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EXECUTION Michael's Progress Thread: three businesses?!?

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Michael Burgess

Bronze Contributor
Speedway Pass
Sep 30, 2014
Ontario, Canada
Hey everyone!

Long time (mostly) lurker here, and by request of @Ronak and @ecommercewolf I've decided to start up a thread dedicated to my business progress. I'll do my best to summarize close to a decade of business and life progress in a relatively short period of time, haha. Warning: it's kinda long. Hopefully its entertaining and provides some context for how I've gotten into the businesses I have operating. Here goes:

I'm a 25 year old landscaper, contractor, organic farmer, and real estate investor working across Ontario, Canada.

Pretty humble and simple background; I grew up in a small town two hours north of Toronto, definitely without a silver spoon. My parents are hard workers and have owned a couple small businesses with moderate success over the years, but have been through two bankrupticies, work stable and basic J.O.B.s right now, and are ill equipped for their overdue retirements. From a young age, I've learned that if I wanted anything material beyond food and shelter, it was up to me to earn it.

Chapter One: High School

I got my first job as a 13 year old at a golf course, and continued working there and at a local ski resort until I was 17 or so. Bored in high school, I was frequently smoking weed, and stumbled into my first opportunity to turn a problem into a profit. My friends and I could never find a reliable source to buy our product from, and frequently found ourselves left with a light bag, or waiting on a street corner waiting for somebody to return with our goodies. What a bummer!

Eventually, I sourced some reliable suppliers and realized I could smoke for free if I got my friends to chip in for a bigger bag. It dawned on me that I could actually make money helping my friends. Hoorah!

This two-year long escapade eventually turned into a pretty sizable business supplying an ever-growing list of clients, and taught me how to manage accounts receivable, accounts payable, marketing, customer service, supply chain management, dealing with stress, and a huge host of other real-world business skills. Take that, Mom and Dad! I learned and earned more from this than I did most of my classes. I like to think I was just onto a market need before our federal government?!

Chapter Two: Time for a Journey

At the end of high school, I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Kenya as a part of a school program, and had some real exposure to the wide world outside of my small town. By this time, I was already pretty confident a regular career path filled with post-secondary debt, 9-5 slavery, and mortgage indebtedness didn't appeal to me much. I had enough experience working for "the man" to have a bitter taste in my mouth. Besides, I already had traction earning more money doing something I enjoyed (and detached my income from time to a degree!) to think that working a regular job would satisfy the ache in my soul.

There were three big classes I really enjoyed in high school - world issues, philosophy, and business. They all played an integral role in shaping my value system thanks to my great teachers. Around this point in time I had a vague idea of owning a business that made a positive environmental impact as something I wanted to do.

After graduating, I stumbled into an article on a website I was frequenting at the time - called How We Can Actually Change the World. In it, I quickly became convinced to pack my life into a car and move in with a group of strangers that were going to save the world! One half-hour skype call later, and I was ready to hit the road. I ended up living at the Valhalla Movement for a couple of months, and helped to create some gardens, talk about the long term plans of building off-grid homes, and generally had some good times with great people. I was surrounded by individuals from all walks of life that were following unique paths, working in careers that they found deeply meaningful, and were trying to make positive social and environmental impacts in our crazy world. Eventually, I found myself ready for another chapter and wanted something more tangible - we were making a lot of plans, but I felt ready for action.

Shortly after, I ended up on a 3-month backpacking trip across Europe with a small pile of euros, and big ambition to learn about "permaculture" and organic farming. I felt that agriculture was the most direct relationship that we as people can have with the natural environment, and was most ripe for disruption; after all, most farmers are basically broke, old enough to retire, and manage their farms using petroleum based-everything.

I also ended up driving on a coast-to-coast trip of Canada with truck & camper, a small group of friends, and trailer full of recreational toys. We took our time, did a bunch of sightseeing, and eventually ended up near Vancouver where we all went separate ways. I ended up staying for several months working with BC's biggest aquaponics farm. We grew a ton of vegetables, herbs, and fish in a highly-productive and high tech greenhouse, which was sweet! I really felt like I was helping to be a part of a business doing something meaningful.

