Chris Hurn is CEO/Founder of Fountainhead Commercial Capital, a nationwide non-bank commercial lender specializing in owner-occupied CRE with the SBA 504 loan program. He and his executive team have collectively closed more than $12B in SBA 504 projects in 20 years, making them one of the most experienced teams in SBA lending.
As a non-bank lender, Chris complements rather than competes with banks in creating value through SBA 504 loans, and Fountainhead’s FastTrack504™ allows lenders to fully outsource transactions while earning non-interest income. Chris provides financing programs to entrepreneurs that give them an advantage over their corporate competition, exponentially increasing the velocity of growth with lower rates, longer terms and approvals that can literally happen in hours.
Chris is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Center of Government (part of the Wharton School of Business at that time) and received two undergraduate degrees, magna cum laude, from Loyola University Chicago.
In this insightful interview, Chris shares his 'why' and the very reason Fountainhead exists. Chris also narrates an epic story in his entrepreneurial journey and how to weather any storm.
His advice for entrepreneurs looking to start their own business:
There’s no substitute or shortcut for hard work. Work/Life balance includes both things and will ebb and flow over time. Any sense of entitlement that may have been conveyed to you over the course of growing up and in the education process should be dumped. Real success comes for those who earn their stripes.
What made you start Fountainhead Commercial Capital? When did you know that you had an actual business and not just an idea?
I’ve been in the small business lending industry for almost two decades and previously founded another company that grew to be one of the largest SBA 504 lenders in the country. I sold that company but still had a personal passion to help small business owners. I will always believe that one of the greatest wealth creation tools for entrepreneurs is to own their commercial real estate instead of leasing. It’s an investment that always returns and can have a meteoric impact on long term net worth.
That’s why I couldn’t stay out of the game. As an entrepreneur, I knew the challenges and couldn’t sit by and not use the SBA 504 program to ignite small business owners to greater success. I aggressively gathered a world class team and launched only six months after making the decision to jump back into the industry. I’d done it successfully before, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have the same concerns about a new business and everything that goes with it: staffing, funding, scaling, etc.
I knew before starting my first company that I had a viable business concept. It’s often called disruption when you do things differently. I just call it common sense, and the best way to serve my clients. After multiple executive positions in finance and real estate, it was easy to see the cracks that small business owners were falling through.
Banks, motivated more by the benefit to themselves than anything else, were financing clients with failed or half-hearted attempts that ultimately hurt those small businesses. So, my concept wasn't proven, but I knew it would work. It was the antithesis of what wasn’t working and the opposite of that is the right way to do things.
How did you find your competitive edge? What makes your business unique from others?
We are and always have been competitive because we’re customer-centric. We’re in business to make money like everybody else, but our priority is to create wealth for small business owners and fuel company growth. That means we’re not your father’s bank. We do things very differently.
We are a non-bank, direct lender. We don’t believe we necessarily compete with banks, and we actually return non-interest income to them on loans that they refer to us through our FastTrack504 (wholesale) program. In most cases, we actually bring value to them in a manner that strengthens their customer relationships.
We do such significant volume compared to our competition that we have honed the process into a science. Traditional lenders may take weeks or even months to issue loan approvals. At times, we can literally do that in a matter of hours. Not only do we process more efficiently and faster, but our level of excellence and success is second to none because of our laser-like focus and my incredible team.
The Fountainhead team has collectively closed over 12 billion dollars in SBA 504 loans over the last two decades!
What do you think is your greatest asset that makes Fountainhead Commercial Capital successful?
Our greatest asset is our client base. We exist for those businesses and wouldn’t exist without them. Our drive to excel at what we do and provide SBA 504 financing at the highest level possible is purely for the benefit of our customers.
Our clients' need to finance their businesses and position for growth is what wakes me up in the morning and what compels us to be the best. Don’t get me wrong, I love this industry and have done very well at what I do. However, growth and profits alone won’t personally sustain you over the long haul. The clients are my why.
What is your most epic moment/story as an entrepreneur?
Last summer, we had a loan set to fund on July 6th. The approval documents and “paperwork” were submitted almost a month ahead of time with no expected issues. On June 25, it began to fall apart as our warehousing line bank (how we partly fund our loans) decided not to fund this particular loan—just out of the blue. Ultimately, they changed their mind after much teeth-gnashing and “discussions” with me, but our client’s 1031 Exchange expired on July 7th so the closing couldn't be delayed.
Our normal procedures wouldn’t work because of the upcoming holiday (July 4th—stay with me) and the bank’s antics, so I had to get in my car and drive 2 1/2 hours north to make it happen. What had been already challenging seemed to take on heights of new drama.
A Florida rainstorm of Biblical proportions forced everyone off the road but me. Rush hour traffic ground to a halt as an 18-wheeler jack-knifed right ahead of me—literally hundreds of yards in front of me, to be exact. I half-way expected a storm of locust and frogs to drop from the sky… I was NOT going to be deterred.
As “luck” would have it that afternoon, the power went out due to the storm, so the notary did her thing based on my charm and the promise of payment by mail the next day —she couldn’t accept a credit card because of no electricity to run it; I didn’t have cash; and the nearby ATM was down due to the storm having cut the power.
Exhausted, I went to the men’s room to dry out from the rain and naturally my iPhone slipped off the back of the toilet (I was using its flashlight to see) and into the water. I quickly fished it out and dried it off as I would need my Google maps to find the nearest FedEx to overnight the newly executed documents.
Naturally, Google maps sent me to the opposite side of the airport from where the FedEx site was located – maybe best suited as a “drop-off” location for the local serial killer, BUT… I finally found it and walked in with just minutes to spare. The friendly FedEx lady smiled and suggested we watch the plane backup to the loading area. I smiled meekly and thanked her, but asked that we simply make sure my package got on that very flight.
