our second turn on something like this whenever or if that could come in the future.


Justin Donald: Yeah, that’s powerful. Congratulations.


Bryan Miles: Thank you.


Justin Donald: So many thoughts, so many questions. So, I want to share just a few things that go through my mind. I guess the first thing about this is number one, and this is a real quick question, was this a multiple on EBITDA or a multiple on revenue?


Bryan Miles: EBITDA.


Justin Donald: Okay.


Bryan Miles: What I’ve discovered is that generally, if your gross margins are over 80%, it will likely trade on multiple revenues, and anything under that is going to go off of EBITDA. And in the staffing business, where you get most of your cost of goods sold is tied up in people that execute the work for you, you’re nowhere near 80%. So, we traded off of the multiple EBITDA. And at first, I was like, this is nuts. And I asked the investment banking firm, I’m like, “Are you seeing, like, is this really a thing?” He’s like, “Look, this is a good sign. We’ve got a long way to go.” And Lord knows I use him as my counselor. I use him as the person I could scream at. I mean, I’m an emotional entrepreneur, right? And he did a fantastic job. This is not his first goat rodeo. But yeah, I mean, it traded off of multiple EBITDA. And so, we own a brewery as well, and the margins are much higher there. That thing will trade off of revenue because its margins are over 80% in gross.


Justin Donald: Very good. Yeah, so I love the move that you made because, number one, you timed the market, you knew the multiples were much higher than what we’ve seen really in modern history. They’re likely to come down at some point in time, and clearly, they have. So, nice job, you timed it, but also, most wealthy people get wealthy via concentration, but they stay wealthy via diversification. And so, you’re in a pretty risky asset class, if you will. The odds of a business continuing on at that clip for a long period of time are actually not good. You see this opportunity, you exit, and by doing that, you take cash in, but you de-risk your whole portfolio. Now, you can actually properly allocate the way that your family office probably wished you could have back then.


Bryan Miles: That’s right.


Justin Donald: Now, they’re able to kind of get you more in a percentage here in public equities, a percentage in private equity, a percentage in real estate, a percentage in fixed income, so on and so forth. So, I think, overall, that’s good because you get to keep your wealth that way. You can grow it. It’s easier to grow it, it’s less risky.


And the other thing that I think is really strategic and I always encourage people, I was sharing this before, but we had 20 people in the Lifestyle Investor Mastermind last year that had an exit. And all of them had seven figures, eight figures, and nine figures. And what’s really cool, and we’ve got a couple of people working on some 10-figure exits and we got maybe one or two working on an 11-figure exit.


Bryan Miles: Nice.


Justin Donald: So, we’ll see what that ends up looking like. And so, just unbelievable entrepreneurs, and so, when I think about the opportunity to kind of tag along for the future, I’m not a big fan of an earnout, so I always try to advise away from it, but can you get a piece of the upside without any real commitment or very limited commitment? And it sounds like you did that. So, nice job.


Bryan Miles: Yeah, thank you. I learned this principle early on. A friend of mine, he actually taught me two principles I’ll share with you. But the first principle was this is that ego is dilutive to net worth, right? When you have a high ego, expect our net worth to go down. When you basically kill your ego, expect your net worth to go up. So, ego is dilutive to net worth.


Justin Donald: I love that.


Bryan Miles: So, I think about that all the time. And so, what I realize is that the truth is this business is way bigger than Bryan and Shannon Miles. This business is way bigger than my ideas. It just took off. And we were very fortunate to be the stewards of it for a season of time, for a decade. The truth is that when we got to the transaction at the end, we were unnecessary to– which funny enough, gave us the opportunity to really call most of the shots, which is, again, a counterintuitive idea that you give away what you think is important, but you have most of the shots when it matters the most.


And so, at the end, we negotiate a really awesome deal in terms of what that look like. Yes, we have upside. We still maintain a percentage of ownership in the company with the second largest shareholder still in the company. However, we did really well to basically say, look, our involvement is going to be limited in this way and how we best think we can help, key networks, key relationships, historical things that we know are important to know about the business. But it did it, opened up a lot of freedom for us to do other things, which is where we do. We spent most of our time in our holding company. Today, we invest in other companies.


Before we exited Belay back in 2018, we started a brewery here in North Atlanta. We’ve got into distilling now. And so, that was a business that we had started anyway, whether Belay was going to have the outcome it had or not. And fortunately, that’s been wonderful to kind of help offset that and when we’ve de-risked into other assets. But there’s other things that we’ve been involved in. In different capacities, we get a lot of people that come to us and say, “We want you to invest in this and we get a lot of deal flow.”