Unfortunately, as that business was encountering a ton of issues (NOTE: you need to sell a lot of lettuce to make any money), I also had my truck stolen... and my insurance didn't cover the theft! That was pretty bad timing, considering I was going to sell the truck, buy a beater car, and live on the cash difference until business picked up. I was pretty much crushed and desperate, so flew back home to Ontario with my tail tucked between my legs. I was 18 when all of this was happening.

Chapter Three: Vibrant Green Farms

Now back in my hometown, I was ready to start a business I felt solely responsible for that did something cool. But what? I was basically broke, didn't have that much business experience, and felt limited by a lack of connections and capital... so what could I do?

While thinking about the problem and working a basic job to cover my butt, I volunteered for a local food co-op that was being formed. I ended up on the Board of Directors, and started to make green smoothies for our customers. I found there was a demand for healthy, fresh, and tasty smoothies at a reasonable price not being met. We even started to deliver the freshly made smoothies in mason jars to customers around town via bicycle. Sweet!

In order to offer an even better product, I started to grow the greens and berries in a local community garden. While our product was epic, it didn't take long to realize I couldn't fulfill the commandment of Scale very easily with this business model. Not that I had read TMF at this point, but the writing was on the wall.

I started having strong traction for the fresh produce I was growing in the community garden though, and I was quickly selling as much as I could grow. By the end of the season, I had 2-3 friends helping me grow a half acre garden producing food for a dozen restaurants in town, 3 farmers markets, and the food co-op. Not bad for a first season in business!

Due to size and social limitations, I found a bigger plot for the following season. Unfortunately, due to biting off more than I could chew, a lack of capital, and the worst soil I've ever worked in my life, the farm business came to a screeching halt mid-summer in year 2. My shoes literally had holes in them, and my pockets didn't fare much better. Shit; I needed money quick, because this garden wasn't growing anything but 6 foot tall weeds I couldn't stay on top of - and not the kind of weedz I could sell anymore!

At this point, I cursed my unlucky stars and declared I wouldn't ever farm again until I could OWN the land myself - and have control over the infrastructure, water, and soil to build a proper agricultural business from.

Chapter Four: Vibrant Green Landscapes

Despite my parents pleas for me to get a "real job", I was far too stubborn to go back to that nonsense. How could I produce income, STAT?

I happened to connect with an old client from the food co-op I was a part of, and it turns out she was interested in setting up her own vegetable garden at her house. This turned into my first landscaping project, where I spent a week building raised beds, importing garden soil, and planting herbs and veggies so she could have the best food at her front door. It was just shy of $1,000, and I realized I didn't have to wait months for my product to mature in order to generate income right away.

This signified another pivot in my business to meet the market need of landscaping, and ideally, edible landscaping.

I spent the next several years running this landscaping business, learning how to prune shrubs, lay sod, install interlocking stone, perform excavation services, etc. It started off literally out of the trunk of my Toyota Corolla, and eventually grew to having a couple trucks, trailers, basic tools, and some helpers on various projects. Initially, I didn't have any strong technical skills as I was never trained in landscaping and my Dad hardly knows a drill from a hammer; but I picked things up over time and eventually became proficient.

It wasn't the most well-run business in the world, but at least it kept a "real job" away!

Chapter Five: The Real Estate Bug

Having read @G_Alexander's thread "STOP Paying Rent: Live for Free", I had the seed of another idea planted in my head. Working for money in my landscaping business was cool and all, but I never felt like I was gaining any ground towards my vision of boats, Bentleys, and changing the world. I was stuck in a slow and viscous cycle of working for money, re-investing my meager profits into more equipment, experiencing every truck woe possible, paying rent, and repeating. How could I ever break out of this without going to school? Could investing in real estate be the way out?

Nah, I concluded. Real estate is for people that have white-collar careers and an 810 FICO score, or at least parents that'll co-sign and pony up the down payment. No chance for me.

Then again... when had I let obstacles stop me from doing what I'd wanted to all the years previous?

