Categorized | Shoestring Startup

The Napoleon Complex: A shoestring startup with a big attitude

The Napoleon Complex: A shoestring startup with a big attitude

Rob Basso

I’m Rob Basso, the founder and owner of the Long Island office of Advantage Payroll Services ( When I started the LI branch of Advantage Payroll Services, I was just a kid with a passion for sales who made the right connections and found the right financial backer. I’m a Hofstra University graduate, and no, not the business school. I graduated with a teaching degree in history, and started on my job search with enthusiasm. Unfortunately when I graduated in 1993 jobs – especially teaching jobs – were not easy to find, much like in today’s economy. Luckily, the busy deli I had been working at during my last two years of college was able to keep me on. Always innately a salesman and frustrated with my lack of prospects, I approached the owner of the deli with a proposition: if I promised it wouldn’t take me any longer than usual to wrap the sandwiches I served and I didn’t use my work time pitching myself, would he let me wrap my resume in the sandwiches to the customers?

Surprised at my request but impressed with my tenacity, the owner agreed on a trial basis and I began what I didn’t realize was my first marketing effort. I can just see the customers back at their desks, pushing the mustard aside to read my resume. Well, my efforts were not in vain and I landed 5 interviews and coincidentally a job in marketing. Excited, I gave my two weeks’ notice at the deli and prepared to start my new job. Two days before I was supposed to start, the very apologetic HR manager from my new employer called; the position was being eliminated due to budget cuts.

The Napoleon Complex: A shoestring startup with a big attitudeI went back to the deli and asked for my job back. The deli owner was a nice guy and the Monday I should have started my new job I was at the deli making sandwiches. I continued to see the HR woman who had hired and laid me off on a regular basis and I guess finally the guilt was too much for her. She came in one day and asked me if I’d like to interview with her husband, who owned a payroll company and was looking for sales rep. I knew zero about payroll, except that I got paid every week, but I immediately agreed to the interview. A few days later, I was handing the deli my two week’s notice – again – to start a position selling payroll.

I hit the ground running in my new position, voraciously learning everything I could about payroll. I was the first one in the office and the last one to leave every day. I blew through my marketing budget, sending out mailing after mailing, dropping off flyer after flyer. I quickly became the company’s top sales performer, but kept hitting constant resistance from my boss. I clearly remember the afternoon I returned to the office after spending a cold winter day knocking on doors, leaving flyers. My boss called me into his office to berate me about my marketing spending; I left his office with strict instructions on keeping my mailings to a minimum. Undeterred, I attended networking breakfasts, lunches and dinners, and was out meeting new contacts five days a week. I realized the importance of building a strong network of contacts and referral partners, not only to help build my standing in the professional world but to continue to increase my exposure to new people. However, a few months later, I was called back into the same office to discuss my networking spending. Now that too had to be cut down. I walked out of his office in a state of disbelief and silently resolved that one day I would be my own boss, working by my own set of rules.

Serendipitously, I made a contact that would wind up becoming my business partner. One rainy day in Long Beach, I was going from business to business knocking on doors. At one intimidating building with multiple security cameras, a “no soliciting” sign featured prominently on the door. Well, I wasn’t soliciting; I had valuable information for the owner inside. After being buzzed in, the receptionist politely but firmly turned me down when I asked to speak to the owner or payroll contact. A few minutes of conversation later and the owner, impressed with my persistence, came out from the back. An hour later I’d walked out with his payroll commitment and an appointment to pick up signed paperwork.

Eighteen months later, someone from Advantage Payroll Services corporate office approached me. At all of twenty four years old, they asked me to open and run the LI branch of Advantage for them. It was a great opportunity for me but I knew my days of reporting to a manager were over; I wanted to be my own boss. I told them sure, I would open the office, but only if I could buy it back. Someone at Advantage Corporate went to bat for me, and the next thing I knew, I was being sent a contract with targets in place for a buyback opportunity. Everything sounded great, but now I had one big problem. I didn’t have the money to buy the office. Resolved to make this work, I began searching for office space on the non-existent budget the corporate office provided. I moved into a modest location and hit the streets. In eight months, and to the shock of everyone involved, I’d hit the sales targets that the corporate office sent, and went in search of a business partner.

