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Charlie Paparelli: One Breakfast Away From Dropping Everything

Charlie Paparelli is an angel investor who helps entrepreneurs achieve their dream of starting and building their own companies for over 20 years. His track record is impressive; he is a co-founder to 12 start-ups, an angel investor in 23 start-ups, a mentor to 10 founders, and the founder of Angel Lounge in Atlanta. To top it all off, Charlie has had 5 exits which netted a 50% internal return rate.

Charlie is the host of the Paparelli Podcast, where he talks to entrepreneurs about topics like raising money, starting your business, and sustaining growth. He’s also a contributing writer to FaithDriverEntrepreneur.com, a platform that equips Christian entrepreneurs with the skills to fulfil their calling.

Takeaways

  1. If you feel like you have it “all” but are still unhappy, there’s nothing wrong with you; it’s your environment.
  2. Having a sanctuary makes recovery easier.
  3. When you don’t know who you are or what you want to do, there isn’t anybody that can help you except yourself.

Transcript

BRYAN WISH: For those of you who don’t know, Charlie and I have very expansive, dynamic, long, tenured relationship since I graduated college. Charlie, you’ve been an incredible inspiration and mentor in my life. Thank you for all your guidance over the years. 

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: I guess I’ve known you for almost 1/3 of your life. 

BRYAN WISH: That’s wild to think. I’ve learned a lot from you in the last 7-8 years. I’ll let you know when I get to 30 and I’ll be an official 1/3. Today is about you, Charlie. I want to know about your One Away Moment.

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: I think the One Away Moment I’d like to share began happening to me in my late 30s. The One Away Moment, the actual moment, was when I was sitting at breakfast with my boss at the time. I was running the U.S. operation for an IT services public company. It was listed in London. I was very unhappy. We were at breakfast here in Atlanta. He lived in Los Angeles. He was asking me to take a cut in pay as the president of the organization in the U.S. We had the conversation and I sat and got upset when he asked me to take the cut in pay when we had a dinner in New York.

Now here we were eating breakfast and he said, “Man, you need to think about this.” He asked me a question that was important when we were going back and forth in this argument about a pay cut. The cut and pay meant nothing to me. He realized there was something deeper there. He said, “You know, Charlie, if you’re not happy here, you can just leave. It’s okay. We’ll be okay and you’ll be okay.” He was just quiet and I said, “I’m not happy here and I do want to leave.” He said, “Okay, let’s just figure out how we’ll separate.” That was the One Away Moment that happened at that time. 

BRYAN WISH: Just to clarify – you were the president of your division at the time, correct?

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: I was the president of their U.S. operations. They had UK operations. I was running the U.S.

BRYAN WISH: You had a very big job, the early 30s. 

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: At the time, I was 38.

BRYAN WISH: You were at this midway point of your career, maybe half time. You were probably making decent money for the time. Yet, he saw it in your face or voice and realized it was more than money. 

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: I had already sold a business. I had money. What was happening is I wanted this career. I wanted to be the president or CEO of larger and larger software – more and more responsibility. I realized, as I got through my 30s, that it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be and it wasn’t that attractive to me. Here I am making more money than I ever made in my life. Flying first class everywhere. Staying at great hotels.

I mean I flew on the Concorde between New York and London. I had an office and apartment in New York, I was flying between New York and Paris. These flights would take 3 ½ hours to get there. They were incredible but it was all first class. It was the best job I had in my life. For the few years that I had it, I was just miserable. So I call it, I was sort of the dog that caught the car. Hard to reconcile with that one. You have a long-term goal and you chase it, find it, accomplish it, and it’s not what you expected it to be. That’s a big One Away.

BRYAN WISH: You were at the top of the mountain. You had sold one business. Then you wanted to assume a greater role or oversee more and more. Twenty-some years later, what did more represent to you? Why did you find the need to keep going up the mountain or getting to the top of this different mountain? What made you feel so off inside that made you unhappy?

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: I think that inwardly, I’ve always been very competitive and always had high ambitions because of that competitive spirit that I’ve had. When I locked in – like when I joined the startup that I joined back when I was 22 years old, it was a lot of fun and I was learning a ton. The beauty of a startup is your work in a lot of different jobs. You’re not stuck in one functional area. If you’ve got to sell, you sell. If you’ve got to install software, you do. If you’ve got to teach how to use the software, you’re a teacher.