I decided to leave my home town in search of greener pastures, and ended up in Waterloo, the Silicon Valley of the North. I ended up working as a grunt labourer for a contractor that was remodelling his clients basement. I had a couple months learning some basics of framing, plumbing, drywall, and other fairly mundane construction tasks. I was also pretty deep into watching every YouTube video, reading every book, and talking to everyone I could about real estate investing.

This led me to London, ON, where I ended up becoming involved in a few real estate investing networks, and went to every conference or meetup I could. At one point, I offered to volunteer for Matt McKeever, a young real estate investor and YouTuber, saying I'd do anything just to help him and get in the game myself. I ended up working with him for a few months helping as a handyman, video editor, and errandboy. Hey, at least I was getting closer to being in real estate myself!

Fast forward about a year from that point, working under / with several investors in different capacities, offering landscaping services to keep the lights on, and I finally did it - I bought my first 4 unit apartment building! WOO! Years of struggle later, and I finally had a place to call my own - and it produced income, too! I pulled that deal together with less than $10,000 of my own money, borrowed capital from another private investor as most of the "deposit", got a private lender in 1st position mortgage, and had my close friend and girlfriend chip in some cash too. Thanks, Roselyn! To be honest, it was one hell of a ride even closing on that deal, despite the fact it was only $156K for the whole building - I went firm with very little due dilligence, had basically no idea how I would fund it, didn't have a lawyer prepared to represent me, and had a prospective investor pull out only DAYS from closing the deal (after it had already been extended!). I had one night where I felt like the world was going to collapse on me and I was sure to be sued, but felt pretty damn proud when I pulled it together and finally closed on that building. This was April of 2019, and I was 24 years old when I finally bought that place.

Chapter Six: The Portfolio Grows

Catching up to more recent times, I continued working across Ontario as a landscaper for all the clients I had helped over the years, and had developed a good reputation for landscaping services. I've never had a problem finding more work.

My next property acquisition was the long awaited dream; a 7 acre farm just 40 minutes north of Toronto, with some of the most fertile soil in the province. The land is right next to a river as well, so irrigation and fertility issues would never plague me again.

I picked up that property for $150K, was $26K out of pocket after closing costs, and had a similar situation to closing the first property. Little cash, not sure who would fund a blank piece of land with no structure, and not really sure how I was going to pull it together - but this wasn't my first time doing that dance. It was stressful and uncertain, but pulled it off again, and FINALLY owned the property that for SEVEN F*CKING YEARS I had seen in my mind. My god, that was satisfying!

Still driving across the province on a regular basis and living out of my truck was getting old. I really wanted somewhere good to live, because the community where I bought that 4 unit building wasn't the nicest place in the world.

After working a personal connection for six months, I finally convinced the seller of a house in Guelph to sell me an off market deal. This now friend sold me a house that he had sort of inherited from his father in a state of disrepair, and just didn't want it. He was willing to sell it to me for close to $100K beneath market value, AND with a 20% vendor takeback in 2nd position - which basically means no money down.

I bought that house from him with my girlfriend as a JV partner, which we now live in and are fixing up. It's a great place for me to run the landscaping company from, as Guelph is an awesome city that really values that sort of work, and has a lot of Toronto money floating around.

The last property I bought was a duplex just 2 blocks from my first 4-unit building, which I picked up for $110K. I closed on that a couple of months ago... it was shortly after I closed that I found out from neighbours it had once been a meth lab. Whoops! haha. In the process of cleaning that mess up now.

Most recently, sold off that 4plex for $225K (bought for $156K 14 months prior), and have put that cash to good use getting on top of all the projects I have on the go.

Chapter Seven: To Mars... and beyond!

Just kidding, the Martian Farm will be like chapter 15.