So, we look at a lot of things. We say no to most. We’ve got kind of a criteria we’ve set up for the lens for how we’ll invest and kind of our strategy for that and our team kind of executes on that in terms of due diligence. But man, it’s just a counterintuitive idea to think that if it’s up to me, it’s got to be, or that concept of I got to be the hero, I got to be the problem solver, if that’s how you’re going to approach your business, it’s going to remain small. It just will.


Justin Donald: Yeah. There’s no doubt. And I love the move of you took all your chips off the table. So, it’s all house money, but you still have a percentage. And if private equity is coming in, there are some core competencies, some strategies, some networks that they have that us, as business owners, do not have. The odds of them growing the business are actually pretty good. And so, it’s good to kind of ride along. And so, you had said earlier that the business has doubled since you sold it, which is incredible.


Bryan Miles: Yep. Probably, we’ll say that, Yeah, thrilled to see that. And that’s doing really, really well. And a lot of it has to do with their injection of mind capital, their injection of capital, how they guide executives to make good decisions and they bring in a lot of great resources for that, things that as a business owner starting in my basement, I didn’t have access to, right? So, I felt like also, and Shannon did too, that this was a good next iteration of the business that we had taken it really as far as we could, coupled with where the economic winds were at the time.


And oh, by the way, this thing that we had cashed out, our 401(k) with for $160,000, it’s time to sell, just to know a lot of logical reasons for why we made that decision. So, yeah, I recognize when I share a story like this, a lot of people have had businesses that haven’t gone well or they’ve gone bankrupt or the outcome wasn’t that. And so, I’m not here saying that this is possible for everybody. I’m just saying that if you take your time and you focus in a certain direction for a long period of time, but if you also remain humble and you kill your ego and you empower people and you find great leaders that can run your business, you’re going to have success. I don’t know what it numerically looks like, but you will have success.


Justin Donald: Yeah, I love that. And by the way, I think there are a lot of people in the world that believe once you have a big exit like this, a nine-figure exit, now, you have no more problems. They all go away. And now, you walk around, click in your heels, and it’s just life can do no wrong. And I’ve got to imagine that’s not the case and I’ve got to imagine that life continues on and you still have to have purpose. And it’s probably fun to celebrate it. People in our community always talk about it was really cool. You have to celebrate it because really soon, you’re going to kind of forget it because it’s not going to matter. You’re on to the next thing.


Bryan Miles: Yeah, yeah, it is. The way our family office likes to call it is take the one-year victory lap, but don’t get too crazy. What I found, frankly, as just never having navigated that before, my wife, she was sitting here, she’d say the exact same thing was that I was not prepared for the mountain of information to sort through and decide on with estate planning, tax planning, investment planning. The curve was very, very hockey-stick-ish in terms of our learning curve on this stuff. It was mind-blowing.


Insurance products and things like you have to do to kind of protect your wealth and set your kids up for success and knowing tax strategy, that’s where I really believe in the value of a family office. I could not have navigated it without a really great family office. And we, fortunately, found one that’s based in Birmingham, Alabama, but they’ve been a godsend to us.


Justin Donald: Who are you working with?


Bryan Miles: It’s Arlington Family Offices.


Justin Donald: Yeah. Arlington has an incredible reputation and they’re very service oriented and they’ve got a great following, so.


Bryan Miles: Yeah, I mean, they don’t pay me a dime to talk about them. But I’d say if you’re in a position that I’m in, go to and talk to somebody because those guys know what they’re doing. And here’s the big thing, like again, it kind of goes back to this belief that I don’t need to know it all. It’s this, is that I’m going to have to trust somebody with many aspects of how you manage wealth and the things you have to do to steward that really well. And I really like that it’s all under one roof. It’s that simple. And they’ve proven with their expertise that they can guide us in a lot of different things that are important to us. So, we’ve really just benefited with them. We’ve worked with them since 2018, so three years ahead of our transaction that occurred.


Justin Donald: It’s awesome.


Bryan Miles: One thing too, I want to go back and just share with you. There was this principle we talk about. I tell you about the value of my autonomy and my freedom and my independence and so forth. I’m going to share with you a story that happened in 2011 when I was mountain climbing with that same friend that told me that ego is dilutive to the net worth. We were climbing the Grand Teton out in Jackson, Wyoming, and we were 10,000 feet. We had stopped for the night because what you generally do is you acclimatize, you rest, you eat dinner, and then about midnight, you head up for the summit. So, you get to the summit by sunrise.