You kind of go through all of these things. If you’ve got to do the books and the accounting, you do that too. I love that, being the startup. As we got close to selling out, the company had grown to a point where I started to get an appreciation for management and what it meant to be a manager and then what it meant to be a general manager. Once we were acquired, I saw what that looked like, then I saw a track.

I saw a track that I can be this and that and then I could be this and move up, get more ownership in companies, be more successful, more honor, more authority. I said, “This would be really…” And learning all the time. It’d be great. Once I saw the track, once I was clear on it, with my competitive and ambitious nature, I just started running the track. That’s how I got there. 

BRYAN WISH: The company that you ended up working for or could grow under, that track that you saw, did they acquire the company you were working on, or did you go to their company after you sold your company?

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: They weren’t the ones that bought us. The way it worked was the company that bought us, I ran their track for a while. Then they came to me and said the divisions that you’re running, we want to sell this off. They sold it off and that’s how I became a part of this other company. It’s not like I switched jobs. I stayed in the same job. The company had new owners. 

BRYAN WISH: Being the entrepreneur that you are and the person that you are, why didn’t you just say, “Why don’t I go start my next thing?”

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: Before I actually ran the track and got into the corporate track, we had just finished a 3-year earnout on the sale of our business. I was then running that business plus some others for this public company. This was in the mid-80s. My former partner approached me who had started another business. He said, “I want you to come, and let’s do it again. I and you will do it again.”

We had some very serious discussions around it. I was flattered he wanted to do it with me because we had a really good partnership but I just knew it wasn’t right. When you know something isn’t right, you don’t want to say, “Well, I just don’t think it’s right.” You have to come up with some sort of analytical, left-brain sort of thinking that sort of justifies things. How do you justify an emotional decision? We all buy an emotion but we justify based on analytics.

My analytics were – I forecasted my salary, my bonus, and what my stock options would be worth. I said, “This looks like a pretty good deal.” But got me and made me say no to that originally, so that I went the corporate route, was I didn’t feel I was going to learn anything new. That we were just going to take the old formula, do the same thing, and kind of come up with making more money and build a company. That didn’t seem interesting to me. I said no to him and I went the corporate route. Now I was bought into this corporate route. I was doing it.

There’s something about big companies. There are some smart people in big companies with some great experience. I’d sit in management meetings. I was sitting with fellow peers that were presidents of different divisions and groups of companies. I’d be taking notes when these guys talked. They were really smart. I was learning a lot and I love to learn. That’s what kept me there. That’s why I didn’t go, “I’m going to do a startup.” That came later after the One Away Moment. 

BRYAN WISH: That must have taken a lot of humility at the moment. Saying, “I don’t know it all. I want to continue my learning path and I’m going to dive in and take this corporate track because it’s a whole new beast I’ve never been a part of.” Sounds like that was a satiating experience that you were able to climb and ascend and learn from. You hit a point where that growth had stopped or the feeling of desire to continue had stopped. What led up to that moment you became unhappy?

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: I found it to be unfulfilling. It didn’t have the dynamism or the excitement that a startup has. When you get into something bigger, it’s more established, there are clear expectations, and you manage to those expectations. Risk has to be mitigated in everything that you do because there are expectations from outside shareholders and public companies.

You can’t just go off willy nilly and say, “Well, here’s something new that we can do.” How much cash is that going to take and how much is that going to impact our profitability and can we afford to do that? What you wind up being is just a manager as opposed to somebody who is leading. I had to park my entrepreneurial background if you will. I thought management was going to be something a little bit more exciting than that. It wasn’t for me as I got up there. I realized this isn’t for me.

I took my son for a haircut. This is my son who is now 33 years old. While he’s getting his haircut, I’m walking around. I went into this knick-knack shop and they had these little sayings you can hang on the walls. The saying that I said, “That’s me; I need to buy that and put that sign right in front of my desk,” which I did. The sign said, “Bloom where you are planted.” What had happened is I had realized how could I be unhappy and be in the best job in the best office with the best perks ever? There must be something wrong with me.” That’s why I put up this sign. Bloom where you’re planted.” It didn’t work. 

BRYAN WISH: You couldn’t bloom even though you were planted in such a good position. 

