From Fear to $5m: The SaaS CEO Who Turned Emotions into Revenue

If you met Calvin Correli today, you’d unequivocally describe him as successful. He’s the founder and CEO of Simplero, which he’s bootstrapped to over $5m in revenue, an author, and serial entrepreneur.

But it wasn’t always that way for Calvin – in 2008, he nearly went bankrupt and was living paycheck to paycheck. At SaaSOpen earlier this year, he spoke about how unlocking his emotions became a superpower he used to build over four companies to make millions of dollars in revenue.

Below is a lightly edited transcript of his presentation.

An unexpected $165k Tax Bill

Just very recently, actually this new year my accountant called me, and he said, look, we have to pay this tax bill of a hundred thousand dollars. I was like, dude, I would’ve loved it if you had told me that like a month ago, maybe like two months ago.

Because at that point, it was the end of the year. I had intentionally run my cash flow very tightly, made some big investments. The people who are doing my payroll and accounting and that kind of stuff, they’re over in the Philippines. I couldn’t reach them. 

Early January, the Philippines are coming back online. I’m like, okay, extend this cash flow. I want to see how bad the situation is. Take it out three months, four months.

They come back to me, and they’re like, great, by late March, we’re going to be negative $125,000. How about that? That’s more than just me not taking my salary for a couple of months and fixing it. I don’t pay myself that much.

Then two days later they come back, and they’re like, actually, it’s not 125, it’s looking more like $165k right now. This is going the wrong way really fast. I’m out of control here. 

I had five mornings in a row where I woke up at 4:30 just in a panic. I know enough now not to try to solve the problem there. In the olden days, I would crawl up into my head and be like, we’re going to try to solve a problem right there. 4:30 in bed is not the time to solve this. It’s the time to feel.

For me, what happened was five mornings in a row where I woke up like this at 4:30, and I was like, “All right, I’m just going to breathe into it and feel as best as I can.” Then finally on the fifth morning, I was able to feel it and then go underneath the feeling. 

The thing that I’ve learned is that feelings buried alive, never die. What does that mean? It means those feelings that we felt at any point in our lives growing up or whatever, that we weren’t able to feel at the moment.

Underneath that layer of panic and fear, I discovered this really intense grief and rage. I was like, “Oh God, this is amazing. Now it’s moving, I feel it shifting.” I kept digging. I was like, “Fuck, this is great.” Keep digging. Under that, I found this victim persona.

The Cost of Being in Victim Mode

I bet you have given advice to someone who says “Oh, I can’t solve this.” You’ll offer advice, and their answer will be the same no matter how many solutions you suggest; “No, I can’t. It’s hard.” 

They won’t hear you because they’re stuck in their victim mindset. I’m sure you haven’t done that, but I’m sure you know someone who has. When you’re stuck in victim mode, you’re committed to having unsolvable problems. Screw anybody trying to solve that problem for you, because you’re hooked into this idea that this problem’s intractable. 

It’s really hard, and I realized that’s what I’m doing.

I’ve been stuck in growth, in trying to acquire customers, for a long time. What I realized that morning was, I got really good at computers because I’m terrified of human beings. I got really good at programming because computers wouldn’t talk back. 

If it didn’t do what I wanted it to do, I could debug it and figure out why and fix it. Humans were scary. Marketing and customer acquisition is all about people and getting them to do what you want them to do.

I realized here I was playing victim when it comes to that. I was like, “This is amazing. I now see what I’m doing, and I can choose to change it.”

Cash flow challenges: opening up and finding a solution

I was about to do a mastermind group in Vegas with some other founders. They’re doing this round table sharing thing where it was your biggest challenge. 

I’ll be honest, at that moment I was like, “I’m too embarrassed to talk about not being able to manage my cash flow.” So I’m just going to come up with some other challenge and share that.

But then I reconsidered. I said, “Okay, listen up, guys. I have this cash flow situation. I don’t know what to do.” And then they’re like, “This happens to me all the time. You can go to this site and borrow some money on this other site and have you tried credit stacking, and maybe you can get a line of credit and all these things.”

That’s what happens when you actually feel your feelings, and you share it with others. It takes that shame out of it. They not only gave me insights on how I could borrow money, but also how I could make a bunch of cash.

In the end, we actually ended up never going negative. We’re actually positive by pretty much as much as we were going to be negative.

Landing A $400k Investment

I remember my friend Nathan was doing something about debt financing. I reached out to him and I was like, “Is that right?”  I had heard about it, but I had all this pride about not owing anybody any money.

He walked me through how to plug in my stuff. I had done something similar with and Stripe Capital and some of the others, and they were willing to lend me maybe $200k. On Founderpath, it came back like $2.2 million. I was like, that’s amazing. 

I had no idea this was available to me, and it all became because of this thing that seemed really scary and difficult in the first place.

I took money, just $400K for now, but then because of this, I realized, holy crap, I can have growth capital available to me that I can then invest in team and marketing and other things. 

I was in this kind of scarcity mindset of operating everything from just the free cash flow of the business.

Scaling beyond $20m in lifetime revenue

The thing that all the great leaders talk about is the importance of intuition. How does intuition work, though? How does your intuition speak to you? It speaks through your feelings. 

If you have all these old feelings that you’ve never felt, you’re always running around feeling old feelings. You’re not actually in touch with your feelings at the moment. The more that you do this, the more you get access to your intuition as well. 

It makes you more attractive to other people, to the right people, because you’re just more clear. People can see you and feel you more. 

You are the product, you become radically authentic, you attract the right people and you find lasting meaning. This is the process to do that. I have a book coming out titled, “You Are the Product, Make People Buy From You Because of Who You Are.”

I bootstrapped to $4 million ARR, we’re $5 million in revenue, we’ve done $20 million of lifetime revenue, but I’ve never built a marketing team or customer acquisition funnel.

A, because I was a victim, but B, because I was doing this other stuff right. It’s enabled me to build an incredible business without having to worry about CAC payback periods, because we don’t have any CAC.

But now, I get to play at the next level because I did this work and uncovered where I was being a victim.

Working with Founderpath, the money literally cleared yesterday. It’s fun, we have new hires starting on Monday. I’m really enjoying that piece.

Because of that scarcity mindset that I was in, I kept hiring or trying to hire, and we’ve been struggling to hire good people because I was so scarcity minded about it. 

Once I was like, I actually can have money available to me if I do this, I hired the best recruiter on the market to find me incredible talent. Literally the day after, he was like, what about this guy? He’s been sending me a stream of just incredible talent that really wanna work with me.

They all tell me, I have three other offers, but I’m going to hold off on all of them till I hear back from you because you’re my number one, because I just really want to work with you.

I’m showing myself out there with my personal brand, and it’s really attractive to the right candidate for me. That is the power of that.

The point here is that the opportunity is if you keep doing this, not only will it be the source of your biggest breakthroughs, but also, we all know, all the leadership books that I’ve ever written, they all talk about that the core to being a great leader is to really know yourself and being authentic, being real with people.

The more that you do this, the more that you dig into those feelings, feel them, let them go. Honestly, that’s all you need to do.

You don’t need to understand the story behind the feelings or the meaning or any of that stuff. You just need to freaking feel them and breathe and let them go, let them leave your body. 

Doing this is, it’s kind of peeling off the layers of the onion for you to become who you really are and who you’re really here to be. And that’s how you can unlock the next level of success, and become the person you are meant to be.

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