Sam Hill

Master of Business Administration, Class of 2016

Founder, Ecom CFO

Could you provide a brief recap of your career since graduating from Owen?

After graduation, I did what most MBAs do – travel to southeast Asia and then work for a big consulting firm (PwC). Six months in, I knew this wasn’t the place for me and that I wasn’t going to be happy until I started my own business. I stayed at the firm for almost two years, and as the universe has a way of laughing at our plans, ended up starting a small hedge fund/advisory business with a close friend focused on Bitcoin and blockchain companies. Over a year in, one of our clients enticed me to a full time position in New York. That startup ended up bankrupt and I circled back to my original plan and have since built Ecom CFO for the last two years.

What is your company and where did the idea come from? What served as the biggest motivator or influence in starting your company?

I was working as a general consultant in a variety of industries: SaaS, private equity, e-commerce, real estate, and even a professional poker player but I realized I needed to niche down and focus on a specific industry. I loved all of my e-commerce clients because we seemed to share the same values and they were comfortable with remote work. I also realized none of them had finance experience and were making massive decisions based on intuition, instead of data. So, I developed a productized service that has become Ecom CFO. Ecom CFO provides outsourced CFO and financial operations to e-commerce brands with at least $1 million in revenue.

For me, the motivators have always been simple: my 90 year old self, a couple girls that broke my heart, and an unexplainable feeling that I would never be truly happy until I worked for myself.

What is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur and how have you worked to overcome this challenge?

I think we’re just crossing the chasm of product-market-fit and one of the biggest challenges has been saying “no” to clients and other business development opportunities. It’s learning to embrace who you are. I have no illusions that I’m going to start the next Uber, that’s just not the kind of person that I am and I’m really fine with that.

I’ve accepted that this business is a stair step, it’s not an elevator. I know we’re going to grow this business overtime, have a lot of patience and learn a lot along the way. It’s not a business I’m going to sell for $100 million but again that’s okay. I would rather feel more comfortable building a business I know I can build versus a SasS company that you’re going to raise a bunch of money for and not see any return for a year or two years and constantly get beat up.

What qualities are most important to possess as an entrepreneur?

I’d like to reframe this question because, sure, there are qualities you need at various points in an entrepreneurial journey, but I don’t think providing a reader with a list of generic qualities found on some motivational poster is particularly helpful. Of course you need to have a little courage (because you know it’s not all going to be perfect), a little bit of vision and a lot of hard work but I don’t think reading that response is helpful for someone that’s going to be an entrepreneur or someone that is one today.

Instead, I would point a fledgling entrepreneur to the book Principles by Ray Dalio. He lays out his own work and life principles and encourages readers to develop their own. Here are my current eight guiding principles I continue to refine:

  1. You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.
  2. There are too many different ways to make money online to not enjoy it (at least 80% of the time).
  3. Compare yourself to your yesterday and not someone else’s today (Jordan Peterson).
  4. Understand, embrace, and leverage who you are.
  5. Location and people matter.
  6. The universe (market) doesn’t owe you anything.
  7. You don’t have to decide on everything right now.
  8. Create artificial urgency.

What are you most proud of about your business?

Overall I’m proud that I said no to a lot of other things, did what I said I was going to do and actually went out on my own. I have experienced and accepted all the fear, anxiety and long hours that it takes to grow a successful business. There’s some other things such as winning clients over some really high brow firms that have been in the industry a long time.

I’m proud of my team as well. It took me a while, but selecting and hiring people that I get along with very well — not like a huge corporation where you have to fake it if you don’t like someone. I love having the ability to change that.

What advice do you have for students as they launch their business? Are there any tools you consistently use as an entrepreneur?

It’s so obvious but the Owen network has been amazing. I still have a small group of entrepreneurs who meet from time to time. There’s also so many great books out there that have been really impactful for me. There’s a great podcast series that’s been running for a long time called the Tropical MBA. That’s been super helpful for me. 

I think at the end of the day, outside advice counsel is great but whatever the business is and what you think it’s going to be, it really has to come from you first. Then you can take on outside advice. It’s very easy in today’s world to go find a coach or mentor, which is incredibly important, but you have to come back to what works for you. You have to ensure you’re starting a business in a way that you want first, not because a coach, consultant or mentor told you to do it. They should certainly help guide you but you have to take responsibility and own it.

What do you do to live a balanced life? Do you have any interesting or fun hobbies?

I think this whole idea of “work-life balance” is totally ridiculous. I think it’s just life and especially if you’re going to choose entrepreneurship, all the effort and time required to make whatever you’re doing successful is going to consume the vast majority of your life. I think it’s really important that you can’t try to compartmentalize — it’s not super healthy. It’s that understanding and if it’s not consuming you you’re probably doing something wrong. 

Obviously it’s important to do other things to take yourself out of that. Whether it’s meditation or yoga — for me, I certainly do those things and make sure I get time outside. Something outdoors with your shoes off is definitely preferred. I try and read more fiction than I’ve ever read. I think all the business books, self help and personal development is cool but there comes a point where you get it and just have to put it into practice. I think I’ve learned more from fiction in the past couple years than I have from non-fiction. Travel is also huge for me.