David Kahl | Crain's Portland

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

David Kahl


Fully, formerly Ergo Depot, sells and designs desks, chairs and things that keep bodies moving so people can work and live more fully. It recently bucked the retail trend and moved their online business into brick-and-mortar shops, with outlets in San Francisco, Baltimore and Portland.

The Mistake:

I needed to learn to trust that I was hiring good people who had their own ways of working, which often were better than my own

I’m not an ergonomist, or a physician, or neurologist. My bachelors degree is in accounting. So, in starting this business of making office furniture, I had a really different perspective. I think a lot of entrepreneurs start out with a huge knowledge base based on their core business, and mine grew out of necessity. I just didn’t want to feel 90 years old after I sat for four hours, and I thought I could do something about that.

I am also a really hands on, do-it-yourself kind of person. Let’s just say it took me a while to admit I did not know everything, could not do everything, and to ask for help. For lack of a better phrase, I could not let it go.

For the first few years, I did all of the accounting, from soup to nuts, everything from sending invoices to handling collections. When I hired my first accounting employee, I told him how I did things like reconciling credit card statements.

When you’re a small business, the credit card companies just dump all of the transactional money into one lump sum, and you have to figure out the amounts that go with each transaction. At the time, we had 25 to 30 transactions a day, and it was taking me two to three hours just for this task alone. I made it clear that he needed to set aside time to do this. I let him do it, and it turned out, he could get it done in one-third of the time it took me.

I realized that even though I had begun to hire people after the first 18 months of doing everything, I was still controlling everything. 

Just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you need to do it.

The Lesson:

I started to realize that if you take your time to hire really good people – and trust that they can do the job and bring their own approach and perspective to their work – it can be freeing.  It can be hard to let things go as an entrepreneur or a small business owner. The lines begin to blur, and questions like, ‘Who am I?’ arise. This business is who I am.

I still did our tax returns until about three years ago; I am a CPA. But sometimes you have to realize your resources are better spent elsewhere, and just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you need to do it. The reality is it’s not necessarily the best use of my time.

But letting go has given me some peace. We now have 57 employees. Giving them their space and allowing them to do the work they were hired to do has allowed me to focus on strategy and products. I’ve gotten so used to letting go that I hired somebody two years ago to be my COO, and he did so great, now he’s the president.

I focus on the big picture and just steer the ship.

Follow Fully on Twitter at: @Fully_US

Pictured: David Kahl. | Photo courtesy of David Kahl.

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