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: I was in a great place. “Look at what you have. Be grateful. This is a great place. Make something of this. You should be fulfilled. Therefore, be fulfilled.” It didn’t happen. 

BRYAN WISH: Sometimes you can’t bloom even if you’re planted in the best position possible. 

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: Well, you’re a different plant. Not every plant can bloom on the same ground. 

BRYAN WISH: Was this an internal grappling? It sounds like you just knew and didn’t need logic. How did you know it was time to let go?

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: What I was doing, to find that fulfillment, I found myself drinking more, partying more, escaping more. I say going deeper into what I’ll call a sin life. In other words, I became a person I didn’t like anymore, trying to find fulfillment in the world. But it all started with that my goal wasn’t a goal I was interested in anymore. You just try to soak in the perks and the power that are surrounding you, hoping that you’ll be rational and stay in this job. I mean I had a wife and three kids, a house, two cars, college coming up, getting paid. Why would I move on? This is a good thing. 

BRYAN WISH: What were you scared of?

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: I was scared that once I chase something for so long – that was 38. I chased this thing for 10 years. We sold the business when I was 28. I then went into corporate life which was going to be for three years and wound up being for 10 years. Because I was so taken by it, it was so fertile for me as far as learning about business and how to be a better leader and manager.

But you chase something for 10 years, accumulating wife, kids, the whole thing, and you sit there and say, “I can’t make it to the end of 10 years and go, “Well, that wasn’t it.” I could do that when I’m 25 and I’m single. But when you get to be in your late 30s and you have a whole circus that’s behind you that you’re supporting, I didn’t feel I could just go, “I’m not going to do that anymore.” Well, what are you going to do? I don’t know but it isn’t going to be that.

BRYAN WISH: You were scared about what was laying on the other side because you couldn’t imagine anything different.

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: Yeah. I was scared of change. 

BRYAN WISH: How long did you stay past your internal expiration date?

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: I stayed for 2-3 years beyond. I never did get the courage. I was ready to argue about the decisions the upper management was making. I’m talking about the board of directors. I’d argue about it but I never had the nerve to say, “I’m out of here” until my boss said, “If you’re unhappy and don’t want to be here, this isn’t good for you or us.” He didn’t tell me to go away. He just laid it out and made it so clear. I said, “You know, you’re right. I’m not happy here.”

The, therefore, was, “Well, then you should leave.” I never got to the point where I dared to say, “I’m out of here.” The Johnny Paycheck, “Take this job and shove it” thing. I never had the nerve to do it until this guy showed me, “There’s the door and it’s open.” I was like, “What’s on the other side?” I didn’t know but the door was open. He opened it for me. I thank him for that. I thought that was very gracious of him to do that. We had a great working relationship. 

BRYAN WISH: How did you make your way down the mountain?

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: When I walked out, it was breakfast at the Westin Hotel at the Galleria here in Atlanta. I remember walking out the door after that conversation with my boss and it was a beautiful, spring day. It was like early May. It was gorgeous out. I remember walking out and going, “What did I just do?” I was like, “Maybe I should go in there and apologize and get my job back.”

I just kept walking forward. I got in my car and I didn’t have any idea what the next step was going to be. It was interesting. The next step came pretty quickly. I got a call from my former partner who is now in this business I decided not to join. He did well to the point where he took that company public. It was amazing how well they’d done. He said, “I hear you left your job. There is this other entrepreneur who you should talk to. I think maybe you can do something with him.”

Four to six weeks later, I finally had this meeting with this guy. I was taken with him. I said, “My God, this guy is one of these real entrepreneurs. He’s doing some interesting stuff.” The name of the company was AudioFax. This is the early 90s before the internet. Fax was the only way that had instant communication from point to point. You put a document in one end and it comes out the other end, that quick. He had the patent on what’s called Call and Forward Fax. You’d put the document into a fax machine and it’d go to a computer and then from any place in the world, you can call that computer in from a fax machine and it’d instantly send you that fax wherever you were. He had the patent on that. I wound up joining them and became his president.

That was a turnaround. We had to raise more money. It was interesting talking to a board and doing that and raising money. It was great until it wasn’t. What wasn’t great was I found myself dealing with personnel situations, management situations that I had dealt with 10 years earlier. It was like I didn’t grow at all. I didn’t learn anything. I wasn’t learning anything new. That’s when that thing didn’t go so well. You just know it’s not right. 