I instinctively turned to my Long Beach client first, who had followed me from my first payroll company to Advantage. Knowing my reputation and impressed with my business acumen and work ethic, he signed on to be my silent partner. I can vividly remember getting out of my old Nissan Sentra holding the business contract and signing it on the back of his BMW in the pouring rain. At twenty four years old, I was officially the co-owner of Advantage Payroll Services LI (

With zero money to spare and my own branch to run, I knew I needed to keep costs down. After intensive searching for cheap space at a desirable address, a CPA referral partner offered to let me rent some of his space. I moved out of my office space, leaving the rented furniture from Corporate, and moved into what was basically a storage closet in the basement of a Syosset office building. With no money left over for furniture after purchasing the necessary equipment to run and print the payrolls, I worked on the old tables, boxes and chairs left in the storage room. Realizing that I would need an employee to take the payrolls for me while I was out selling new clients, I racked my brain for the cheapest source of labor I could think of, then hired my mom.

I realized I wasn’t just building a company; I was building my own personal brand. When faced with other payroll company reps, I may not have had the most expensive suit, but I had more knowledge, more experience and was better versed than my competition. My two big public competitors may have the big name and the expensive suits, but I knew if I could gain the prospect’s trust using my extensive payroll knowledge, I would gain the upper hand and potentially the customer’s business.

Marketing and branding had a lot to do with my success; something I can’t stress enough to fellow entrepreneurs and business owners. Raise your public profile; create a company and personal profile on LinkedIn, get recommended and connect with everyone you know, work with or meet. Have a social media presence on Facebook and Twitter and pay attention to what you put out. Make sure that your name is out there in the marketplace, that you are represented at all the major events and have a strong, solid website. Don’t forget to differentiate yourself from your competitors. You may be a little guy, but there is always something you do differently or better.

Being the owner of a fledging startup wasn’t easy, especially in the beginning. Being so young I never admitted, unless directly asked, that I was the owner of the company. I always met prospects at their office to avoid using my storage space – I mean office – and parked my beat-up Sentra at the far end of the parking lot. I drew the minimum salary necessary to survive for the first few years, investing all my profits back into the company.

It was worth it. Today Advantage Payroll is a regional leader and I’m leaving my mark. I’ve taken my fledgling organization from a one person company (two if you count my mom) and turned it into a thirty-plus employee company. The transition from sales person to manager wasn’t the easiest, but with hard work, patience and dedication to my staff, the learning curve got easier. Much of my success wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t have the right people working for my company. Hiring decisions were difficult at first and I made a few bad choices, but I’ve gotten better and better, hiring people who have helped turn Advantage Payroll LI into a world class organization. It’s ok to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them and never make the same mistake again.

The Napoleon Complex: A shoestring startup with a big attitudeOne of the best parts of being a successful business owner who started at the bottom is being able to share my expertise with my fellow business owners and the new generation of entrepreneurs. I created a website,, a community of entrepreneurs, business owners and professionals to share tools and resources to help their businesses thrive. Featuring a business-based web show, daily blogs, business building DVD’s and more, I’ve been able to fulfill my passion of inspiring the entrepreneurial spirit while helping others succeed. My work on these endeavors has enabled me to become a monthly blogger for the NY Enterprise Report and the American Express Open FORUM as well as an in-demand guest on FOX News and Fox Business for my expertise in small business operations. My first book, The Everyday Entrepreneur, is being published by Wiley in October 2011. And I use my closets for their true purpose now- storage space.

Feel free to connect with me:

Follow Basso On Business on Twitter: @BassoOnBusiness

“Like” Basso On Business on Facebook: Basso On Business

Follow Advantage on Twitter: LIAdvPayroll

Find Advantage on Facebook:!/LiAdvPayroll

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