Recently we were able to have Sean Hackner, founder, and owner of Freedom Steel, to come talk to us about his company’s roots, the hardships he’s faced, and his perspective on business and entrepreneurship today.
Hackner told us of how he came to the United States to follow the classic America Dream, and how he at first had some trouble securing a sponsorship to be able to remain in the U.S. The beginnings of his business can trace their roots here, as Hackner tells us that his eventual sponsorship came from a job in the construction sector.
Unfortunately, what could have been a springboard for his business almost ended his aspirations completely. Hackner recounts how his employer was more thief than a businessman: “He turned out to be a Boca Raton thief and owed me a hundred and fifty thousand dollars… he wasn’t paying us, he wasn’t delivering his product. Since then I know he’s been extradited to Canada, but he left all the employees high and dry; he owed us all a lot of money. No job, so my choice was to either go find a job somewhere or to start up my own company.”
Left with dwindling options, Hackner took a risk that would eventually pay off: withdrawing the $8000 he had saved for his child’s college fund to start Freedom Steel. Having industry experience from his employment, entering into the steel business seemed like a logical decision. Since founding his business, Hackner says that there have been highs and lows, but that a large hurdle for him to overcome was the repercussions of the 2008 recession. Hackner recounts the formation of a storm of misfortune for him and his company: “So, Lehman Brothers, as you know they went out of business. Back in 2008 they closed, it was the start of the crash, October, November. All my property, all our office buildings, was with Lehman Brothers, so when they crashed and their debt was bought, they all started to come due to their notes. Not only were we battling a tough time selling in construction times, but we were battling that as well as China because in 2009 China drove steel prices up 60 percent.” Hackner credits his business’s survival to his team and their fortitude as a company, attributing his success to “perseverance, and a great team; you know all my team members have been here for many, many, many years, and you know, we weathered the storm together.”
In comparison to his difficulties starting and maintaining a business, Hackner says that today’s market is much more friendly to entrepreneurs. “I think it’s easier for entrepreneurs to start these days because they have so many other tools available to them. So, for example, social media: if you want to do advertising you can go on Facebook and for a couple dollars you can target the exact audience of who you want to go after. Back in the day, you know, the entrepreneur wasn’t looked at as someone that’s contributing to society.” Though he wasn’t lucky enough to be starting his business in the current economic climate, Hackner has enjoyed great success, such as being featured in Inc.’s fastest growing companies.
Hackner also strives to “keep abreast” of current trends in social and predictive marketing, as well as educating others in these fields. He’s always on the lookout for new ways to spread the word about his business and keeps subscribed to many sites and magazines to skim over any edge he might be missing out on.
When we asked him about his advertising strategy, Hackner emphasized the importance of digital advertising, including social media, saying that “print advertising is something of the past.” However, Hackner doesn’t just see the value of advertising in reaching more clients. In his eyes, maintaining a digital presence lends a business more legitimacy in the eyes of potential customers: “They want to see that you’re a real company; that you act, and that you’re involved.” Certainly, as well as entrepreneurs having more tools at their disposal, consumers have a wide array of tools for finding businesses, and they seldom settle for a business with little or no online presence when a more legitimate-looking business is available in the same area.
We asked Hackner if he would do anything differently if he could go back and change anything. He replied that while you can always look back at your decisions and see the good and bad in hindsight, “at the time I think we made the best decisions we could have… we go into it with all the information we have at the present and we make the best decision we can.” Looking forward, Hackner says that in the next six months all he really wants is for the company to grow more stable while striving for the top spot on the list of the country’s fastest-growing businesses again. Hackner places a lot of faith in the people working in Freedom Steel, saying that “as long as I can keep growing with the people I have around me, success will take care of itself.”
“What a business has to be able to do these days is to pivot, to be agile.” Sean Hackner places a lot of importance on a company being able to roll with the punches of a changing marketplace, such as the algorithms of Google and social media platforms which can change without much warning. To aid this adaptability, Hackner places a lot of emphasis on the increased training that he’s given employees in his company.
Securing new clients can be a tricky path to navigate for many companies, but Hackner’s approach is twofold. First, he aims for his company to be accessible and easy to work with: “We work with them throughout the entirety of their project, and that’s what sets us apart.” In addition to providing a helpful experience, Hackner says that Freedom Steel’s track record gives it a leg up on competitors; sixteen years of operating coupled with buildings in nearly every county in the United States means that when a potential customer is looking for steel for a building, chances are that someone else will recommend Freedom Steel. And if they don’t, Freedom Steel has an in-house marketing team to seek out potential clients.
Sean Hackner’s parting words inspired a sense of optimism about the state of the country: “This is the land of opportunity. And this is the best country for that.” It certainly seems that way for a man of his success.