What I think we all do is start blaming everything externally. Wrong guy. Wrong product. Wrong people in place. Wrong investors. It’s all out there. There’s the problem. But it’s not out there. It’s hard to get to. 

BRYAN WISH: You’re a very purpose-driven person. You operate very much from the inside out. How much, at that time, were you thinking about purpose? I know Christianity and Jesus have given you a great sense of purpose. But at that time of your life, how much were you thinking about the bigger picture and the purpose of what it was all for?

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: Whenever I think I’m thinking uniquely, I find out I’m thinking like everybody else. I’m like right on time. I’m part of the great group think. You think like the people that you hang out with. Back then, we were all thinking about continuing to grow, to support our families, to grow in our career, and incorporate, it was all about making money. It was all about money and there was an emptiness and it is all about money. I didn’t have any idea what else it would be all about.

Everybody around me was all about the money. I was all about the money until I thought there was more to it. That was the beginning of thinking differently. When you start thinking differently, the system you’re in literally spits you out. I think that’s what happened to me. So then, I’m like where do I go? Then I’m back into, “Well, I just think it’s the wrong ground that I’m planted in. I need to go back to entrepreneurship” which is what I did.

Because that’s another great place to make money. You can make millions. If I can get in there and own some piece of equity of something that’s going to grow big, then I’m going to make money, but then it wasn’t right again. It wasn’t about the money. It’s easier when it’s just about the money. But if it’s not about the money, that’s a big problem. 

One night I said, “I need to work for a bigger company.” So, I left that company. It was interesting. Again, I didn’t have the nerve to say I was leaving. I hired a guy as my VP of sales and we started talking one time and I realized I’m in the wrong place. He goes, “You know, you are in the wrong place. I am too. Let’s go to this chairman of the board.” I said, “Okay.” Off we go and we resigned together and now I’m unemployed again.

I’m sitting at home and I said, “I just need to run a company for an entrepreneur that’s much further along” so there’s more structure to it. I can take it from the idea they have and sort of grow it. I started to interview some people and I found this one guy who happened to be another Italian guy. He was a great entrepreneur. He was in the banking business. We decided to join up. He was going to hire me as his president.

The night before I was to start, I remember I was holding Nick, who is now 28 years old. I get this call and I say, “Yeah, Ron, what’s up?” He goes, “Well, I talked to the behavioral psychologist and he told me, having reviewed your results and interview, that this would never work between you and me.” I went, “What?” He goes, “It’s not going to work. I’m not hiring you. We’re done.” I was so upset that I found that behavioral psychologist the next day and barged into his office.

I’m like, “What the hell did you just do? Who are you to tell this guy I’m not right for him?” He very calmly explained why it wasn’t a fit. I went, “That’s a really good reason.” The reason was, the guy that I was going to work for was very detail-oriented as are a lot of these technical entrepreneurs. He said, “And you’re not, Charlie.” He says, “You’re pretty much an intuitive, big picture guy.” He said, “Ron can work for you but you can’t work for him because he’s going to ask you questions you think are just simply ridiculous and don’t need to be answered.” I said, “All right.” So now I’m unemployed not knowing what I should do. I

BRYAN WISH: You bounced around in great measure after having so much success. 

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: I think a One Away Moment is that. A true One Away Moment is that. You get to, “Man, it was this and now, it’s not this. But it’s been this for 15 years. How can it not be this? If it’s not this, then what is it? I have no idea.” It could be a divorce being an Away Moment. I have a wife. I have kids and we’re divorced. Wait a minute. Does that mean I get married again or never get married again or if I do get married again, do I marry someone where we can have kids again? I already have kids. Those are very confusing times to make that change. It was for me from a professional standpoint. I wish it wasn’t but it was. 

Here was the big thing. You mentioned my faith. I’m rock bottom at this point. Yet, I’m still a pretty heavy drinker. Every night, I was like Pavlov’s Dog. Every morning I’d wake up and say, “I ain’t going to drink today” and I wouldn’t drink all day but at 5:00, I was on it again. I’d drink a lot. But I was functional. This one night, after hearing from Ron, “This isn’t going to work” and not knowing where to go next, Kathy and I split a bottle of wine. I’m sure she had a glass and I drank the rest of the bottle. Then I sat down drinking beer watching a baseball game. I realized that my bedroom door is closed and Kathy is in there. At the time, I had four kids.