We were sitting in this tent and I kind of look at him like he’s these wildly successful business guys, like my older brother, if you will. And he starts asking me questions at the time about Belay. And now, mind you, this would have been six months, seven months into owning our company. And I kept on referring to Belay as this thing like where my wife and I, we own it and so forth. And he just stopped me midstream and he goes, “Bryan, you don’t own anything.” And I’m like, “You’re starting to piss me off, man. Yes, I do.” And he’s like, “No, you don’t. You don’t own it.” And I go, “Okay. So, what lesson are you trying to teach me here?” And he goes, “Look, the day that the business doesn’t need you day to day is the day you own the business. Until then, you run a business.”


And that was literally seven months into our company. And it was such a blessing. It pissed me off, I couldn’t sleep. We got up at midnight, we climbed to the top, we came back down. Shannon and the kids were there again. My kids were really young at the time, and I told her, I said, “This is the conversation I had.” And she goes, “He’s dead right.”


So, literally, and I’m not making this up, from that day forward, we started saying, “We’re going to own, not run. We’re going to own, not run.” And so, what would that informed, that mantra informed a lot of our business decisions over the years. Is this decision helping us own the company or run the company? Is this thing we’re going to do this higher? Is this make us own it or run it?


So, we’ve had owned, not run as a mantra for the longest time. And I tell you, it feeds a lot of things for my soul, the independence, the autonomy element, but it really has helped us grow and scale things because we’ve realized we don’t have to be the hero. We can defer to really great people, cast great vision, build a great meaningful culture, and then they can go execute.


Justin Donald: That is powerful. Wow. I love it. I absolutely love it. And the reality is, most entrepreneurs start a business or they buy a business because they want to own it.


Bryan Miles: That’s right.


Justin Donald: But the business owns them and it owns them most of their life, if not all of their life.


Bryan Miles: Yeah. Yeah, and they don’t have owner’s intent. You ask them like, “Well, what’s your intent with this business?” And they’re like, “I don’t know.” And it blows my mind because, like now, when we start a company or we’re part of the formation of something like that, we’re going and we’re talking to investment banking firms about, hey, what’s the model for when you sell this, right? When businesses get it right in this vertical or this industry, what they do right, and that’s our playbook. We are looking at it with intention.


And I mean, a lot of business owners and I have plenty of great conversations with folks, but they once were in love with this business, and now, they hate it and they’ve lost the passion for it. It’s because they don’t have an idea where they’re headed with it. And that’s my big shtick. I love it when business owners say, “This is where I’m going. I might zig or zag a little bit, but I’m going in this direction.” Or they’re like, “Look, I’m giving this to my kids. They’re getting older. They want to do this. This is a true legacy thing. I think they’re going to steward it to the second generation really well.” Great. That’s awesome. But for most, it’s like, “I don’t know. Can I sell my company?” And I’m like, “What are you doing? Get an idea with what you’re trying to do with this business that you’ve risked everything for.”


Justin Donald: Yeah, that’s powerful. I love that. And now, on the flip side, what’s your biggest lesson or lessons learned now that you are walking away with a number that most people dream about? When you have over $100 million exit, life changes. You’re going to invite more– I mean, one of the things Tony Robbins talks about is we’re all going to have problems. The goal is to have better quality problems. So, as a nine-figure guy, you have better quality problems. You still have problems. But what are some of these lessons that you’ve learned, whether it be just through yourself, through friends that have had similar exits, through the family office with putting proper insurances in place and structures in place. I’m curious.


Bryan Miles: Well, one of the biggest for me is to quickly find out who are real friends and family, post-transaction. That was pretty telling for us. And also, one thing that I’ve come to realize as well is having wealth is intentional and it takes a lot of time to steward it really, really well. And it’s not something where you can just go, whoa, let’s go get a yacht, right? It’s nothing like that. It’s doing the same things that got you success before and then replicating that again in principle.


And we’ve always believed that leadership is a stewardship. Our pastor taught us this that leadership is stewardship and that simply means that we’re a manager for a season of time that’s time-bound that we’re overseeing something and that we’re accountable. And so, I believe that, too, with where we are now is we’re just now accountable for more things.


The other thing too, is it frees us up to look at opportunity a little bit different. I do look at opportunity a little bit more in terms of how we say yes, although we say no quite a bit, how we say yes, it’s been a little bit more open to things that I’ve seen now getting older and having all this gray hair on my face. You kind of pick up some things. You’re like, “Oh, well, that’s replicable.”


