Vick Tipnes writes his debut book, ‘Did You Sell Your Soul?’
If you follow Vick Tipnes, CEO of Black-stone Medical Services, on social media, it’s evident he goes to great lengths to share his personal story and obstacles to help enlighten and inspire.
His first book, Did You Sell Your Soul? It’s Never Too Late to Change Your Story, which premiered in August, focuses on how to overcome obstacles, remain focused and achieve your life goals. All lessons he learned the hard way, as told in his April 2020 cover story with TBBW.
Tipnes shared Chapter One from the book with TBBW.
If you’re like me, you probably spent the vast majority of your younger years dreaming of what you wanted in life. That was my life for many years—daydreaming. All I knew was that I would become successful. I never knew how; I just knew I would.
Fast forward many years and today I get asked how I built the largest medical sleep testing company in the United States, how I overcame my most-difficult adversities and how to know who to trust in business, and life.
I never had a mentor so I was left to my own devices.
I watched a lot of The Godfather movies—the second one was always my favorite. I was infatuated with the character of Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino. There is something about him that fascinated me. He was always so calm and soft-spoken, yet you could feel his power and intention—obviously this was the only good quality the character had and that fascinated me, as I never agreed with the whole crime thing. To me, the 1920-70 era, in which the movie trilogy is set, is inspiring. Not because of the criminal aspect, of course, but because of the loyalty and determination that people had in building their business empire. I probably watched that movie 87 times—no joke.
One thing I had going for me, other than The Godfather, was that I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, so I got to see firsthand how difficult it can be to persevere despite facing multiple obstacles.
I was born in Leicester, England on April 18, 1976—Easter Sunday. My parents were pretty well-to-do when we were living there back in the ’70s and early ’80s. We had two cars—my dad’s car was a Mercedes Benz. He was an immigrant from India, and he had found success when he was in his early 30s. He owned factories in England. My older brothers and I went to private school, so we lived the typical suburban life. We weren’t multimillionaires by any stretch but we were upper-middle class.
In 1981, when I was 6 years old, we went from upper-middle class to running, and living, in a motel. A man—who is certainly not a good person and for some reason calls himself ‘The Uncle’—successfully convinced my dad to sell everything he owned in England and buy a business in the United States.
It was a serious downgrade from the life we lived. My dad decided to move our family to Tallahassee, where he bought a 25-unit motel called the Ponce De Leon Motel—named after the famous adventurer who supposedly discovered the Fountain of Youth. It was located at 1801 W. Tennessee Street—the motel, not the fountain. I still remember the address.
It was quite a culture shock and a significant lifestyle change. We transitioned from going to private school, and living in an upscale suburban neighborhood, to now living and working in a 25-unit motel on a very busy street. It was in a commercial area and it was nothing compared to what we were used to.
Most of my childhood was spent growing up in this environment. All I saw around me was work, work and more work—and it was not fun. My parents were not able to leave the motel because somebody always had to be there to rent the rooms. There were no family vacations, no summers off and no family nights out together. It was rare that I, actually, ever went anywhere with both Dad and Mom. It was either one or the other because somebody had to be at the business.
Entrepreneurship ran in my family, and I also had uncles and aunts on my dad’s side, who were involved in businesses—one in particular had done very well in the hotel/motel industry. Growing up Indian, it’s always pushed upon you to become a doctor, lawyer or an engineer—industries that paid well and were in high demand.
When I was 9 or 10 years old, I was able to notice, and compare, the differences between people in those professions versus those who ran their own businesses and I decided that I would become an entrepreneur one day. Not that anything is wrong with being a doctor or engineer, but I personally didn’t love it. I wanted to create my own way of life and never be tied down to something every day. I wanted adventure.
But I wanted to do it in such a way that I wasn’t tied down the way my parents were with the motel. It wasn’t really about the money for me, it was more about freedom—more than anything, freedom is what I wanted in life.
I just wanted to be able to do what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted, with whom I wanted and where I wanted. I didn’t want somebody telling me what to do.
I did lots of different things to make money, even as I was growing up. I had a Coke machine business when I was 11 years old, at my Dad’s motel. I was responsible for stocking the Coke machines and charging the right price. I’d raise the price when it was football season, lower it when it was not, and then also charge for parking.
I would also sell things. I would routinely get stuff from my older brothers—for example, sunglasses they weren’t wearing—and I would place an ad and sell them in the newspaper. I was trying to make a buck and looking for creative ways to do it.
I was always interested in business. I remember seeing a Charles Schwab commercial on TV and was so intrigued, I called them and asked for information. I was only 12, again, yet I knew what I wanted from an early age.
I did horribly in school not because I was dumb, but because I just didn’t apply myself. I thought it was a waste of time because I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I’d sit in school and daydream about being this powerful businessman.
I did have entrepreneurial role models right in front of me, but I disagreed with the businesses they chose to be in. While I had my family around, I was not enamored with the idea of being tied to a business without the ability to enjoy my life.