One of them was a baby sleeping but the other three were in their rooms with their door closed. I said, “You finally did it. You’ve become your father.” When my father would come home, if he was drinking or had come home and he had been drinking, we all ran away from him because we didn’t trust him. We didn’t know if he was going to love us or start a big fight. What I did was I stood back. I turned into my father.

When I started drinking, my kids and wife disappeared. I said, “You’ve done it. You’ve become your father. What do I do now?” At that moment, I had a crystal clear vision that if I stayed on this path, I would lose whatever career might be coming my way if I kept drinking and I’d lose my wife and kids. It became so clear to me at that moment in time. 

The next day, I woke up and called a guy that was from my old neighborhood who was a business guy who went through a recovery center. I’d heard about him and knew him but we weren’t good friends. I called him up. His name was Jim. I said, “Jim, I just want to talk to you about drinking.” He said, “Let’s have lunch today.” I had time. We had lunch.

At lunch, he’s telling me everything that went on in his life and he said, “You know where this ends up?” I said, “Where?” “In the morning, I’d get up and I’d drink a 16 ounce can of Budweiser for breakfast, and then I’d get another 16 ounces can and put it between my legs and drive to work.” I’m thinking this guy is screwed up. Then I’m thinking, “Could that be me?” I’m thinking maybe that could be me someday and I don’t want to be that. He said, “Let’s go to an AA meeting.” I went to an AA meeting and that’s where my life changed.

I remember I went dressed in my best suit and tie, sat in the back, head down, didn’t want to have anything to do with these other 50 guys that were all drunks, men, and women. At the end of it, some guy stood up. He happened to be a Jewish guy who was also a painter. He had the white outfit on with splashes of paint all over. Everybody was ready to break the meeting and he said, “Everybody, sit down.” I never saw this happen again in all the AA meetings I attended.

He points to me in the back and says, “I don’t know who you are or why you’re here but if you want to stop drinking one day at a time, you’ll come up here and get this white chip which signifies stopping to drinking one day at a time. Secondly, in the morning when you wake up, you’ll hit your knees and you’ll pray to God to keep you sober. You’ll thank God for keeping you sober.” 

So here’s this stranger who permitted me to do the two things I wanted to do most in my life. One was I did want to stop drinking. I knew it was going to be the death of me. Secondly, he permitted me to talk to God, a God that I walked away from when I was 18 years old and never thought wanted me back. That was the beginning of my progress in One Away. 

BRYAN WISH: You looking at yourself and saying you turned into your father must have been a very hard moment. To realize that your kids, wife, and everything you know could leave you that you’ve worked so hard for. 

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: It was everything important to me. Everything I treasured. I was throwing it away, for what? For alcohol?

BRYAN WISH: Was it at the AA meeting that Jesus Christ, God came into your orbit, into your world of saying, “This is my new sanctuary. This is what’s going to turn my life around?” 

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: My sanctuary, that’s a good word. Where was my safe place? They told me, “You need to do 90 meetings in 90 days.” That was the advice they gave me at the AA meeting. I’m thinking of 90 meetings in 90 days. You’re kidding. They said, “No, that’s what you need to do.” I started going to these meetings every night and you go to different places. They’re usually held in churches or community centers. Different meetings have different men and women in them.

So, you hear different stories. You get different looks. Hearing their stories became my sanctuary. It was my safe place. Kathy knew that we’d have dinner at night and then I’d rush out to go to an 8:00 AA meeting. Every night. I remember there were some guys about my age who had started at about the same time I did and none of those guys made it. They didn’t do 90 meetings in 90 days.

I had this one guy, who owned car washes, he said to me, “Yeah, my buddies, my old friends…” And they tell you to get rid of your old friends because they’re all drunks. He said, “My old friends, they’re going to Vegas. I’m going to go with them.” I’m like, “Don’t do it.” He went and then I never saw him again. When a guy like John was showing up every day and then suddenly doesn’t show up anymore, they had a saying that said, “Well, where’s John?” They’d say, “Oh, John is out improving his story.” Because at some point, you’re going to come back. Those guys kept me sober. I went to 180 meetings in 180 days. I didn’t ever want to leave there. 