The documents arrived on time the next day and the client was served with our normal commitment to excellence…. In rain, or snow, or sleet, as they say.
Have you encountered failures/roadblocks while running Fountainhead Commercial Capital?
There are roadblocks in every business no matter how well you plan or how hard you work. There’s no way to anticipate turns in the market, the economy or events leading to headwinds that feel like a jet blowing in your face. For that matter, nobody has ever built a great business without failure and roadblocks. It’s what makes all of us stronger. I don’t think of things as failures as much as setbacks. Either you learn from these setbacks or they can doom you.
For Fountainhead to finance SBA 504 loans, we have to be funded. I enjoyed great success in my former company, so it wasn’t hard to obtain startup capital for Fountainhead. Just a few months after opening our doors, we were set to close a significant capital round that would enable us to quickly go national in our lending ability. We did all the right things, but circumstances out of our control influenced the process and it took me nine months to finally close that round of capital.
It wasn’t rocket science. I got up every morning determined to make it happen. It probably took a year off my life, but I took on a bulldog mentality and refused to give up. That funding was crucial in scaling Fountainhead and helping more small business owners, so I absolutely wouldn't accept failure as an option.
Every business has to have someone who will push and do whatever it takes to achieve what feels impossible at times. The person that will leave it all on the table to create a tipping point that changes the future. I knew that if I didn’t power through and lead, then Fountainhead would never become what I knew it could be. We’ll have other challenges, but if I hadn’t made it through the first one we wouldn’t be here discussing Fountainhead.
Have you ever felt like giving up? What would you say to an entrepreneur on the brink of throwing in the towel?
I’ve had my hard days like every business owner. There are points in every stage of growth that you get fatigued to the point it almost hurts. Weeks where Monday morning feels like Friday because you haven’t taken a day off in three months. And then there’s balancing work and the rest of life. My family couldn’t be more supportive, but they do like to see me once in a while.
All that said, I’ve never considered quitting. My why – the clients – means too much. My passion to create wealth for small business owners and finance their growth doesn’t go away on my hardest of days. It’s my mission and nothing eclipses the reality of that.
If you’re near the edge and thinking about chucking it all into the garbage, go back to your why. If that foundational principle still exists for you, then you can make it through any storm. If you’ve drifted and have serious doubt about why you’re doing what you’re doing, then you need to seek solid counsel and wisdom from people you trust and determine if you should go forward.
Look, if you’re solid on the why, then you just have to step back and strategically design the process that will enable you to weather the current storm. That could be a hundred different things, but there’s an answer to every question and a solution to every challenge. You just have to find it.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur? Is there anything you are most proud of?
Being an entrepreneur jazzes me from two perspectives. Starting a business isn't all science – it’s also a creative process that has an artistry all its own. To take nothing and create something, that’s exciting. That’s impressive. That’s a reason to get up each day, so ready to go. Building things and creating a new work of art – for me called “Fountainhead Commercial Capital” – makes me want more.
The other side of that coin is the fact that I’m an entrepreneur serving other entrepreneurs. All we do is finance entrepreneurs. We help them create wealth through commercial property ownership. A simple, yet profound strategy for businesses that need a home for their brands and employees. My artistry and creative process result in enabling the same for fellow business owners.
So while I’m using my skills, abilities and passions in a way that personally fulfills me, I’m also making it happen for other folks. That’s something to be truly proud of!
Do you believe there’s some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Any successful entrepreneur started with a great idea that addressed an unmet need in the marketplace. That has to be all wrapped up in the why I previously discussed. But in terms of a pattern, entrepreneurs and their formulas for success are like snowflakes – not a single one alike.
Are there common values to which every successful entrepreneur must adhere – absolutely!
- Fanatical Customer Service – A culture of service is a differentiator for small business up against corporate competition with deep pockets. Never sacrifice this core value and it will clearly set you apart.
- Optimism and Belief – Believing in the potential of your business to answer your why and achieve long term growth is an emotional factor that will have very real impact on your literal success. You won’t make it without this.
- Understanding of the Phases of Entrepreneurism – Everyone starts with uninformed optimism at startup. At some point, every successful executive must exercise intellectual pragmatism to successfully navigate the practical issues of capital, sales growth, infrastructure and workforce management.
- Big Picture Focus – It’s easy to get bogged down in daily tasks. Those things have to get done, but if a small business owner isn't always strategically looking ahead, the future may not happen. Pivots don’t have to occur if you’re constantly working on the next phase for your business.
Who has been your greatest inspiration? How did she/he/they shape Fountainhead Commercial Capital?
This is much the same as the second part of my answer on question seven. While many people have influenced me and molded me into the leader I am, I find the entrepreneurs that I’m serving to be very inspirational. They are the reason we work so hard at Fountainhead to ignite growth and wealth creation through our SBA 504 loans.
I’m still in touch with many of my past clients, and they regularly refer others to us, which is one of the best compliments we can receive.
What three pieces of advice would you give to college students and young professionals in Florida who want to become entrepreneurs?
- There’s no substitute or shortcut for hard work. If you doubt whether you can survive the intensity of seeing a new business through from startup to success, consider alternatives. This WILL NOT be easy.
- Work/Life balance includes both things and will ebb and flow over time. In fact, the “balance” part is really a fiction, but that’s another discussion for another time. In the startup phase, your time is going to lean toward work if the business is to grow and have long-term viability. There is no getting around this. As someone once said, “Entrepreneurship is spending a few years like no one else will, so you can spend the rest of your life like no one else can.” Something along those lines, lies the truth.
- Any sense of entitlement that may have been conveyed to you over the course of growing up and in the education process should be dumped. Real success comes for those who earn their stripes. You cannot beat the person who refuses to give up.