In addition, the internet wasn’t around yet so I didn’t have the benefit of finding entrepreneurial role models online either, which is why I resorted to reading books. The only entrepreneur who really resonated with me was Donald Trump because he was the most outspoken. I read his book The Art of the Deal when I was 11.
I was mesmerized by that lifestyle, by that mystery of power. Regardless of what you think of him politically, he is a very able and competent businessman.
I remember daydreaming a lot about what I wanted, where I was going, what I wanted to do and what my life looked like from a very young age. I dreamed about what my wife would look like, what my life would be like and the type of person I would be. It was important to me to clearly define exactly what I wanted everything to be because I felt that if I didn’t clearly define it, it wouldn’t happen.
I was fortunate that I had loving parents but even though I had a decent childhood, it was predominately focused around business. It was always about business, seeing business, talking about business—that was my childhood.
All the while, my parents continued to have aspirations for what my life was supposed to look like. As I started my ninth-grade year at Godby High School, I was already getting a lot of pressure from them to go to college because they had visions of what career I was going to have.
However, I was always getting in trouble in school for stupid things. One day, during my junior year of high school, I came home from school to find my older brother Nick and his then-wife sitting in my living room. My parents wanted me to go live with them because they felt they couldn’t deal with me. So off I went to live with my brother, and sister-in-law, in a small town in Eustis.
Shortly thereafter, in 1994, my mom was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma then everything in our family started to change. There was lot of attention on her and her health.
Around that time, my parents decided to move to Tampa because there was a cancer center there. My dad had bought a business, but I remained in Tallahassee in community college. I decided to sell cars at Tallahassee Mitsubishi. I did well, but to look a bit older—I looked young for my age and had no facial hair—I bought a fake pair of eyeglasses that gave me that more mature and experienced look.
Getting this job was my way of trying to discover myself, realizing what my skills were, and really getting a sense of what I was capable of doing. It was a great education in learning how to talk to people and develop ing negotiating skills. I enjoyed it, but I knew it wasn’t what I would do forever. It was an excellent training ground, though, and those skills would serve me well later on.
After a year, or so, at the dealership I got a call from Mom and learned that Dad’s health was getting worse: he was diagnosed with colitis. With both of my parents in bad health, they asked me to move to Tampa.
I was 20 at the time, and my two older brothers had already moved to California. There was nobody here, except for me, so I decided to move and be closer to my parents.
I left Tallahassee to live with them in Tampa, where I helped in their motel business for about four years while I took care of them.
When I was 24 years old, my mom died from cancer. That was really hard to deal with and to get through, so I started channeling my emotions into my goals. It was a turning point for me because all I was seeing around me was failure—not only in health, but in dreams once bright and now dark. I could see the once bright eyes of my father, and mother, turn to black, wondering what happened. Life was once so full of promise. And I vowed that would not happen to me.
Now it was just Dad and me and I felt the weight of taking on this leadership role because I could see that he had just given up. The weight of Mom dying, and being in poor health himself, took a toll on him so I had to assume an adult leadership role at a young age. It was an interesting relationship because it was almost as if he was my little brother I had to look after.
During this period in my life, I was introduced to the health care industry. I was taking my mom to many clinics and observed that the level of service could be improved. By experiencing firsthand the lack of care, and comfort, that some parts of the industry suffered from, I started brainstorming of ways to improve it.
Though I had that idea, I had no money. After a few years of working with my dad, I earned a commission through a deal with him. I found a buyer for his business, negotiated the price and found the buyer a bank to fund him. At this point, I decided that I didn’t want to be in the motel business anymore.
I’d been in it all my life, with my family, and the quality of life hadn’t been great. I simply didn’t want to be chained to a business where I couldn’t enjoy my time with my family just because I was trying to chase a dollar.
That’s when I decided to change careers, and go my own way, by diving into health care and starting a health care company. Here I was at 24 years old, high school diploma in hand, no college degree—who was I to think I could succeed in a brand-new industry? I didn’t care though. I had sales, and business, experience and I knew I could learn the trade. It would take time but I had an unshakable belief in myself.
It was an interesting time because I was a fish out of water. I had to learn something that I had never done before and the learning curve was huge. I began with one radiology center. I leased an MRI machine, and an X-ray machine, and I was off to the races.
With this new business, I ran into many obstacles along the way. This was a completely different industry than the one I had been used to, which made me feel a bit uncertain on how to go about it.
There were many reasons why I could have freaked out but I didn’t. I don’t know what it was within me but I wasn’t worried about anything. I just knew that I would figure it out and do it. As an entrepreneur, that’s the perspective you need to have. Running a business doesn’t come with a handbook. You need to perceive the situation, assess your options and implement the one that makes the most sense.
I’ve always been like that, so I figured out how to do it and got it done. I continued to grow this business and, eventually, built it up to five centers.
But with great success comes great drama. Dad was getting sicker and I got to experience, firsthand, how quickly things could change in the business world.
I had no idea how much chaos was about to unfold.
You can purchase a copy of Did You Sell Your Soul? It’s Never Too Late to Change Your Story on Amazon. ♦