At the end of about 9 months, it took a long time but this desire to drink was day by day by day slowly being taken away from me until one day I realized I didn’t have that desire anymore. There was a discussion that was going on and the discussion led by the leader was “Who’s your higher power?” Of course, in AA, the steps are 1) My life is out of control. 2) I can’t solve this problem. I have to give up on that. 3) There is a God and I can give God my problem and He’ll take it from me. The 12-step program is a spiritual transformation if you read the AA book. That’s what they say. You need to go through a spiritual transformation. Who knows what that meant? 

We’re sitting there and these guys are talking about, “Who’s your higher power?” One guy said, “My higher power is the people in this room.” Another guy said, “My higher power is the blue book of AA.” Another one said, “It’s my sponsor.” I’m sitting there and saying to myself, “There was a miracle that happened in my life. I couldn’t stop drinking and now I’m not drinking for almost a year. I think it was this higher power that created this miracle in my life. Saved my life.” I said, “Who is this higher power?” to myself.

Within a week, I had people inviting me, without me telling anybody this year, to two different… One was a dinner prayer-oriented meeting and another one was a prayer breakfast. I remember both of them vividly at the time. That was my introduction to business people who had claimed Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. That was the beginning of my walk and the beginning of me meeting new people that had this belief system which was antithetical to anybody else I had hung out with for years. 

BRYAN WISH: You go to a place you realized maybe you didn’t need to show up anymore to those meetings. You had that inner strength to know. It led you to question who the higher power was guiding you. You were able to go down that path of finding Jesus Christ, to find your Lord and Savior; what had been behind your walk without realizing it.

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: One of the things that you realize is that you look back at your life. I looked back at my life and I saw the life that I lived and the things that I had done and the people that I hurt and you sit there and say, “How could I ever be forgiven for the things that I had done? How do you get forgiven and how does that guilt go away?” That was something I pursued. That’s where the answer came and Jesus died for my sins and takes away my guilt and makes me into a new man in Him. When that finally clicked for me, that’s when I gave my life to Christ.

That took a good six months from going to that prayer breakfast because I wanted to investigate it. It wasn’t something I just did emotionally. I wanted to understand it. As I look back, God was walking me through this. Introducing me to just the right people. Putting me in just the right rooms. Studying just the right verses in the bible which I knew nothing about until I came to that point. The guy that led me to Christ was Adolph Coors IV, the guy that owned the business that made all the beer is the guy that led this alcoholic to Christ which is pretty crazy. 

I went to AA meetings and bible studies and what happened was, I got more and more involved with this group of believers and became less involved with the AA meetings. I replaced my AA meetings with regular bible studies with new groups of men that kept me sober. 

BRYAN WISH: You found a new sanctuary.

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: And found a new sanctuary. That’s exactly right. 

BRYAN WISH: I bet during this period, it gave you a lot of time to do a lot of discovery on Charlie himself. How did that change your career path? How’d that change your relationships at home with Kathy and your kids? How did the plant bloom as you were in new soil?

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: First you had to realize what plant you weren’t. I told you I didn’t like the man I had become. Then I had to dry out. Get all of the drugs out of my system so I could think clearly. That took a good year for that to happen. Then I finally get to the point where I was still sitting there going, “I don’t know what to do.” I was dealing with a financial planner and an executive recruiter back then. They gave me a list of executives in the Atlanta area. This is executives, CPAs, and lawyers, people to call to just network with. T

here must have been 50 names on the list. I would call these people up and ask for an appointment because they knew this other guy who sent me to them. I’d usually get the appointment. That’s how I built my initial network in Atlanta. I started just calling these people. They’d say, “How can I help you?” “Well, you know, this is what I used to do and this is where I’m thinking I’m going. I think I’m looking for some kind of corporate job.” Whoever I was talking to, I had sort of a different story. When you don’t know who you are or what you want to do, there isn’t anybody that can help you. But I did meet a lot of great people which was a good thing.

Then one day I got a call from a lady named Claudine who used to work for me as a branch manager in a UK public company. She said, “I’m starting a business tomorrow morning in my home and I want you to fund it and be the CEO. I’ll work for you. We’ll be partners.” I said, “I don’t think that’s a fit for me. That doesn’t seem right.” She said, “Look. You’re not doing anything anyway. You should do this. You know this kind of business.” It was a services business. I said, “I’ll think about it.” Well, at 9:00, I go and meet her at her house. We start this business. Nine months later, I’m down $150,000.

