Entrepreneur’s journey from $200 and an answering machine to $500M | Business Observer

Tampa-based franchise executive Greg Muzzillo isn’t a preacher, but he spent a recent Friday morning in Naples revving up a crowd on what he calls “achievable, believable entrepreneurship.”

And Muzzillo, founder of Proforma, one of the nation’s largest providers of business graphics, marketing materials and printing and packaging services, has practiced what he preaches. He founded Proforma in 1978, one 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 started franchising the business in 1986, and through hustle, some hubris and lots 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 for the NextGen Speaker Series event, held 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’s on the board of the University of Florida Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center, and was previously on the board at the University of Tampa. Muzzillo also hosts a podcast, Million Dollar Mondays, which, according to the Apple Podcasts description, “features real successful people with real useful advice for entrepreneurs and people with big dreams.”

An affable, self-deprecating Ohio native, Muzzillo went through his career highlights and failures 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,” Muzzillo says. “We didn’t even know how to spell entrepreneurship. It was just something in our bones, to want to own our own business.”

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

• Watch closely: “I’m a big believer in immersion,” he says. “When I do something, I want to learn as much about it as possible. I want to hang with out people who are successful in the business.”

• Always be closing: “You have to be a pit bull,” Muzzillo says when it comes to sales. “I don’t care what other people think about me. It doesn’t matter. I have a degree of call reluctance — 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 I was in the dream business, and I just need to connect with my franchise owners to help them make their dreams come true.”

• Stay humble: “What’s the secret to making the Inc. 500? Have a terrible first year.”

The visionary sponsors for the NextGen Speaker Series include Arthrex; Green Line Benefits; Meristem Family Wealth; Dentons; John R. Wood; PNC Bank; Lurie; Elite Jets; Marsh McLennan; 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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