And something else is that health is still very important, right? My fervor for exercise is if not the same or better than it was during the season we were CEOs or running the company of Belay. And then the other thing is that your family still is there, like our kids now are teenagers. We’re still in the high school years with them, right? I mean, there’s important things and conversations we need to have with them and be part of their life and celebrate them, that all of that still remains.


And for me, I want to be a well-rounded person. I want to be a person that really focuses on the businesses that we steward. I want to focus on my relationship with God. That’s very important to me. I want to take care of my body and I want to have good relationships as best I can. And I want to steward those things because that’s what makes a well-rounded person, not just a person with a bunch of money. Because you’ve seen it and I have too, Justin, like you look around and see a really successful business guy, but they’re fat, right? Or they have an awful marriage or the kids hate them. Well, what’s the point in having money if you have all these things that ruin your life?


Justin Donald: That’s right.


Bryan Miles: So, you got to be a well-rounded person. And that’s where I’ve spent my time is making sure that none of those things were out of balance. And by no means, I figure, like, I’ve cornered the market on anything around this. I stumble and I’m an idiot at times, too, but that’s really been my focus.


And then my wife, a similar journey to that in her own way, in her own unique way. One of the things she said was, “Hey, when we sell Belay, I’ve always had a corporate career. I’ve always been a working mom. We’ve had to go do shows and we’ve had to go to conferences and network and speak on stages and things like that. I don’t want to do that right now. I want to have a garden and I want to cook for my family and I want to really get into yoga,” and like, awesome. It’s afforded us those freedoms as well. I’m a big mentoring guy, so I love to mentor young men when I can and invest in their lives. And because I’ve been the recipient of really great mentors in my life too, I feel like I need to pay that forward.


And then, the other thing is, our freedom has afforded us to invest in businesses, something I’m really passionate about right now. We’re part of a team. We bought a soccer team in England, a professional soccer team. And I’m a giant soccer nut, so I’m a part owner in a soccer club over there in Walsall, England, near Birmingham. So, having a blast doing that and actively involved behind the scenes, working through the chairman to execute on the club, our brewery as a sponsor of the soccer team in a limited capacity.


We’re growing our brewery here in Atlanta called NoFo, it’s NoFo Brew Co. And we’re opening up two locations this summer in addition to our original one. So, we’re stepping on the gas in that business, and probably 15 other investments that we’re actively involved in. So, I mean, I can sit here and honestly say, “Look, I’m grateful for where I’ve been to this point.” But getting that chunk of money doesn’t do anything but create greater complexity and more things to steward.


Justin Donald: Yes.


Bryan Miles: And one of the frustrating things, Dave Ramsey said this one time, and it drove me nuts when he said it. I was a young leader when I heard this. It drove me nuts, though. He said, “Look, your gift for being successful in something is a greater problem to solve.” And I literally wanted to go jump out a window because I’m like, I’m already dealing with complexity, right? So, I don’t want another bigger, complex thing, but that’s I think the way the world works is that when you’re successful in something, a bigger problem is out there for you to solve. And so, that’s where we are, we’re solving bigger problems and I’m grateful for that.


Justin Donald: I love it. You’re not just sitting on a beach sipping Mai Tais. This is great.


Bryan Miles: I could. But I don’t want to, yeah.


Justin Donald: I like that you experience fulfillment in your life that you’re giving back, that you are doing things that really create passion and fill you up. I just think that’s so special. I love that you’re mentoring people. I love that you are consulting certain businesses that kind of fit the mold. And I know that there’s very few and it’s got to be the right fit. But I love that you’re doing that.


So, thank you for the time. You’ve just provided so much knowledge, so much wisdom. Where can our audience learn more about you? Where can they go find you and find out about some of the other projects you’re up to?


Bryan Miles: Well, there’s probably a couple of places. The first I would say, if you want to kind of look at the glimpse of who we are as a family, you can go out our Instagram account. That’s just bryanandshannon there on Instagram. And then we have our company website, which is AG just stands for Advisory Group, but if you go out to, there’s resources out there that are available for you to look at.


Justin Donald: Oh, I love it. That’s awesome. Well, this was such a fun session. I’ve heard so much about you now and it’s great to kind of connect these dots and hear your story and glean some wisdom from you myself. There’s a ton. I’m personally taken away, so thank you very much.


And I always like to end our podcast with a question that I ask our listeners and to those who are watching, and that’s this. What’s one step that you can take today to move towards financial freedom and move towards a life that you desire that is on your terms, it’s not by default like most people live, but it’s by design? Thanks. And we’ll catch you next week.


Bryan Miles: Thank you, Justin.

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