She walks into my office and says, “I can’t work for you. You’re impossible. I quit.” I’m in a business that I don’t want to run in an office that has no windows. It was a sub-leased office. We had no money. I was down 150 grand and my partner walked out the door. I said, “Can this still be happening to me? Where am I going here?” It was almost at that very moment I got a call from a guy that used to work for me as a salesman and then became a national sales manager for me in the business we had started and sold way back in the early 80s. He said, “You’ve met a lot of people in Atlanta. I’m not happy where I am. I’m going to move on.” He said, “I want to tap into your network. Can you help me?”

We had lunch that very day. I said, “Bob, you’re always looking for the next fast train out of the station. That software company that’s just about to explode. That’s where you make your money.” I said, “You’ve never been happy in the last several years I’ve known you. You’ve never been happy with the people you work with. The reason is you know who you are and you know how a business should be run. You have a very clear vision for it. Since you’re so clear on your values, you should start your own business.”

He goes, “Oh, that’d be a pain in the ass. I wouldn’t know how to do that.” He said, “What business would I start?” I said, “I just happen to have a business.” Claudine walked out the door. A week later, Bob took over that business and he built it into a $7 million business over five years. That was my first angel investment. That’s how I became an angel investor and that’s how I got into my new career. I knew I didn’t want to run businesses. I wanted to help people, inspire people to start businesses, and then help them to be successful. 

BRYAN WISH: Man of many layers. You put Kathy on quite the journey. 

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: She always trusted me. There’s a funny story. I was working out of the house and she walked into my home office at about 10 in the morning. She said, “You see this house here?” I said, “Yeah.” She goes, “From 9 AM to 5 PM, this whole house is my office. You need to find a place to work. You can’t work here anymore.” I remember that. She threw me out of the house. 

BRYAN WISH: Can you describe the path this ended up taking you?

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: I went from it’s all about the money, which is the corporate way of life, to ask the question, “What is it all about?” When I came into a relationship with Jesus Christ, I realized it’s all about God and my relationship with Him and it’s not about the money. If it’s about God, it’s about people. My focus became serving others as opposed to looking like I was serving others so that I could make a lot of money which was my corporate view. That put me on that path of I read Halftime. I met Bob Buford. I got exposed to a lot of business people who were on purpose for Christ in their businesses and I was interested in learning how they integrate their faith and their work.

How did that make sense? There was this path to the purpose I found myself on which was exciting. That’s what came out of it all. Forgetting about angel investing and the people are invested in, the money that was made, and the money that was lost – it was all about being on purpose. I didn’t know that that’s what I was looking for in my 30s. I didn’t even know to ask the question. 

BRYAN WISH: This was a very purposeful and impactful interview. We covered a lot of ground. Meaningful in a lot of stages of life. Purpose, career, family, all the things that matter when it’s all said and done. You offer a really good perspective. The incredible perspective gave your journey, what you’ve gone through, how you’ve grown up. I’ve so cherished the relationship that we’ve been able to build. I appreciate you showing up and sharing today. 

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: Always will. Love you, Bryan. I always think that you’re on your path to being great and impacting so many people. I’ve always admired you. From the moment that I met you, I was drawn to you. This has been a real honor to be interviewed by you. I appreciate it. I love the idea of what’s your One Away Moment? I think that’s fabulous but that’s who you are. You come up with this stuff and I’m like, wow, that’s clever. It’s meaningful.

BRYAN WISH: I can’t take credit for naming it. I’ll give it to somebody who is a Georgia Tech graduate who is very smart. Her name is Chloe but we worked collaboratively on how to bring this to life. So probably some of my ideas helped give her a crystal name we could attach to the brand. 

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: There’s an old story that I heard once when somebody is a speaker and he said, “You know when you hear something like that, you always give credit where credit is due but the second time you’re talking about it, you say, I’m not sure where it came from but this is what it is. By the third time you talk about it, it was your idea.” That’s good you’re an honest man though. Good for Chloe that she came up with this one. 

BRYAN WISH: If people want to soak in some of your wisdom, where can they find you?

CHARLIE PAPARELLI: Go to paparelli.com. I also have a YouTube channel called The Charlie Paparelli Show. Or you can always write me at charlie@paparelli.com. Pretty easy to find me. 

One Away Podcast
Bryan Wish

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