Robert Nickell, Founder and CEO of Rocket Station, one of the leading virtual employee hiring systems today, is a big fan of anyone who shows business owners how to take tangible, applicable solutions and actually get those systems going in the business. He is solutions-oriented and results driven, and as such he admires when others put their money where their mouth is, rather than just talking the talk. If you aren’t that type of person, his goal is to help you get there.
Rocket Station has almost 800 employees and they work primarily — but not exclusively — with small- to mid-size agency owners and digital marketing agency professionals.
“It sounds like a big number these days, but as you build the machine it continues to grow and happen on its own,” said Nickell. “It’s surreal. I have to pinch myself every now and then! But it’s because of great client partners. We wouldn’t be here without them.
How Nickell Got Where He is Today
They say the best business to start is one that solves your own problem, and that’s what he did.
“I started Rocket Station to solve the same problems that I was facing that every other business owner and entrepreneur seems to have!” Nickell said.
Nickell started in real estate. He left his W2 job pretty quick, thinking he was going to go be the ‘King Kong Real Estate Magnate, Donald Trump of the 2000s.’ Of course, we can already infer that he was a bit misguided. He did have some success, but then…
“I hit the ceiling pretty hard working 80 to 90 hours a week,” said Nickell. “I looked up one day and realized that wasn’t why I started my own business. It wasn’t to be on the never-ending task list or the proverbial wheel, going to bed feeling guilty because I didn’t get enough done and then waking up with my hair on fire, trying to catch up, and repeating. That was my life though. I was grinding every single day.”
Mentors Turned Him Around
Nickell was lucky enough to have some great mentors by his side during that time that shepherded him into his new phase.
“A guy in my office said, ‘Listen man, I’m not going to listen to you bitch, whine, and complain. There are solutions to your problems,” Nickell laughed.
Structure, System, Process
But he had no systems in place for how to hire or train people that could help take some of the burden off his shoulders. It was just him, the one man show. He hired friends and family at first, but as expected that went horribly.
Next, he tried to hire some virtual team members from what is now UpWork, because his mentors told him that having virtual assistants was ‘the way to go’.
“The truth is though, I failed at that too!” Nickell said. “This was around 2011 or 2012, and I sucked at it. I just did. I dreaded driving to my office every single day because I knew that the moment I walked into my office door all I was going to get was people asking me how to do their jobs. In my mind, I was like, ‘I hired you so you could help, not so you could drain all my energy and take all my time!’”
So, after failing multiple times, Nickell realized that he was the problem — an astute analysis for someone so young. (Nickell is now in his mid-30’s.) He noticed a lack of structure, systems, and processes for how to actually go about hiring and training somebody to a level of competency that suited his business SOPs and softwares.
“I would feel some pain, I’d need some help. So I’d throw somebody at the problem… and then I would pay for my spontaneity,” Nickell explained. “I wouldn’t have any success and I’d be standing on this hill of ‘employees are terrible, they’re hard to manage, and finding good people is too hard. I might as well just do it myself.’ And then I’d start the process over again after failing to do it all myself too.”
Over the next couple of years, Nickel worked hard to figure out the answers to his problems. He was lucky to have some really intelligent folks around him that showed him the way. They built and documented all his systems and processes — which really meant starting with the end first and identifying what he was actually trying to accomplish day to day.
“That became our formulas for success and why we can now hire, train, and manage with a bunch of success with nearly 1,000 employees,” said Nickell. “We follow the same steps I did back then for our clients.