It took losing everything for Phil Laboon to learn a very valuable business lesson — protect yourself. Early in his career, the then 23-year-old entrepreneur established a business partnership based on Florida real estate with a flimsy contract and no lawyers. That was in 2004. At the height of the business, he had $3 million, or so he thought. The business relationship went sour, he lost it all, and he is still embroiled in a civil case over the issue. “I was just stupid and didn’t want to spend money on a lawyer. I had so much trust,” he said. “Why would you do something wrong to someone if we were making so much money?”
Since then, his company, Eyeflow, is stronger and continuing to grow as businesses see the value in Internet marketing and search engine optimization. To facilitate this growth, Laboon still enters partnerships with other parties but goes into each of them better protected by creating separate LLCs and ensuring everything is spelled out in a contract. He has five different LLCs.
“I assume the worst in every contract,” he said. “I make sure it’s all spelled out to a ‘T.’ What is expected and what the payouts are. I spell out agreements as much as I can and put in a lot of ‘what ifs.’” Through these different LLCs, he also can make sure his intellectual property is protected and there is an easy way to turn the partnership off if needed. “Not that I would hold it over someone’s head, but I always have an exit strategy,” Laboon said. Part of this new business mentality also entails keeping certain information away from partners, he said. Laboon tries not to tell his partners exactly how he does what he does to protect methods. That way, the partner can’t walk away and replicate what he is doing, something Laboon said has happened in the past. So far, his new outlook seems to be working. He has grown the company to 25 employees and multiple partnerships.
One of the first of these new partnerships was with Allied Business Networks, a business-to-business group-buying company. The two companies have been working together for about five years. The relationship started with ABN as a customer of Eyeflow, but now the two companies are in business to gether and what Eyeflow offers has been integral in shifting ABN into an e-commerce site.
“I didn’t think he seemed paranoid,” said Jack Bergman, president and CEO of ABN, recalling those early negotiations with Laboon. “(But) he was skeptical of the deal I presented him.” It was a healthy skepticism that all good business owners get over time, Bergman said.