The $200 Entrepreneur’s Journey and a $500M Answering Machine | business observer

Tampa-based franchise executive Greg Muzzillo is no preacher, but he spent a recent Friday morning in Naples pumping up a crowd with what he calls “approachable and credible entrepreneurship.”

And Muzzillo, founder of Proforma, one of the nation’s largest providers of business graphics, marketing materials, and printing and packaging services, has walked what he preaches. He founded Proforma in 1978, a year after graduating from college. The launch was meager: it consisted of $200, split between Muzzillo and a partner, an answering machine, and some business cards. Muzzillo began franchising the business in 1986, and through hustle, some arrogance, and a lot of resilience, Muzzillo helped build Proforma into an industry powerhouse. Today it has more than 650 franchise offices worldwide and $500 million in annual sales. The company has made the Inc. 500 three times, while 24 Proforma franchise owners made the 2021 Inc. 5000 list.

Muzzillo was the most recent keynote speaker at the NextGen Speaker Series event, which took place on March 25 in Naples. Benson Blackburn, a boutique financial services firm founded in 1976, is the founding sponsor of the series. In addition to Proforma, Muzzillo founded a staffing franchise company, ProTalent. He is on the board of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Florida and previously served on the board of the University of Tampa. Muzzillo also hosts a podcast, Million Dollar Mondays, which, according to the Apple Podcasts description, “features really successful people with really helpful advice for entrepreneurs and people with big dreams.”

An affable and self-deprecating Ohio native, Muzzillo reviewed the highlights and failures of his career with the audience at the NextGen event, with a variety of lessons learned and wisdom from his career. Some key nuggets include:

• Find a way: “When we went to school we didn’t know what the word entrepreneurship meant,” says Muzzillo. “We didn’t even know how to spell entrepreneurship. It was something in our bones, wanting to own our own business.”

• Control the controllable: “Everyone has a succession plan whether they like it or not. If I die tomorrow, I have an estate plan.”

• Look carefully: “I’m a big believer in immersion,” he says. “When I do something, I want to learn as much as possible. I want to be with people who are successful in the business.”

• Always be closing: “You have to be a pit bull,” says Muzzillo when it comes to sales. “I don’t care what other people think of me. It does not matter. I have a certain degree of reluctance to calls, everyone does. But there are people out there with money. Your job (in sales) is to sit down, make the call and go get it.”

• Mission ready: “I realized that I was in the business of dreams and I just needed to connect with my franchise owners to help them make their dreams come true.”

• Stay humble: “What is the secret to making the Inc. 500? Have a lousy first year.”

Visionary sponsors of the NextGen loudspeaker series include Arthrex; Benefits of the Green Line; Richness of the meristem family; dentex; John R. Wood; PNC Bank; lury; elite aircraft; McLennan Swamp; Pure Insurance; and Sunshine Ace Hardware. The media partners are e’Bella and the business observer. The academic partner is FGCU.

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