That pretty well concludes the run up to where I am nowadays - 25 years old, low 6 figure net worth, 3 properties, and 3 big visions for the companies I want to run. I've recently been putting more time into working on the businesses, and less in them, as much as that's possible given my current stage. The vision for each of the companies is basically as follows:

Guelph Landscape Pros:

Design, build, and maintain beautiful landscapes in Guelph, ON, where we show what a harmonious relationship between people and the planet can look like. We'll install interlocking stone, armour stone, provide excavation services, plant edible gardens, and hopefully build some community gardens. This business will be my short-term cash generator as a way to fuel the big vision. This is where I draw my active income from, and the profits earned in other companies will be kept to grow those businesses.

Burgess Capital and Contracting:

Remodel apartment buildings for fellow friends and real estate investors, and improving neighbourhoods while we do it. Income generated in this company will be kept, and re-invested into owning more real estate for myself to produce long-term cashflowing assets that my team and I force appreciation on via strategic renovations. Ultimately, I want real estate cashflow to provide my parents retirement, and to give me the financial security I need to pursue bigger ambitions.

Vibrant Green Farms:

Grow the healthiest, freshest, and most flavourful food possible using environmentally regenerative techniques. Clean waterways, build topsoil, preserve biodiversity, and secure land for natural habitats. Longer term, push R&D money into robotics, automation, AI, and electric-powered machinery that supports these values and improves the businesses profitability. Ultimately, feed the world using much more harmonious agricultural systems, and then offer to Elon to build the first Martian farm.



Thanks for reading this far, you're clearly as crazy as I am!

I've neglected to share a lot of the good, and even more of the BRUTAL stories and experiences I've had over the years in working on these ideas. Demolishing a half-burned garage full of garbage and needles from the top-down in the middle of a Canadian winter? Yup, been there. Burned my face and hands from a trucks coolant system exploding? Sure, why not! Lost friends, girlfriends, and have missed out on more parties and "good times" than I can count? Check. Two not-at-fault truck collisions. One panic attack. Bank accounts in overdraft wondering how the hell I'd pay for rent in two days. Stole my chainsaw back from a crackhead that stole it from me earlier that day. The list goes on and on, haha - entrepreneurship isn't always pretty!

Thankfully, I've had so many beautiful times too - clients that have cried literal tears of joy, all nighters where I've slept after succesfully meeting a deadline, clearing cheques that would have blown away a previous me, and meeting so many fantastic friends and supporters over the years too. I'm grateful for the wild ride I've been on in these few short years.

I have a lot of work to do in terms of organizing the companies, finding more employees that can really add fuel to the flames, and learning how to better manage my finances. I'm strong at seeing the vision and doing the technical work, but management... not so much.

All that said, I'm grateful for YOU, my Fastlane brothers and sisters that are on similar journeys. It's important we surround ourselves with others that aspire for more out of life, want to make the world a little bit better, and aren't afraid to get their hands dirty to make it happen.

A huge shout out to all the mods for keeping this forum a great place to be, and @MJ DeMarco for writing two fantastic books. That short Facebook message suggesting I spend more time on the forum was much appreciated ;)

On to the next!


To be continued...

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Michael Burgess

Bronze Contributor
Speedway Pass
Sep 30, 2014
Ontario, Canada
Here's a little update from the last couple months; I have recently sold two of my properties, the 7 acre farm, and my personal residence / workshop in guelph.

Bought the farm for $150K one year ago, selling it for $260K this month.

Bought the house for $315K in January, selling it for $451K this month.

In both cases I did a little bit of work, but really not enough to justify the increase in value - I just happened to buy the right properties at the right price and time, and felt the market was getting hot and wanted to see if I could pull some cash out.

At the end of October, I'm closing on 3 small apartment buildings in northern Ontario, and have one other crazy opportunity in the pipeline - not sure if the deal will fall through yet.

I've also moved to a small town with my girlfriend where I'm working for a friend and fellow investor that owns about 80 apartments here. We're able to stay in his previous home for free, work on a flexible schedule renovating his properties, and get to learn about his business from the inside.

For anybody unsure of how to improve their personal financial position, I'd wholeheartedly recommend learning more about real estate. It certainly can be a challenging business and comes with risk, but there are tons of opportunities in *ANY* location to build assets, get cashflow, and inch closer towards freedom.

Until next time!

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