How I Did It: A Discussion about Building & Selling a Business with Darrell Mays

We’ve talked a lot about selling your business. We’ve talked about getting your financials ready. We’ve talked about legal contracts, estate planning, and timing, too. But this week we’re speaking with Darrell Mays, a seasoned entrepreneur and executive who’s been through the process himself. Mays is presently a Senior Vice President MasTec, Inc., and President of MasTec’s wireless division.  MasTec is a $4.4 Billion dollar corporation providing end-to-end solutions designing, building, installing, maintaining and upgrading infrastructure in the telecom, energy, and communication industries.    

Mays’ telecommunications career has included twelve years in leadership positions with AT&T, serving in network operations, engineering, marketing and sales organizations, and in various positions with Ericsson, Inc., Motorola, Palmsource, and a consortium account of British Telecom and AT&T.

But today, we’re talking about his own business. In 2003, Mr. Mays founded nsoro, LLC as a turnkey telecommunications infrastructure services company, which he sold to MasTec in 2008. But his version of the founding of Nsoro has an unexpected beginning: getting fired.

“Everyone has that ‘A-ha!’ moment,” he says. “This was mine.”

Noting that the immediate need for income was initially what drove him as he built a business post-termination, Mays isn’t short on entertaining anecdotes about his first months working for himself. But under the humor, it’s evident in his stories that Mays spent those months doing whatever it took to get the work done and build trust with his clients.

The wireless industry was in its infancy and growing at lightning speed, but Mays still had to convince his friends and professional connections that it was worth the risk of trusting huge projects with a small, unknown company.

“The ones who do take a risk [on your new company] are brave people, and they’re few and far between. Because you could fail—most people do. And that person would fail along with you,” Mays explains. Building a successful business isn’t just about making your own company look good. It’s about making the people who hire you look “like heroes,” as Evelyn Ashley puts it.

Mays did that and more, ultimately making it onto the shortlist of vendors  for an enormous telecommunications company and landing a three year, $1.5 billion contract.

Sounds great, right? But for Mays, this opportunity also presented a challenge: to raise the funds needed to execute Nsoro’s forthcoming $1.5 billion contract, he would need $250 million on hand.

“I didn’t have a good relationship with banks because I was never able to borrow any money. As well as the company was doing, they just couldn’t get over the stereotype of an African American in the service business in telecom—they just didn’t know how to accept that,” he says. “The stigma and the stereotype is there.”

Even with the loans he was able to secure, Mays was falling short of what he needed. It wasn’t an impulse to get out of the company that brought Mays to the point he was ready for an exit. Rather, making an exit was a crucial part of scaling his company and accomplishing the impressive feats before him.

Stream the episode in its entirety below for the play-by-play as Mays talks entrepreneurship, considering taking the company public, going through the sale process, and more.  The conversation is a fascinating and inspiring one and it is not to be missed.

 

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